The Victorian village of Matjiesfontein is next to the N1 just 240km from Cape Town. The whole village is a living museum and to visit here is to immerse oneself in a bygone era. The town comprises the Lord Milner Hotel and various other accommodation options, one or two shops, the Laird’s Arms pub, a transport museum and a smattering of period houses.
Across from the Lord Milner, the Shosholoza Meyl and the Blue Train still stop at the railway station, beneath which is the excellent Marie Rawdon Museum and its fascinating collection of Victorian antiques and collectables.
The town’s beginnings date back over 120 years, and before the Anglo Boer War it rose to fame as a Victorian health and holiday spa frequented by high class clientele from the Cape and abroad.
During the Anglo Boer War hostilities a remount camp of 10 000 troops and 20 000 horses was set up on the outskirts. Part of the hotel was a convalescent hospital for British officers.
After 1920 the place began to decline and finally sank into obscurity until the late David Rawdon bought the entire town and reopened the hotel in 1970. Today there’s still a distinct old English ambience to the village, although its setting in the midst of the barrenness of the Karoo is slightly surreal. Visitors to the pub can partake in evening sing-alongs to the accompaniment of a honky-tonk piano, and suppers are enjoyed in the hotel’s dining room. The breakfasts are renowned.
One of the most heartening things about Matjiesfontein is its unpretentiousness. There are no frills in terms of technology, no remote controls on the bedside tables, no air-conditioning and no TV.
Look out for
The Marie Rawdon Museum affords visitors a couple of nostalgic hours, browsing the displays that make up what is said to be the largest private collection of antique and vintage pieces open to the public in the country.
The old manual signal room and the Transnet museum are in the station buildings.
The Transport Museum stands next to the hotel and displays a sizeable collection of vehicles from the 1930s - 1960s as well as a vintage steam train with carriages.
The Village tour happens each evening and is undertaken aboard a genuine old double-decker London bus. With tongue-in-cheek commentary the tour lasts all of 10 minutes.