Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Belvidere Manor near Knysna and the Drostdy Hotel in Graaf Reinet: May/June 2010

Two other one night stops that I made were at Belvidere Manor near Knysna and the Drostdy Hotel in Graaf Reinet.

The story of Belvidere begins in 1830 when the land was acquired by George Rex, the "squire and proprietor of Knysna" who settled here and became the foremost timber merchant in the district. When a young Scotsman named Thomas Henry Duthie married George's third daughter, Caroline, in 1833, he bought the farm named Belvidere from his father-in-law for £750. In April 1835 the young family, now with a first baby, named Caroline after her mother, moved into their cottage, which was situated where "The Bell" now stands. At that time it would have had timber walls and a rush roof and the cellar which now houses the wine would have been used as storage. By 1848, the family had quite outgrown the cottage. There were twelve children in all, and plans were made to build a larger house. Foundations were laid on 2 October 1848, and in November 1849 the family had their "first dinner out of New House". At that stage it was a single storey building with a thatched roof, dormer windows and small bell-turret. In its life, Belvidere House was an official post office serving the local community, with business being transacted from the glass door in the drawing room. It was a centre of gracious hospitality, welcoming every person of note who visited the Knysna area.

This venue also houses Knysna's smallest pub, The Bell Tavern, which is housed on the site of the original Belvidere farmhouse, and indeed a feature of the pub is the wine cellar viewed through the window in the floor, where freshly caught game would have been hung. With a yellowwood ceiling and ironwood block floor this is a cosy venue.

We stayed here in a cottage with bedroom and en suite bathroom, a comfortable lounge and kitchen, which can be used as a self-catering option.

The Drostdy Hotel is a living national monument. The foyer, with it's doors open, has a perfect view down the street to another national monument, Reinet House, one of 220 national monuments in the oldest town in the Eastern Cape and the fourth oldest in South Africa, Graaff-Reinet. Next to the swimming pool area is Stretch's Court, which is a cobblestone street, lined with colourful shutters and bougainvillea. The imposing slave bell reminds of a time when these cottages were emancipated slave quarters. Each and every one of the 51 rooms varies in size, shape, and decor. All are en-suite, equipped with air-conditioning and all modern day amenities to ensure a luxurious stay.

Graaff-Reinet has a rich history which is depicted in the many museums, a plethora of century old indigenous Karoo architecture and a visit to the Valley of Desolation should be undertaken by every visitor to experience the awe-inspiring rock formations and the splendid view across the Plains of Camdeboo.

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