Going Bosjes

My travel writer friend, Keith Bain, and I going on an adventure (actually, he does this kind of thing every five minutes, but I was pretty excited to get out of the house).

I hadn’t been on a press trip in years. Decades, even. Independent travel for stories, sure, but not the old school kind where you meet in a hotel for drinks and then get driven somewhere on a bus. In the old days (how did the nineties become the old days?) glamorous travel was part of the deal, and made up for the terrible wages we journalists got paid. There was so much money in print media it was nothing to fly to Joburg for lunch. You’d be back by 6pm to go to the next thing. I was sent on a luxury cruise to Australia when I was too young and green to know that my cabin, the size of a modest hotel suite, was huge by maritime standards. Once I stayed at a game lodge on the Zambezi where the bedroom had only three walls. From your bed, you looked out over the coffee-coloured river and fell asleep to the sound of hippos splashing in the shallows. The Victorian bath was outside on the deck, and when you went for breakfast under a giant Frangipani tree somebody walked behind you and raked away your footsteps. 

The Bosjes Kapel (or chapel) is one of the most recognisable architectural feats in SA. Inspired by a psalm, it was designed to create the impression of a bird floating on water. It’s breathtaking, inside and out.

‘When last were you at Bosjes?’ my friend, Keith, asks me as we cruise along the N1, and he’s surprised when I say never, but it’s not surprising. Over the past few years (thanks, in part, to Covid) I’ve discovered that it’s not actually necessary to ever leave my bedroom. Plus, I’ve always had a mental block about traveling beyond hospital bend. Nothing good ever comes of traveling beyond hospital bend (unless it’s to go to cafe Ohana or visit my friend, Philippa). This is especially true lately, with Hitler aka Putin blowing up gas lines all over the show and Europe entering a massive energy crisis. Late at night, just before I turn off the light, I scare the daylights out of myself by asking Google what the chances really are of a third world war. The answers I get are not reassuring. Who woulda thunk South Africa would end up the safer place to be? 

Our game drive up high up into the majestic Waaihoek and Slanghoek mountains. Just look at that light.

Earlier in the week I tried to find out exactly where Bosjes was, but all I could find was the Breedekloof Valley. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but I could see that it wasn’t far from Worcester (which I only just discovered, thanks to David Kramer, is pronounced ‘Worcester’ and not ‘Vorcester’) and I definitely know Worcester because my friend, Leslie, comes from there and there’s a road in that town called de la Bat which makes my other friend and I laugh because it reminds us of a trip we took together to Greece, the details of which can never be divulged. 

By the time we’ve arrived and done a tour of Bosjes’s extraordinary primary school (built by the Bosjes Trust for the children of the farm-workers and which is so modern and sustainable and lovely it makes the modern, lovely schools of Scandinavia look sad), we are veritably perishing of thirst and words. Our intuitive host clocks this and makes a quick itinerary change so that instead of a garden walk we are settled on comfy couches beside a pool David Hockney couldn’t have done better and plied with cold Bosjes rosé and tasty butternut wraps. Since I went freelance I rarely hang out with journalists and it’s a joy being with kin again; folk who understand why the word ‘nestle’ should be banned from every travel piece, ever. Also, journalists drink a lot of wine and anyone who does this is my friend.

So much space in our back garden. And, breathe.

Before dinner we are taken on a game drive up into the Waaihoek and Slanghoek Mountain ranges. The jeep climbs up and up a steep, bumpy road. A pair of giraffe startle at the sound of our vehicle. The sun is low on the horizon and the protea and fynbos have that otherworldly golden glow, like the world is steeped in syrup. Someone spots an albino springbok. It’s springtime, so babies abound. I wonder what animals roamed here before the people came. Probably elephants. Definitely lions. Higher and higher we climb, past pin-cushions and strange rock formations and dams that need replenishing but our rainy season has come and gone. It’s looking to be a dry summer and our guide explains that they’ll have to source water from the Breede river. In this new world we inhabit, water is a scarce resource. 

The guide informs us that a new species of plant was recently discovered right here on these slopes. Of course it was. This is Africa, the wild frontier. There is so much space in our back garden it almost blows your mind. So much sky, so much air, so much room to move. When I lived in Europe I used to feel sometimes like I couldn’t breathe. The sky was too low and the air had lost its sparkle. It’s dark and cold on the drive home and I’m happy I brought the puffer jacket I bought a hundred years ago for a ski trip where I got in such a rage I threw my skis down the slope and sulked for the duration (never let your husband teach you how to ski, it’s very bad for a marriage). Northern Europe is frigid but you never feel cold because you’re always dressed for the weather. In Africa you think it’s going to be hot all the time so you frequently freeze half to death. 

Happy for my puffer jacket. Sad it reminds me of the time I had a tantrum.

Bosje’s beautiful new rooms (the hotel has recently undergone a major renovation) look out into the darkness of the African night, plains and emptiness that curve upwards and become mountains, wild and untouched as they have ever been. They’re stylish, spacious and very inviting; you want to kick off your shoes and hang out; light an atmosfire, pour yourself a large glass of red and look out into that nothingness and wonder, what creatures lurk? What spirits of the veld and mountains roam these desolate stretches? I’m tempted to run a bubble bath in the huge and gorgeous bathroom (these rooms have a separate bathroom and loo which is always a nice touch), but I think of the water thing and also, I know the chef is eagerly waiting to feed us so I join my new friends in the dining room. 

I’ve already made a mess of the room. It was gorgeous before I got there.

There’s something about being in the country that makes me incapable of ordering anything other than lamb, and I even though we are not quite in the Karoo, we are close enough that the lamb chops on the dinner menu are likely to be excellent. They are. The fat is crisp and perfectly rendered, and they’re served simply – just as they should be – with perfect roast potatoes, green beans and warm calamata olives. The creme brulée dessert is topped with a yummy apple compote and some very nice crunchy things I forget to ask about. Back in my room, just as I am settling in to relax and admire its gorgeousness, the lights go out. Ah. Load-shedding, of course, even out here in the sticks. And then within about 5 seconds light is restored. It’s funny how generators have become such a thing. I know all of South Africa is furious, but if it’s any consolation, my friend Leslie (the one from Worcester with a ‘w’) just Whatsapped me a few days ago to say that load-shedding is a possibility for Sweden, too. She would know, she lives there. The world has gone quite mad. 

Karoo lamb. Just another reason not to move to Perth.

In true South African style (we do hospitality exceptionally well) everything at Bosjes is lovely: the pool is gently heated when I take a morning dip; the masseur has thoughtfully lit a fire beside the table because the morning air is chilly; the breakfast mushrooms have been fried in heaps of real butter. The garden walk towards Bosje’s famous chapel (even if you don’t know, the place, you’ll know the chapel) is a beautifully designed mosaic of succulents, Renosterveld, indigenous water plants and fiery coral trees. In the middle of nowhere, all this elegance; all this beauty. Such vision and creativity went into constructing this space. Down here we are good at making something out of nothing. It’s a spirit borne of surviving the harsh, wild bush. Eat or be eaten. Never rest on your laurels. The grand old homestead which dates back to 1790 is a reminder of the ‘can do’ spirit we South Africans are renowned for: let’s make a farm here in the middle of nowhere! Let’s transform this arrid land into a Garden of Eden! And then, let’s build a floating chapel so lovely and unlikely it will make people gasp when they see it. 

In travel writing ‘oasis’ (like ‘nestle’) is an inexcusable cliché, but Bosjes really is that. You step into another world and forget, for a while, that the whole planet has gone ‘bossies*.’ Not here at the foot of the mountains in the land of perpetual sunshine where, when you turn off your bedside light, the silences stretch to forever.

The beautiful, stately Bosjes homestead built in 1790.


  • I love my job
  • I’m happy to be in South Africa while the world is imploding
  • Bosjes is the most perfect place imaginable for an intimate wedding/renewal of vows/big birthday celebration/romantic weekend away
  • for the setting, quality and service it’s very affordable
  • It has a well-stocked library, a couple of beautiful shops on the property selling bespoke items (you NEED their dressing-gown) and plenty of excellent Bosjes wine (I recommend drinking it beside the pool)
  • there’s a café in the grounds that serves delicious coffees, pastries, bubbly and lunch-y things so you’re sorted for meals
  • the spa is heavenly
  • the garden is a magical place; spend as much time in it as you can
  • even if you don’t get married there, the chapel will restore your faith in humankind and make you happy to be alive


Road trips and Remembered Things

Schoone Oordt boutique hotel in Swellendam. The grandest old lady in the Overberg.

As we had been looking forward to our weekend away at beautiful Schoone Oordt boutique hotel in Swellendam for weeks, and also because we are a real-life family and not a TV show, the first thing we did that happy morning was have a huge fight. Not to mention names nor blame anyone, but the fight was around the fact that one member of our family (hint: it’s a man) decided he absolutely had to go to gym before we left. In his defence, he based his insistence on the truism that when we go away anywhere, even for a day, it takes me about 7,5 hours to pack and get ready. He (rightly) reasoned that since a gym session takes roughly an hour he’d be home with 6,5 hours to throw his clothes in a rucksack and pace while the three girls in the family ran around shrieking like panicked banshees.

Only, that morning – fueled by a determination to get on the road early and a hefty dose of righteous indignation (something we women get down to a fine art) – I somehow managed to be ready quite quickly, and it was my turn to pace and simmer and still be hotly simmering when he appeared, sweatily, at the front door, pumping with endorphins and properly pleased with himself and the world. Needless to say, the reception he got wasn’t warm. And even though he took his usual 9 seconds to shower, throw on a short pant and get himself behind the wheel, the rest of the family was of a mind to be Still Be Cross and the atmosphere in the car as we took off down the road was like the coldest night ever recorded in Novo Sebirsk.

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We’d probably have been less grumpy with each other if we’d known that at this hotel fairies come into your room and light a fire while you’re having supper. Then again, maybe not.

It took us all the way to the N2 outside Somerset West, with several men trying to shove straw hats and cell phone chargers at us through the window, for anyone to speak to anyone else and also that didn’t go well because the first topic raised was whether or not we were going to stop at the Wimpy for breakfast. For me, and I think most South Africans, the fact that a place serves just about the worst food anyone’s ever eaten is no reason at all not to eat there. I suppose it’s a nostalgia thing, but a road trip is just not right without a portion of factory-cut chips and that very cheap tomato sauce that comes in a squeezy bottle. My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t share our enthusiasm and insists his cup of coffee should actually have coffee in it, so, we told him he could have cashew nuts in the car and that we’d see him in half an hour.

Happily for everyone, things started to improve after we’d eaten (there is something undeniably cheery about those red booths), and by the time we hit Sir Lowry’s Pass we were back to our normal selves. Also, every time I go over Sir Lowry’s Pass I remember the day, many years ago, my parents were driving home from Bonnievale and the brakes on my dad’s old Mercedes Benz failed. I imagine the fear he must have felt as he pumped the pedal and the car didn’t slow down but instead gathered momentum on that steep downward turn and the memory makes my eyes prickle because I love that man more than the world. Using the handbrake and carefully gearing down he managed to get them to the bottom safely, both shaky and white as sheets. And I’m grateful when I travel that stretch of road that they were lucky that day.

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The rugged mountains of the magnificent Tradouw Pass (‘Women’s Path’ in Khoi)  which joins the towns of Swellendam and Barrydale.

And this is how life is. One minute you can be safe in your car on a soggy Thursday, overtaking a truck and Johnny Clegg saying goodbye to December African Rain and the next moment everything can change. As we emerged from the clouds and dipped down towards Botrivier, the sun came out and lit up yellow, sheep-studded grasslands. I think only in South Africa are the ribbons of road this long and this desolate. Past the pink, flower-strewn vistas of the Tradouw Pass I remembered another thing: that the last time I traveled this road was in the back of a Volksie bus driven by the boyfriend of my oldest friend. He died of cancer less than a month ago. Road trips make you think about all kinds of things.

As we pulled into the town of Swellendam the rain had started up again. Kind people from the hotel appeared with large umbrellas which they held over our heads as we hurried to our room. That’s the kind of place Schoone Oordt is, big on attention to detail and the sorts of little touches that make everything better. The bathroom floor is heated (which really, really makes a difference), the bath salts have tiny, fragrant rose petals that make you feel like a bathing princess and while you’re having supper in front of a friendly fire some wonderful fairies sneak into your room and place hot water bottles in your bed. It was only the next morning, which opened bright and inviting, that we realised how pretty this old building actually is, its dining area opening onto a lush expanse of lawn which sweeps down to a blue and sparkling pool.

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Our daughters were partial to the miniature dressing-gowns (a very thoughtful touch) and quickly discovered a taste for Malawian mocktails by the pool.

That afternoon, while the spring sun played dodgems, I found a pool lounger which offered just the right amount of shade for reading and rays for warming and was aware of a feeling of deep contentment as my husband and children enjoyed a game of hide-and-seek amongst the guava trees and I dipped in and out of a book which wasn’t good enough to hold my attention. And it was one of those moments in life where all aggravation is temporarily stalled and you can’t remember one annoying thing about the world which, for a time, has become the sound of your children laughing and clouds gathering and dissipating and an awareness that, at that exact moment in time, there is nothing you need and nowhere you would rather be.

For the next 48 hours we drank tea, took a walk, dozed, played scrabble, shared bottles of very good wine and had a hard time choosing between the delicious items on Schoone Oordt’s menu. My personal favourite was the rump, tasty and done to perfection, served with stywe pap and a smoky smoor, but the pork loin with sweet cabbage and green beans got a big thumbs up from everyone too. On our second evening we were getting hungry but weren’t quite ready to leave the fireplace or our Scrabble board (and were sipping a mighty fine bottle of red and also I was winning) so we ordered a cheese platter to share. A cheese platter is always a happy moment, but this one was a thing of rare beauty with warm, handmade biscuits and a homemade tomato relish off-setting a generous serving of some seriously delicious Overberg cheeses.

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Breakfast in the sunny dining-room is a deeply civilised affair. That morning, a spiced poached pear with Greek yoghurt and homemade granola was the precursor to a splendid stack of black mushrooms, crispy bacon and perfectly poached eggs.

I was a bit bleak about leaving the next day – there is something deeply wonderful about arriving at the pool and within seconds being met with fluffy towels and the offer of a cocktail – but we were due in Barrydale at the Unplugged 62 music festival. Honestly, I was a little trepidatious about attending this event as camping and roughing it are not really for me, but I needn’t have worried because this was glamping at its finest – a comfy double bed with extra pillows, thick blankies to keep out the Karoo chill and – wait for this – while we were stomping in the dust some good and kind people snuck hot water bottles into our beds. This seems to be a tradition around these parts, and it’s a very good one. Also, it’s not quite what you’d expect in a campsite, but the Cherry Glamping people know a thing or two about creature comforts. They also provided bottles of water since the (a-hem) dancing builds up quite a thirst, and early next morning a kind man was up bright and early making tea and coffee and homemade rusks for whomever was in need of sustenance.

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The kind of ‘camping’ I like to do. Please note the Nguni rug and the extra blankies and water. There were also comfy camping chairs set up outside and little lamps to guide us home.

The festival turned out to be one of the nicest I’ve attended, probably because it’s smaller than the others and therefore less hectic. You know, for us older people. And the music line-up was impressive. I’d kind of expected a few local farmers with guitars, but my 12-year-old daughter’s eyes were like saucers when one of her favourite bands, Slow Jack, kicked off with their hit single, Love to Dream. It’s the first time we’ve taken our girls to a live music event and it was really fun being there with them, dancing up a storm on the haybales. The vibe was great, with everyone in the mood for letting their hair down and I remembered what I love about music festivals – how happy and chilled-out everyone is, and how many friendly, cool people exist in the world. And there something wonderful and uniquely life-affirming about dancing like lunatics under a star-studded Karoo night sky.

It was way past our usual bedtime when made our way across the dewy veld to our waiting tent, giggling like teenagers as we looked for the zip in the dark and tried not to wake our sleeping kids. The truth about this thing called life is that you discover, at some point or another, that whichever way it unfolds it is seldom the deal you expected, and being a grown-up can be harder at times than you ever imagined possible. Which is why it’s so necessary to grab hold of the moments that retain beauty and magic. None of us knows how much time we’ve been allocated on this planet. As I get older I begin to realise that the here and now is the only thing that really matters. Tomorrow it could all look very different, so we can’t take anything for granted. We must hug our children, appreciate our friends and notice the kindness and abundance that exists all around us if we choose to see it. And most of all, we must dance like lunatics as often as we possibly can.

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Karoo cocktails and happiness.

Instant Prozac

I got this e-mail yesterday, and while it’s certainly been fiddled with – it’s just too good to be true – anyone who has read instructions on a product brought in from China will accept that it’s probably not that far off, either. I had a good laugh, and thought it was too funny not to share.

“A friend went to Beijing recently and was given this brochure by the hotel. It is precious. She is keeping it and reading it whenever she feels depressed. Obviously, it has been translated directly, word for word from Mandarin to English…

Getting There:

Our representative will make you wait at the airport. The bus to the hotel runs along the lake shore. Soon you will feel pleasure in passing water. You will know that you are getting near the hotel, because you will go round the bend. The manager will await you in the entrance hall. He always tries to have intercourse with all new guests.

The hotel:

This is a family hotel, so children are very welcome. We of course are always pleased to accept adultery. Highly skilled nurses are available in the evenings to put down your children. Guests are invited to conjugate in the bar and expose themselves to others. But please note that ladies are not allowed to have babies in the bar. We organize social games, so no guest is ever left alone to play with them self.

The Restaurant:

Our menus have been carefully chosen to be ordinary and unexciting. At dinner, our quartet will circulate from table to table, and fiddle with you.

Your Room:

Every room has excellent facilities for your private parts. In winter, every room is on heat. Each room has a balcony offering views of outstanding obscenity! . You will not be disturbed by traffic noise, since the road between the hotel and the lake is used only by pederasts.


Your bed has been made in accordance with local tradition. If you have any other ideas please ring for the chambermaid. Please take advantage of her. She will be very pleased to squash your shirts, blouses and underwear. If asked, she will also squeeze your trousers.

Above all: When you leave us at the end of your holiday, you will have no hope. You will struggle to forget it.”