In Matjiesfontein, it’s just you, The Lord Milner Hotel, two museums, a coffee shop a pub, and the occasional train passing through. And perhaps a ghost or two…

Where is it?
Matjiesfontein is on the N1 between Touws River and Lainsburg, approximately 250km from Cape Town. You can also catch a train from Cape Town or Johannesburg.

Why should I go there?
Matjiesfontein has one shop and no crowds. Apart from the Lord Milner Hotel, two museums, a coffee shop and a pub, it’s just you, the Karoo and an occasional train passing through. It’s old-world escapism at its best!

How much does it cost to stay there?
From R1 700 per room per night at the Lord Milner, including breakfast. From R995 per room per night at the Matjies Motel, breakfast not included.

Contact details
Telephone 023-561-3011,

The next time you are on the N1 trying your best to get to Joburg from Cape Town in as short a time as possible, slow down as you get close to the turn off to Sutherland and look out for a sign pointing to Matjiesfontein. You’ll feel as if you’ve left the rest of the world behind the minute you turn right and drive through the white walls into a National Monument that has been the home of Olive Schreiner (she wrote The Story of An African Farm here) and visited by the likes of Cecil John Rhodes and Rudyard Kipling.

Where to stay in Matjiesfontein

The main feature of the town is the hotel itself, the Lord Milner, which was completed in 1899. It has recently been lovingly refurbished with the rooms sporting cheerful linen and harlequin-floored en-suite bathrooms, while still retaining its yesteryear feel. The best part for me is when you arrive, walk past the tinkling fountains and push open the heavy wooden doors. There before you is the grandest old staircase, complete with a red carpet. That has never changed and I hope it never will!

There’s a swimming pool (presided over by a windmill in true Karoo style) and a beautiful indigenous garden with a reservoir that used to supply the town’s water. There’s also a lovely little chapel, where you can get married. And let’s not forget the resident hotel feline – Teresa is as charming as the town itself, but she’s a little fickle so don’t get upset if she loves you one day and a new guest the next!

For those on a budget, the Matjies Motel has comfortable rooms with views onto the river or gardens and there are a few cottages also available to rent, including Olive Schreiner’s home.

Where to eat and drink in Matjiesfontein

The choices are fairly simple here – you choose to dine in a Victorian setting at the Lord Milner, enjoy a more casual affair at The Coffee shop, or have a pub lunch at the Laird’s Arms.

The Lord Milner’s chef creates beautiful dishes with a unique and contemporary take on many of South Africa’s favourite traditional fare, including Karoo springbok and lamb sourced from the local district. The Coffee House occupies what was once Logan’s General Store in 1888 and serves light meals, pastries, pies and sandwiches during the day, while the Laird’s Arms offers pub lunches daily.

What to do in Matjiesfontein

You really must go on a private hotel tour with Johnnie, the resident entertainer. You can’t help but love Johnnie. The minute he catches your eye he shouts “It’s show time!” followed by “I love it when you talk foreign.”  The tour includes various rooms of the Lord Milner, the 100 year old piano, the 300 year old mirror and the cup that South Africa won in the very first cricket match played against the Britsh in Matjiesfontein. He’ll also show you a photo of a ghost. The story goes that he had the picture taken with the two little girls and the one said “Who’s the tannie?” Of course no-one else could see this “tannie”, but there she was when the photo was developed and posted to Johnnie by the family. The hotel reckons the ghost is that of Olive Schreiner. It may or may not be a fake, but I tend to go with the latter. This town barely uses email let alone Photoshop!  

In the evening there’s a tour of the town (the shortest tour in South Africa) on a red bus, called Futtom Fluffy. It takes approximately  ten minutes and when it’s over you are welcome to join Johnnie at the piano in the Lairds Arms for a sing-along before dinner.  He’s good at roping you in to join in, so don’t to pack your singing voice!

There is a museum at the station which houses various historical paraphernalia from the area. It’s your typical old musty museum, but quite a fascinating place to spend an hour or two. There’s also the Matjiesfontein Transport Museum that has a lot of Rolls Royce’s, a hearse or two and a fire engine that is still used for emergencies today.

During the Boer War 10 000 British solders and 20 000 horses camped on the fields just beyond the railway line with the hotel being used as an infirmary. If you go for a walk in those fields you will come across remnants of the British camp in the form of rusted tins and bits of metal. If you are lucky you might find a button from a uniform as I did! Also keep an eye out for hares and tortoises.

Otherwise, simply take a stroll through the town and back in time while exploring all the historical buildings, the gardens and the cricket field. You are also welcome to play a game of tennis or have a swim in the pool (overnight guests only). No matter how you choose to spend your time, the time will go by – and surprisingly fast! But once you’ve fallen for the charms of Matjiesfontein, you are very likely to return again…

The ghosts of Matjiesfontein

It’s rumoured that some of the ghosts of the past still hang around, the most famous being Ms Schreiner who frequents the Laird’s Arms and James Logan who likes the lounges at the back of the hotel. Then there’s card-loving Kate who has been heard shuffling cards in her card room, a negligee-clad Lucy who has never checked out of her first floor bedroom and soldiers have been seen on the stairwell. While the hotel staff claim to have never seen a ghost, I like to think there are ghosts lurking in the passageways and staring out of windows. It somehow adds to the quirky charm of the place!

Inside information
For something different, book into the honeymoon suite with its interesting twin baths.

*Photos supplied unless watermarked.

Originally published November 2014 and since updated | Hosted by Lord Milner Hotel