Did you know?
Lions for export to Europe were once kept in a massive cage opposite the Victoria Manor.
If you want a snapshot impression of 19th-century South Africa, just walk into the foyer of Cradock’s Victoria Manor at sundown and have a pre-dinner sherry.
Visually editing out the modern-day guests who come from all over the world to experience the Karoo, you’ll find yourself back in the days of buck hunters, transport riders, gentry dripping with jewels, card players and hard military men in gleaming mess dress.
The curving balustrade, the dark wood finishes, the woven carpets, comfortable period furniture, conversation nooks, even the confiding hotel Dalmatian – the combined effect speaks of a bygone era.
Cradock was a frontier town, where you crossed from the Eastern Cape into the wilder unknown hinterland, usually heading north.
Here at ‘The Vic’ you had your wagon fixed, loaded up with essential supplies, and had your last taste of creature comforts before that great adventure on the vast prairies under the skies of southern Africa.
Built sometime in the mid-1850s, this historic hotel has hosted the likes of Cecil John Rhodes, Olive Schreiner (who lived in Cradock at one time herself) and, in the 1880s, all manner of diamond and gold prospectors.
During the South African ( Anglo-Boer) War, the Victoria Hotel was commandeered by British forces, who turned the cellar into a jail for captured Boers.
In later years, legends of The Vic include that of a farmer who made it his habit to ride his horse into the hotel and right up to the bar. He would order a brandy for himself and a beer for his steed – to be served up in a Cadillac hubcap.
Records show that the hotel has gone through several renovations in its life, but none so loving and dedicated as those initiated by its current owner, Sandra Antrobus.
She bought ‘the foremost hotel on the frontier’ in 1994, and revived it from a dilapidated old hulk to a thing of Victorian splendour.
Antrobus brought in an army of carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters and craftsmen and restored the hotel, now called the Victoria Manor, to its status as the prime social spot of the Eastern Cape midlands.
The 21 en-suite bedrooms combine modern services like in-room television with four-poster beds, and modern showers with slipper baths on clawed feet.
The service is efficient and welcoming, from the dining room staff in elegant red, to those behind the bar, receptionists and turn-down ladies.
And don’t be surprised if, after checking in, you find Antrobus and her husband, Michael, helping you with your luggage. It’s all part of the Victoria Manor ethic of excellence ...