In centuries gone by, the Houw Hoek Inn in ‘apple country’ was known as a wayside stop for travellers heading north from Cape Town. Today it’s better known as a romantic weekend getaway and winter retreat for couples and families escaping the city and looking for country hospitality.

Did you know?

Many of the hotel’s early patrons were judges on monthly visits from Cape Town to the Caledon courts.

There’s an old blue gum tree outside the bar of the Houw Hoek Inn near Grabouw in the Western Cape, which, at nearly 200 years of age, is twice as old as it should be.

That is, say locals, because it is well watered with beer.

Buy these locals a drink and they’ll add that the blue gum’s leaves are said to shiver when someone inside tells a good joke ...

There are many delights to be found in the valleys between Grabouw and Elgin, the heart of South Africa’s apple-growing country. The Houw Hoek Inn, with its expansive country grounds, gardens and historic outbuildings, is one of them.

The site of the Houw Hoek Inn was originally an overnight hitching spot. Travellers from Cape Town would cross the rather tricky Houw Hoek mountains and take their rest in this little glen before continuing their journeys.

The first farm buildings here went up in 1779, but soon the farmer was inundated with travellers’ requests for lodgings.

He built a wayside inn, and in 1834 the Houw Hoek Inn was awarded the first liquor licence in South Africa.

It is believed that Houw Hoek is Dutch for ‘hold corner’, because as the drovers descended the steep pass they shouted ‘Hou!' ('hold') to their teams of hard-working oxen.

A hamlet sprung up from this inn, consisting of a butchery, general dealer, school and post office. Just over 40 years ago, all those buildings were incorporated into the ever-expanding Houw Hoek Inn.

In 1902, the Houw Hoek railway station was built.

The innkeeper served the railroad passengers meals on the platform while the train took on more water and coal.

Writer and socialite Lady Anne Barnard, the ‘Martha Stewart of the Cape’, was a stylish lady who could cook up a storm. She and her retinue stayed at this historical hotel in 1798 and declared the boiled chicken ‘fit for an emperor’.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Houw Hoek Inn
Tel: +27 (0)28 284 9646

Elgin Valley Tourism
Tel: +27 (0)21 848 9838

Green Mountain Eco Tourism Route
Tel: +27 (0)21 844 0605
Cell: +27 (0)82 320 2060

Paul Cluver estate (amphitheatre evenings)
Tel: +27 (0)21 844 0605

How to get here

The Houw Hoek Inn lies just off the N2 highway, 90km (an hour’s drive) from Cape Town.

Best time to visit

In winter (May to August), the Houw Hoek Inn's fireside welcome is 1st class; during the rest of the year, the hotel is also a great destination because of its large grounds and country setting.

Around the area

Visit excellent farm stalls in the area for deli foods, wine, gourmet dinners and country lunches – see the listed Green Mountain Eco Route website for details.

Tours to do

Local wine tours to estates in Botrivier, Elgin and Villiersdorp are the prime day trips in this area. There are also seasonal flower tours and open gardens – see the listed Green Mountain Eco Route and Elgin Valley Tourism websites for details.

Get around

A self-drive option is suggested, so you can tour the apple country and beyond at your leisure.

What will it cost

Midweek rates are around R550 per couple per night, excluding breakfast, which costs R105 per person. Weekend rates (bed and breakfast) are about R530 per person. There’s a Saturday dinner, dance and breakfast special at R680 per person sharing.

Length of stay

Two nights at the Houw Hoek Inn would give you a chance to spend time in this wonderful part of the Western Cape.

What to pack

Pack some casual day clothes, semi-casual items for evenings and something warm for a chilly night.

What to eat

The inn’s restaurant offers very good spare ribs, sirloin steak and oxtail specials throughout the week, and a popular Sunday carvery at R165 per person.

What's happening

A great experience in this area is a visit to the Paul Cluver Forest Amphitheatre, a 600-seater arena where you pack a picnic basket, buy some wine from the estate and enjoy the high-quality music performance on offer. Check the Green Mountain Eco Route website or contact the Paul Cluver estate (listed below) for programme details.

Best buys

A delicious and varied picnic basket packed for your day drive by the Houw Hoek Farm Stall – just across the road from the hotel.