Matjiesfontein, Western Cape
Did you know?
One of the late Ethiopian Emperor Haille Selassie's jackets hangs in the museum at Matjiesfontein.
Standing alone in the vastness of the Great Karoo like a Victorian dream, the village of Matjiesfontein and its legends have endured for more than a century.
Conceived and built by the enterprising Jimmy Logan, an Englishman who grew up in a railway family in Berwickshire, Matjiesfontein became a favoured stopping place for train travellers between Cape Town and South Africa's interior.
The legend goes that Logan cunningly served his first course – soup – so hot that no-one had time for the rest of the meal before having to jump aboard their train again.
The village and its sole hotel, The Lord Milner, was known in Victorian circles as a great health destination, because of the clean air, fresh mountain water and wide open Karoo spaces. The sultan of Zanzibar made an appearance; Sir Randolph Churchill passed by and borrowed one of Logan's hunting dogs; and mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes and author-activist Olive Schreiner shared many a heated discussion in the elegant dining room.
Jimmy Logan, being a cricket fan of note, sponsored two English tours to South Africa. He built a cricket ground at Matjiesfontein and the matches were the highlight of the season. During the South African War (also known as the Anglo-Boer War), the hotel housed British officers and, at a later stage, the wounded.
After Logan died, the village slumped somewhat, only to be revitalised by the accomplished hotelier, David Rawdon, in the late 1960s. The new 'Laird' brought Matjiesfontein back to its former grandeur, and it has once again become one of the prime Karoo overland stops – including the twice-weekly arrival of luxurious The Blue Train.
David Rawdon, who also established one of the largest private museums in South Africa at the station itself, passed away in August 2010. But his passion for Matjiesfontein, and that of Logan's before him, lives on in this fascinating little town.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
The Lord Milner Hotel (Matjiesfontein)
Tel: +27 (0)23 5613011
How to get here
Matjiesfontein lies on the N1 between Laingsburg and Touw's River in the Western Cape province.
Best time to visit
August to October in the spring, when many flowers bloom, is especially pleasant, though it's a year-round destination.
Tours to do
Take a day drive north to Sutherland and visit the Large Telescope Observatory; drive east to Laingsburg to see the Flood Museum.
What will it cost
Contact the Lord Milner Hotel as the rooms have different rates.
Length of stay
Stay overnight or two days if you have the time.
Where to stay
Stay at the Lord Milner Hotel.
What to eat
The area is famous for Karoo lamb, cooked in a variety of ways, including delicious lamb chops.