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RRemaining faithful to its design ethos of primary colours and straight lines, the popular de Stijl Gariep Hotel is one of the Karoo’s most unusual accommodation establishments. Fashioned on the De Stijl artistic movement between 1917 and 1931, it stands isolated in a vast and ancient land.
As you drive down through the southern Free State on the N1 highway between Johannesburg and Cape Town, you’ll pass South Africa’s largest body of water: the Gariep dam.
If you detour from the highway into the village of Gariep, initially established to house the army of dam workers who built this magnificent water catchment, you’ll see what looks like a multi-coloured set of boxes on the crest of the hill.
Drive up and have a look. You may be astounded at what you see in the de Stijl Gariep Hotel, a relatively new arrival to the overnight offerings in this part of the vast Karoo.
In this ancient world, you would normally expect to find lodgings that follow traditional Karoo Victorian lines like, say, in Matjiesfontein, Philippolis or Cradock.
The de Stijl Gariep Hotel, however, is a singularly smart establishment that takes its inspiration from a Dutch artistic style also known as neo-plasticism. De Stijl (Dutch for ‘the style’) was founded in 1917 by Theo van Doesburg, a painter and writer of some prominence in his time.
It’s all to do with abstract ideas, straight lines, primary colours, squares and rectangles. This school of artistic philosophy was taken up by the artist Mondrian and the composer Jakob van Domselaer, who put together a minimalist piece of De Stijl music called Experiments in Artistic Style.
Times changed, however. Van Doesburg graduated to the Bauhaus style, Mondrian went his own way and the De Stijl group splintered after the founder’s death in 1931.
But no matter. This fabulous hotel in the Karoo, which overlooks one of the most spectacular bodies of water in southern Africa, has carried on with the De Stijl way of seeing life.
The 43 rather chic rooms at de Stijl Gariep Hotel offer the kind of sunset views favoured by romantics and honeymooners the world over. Beyond the Gariep lies a series of dreamlike conical hills, all part of the Karoo’s geological formations.
The suites are large, the décor appropriately wide-angle and colourful, and the balconies great for room-service breakfasts within sight of the Gariep Dam.
The restaurant, named after Mondrian himself, takes its produce from local vegetable gardens, while the menu has added a touch of international cuisine class to the regular Karoo fare.
And once you’ve enjoyed the Dutch-inspired hotel, venture down to one of South Africa’s best-kept aquatic secrets (the Gariep dam) and go for a sailing session in the Karoo.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
de Stijl Gariep Hotel
Tel: +27 (0)51 754 0060/1
How to get here
Gariep is about 200km south of Bloemfontein on the N1, and 700km south of Johannesburg, also on the N1.
Best time to visit
Gariep is at its best in spring (September to early November) and autumn (April to end May).
Things to do
The Gariep Route will present you with a mixed bag of visits to surrounding towns, South African (Second Anglo-Boer) War sites and memorials – and even a visit to a tiger ranch (Tiger Canyons) near Philippolis. You can also fly in a glider and go horse riding or quad biking on nearby farms.
Tours to do
Try a helicopter flip over the Gariep Dam – ask for details at the hotel reception.
Self-drive is the best way to get to Gariep because of its relative isolation from major centres. This also gives you the freedom to explore the Gariep Route, which includes many of the small towns in the area.
What will it cost?
De Stijl rates range from R750 to R1 000 per person per night. Contact the hotel for seasonal rates.
Length of stay
de Stijl Gariep Hotel is a good overnight option for travellers going to and from Cape Town and Johannesburg by car. For those wanting to see more of the southern Free State, 1 or 2 nights at Gariep will do.
What to pack
Pack swimming gear in summer (November to March) and warm clothing going into the winter months of June to August.
What to eat
The chefs at de Stijl are always trying something new, so tell them what you like and ask them to surprise you.
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