Lord Milner Hotel
is located in Matjiesfontein, close to the N1 highway around 250km northeast of Cape Town in the Great Karoo
in the Western Cape
of South Africa
The tiny historic settlement of Matjiesfontein was created as a fabulous Victorian spa during the late nineteenth century, a gentile stop on the railway line to Pretoria and an elegant upcountry retreat for the residents of Cape Town. Although the place did enjoy minor celebrity for some years, notably hosting some of the earliest international cricket matches in the country, ultimately it was to prove something of a white elephant as the nebulous attractions of the place failed to draw sufficient visitors and the place fell into obscurity.
After substantial renovations during the late twentieth century, the settlement did return to life as a quirky tourist attraction. These days it continues to be a fascinating place to visit, although in truth it struggles to make ends meet.
The little town is centred on the Lord Milner Hotel itself, a grand edifice with 58 rooms, impressive if rather musty public areas and some lovely if rather neglected gardens. The street also contains a very authentic and atmospheric pub, a post office which functions as a gift shop and various other impressive old buildings. Across the road is the station, which still hosts the Rovos and Blue Train services for short stops on their Cape Town to Pretoria itineraries and which also contains an enormously impressive collection of Victoriana in an extensive museum.
The picture is completed by the incongruous presence of a red double-decker London bus. In the vicinity there are other relative sights of minor historical interest, including the cemetery and the cricket pitch.
We absolutely love the Lord Milner Hotel, it is a magnificent folly and a quality comedy experience. The staff are so lovely and really are doing their best to keep the place going against the odds.
The problem is that it is so difficult to build into trips. If you are travelling the N1 highway between Johannesburg
and Cape Town
then the Lord Milner Hotel is way too close to the end of that journey to provide a sensible overnight break. If you are touring the Cape Winelands and the Garden Route, then this represents a major detour northward, too far for the vast majority of people to warrant.
However, if you are the kind of people who love this kind of quirky out of the way location and are specifically interested in spending time discovering the hidden secrets of the Karoo, then the Lord Milner is not to be missed.