GoTravel24 review on Augusta de Mist

Review: Augusta De Mist



Ehrard Vermaak June 29th, 2011

In 1795, revolution was in the air. Not in France or America in this case, but in the Overberg… That’s right folks. In 1795, poor administration and inadequacies of the Dutch East India Company caused the long suffering burgers of Swellendam to revolt and on 18 June 1795, they declared themselves a republic. Their leader, Hermanus Steyn, was the first person to be called president in the greater Southern African Region. Long Live the Republic! Well, maybe not. Three months later the Brits arrived, and the short-lived republic was stopped in its tracks.

216 years later, however, the people of Swellendam decided to reclaim this proud tradition. In a ceremony marked by the firing of Canons and setting free of paper lanterns into the clear winter’s night sky, The Republic of Greater Swellendam was proclaimed. This time not so much because of dissatisfaction with those who rule, but rather to showcase this little town. This might sound silly, but my recent stay at the Augusta De Mist country retreat guest house certainly convinced me why the town is worth a visit.

Granted it is a two-and-a-half hour drive from the Cape Town city bowl but it is easily accessible by the N2. It can also form part of a best of the Cape Quadrangle of sorts. On the one side it is reached via the fabulous Wine Route, filled with vineyards and wine farms a plenty and from the other it is reached by the Whale Route, with the famed towns of Hermanus and Cape Agulhas. No to mention Swellendam is at the gateway of Route 62, and the Garden Route beyond. Making it not merely the perfect base for a weekend away, but the ideal place from which to explore the many scenic and culture rich routes the region is known for.

But first, a little more history?

Augusta De Mist was the daughter of an early settler, Uitenhage De Mist, and as you might have gathered from his name, he was the founder of the port of Uitenhage. In 1802, Augusta De Mist set out on a journey to explore the Cape Province and kept a journal. Along with Lady Anne Barnard, Augusta is one of the only known female writers to visit the Cape in this time. During her travels she stopped over in Swellendam and made her stay in a year old farm house.This house was later proclaimed a national monument and today it is the two-century-old heart and soul of the four star Augusta De Mist Country retreat.

Set on a luxuriant plot of land, the stunning Cape Dutch construction still has many original features including its rare yellow wood shutters and reed ceiling, still perfectly held together by the original mud and clay.

Although the main house is the heart of the establishment, it has two Heritage rooms, most guests are accommodated in the six uniquely decorated cottage type suites that are located elsewhere on the property. Almost each room has a fireplace and alpaca hide blankets, for those cold winter nights, and a swimming pool, herb gardens and blankets of shade for when the Cape swelters are located nearby.

The simple white structures are reminiscent of the historic cottages of the region. As in the main house, the historic is stylishly balanced by an eclectic mix of African, South African and European décor statements. Antiques give you that home-grown spirit, while the comforts and brightness of modern lampshades, art and linen will remind you of the luxury of today. Each suite consists of its own lounge, large en-suite bathroom (two of which have spa baths) and private gardens.

Augusta De Mist is located right by the historic district of Swellendam, and a few minutes walk away we found ourselves looking at one of the most photographed churches in South Africa (Don’t you think the tower looks like a minaret?) from the stoep of the Old Goal Restaurant. Here we enjoyed homemade Milk Tart and traditional Moer coffee, before strolling between the stalls of the country market. So next time you drive past the industrial façade on the N2, be sure to take a turn down the East gateway to the town and stop at the well preserved Drodsty museum and a fabulous selection of pottery, chocolate, jewellery and craft boutiques.

Dinner at Augusta’s African kitchen was the highlight for me. Prepared personally by the two owners Henk and Michel, the three course meal had us smiling with gluttony. Even more impressive was the fact that, firstly, a good deal of the produce and products used was grown or made either by the owners themselves or for the Augusta De Mist brand, and secondly that each night sees a new menu.

Our meal was started with a creamy local pear and watercress soup, with just a hint of stilton cheese. This was followed by a Cape Malay Chicken Coriander dish. This uniquely ‘Bo-Kaap’ recipe was served with lashings of garlic, ginger, onions and sambals. Finally our meal was finely rounded off by their homemade Malva Pudding – once featured in the New York Times nogal. With a glass of their signature blended red, made especially by Mishca Estate, we relaxed by the fireplace and spoke about the historic house with our hosts who were friendly and happy to chat even after making food for a full house.

Breakfast has a more laid back feel, but with delicious variations of the traditional buffet breakfast like the pesto scramble, it hits just the right note before exploring the quaint town.

The only thing that might be a little different back at Augusta De Mist is the fact that there is no reception. But this is planned that way. It might take you some time to find your bearings, but you will get over it as soon as you are in your spacious room, in your robe watching original Julia Child DVD’s and drinking a glass of the complimentary Port with a fireplace roaring. Besides, Henk and Michel are just a quick and friendly phone call away.

Henk and Michel and the staff at Augusta De Mist really took great care of us. Their relentless commitment to quality is apparent in everything they do, from the publication of the Augusta Daily News Page right down to the time they take to get to know each guest.And if you can’t take my word for it, review upon review on Tripadvisor and a cover story in British Airways’ in-flight Horizons magazine should vouch for them. You will leave the town feeling like you’ve made new friends and with your Swellendam passport in tow, you should feel like an honorary citizen. I will certainly be back!