Renamed Prince Albert in 1845 in honour of Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg, the 5-star De Bergkant Lodge is the Fabergé egg in which would otherwise just be a dusty Karoo town if it weren’t for this vintage jewel in South Africa’s upmarket establishment crown.
Owned by Swiss couple Renate and Michael Sönke Sönnichsen, its 1858 National Monument building is a hotel firmly ticked on most international visitor’s watch-list, thanks in large part to German travel author Dieter Losskarn’s personal travel book exposés which cover the depth and breadth of the crème-del-a-crème of all which South Africa has to offer.
Today, De Bergkant Lodge’s large luxurious rooms enjoy full capacity; indicating that the original Prince Albert is not the only one to enjoy delicious affairs of the heart at the foot of the majestic Swartberg Mountains.
Find me a Prince
Descend the 27 km Swartberg Pass and the shocking pink and white bougainvillea-lined streets announce your entry into town. On the very first corner on the left, De Bergkant Lodge nestles on lush clipped lawns with sparkling white buildings that comprise its stately setting and the couple’s own heritage home and herb garden, together with 10 luxury guest bedrooms and not one, not two, but three emerald-cool swimming pools, appropriately bedecked with languishing guests of foreign-tongue all enjoying the heat and the gentle afternoon lull.
As much a part of its history, the courtyard is dominated by a flourishing vine tree, its sinuous roots exposed to eons of visiting faces and feet – including that of the Republic’s own past-President de Klerk with his wife Marike – and today followed up by frequent ANC government officials who enjoy this oasis managed to international standards of service and pristine comfort.
There on a love affair of my own, I couldn’t resist a stolen kiss under its mighty boughs which draped grandly above in lieu of my own African-style mistletoe; and surely more lucky than that of our Northern counterparts icy Christmas sprigs?
History repeats itself more categorically on the walls of the high ceiling reception room where there’s a wealth of period collectables, paintings and whispered descriptions of past lives. The dominatrix-looking Queen Victoria herself attempts to look light-weight and elegant with her lace gloves poised across her wrists. On modern observation, her jowled jawline deflects the whole affect, but ‘her’ Albert must have looked past this physical faux pas and seen into the very heart of her bosom.
Heart is what you get at De Bergkant Lodge. A heart that ticks with reassuring precision, one you can rely on to bring you a truly fabulous five-star experience. A complete restoration rendered by Renate and Michael, has revived the evocative scent of its history but also delivered classical touches that speak of an eye for understated luxury.
The Protea suite, our weekend boudoir, was a haven of cool white linen expanses stretching across king size extra length beds, monogrammed towels and soft robes and nearly; but not quite, matched in size by its vast black and white tiled bathroom featuring a him-and-her shower side-by-side and a six foot ball-and-claw bath tub beneath a vast stain-glass window.
Living in its genteel comfort with simple touches of modern technology, the rest of the world simply fades away as you slip into a time tracked only by the rise and fall of the sun in its trajectory across the azure-blue skies. Each day prepared for by a pool-side breakfast of Black Forest ham, luscious-red erotic figs and poached eggs with hand-crisped bacon. This, enjoyed in the presence of an exotic party of jostling Cardinals at the bird feeders; just as surely intent on their own breakfast victuals.
Your Dining Pleasure
Romantic dinner invitations are enjoyed at two notable restaurants on the town’s main drag. Hosted by Michael and Renate, our dinner at The Real Food Company saw local greetings called out to the town’s celebrated gallery owner Brent, another Prince Albert resident who frequents its casual atmosphere to enjoy a variety of exceptional dishes created by chef Jeremy, confirming it as a simple yet sublime eating spot popular with international foodies and locals alike.
At Olive Branch we met with Hendry, an up and coming celebrity chef who specialises in bespoke Karoo dishes compiled from his own home-grown roots. Newly-wed for the second time round, he puts as much love into his dishes as he would his new family. Find out where Hendry is currently cooking when next staying at De Bergkant Lodge.
The understated sophistication of De Bergkant offers you a holiday in the true sense of the word; a chance to take time out, and rest and restore your body and mind in elegant reprieve before you set out to face the hurly burly of the world once again.
Nestled in the ancient history of its surrounding rock formations, it offers a special ambiance that settles around you, that can only really be experienced, rather than explained. Powered by the flat desolation of the Karoo, it’s a journey to the heart of transcendent beauty in a landscape dominated by dust and rock and craggy aloe.
Small Town Secrets:
When in doubt say Darling
Look out for Pieter Dirk Uys’ latest show in February 2019 playing at Prince Albert’s Art Deco theatre The Showroom. As South Africa’s beloved entertainer on speaking terms (in cheek) with political high points of South Africa’s modern history, Uys or Tannie Evita as he/she is known, is a regular guest at De Bergkant Lodge when travelling on tour away from his home town of Darling and own bespoke theatre establishment.
Burning Black Rubber
If you’re looking for adventure activity, there is much to do from mountain biking to hiking. Take a Unimog ride up the pass and a cycle back down again from atop its 1, 583-meter peak back into town – expect some rubber to burn while holding hard onto those bicycle brakes.
When the ‘safe word’ is Die Hel
If you have 4×4 vehicle, chance a trip down into the depth of Die Hel. With its own rich settler history, it is a road not built for the faint of heart… the relief from your hairpin descent will be rewarded with a cold beer and home-cooked Karoo lamb chops at Fonteinplaas in the Oude Klowers Plaaskombuis, nestled at the bottom where you are pleasantly surprised and welcomed by the last remaining relatives of this lost community of long ago. Visit the Cape Conservation offices a few kilometers further along the valley to find out more about the flora and fauna of the region. We crossed paths with Kudu, Klipspringer and troupes of baboon while descending into its depths.
The Faberge Egg of the Karoo
While the rest of the town of Prince Albert might fade into a mirage of heat there is one other heart-stop you have to do… a trip to Avoova to claim a piece of local artisan work made from ostrich egg shell. Now an international name, Avoova produce a large collection of bespoke and truly authentic South African artifact gifts with which you can claim and return home with in memory of your Karoo experience. While there in its cool interior, ask about Obie Oberholzer’s book – you might even be able to pick up an autographed copy depicting a photographic history and the most expansive and creative production of an authentic Karoo love affair to tuck under your arm and share with friends and family back home.
Urban Slang or ‘your’ Prince Albert:
A Prince Albert is another term for a male piercing that sees a ring threaded in through the urethra and out behind the glans for decoration and sexual sensation. It’s so nicknamed from the modern legend that Prince Albert (1819-1861), had one. Perhaps more than just an affair of the heart, you probably won’t look at Queen Victoria quite the same again; or risqué Prince Albert for that matter…
Luxury Travelers of Europe:
Published in German and Dutch, find Dieter Losskarn’s travel books at www.lossis.com and explore more not-to-be-missed experiences such as that offered by the 5-star De Bergkant Lodge in Prince Albert.
Toyi-Toyi for a Toyota:
Our Prince Albert journey saw us test driving the latest 2019 Toyota Hilux in a striking humming-bird blue. Think solid work horse with futuristic fairings which saw us speeding up and down some of South Africa’s most rugged terrain… certainly a popular choice of South African adventurers, we encountered mostly Toyota 4×4 bakkies on the road, as we descended and then ascended the near sheer rock face in record time, something those first ox-drawn pioneers would have simply swooned for.