Travelling through the dry South African Karoo landscape, similar in parts to an alien moonscape interspersed with silhouettes of burnt orange Aloe, makes approaching the De Bergkant Lodge in quaint Prince Albert feel like arriving at an oasis in the desert.
You wouldn’t be far wrong.
Nestled at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains, created by sediments deposited over 300 million years ago, the 250 years old town of Prince Albert is fed by a small spring high up in the mountains with a stream running straight off its towering slopes to be channeled into a shared leiwater system, a modern-day reminder of this region’s deep heritage.
History Then and Now
Bushmen were the first human inhabitants in the region and remnants of their culture can still be discovered.
In 1762, the first settler farm appeared in the Kweekvallei, the area on which Prince Albert later developed. Thanks to its reliable source of mountain water, the valley was fertile for agriculture and despite a brief flutter with the discovery of gold on Kleinwaterval farm in 1870, it wasn’t enough to divert the settlement from its farming roots.
Also naturally sun-blessed, Prince Albert is reknown for its sun-ripened fresh and dried fruit, especially figs and apricots. Nothing tastes more naturally wholesome than to start your breakfast with the sweetest and juiciest local figs with a dollop of full cream yoghurt on the pool patio @ 4-star De Bergkant Lodge.
Olive orchards also abound, and a handsome tin of Prince Albert extra virgin olive oil makes a perfect keepsake to take home with you.
Take a walking tour, starting at the top of main road Prince Albert, and you will see artisanal work dating back to the late 1850’s in the Cape Dutch front gables of the De Bergkant Lodge and 18 other buildings in the town, with many of the pediments featuring the year of construction or the initials of the first owner.
Built in 1858, the De Bergkant Lodge was home to members of the Luttig family. The property was later taken over for use by the Dutch Reformed Church in 1904 and converted into a mission parsonage where Reverends occupied it until 1978.
The drystone wall which surrounds part of the property dates from its earliest construction and the Lodge still boasts beautiful yellow wood double front doors, an ornate skylight, high yellow wood ceilings, sliding sash windows and gleaming, broad yellow wood floorboards.
The De Bergkant Lodge’s sturdy walls, which keep the building cool in the searing summer heat, were mostly built from mud and clay, mixed with straw. The original house had a thatched roof but, as with many other Cape Dutch thatch houses in the Karoo, the thatch was replaced with a corrugated iron roof during the Victorian era (around 1900).
In 1985 the De Bergkant Lodge was declared a National Monument, the first building in Prince Albert to receive this honor.
In 2000, the property was privately purchased and converted into a 8 bed-roomed guesthouse. A new Georgian building was erected next door and in 2003, the 1900 Victorian house next door was integrated, and the property became one estate.
In 2016, its current owners Michael and Renate took ownership of the De Bergkant Lodge and renovated all the buildings, maintained and modernised the equipment and reshaped the large garden areas into a Karoo garden with mostly indigenous plants and trees.
Celebrated as the star of Prince Albert hospitality, its 4-star graded modern amenities include three swimming pools, a sauna and steam room.
Fashion and International Frippery
As much a part of the history of the region, the native Ostrich bird highlights what was once a roaring feather farming industry which paid service to the fashion tastes of European women and boosted the humble and flightless ostrich to fashion fame.
In the mid-1800s, horse drawn carts in Europe stirred the senses for flamboyancy and ladies’ hats started to sport ever larger plumage when ‘stepping out’.
Ostrich farming in the arid plains of the Karoo took off in 1904 among early South African pioneers who saw the potential in harvesting the bird’s feathers.
The export industry reached its peak in 1913, creating a host of ostrich barons who made their fortune in the dying and selling of plumage which rocketed it to the status as the fourth largest export earning for South Africa after gold, diamonds and wool.
At the time its recorded that the value of ostrich feathers, per pound, equaled almost that of diamonds.
The boom gradually fizzled out with the advent of Henry Ford’s first mass-produced automobile which made large hats for ladies now passé.
Ostrich continues to be farmed for its meat, feathers and leather, and the humble ostrich egg has seen a rebirth in home décor through the initial artistry of a lone artist experimenting with the natural materials to be found in the vast expanses around him.
A few years on, and using eggshell from reputable, local ostrich breeders, upcycled from hatched or unfertilised eggs, Avoova creates luxurious decorative finishes that surpasse organic veneers from around the world for its beauty and functionality.
Intricately covering everything from bespoke tables to bowls and mirrors, lovingly handcrafted by a team of skilled designers and artisans, the shards of shell are worked into a myriad of textures, colours and patterns.
Examples of Avoova artware can be seen in all De Bergkant Lodge’s bedrooms and bathrooms from tissue boxes, amenity boxes to key holders and more.
With four Avoova outlets countrywide, they export to fifteen countries, yet remain committed to keeping production in the Karoo where it started, as a sustainable and environmentally-friendly industry. Visit the Prince Albert shop next to the factory and purchase a piece of this history.
Fynbos Succulent Lamb
While ostrich meat is widely enjoyed for being extremely high in protein, low in fat, calories, and cholesterol but high in iron; Karoo lamb is more famous for its subtle and succulent flavours. Its delicious taste is acquired through free ranging Karoo lambs spending endless days grazing on indigenous veld comprising six varieties of fynbos to deliver a distinctive organic and uniquely flavorful addition to your plate.
Ask your hosts Michael or Renate where you can enjoy a Certified Karoo Meat of Origin lamb dish in one of the local restaurants.
The History Mile Walk
Don’t miss a chance either to be enthralled with the town’s celebrated story teller Ailsa Tudhope aka The Story Weaver who shares stories of past adventures and a little of the heritage of Prince Albert on her walking tours.
Expect to be fascinated and tantalized, especially when booking a Ghost Walk on a night of the full moon where you will be introduced to some of the town’s oldest inhabitants still leaving their ghostly footprints in the dust.