By the time we arrived in Swellendam – a lively weekend escape two and a half hours east of Cape Town – we were almost late for dinner. This might not usually be an issue but at guesthouse and African kitchen Augusta de Mist, dinner is a serious business.
The property was named after a distant ancestor of a previous owner: the daughter of a Dutch Commissary who, in 1802, set out with her father on a 157-day trip through the Cape’s hinterland, passing through Swellendam along the way. The main house, a historic Cape Dutch homestead with a low, pitched tin roof, original reed ceilings, thick stone walls and vine-strewn verandas, dates from the same year.
Set in two hectares of jungly garden, six suites – each housed in a charming cottage designed to echo the original Cape Dutch style – are reached down paved paths that tunnel through trees and bushes busy with butterflies and gem-coloured sunbirds. These rooms (from ZAR600, about £32, per person per night) are a reflection of the guesthouse’s current imaginative, metropolitan owners: Henk Klijn, a former creative at an advertising agency, and Michel Metford Platt, a Canadian linguist. Decorated with club chairs, antique dressers, Berber rugs, crystal chandeliers, contemporary patterns and bold damasks, the rooms are a playful, rustic but refined mix.
The same can also be said for our evening meal, which we enjoyed on the candlelit terrace. The effect of the flickering lanterns, silhouetted treetops and pressing vegetation on all sides was akin to dining in the middle of an enchanted forest. The food – cooked by Klijn, who is chef as well as co-owner – was also rather otherworldly. We were at one point asked to guess what the secret ingredient was in a creamy, spiced soup (answer: banana). The five-course pan-African-inspired tasting menu, including a Cape Malay curry of Karoo lamb and Harissa-marinated chicken with grapefruit salad, was served with the couple’s own vintage, Tant Pis, and revealed a strong interest in place and heritage.
After dinner, Klijn sat down at the table to chat about the time he invited Archbishop Desmond Tutu to come and stay. Considering the passion and force of personality the pair have invested in this tucked-away gem, it was unsurprising to hear that Tutu loved it every bit as much as I did.