It’s always irritating when you read of the latest ‘it’ town, especially when it’s a place like Nieu Bethesda that’s been around for so long. But something certainly seems to be afoot in this unforgettable Karoo town in the hills near Graaff Reinet.
Long known for the Owl House, Helen Martin’s unique artistic oasis she created around her home, of owls and camels and mermaids and maidens and pyramids made from concrete, tiles, wire and bottles, the museum was recently given a facelift, with the addition of a fantastic shop. Even if you’ve been there before, it is worth revisiting. One of South Africa’s very special places.
Like other small towns around the country that have found favour among artists and people wanting to get back to the land – Rosendal, Parys, Richmond, Greyton, De Rust, Stanford, Clarens, Barrydale, White River, Prins Albert, the list goes on – Nieu Bethesda has the requisite incredible setting plus it gets snow in winter.
A number of fabulous new lodgings have opened to complement the array of restaurants, giving the tranquil town – which has one of the most sensational roads as an entryway down into the valley – a feeling of New Mexico’s famed Taos.
In the old parsonage or Oude Pastorie, interior designer Albert Van Schalkwyk has given an incredible makeover to one of the oldest buildings in town, and out back, past the garden you want to laze in all afternoon and pool (recreated to resemble a farm dam), the Waenhuis is a gorgeous cool (it can get up to 42 C in summer) two-bedroom unit. So choose the main house or the Waenhuis out back. On other sides of town are other eye-catching properties including Gordonville, Kliphuis and Letskraal.
The beauty of staying in Nieu Bethesda is that you are close to the must-see Graaff Reinet and the Valley of Desolation in Camdeboo National Park. Numerous walks to age-old sites and geological formations dating back millions of years and territory trodden once by the Khoisan are all around you. Come and discover.