Many travellers might not be familiar with the Karoo, the vast semi-arid region stretching across South Africa. Covering an area of 500,000 square metres, about the size of Germany, it exists in a unique state, encompassing desert, but charming villages, wine routes and valleys with rock formations and ancient fossils. Away from the bustle of Cape Town and the lush plains of the Kruger National Park, the Karoo poses as an alternative South African escape – one of peace, nature, exploration, history and heritage, where villages remain almost frozen in time.
Winters are cold, summers are dry and hot, and travellers will find historic farms, 9,000 plant species, and spot ostriches and other wildlife. The Klein Karoo Wine Route is also regarded as one of the most diverse in the country – stretching along a road known as Route 62 from Montagu in the west to Langkloof in the east. In fact, while living in the shadows of the Cape Winelands, The Klein Karoo is the longest wine route in the Western Cape, home to 69 wine farms and 11 brandy cellars.
In many ways, this semi-arid, semi-abundant, lost-in-time landscape is perfect for a peaceful African adventure, one not swept up in safari or city, but connecting with nature, exploring history and the country’s endemic flora and enjoying a slower pace. While the Karoo has plenty of guest houses and hotels, the country’s most chic private rental company is now listing a charming heritage cottage – and it’s ideal for an adventurous family or romantic escape this season.
Embracing the stillness of its surroundings, Helen House sits in the village of Nieu-Bethesda – an enclave known for its peaceful energy and slower way of life. Guests are instantly transported back in time, thanks to high ceilings, wooden floors and traditional features – complemented by a soulfully stylish colour palette to clear the mind (reminiscent of the vast expanse of Karoo sky).
The cottage is one of the latest additions to the books of Arthouse Collection, a South African-based boutique private rental company founded by former magazine editor Michelle Snaddon and respected art figurehead Elena Brundyn. Launched in early 2022, the collection is an offshoot of In Residence, founded and run by Elena’s husband, Pieter Brundyn, a dominant force in South Africa’s private rental market. Unlike In Residence, known for its cinematic minimalist megamansions and stripped-back escapes, Arthouse Collection properties are quirky and colourful – the personal, or second, homes of creatives like photographers, designers, stylists and editors, all of which have fascinating collections or some sort.
Helen House is the quintessential Arthouse Collection property, sleeping four guests in two bedrooms with two ensuite bathrooms and charming them with cocooning interiors reflecting the village’s landscape and textures. Whitewashed and oozing with historic charm, colour comes from the green succulents surrounding the exterior and the sun-baked terracotta on the outside patios and seating areas. Sunloungers frame a private plunge pool and hot tub – slightly elevated to provide a sweeping view of the surrounding countryside.
A country kitchen is at the heart of the property, seamlessly connecting the flow between indoor and outdoor spaces. As the brightest spot in the house, the kitchen has chalky white walls, oversized pendant lighting and a rustic wooden table, and is stocked with all the basics to capitalise on the Karoo’s bounty of produce. Chef Jenny Nel is also on hand to cook beautiful homemade meals for guests upon request, on top of included housekeeping.
Outside the kitchen, a palette of slate grey, teak, mahogany, taupe and fawn takes over – perfectly matching the antique furniture and beautiful artwork. The main bedroom has a king-sized bed, plump and marshmallow-like with its array of colourful scatter cushions, while the second has two single beds, perfectly accommodating a family of four. The property prides itself on uncomplicated living — perhaps the best experience in the library with walls of books – all for guests’ perusal – and comfortable sofas. Cosy seating is found throughout the house, ideal for flopping down and escaping the Karoo heat (or cold, for those visiting between June and September).
Another pride of the house is its art collection, with the simplicity of the space and its surroundings a primed backdrop for exquisite antique pieces and thoughtfully curated work from local artists. The home’s collection is constantly evolving, with the newest acquisition being a bronze rooster by Guy du Toit. Other pieces by Diane Victor, Anthony Steward, Endale Desalegn, William Kentridge, Simon Attwood, and Sam Hlengethwa also adorn the walls and spaces.
While seemingly remote, guests can enjoy off-site activities like horse riding, bowling, cycling, hiking and tennis (all available on request), to capitalise on the peace, freedom and outdoorsy lifestyle of this fascinating South African region.
Bookings available on request, from ZAR3,800 per night (AED725); arthouse-collection.com
How to get there
Helen House is a 7-hour 30-minute drive from Cape Town International Airport and a 5-hour 30-minute drive from East London Airport.
All images supplied by Arthouse Collection