From Grootbos, my journey veered north to the Little Karoo, a semi-desert region beginning just north of the coast. My two-hour drive wove along two lane roads through stunning farmland punctuated by the occasional windmill and silo until reaching the turn off toward Barrydale where the road went immediately uphill and wove around a series of gentle switchbacks. The hills alongside the pass were covered in vegetation that was green beyond anything I had ever seen.
I ended my beautiful journey in Barrydale, which is also about 2.5 hours from Cape Town. More of a one cow town than a booming metropolis, the Barrydale lays claim to quite possibly being South Africa’s friendliest.
I checked into the Barrydale Karoo Hotel for a couple of nights as a departure from pampering and luxury. Much like the town, the hotel is eclectic and eccentric. Perhaps not for everyone, it is a country hotel with boutique hotel flair, bright colors, interesting decorations, and an endless stream of stories – I enjoyed it. Its bar is a town gathering spot where the locals congregate for happy hour, and so should you. Out of my entire trip, I met the most fascinating people in Barrydale.
At first glance, the town might not seem like all that much, but when you scratch the surface, you will start to reveal its secrets. Barrydale is an artistic center and home to many artists who have relocated from Cape Town. Just across the street from the hotel the Magpie Gallery that showcases the amazing work of Magpie Collective, a group of four guys who transform trash into amazing lighting pieces, two of which are in the White House. The group is intent on supporting locals and in addition to employing locals, is extremely active with local NGOs. Just up the road, there is the Mud Gallery, which was unfortunately closed while I was there, Barrydale Weavers, a group of textile weavers, and some other shops and eateries.
Barrydale is also close to a number of excellent wine and spirits producers. Barrydale Cellars, which is just at the edge of town, was recently named world’s best brandy. The little winery of Joubert-Tradauw puts on a great casual lunch in its garden, plus its wines are pretty good too. In the opposite direction, you can head to Ronnie’s Sex Shop, which is actually a dive bar in the middle of the dusty prairie – worth a stop if just to say you’ve been – or some thermal springs to soothe your aches away.
Barrydale is also something of a music hub. On weekends, bands from Cape Town converge on the town and its guesthouses fill up creating quite a buzz.
On December 18th of every year, the little town has a colorful Christmas parade, probably unlike any Christmas parade you’ve seen. Co-directed by the guys from Magpie and the Handspring Puppet Company, the puppeteers behind the acclaimed show, Warhorse. I wish I’d been there to see the spectacle, but I did see some photos.
The hotel itself is funky. I mean that in a good way as long as you aren’t expecting a buttoned up five star affair – as the locals say, “it’s Barrydale!” Rooms are all unique, so if you have a chance, check out a few first. I tried out two rooms, a suite with a nice outdoor garden and sitting area, and Room 7 with a balcony overlooking the main street. The staff, particularly Wendy at the front desk, is super friendly and full of interesting stories and helpful tips.
I recommend a visit to Barrydale if you are looking to get off the beaten path and enjoy something different. You might also want to check out the other little towns of Montagu, Calitzdorp, and Montagu.