A long, low 19th-century house faces the back of Spandau Kop, in a corner of Graaff-Reinet where the Sundays River does a protective loop around the town. Located in Donkin Street, it’s one of the many surviving green-shuttered, whitewashed houses that give this town at the heart of the hot, hot Great Karoo its homogeneous character. At the back, a garden filled with fruit trees has at its centre, a 14-metre pool from whose surrounding loungers there’s an unimpeded view of the peak that, at the heart of the Valley of Desolation, takes its name from a castle standing sentinel over a town near Berlin. The context for Graaff-Reinet – and for the Langhuis – is extraordinary: the protective dolorite pinnacles that rise above it to the south-west, as well as the river bordering its edge, have protected it from development which is why, for the most part, this Eastern Cape town is famously so well preserved.
The Langhuis is in fact three houses combined as one. The old entrance door leads to two high, cool rooms that, like all of Graaff-Reinet, are shuttered during the day to keep out the intense heat. To the left a TV sitting room and to the right an old-fashioned, ensuite bedroom with twin brass beds found in the attic of a country house in the Netherlands. A short passage leads to the back of the house that’s really the heart of the Langhuis. In fact, as you enter, you’ve suddenly aware that you’ve stumbled on a showstopper, and a completely unexpected one at that if you imagine that the rest of Graaff-Reinet is filled with old-style houses made up of tiny, boxy rooms. Running the length of half the length of the Langhuis is a vast living area at one end of which the kitchen faces, across a 10-seater dining table, a sitting area dominated by a fireplace capable of housing a couple of two-meter-long logs.