*Anji suggests listening to Rufus Wainright’s Grey Gardens, from his Next Step Album – to fully encapsulate you into the mood of Jonkmanshof.
Jonkmanshof is a historic Cape Dutch-style heritage house built-in 1854 in the small picturesque town of Montagu in the Little Karoo. Painted in a warm ochre hue, it beckons you to enter and discover its many charms. Jonkmanshof is more than a beautiful place to stay; it’s a gently, imperceptibly choreographed production.
Jacques Erasmus, feted chef, interior designer, and founder of the beloved Cape Town restaurant Hemelhuijs with his partner Hein Liebenberg, have sensitively restored and brought back to life two historic 19th Century buildings on Bath Street with a timeless aesthetic.
Whether it’s for a night, a weekend, or a week, making sure that your house guests feel as comfortable as possible is something of an art form that the guys at Jonkmanshof have down to a “fine art.” Hein and manager Bydon are gifted practitioners of empathetic hosting. Gracious hosts that make you feel instantly welcome, relaxed, and comfortable.
Although this is an old building, you don’t feel submerged in the past; it’s alive with light, and the life played within its walls. It has a beautiful soul. The exterior facade is quite simply stunning. Closing the door behind you feels like you are entering somewhere very special. The windows to the front of the house have closed shutters; however, you do not feel shut off from the world; it feels more you have stepped into another rather special one. Sections of the original shutters are left open, allowing light to spill in. Immediately your eyes peel around; there is so much to see; it’s exciting. Hein warmly welcomes you, guiding you through to the lovely farmhouse kitchen, where you feel instantly at home.
Once dinner time is agreed, we check out our gorgeous room and settle in before taking a pre-dinner walk suggested by Hein, that takes us past some of Montagu’s wonderful Cape Dutch architecture and onto Loverswalk, a short trail along the Keisie Riverbank overlooked by the impressive craggy mountains running alongside. A natural abundance of grasses and sugarcane rustle and shuffle in the evening breeze. Happy dogs and their owners out for an early evening walk greet us warmly. It feels like we are sharing a secret. Bydon tells me later that rock climbing is not only one of his passions but a firm favourite around fellow Montagu’ites, and with over 450 different mountain climbing routes, it’s one of South Africa’s premier climbing destinations.
Its often said that the kitchen is the heart of the home; at Jonkmanshof, it really is. Breakfast sets the tone for the day, the evenings leisurely digesting it, along with the fabulous farm-to-table dinners made lovingly by chef Hans. The Kitchen is the invisible piece of string keeping the show together. The gathering place, where guests and hosts happily collide, sipping, chatting, enjoying local produce beautifully prepared, and presented with love.
You can see this is a chef’s kitchen! There’s a cool marble-and-wrought-iron work surface, double stainless-steel Smeg ovens, with rows of copper pots and pans strung up above it. It’s picture perfect and ready for some serious cooking. The food is fresh and innovative, and every morsel is quite simply delicious. The presentation is a work of art in itself. Jacques and Hein promote local artisans whenever possible; if it’s not from their kitchen garden, it is from a local producer. They make their own preserves from the garden.
Then there are the gardens; they are enchanting. A conservatory filled with indigenous succulents leads you to the outdoor pool built to resemble a farm dam. At the back of the garden, the chicken coop is home to several Orpington hens and Pavarotti, the resident cockerel who will greet you noisily each morning. There are pear, apple, and almond trees and more than a dozen varieties of lemons and limes planted in terracotta pots in the lemon grove inspired by an Italian limonaia. A stroll through the grove takes you back up to the house and one of the two bedrooms, where you can bathe almost al fresco in the freestanding bathtub, the French doors open wide to the garden. In turn, you will arrive at the central courtyard where seating and sun loungers sit under the shade of a giant Oak tree, which takes you back to the kitchen – feeling inspired and very happy.
There is a wonderful Mediterranean feeling here; the garden really is gorgeous, and beyond the garden walls, a borrowed landscape extends to the majestic mountains beyond. Hein tells me, “Jonkmanshof is at its happiest with people in it, and that’s why we decided to open it as a guesthouse. We try and create a special experience for our guests that is memorable and where they can truly relax and enjoy the house and the town and return to their homes rejuvenated.”
The interiors transcend current fashion and trends, and harmony prevails in tune with the house’s character and history. There is an incredible energy here; the light continually changes from day to evening, casting shadows and rays of light throughout, revealing areas for discovery. There is an element of Wabi-Sabi, the Japanese concept that derives from simplicity and authenticity, which values imperfection, elegance in natural materials, timelessness, and tradition. Jonkmanshof slows you down as it engages the senses. Thick lime plastered walls and wooden shutters keep the houses cool in the summer, and old wooden floors with underfloor heating keep the winter chill away. There is no TV, but there is WiFi. However, you may find yourself switching your phone off and enjoying the beauty and simple pleasures on offer here after you have taken a few shots for your IG feed, of course! Summers are hot; the temperature can get to 45 degrees, a dip in the pool is the best way to cool down, and a sip of Jonkmanshof homemade iced tea. What joy! There is no air con, the thick walls and shutters keep the interior cool, and there are mechanical fans in the bedrooms should you need them. Cool white crisp linen furnishes the contemporary four-poster beds in summer. Winters may bring white-capped mountains, Hein tells me that cashmere bedding and underfloor heating keep any chill away in winter. Breakfast celebrates local produce from their own chefs’ garden down the road, which also supplies them with flowers and supplies their Cape Town restaurant Hemelhuijs.
Organic eggs from the happy hens that roam the garden and breakfast juices come freshly pressed from the fruit grown in large terracotta pots in the citrus garden. The two buildings in Bath Street, number 20 and 30 each, have two suites furnished with a mix of carefully selected antiques, contemporary furniture, and art. All of which have been well-loved and well-used. There is beauty, charm, simplicity, and elegance with impeccable attention to detail. A maximum of eight guests, four in each house, come together at 20 Bath Street for breakfast and dinner.
The living room glows with rich red walls. A white abstract artwork hangs above the original antique green marble fireplace. Across the hall, facing the entrance, the library, or the ‘Room of Curiosities,’ is one of the owners’ favourite spots. It’s brimful with fascinating century-old books, treasures, and talismans.
Tea time treats, canapés, and aperitifs, such as home-crafted gins, or a glass of wines, a curated selection of South African reds, whites, and special blends from the Breede River valley are served complimentary at sundown every evening
Jonkmanshof is a multi-sensory celebration of nature, slow living, a taste of the good life in an extremely beautiful part of the country.
Excitingly, you can take a piece of Jonkmanshof home with you from De Nagmaal, their gorgeously styled store that adjoins Jonkmanshof – 30 Bath. Unique ceramics, candles scented with fragrances from the gardens, homemade lemonades, preserves, printed pure linen tea towels, and other equally divine bespoke handmade goods handmade produce from their gardens, from Montagu and the region. A memento of your time at Jonkmanshof, along with memories of a special place and a wish to return.