The Drostdy Hotel is situated in the historic center of the town of Graaff-Reinet, in the Eastern Cape’s Karoo. Founded in 1786, the town is the fourth oldest in South Africa and was designed along the Dutch gridiron system with the Church as the focal point at the culmination of the main street.
Graaff-Reinet’s Drostdy building and its courtyard garden are structures of great historic and cultural significance within the town as they played a central role in the civic life of the original town’s burghers. The Drostdy is the second oldest in the country and was designed by Louis Michel Thibault in the Cape Dutch style, built by local tradesmen in 1804/5. It was used as the Magistrate’s residence for several years.
During this time, the Drostdy formed one of the most important centers of power within the town, occupying a prominent position on Church Street directly on axis with the Church and facing the Parsonage at the end of Parsonage Street.
It was subsequently sold and privately owned, changing hands several times before being converted into Kromm’s Drostdy Hotel in 1876 when it was subjected to several Victorian additions. These were later removed when the building was restored to its original Cape Dutch form in 1975 by Historical Homes SA. The Drostdy Hotel was declared a National Monument in 1987 and several parts of the Drostdy Hotel precinct are also protected Provincial Heritage Sites.
The historic slave cottages of Stretch's Court located along a “mews” street on the Bourke Street-side of the Drostdy Hotel property also bear great significance from a historic and cultural point of view. This “mews” street and its buildings serve as a significant reminder of the agricultural past of the town and its history of slavery.
The architects sought to integrate the historic fabric with new interventions throughout the property, creating a seamless experience of the rich heritage of the site while bringing the hotel provision up to the five-star luxury country hotel standard envisioned by the owners. The project included the master plan of the entire site, sensitive restoration of significant historic buildings, and architectural design of discreet new insertions.
The reinvigorated Drostdy Hotel property now accommodates 48 new luxury hotel rooms with three swimming pools, a fine dining restaurant, bar and lounges, art gallery, wine shop, vinotheque, and spa, as well as associated hotel amenities set within fully landscaped grounds.
The precinct has been designed with an urban design approach and is as much about the spaces between the buildings as the buildings themselves. Open spaces between the various complexes have been reactivated, providing courtyards, swimming pools, and terraces, creating a sense of community, as well as opening circulation routes that help to create a village feel.
New interventions were designed to sit sensitively within the historic fabric and respond in design and material to the contrasting Cape Dutch and Victorian aesthetics.
The Church Street elevation remains the most important of the hotel property. In addition to the sensitive restoration of the Drostdy Hotel façade, the façades of the two adjacent Victorian buildings were also restored. The first of these, previously the Camdeboo Restaurant, was carefully restored to accommodate a new gallery, while the second, previously the Thibault Room, was restored and altered internally to house a wine shop showcasing the wines produced on the estates owned by the Rupert family. Both of these new spaces’ interiors were also designed by the architects dhk. These three buildings continue to have the most direct interface with the surrounding town fabric.
The treatment of the Parlement Street elevation, which included the restoration of the side of the Drostdy Building, its werf walls, and the Victorian Kromm’s Inn building, has become more important as it is the location of the newly created main entrance to the hotel, both vehicular and pedestrian.
A new reception building and porte-cochère face the entrance driveway court, with a parking area located at the back of the site behind the final row of Stretch’s Court cottages. This simple vehicular circulation system, together with a carefully designed network of pedestrian walkways, has eliminated the conflict between pedestrians and vehicles that previously existed on the site, with added benefit of improved security.
Directly adjacent to the reception and entrance court lie the Drostdy building and its courtyard. The building was fully refurbished with all original materials refurbished to their former glory, including its remarkable yellowwood timber flooring, stinkwood and yellowwood doors, and beautiful sash windows. The building now houses a cigar lounge, formal lounge, ladies bar, boardroom/dining room, and vinotheque, as well as offices and ablution facilities, thus forming the heart of the hotel’s public areas. The interior design of these spaces as well as the hotel rooms was carried out by Stephen Falcke.
The existing back-of-house areas that linked onto the Drostdy building, constructed in the 1970s, were demolished and replaced with new kitchen facilities and a new restaurant. Additional back-of-house functions have been positioned discreetly behind the adjacent municipal building.
The new restaurant is sited adjacent to the Drostdy, with its terrace opening onto the landscaped courtyard created by the Drostdy’s U-shape. This courtyard, though newly landscaped, has retained its existing axial design. The existing vine-covered pergola within the Drosty’s courtyard was replaced with a new pergola of a design consistent with the restaurant pergola.
On the other side of the entrance court, along the axis that runs from the Drostdy courtyard, lays the existing Victorian Kromm’s Inn building, which has been transformed into a spa with private treatment rooms and gym, with a fragrant herb garden in front.
A green tunnel runs from the entrance to the spa courtyard, introducing the network of pedestrian routes that link the hotel rooms. Points of interest have been created along these routes using werf walls, benches, and water features and by relocating the slave bell to provide a focal point at the end of Stretch’s Court (and distract the eye from the municipal building beyond).
The majority of the hotel rooms are located within the 15 Karoo-style flat-roofed cottages along Stretch’s Court. The cottages were extensively restored externally and were altered internally to accommodate luxury hotel rooms. Some of the cottages are two stories and each cottage contains two to three rooms, with a total of 31 hotel rooms in Stretch’s Court. The white Karoo cottages have maintained their colorful doors, window frames, and shutters for which they were renowned and also feature semiprivate terraces.
Stretch’s Court itself has been pedestrianized, retaining the repositioned slave bell and street structure, but no longer permitting vehicular access. A new pool area has been created, located centrally off of Stretch’s Court and includes a new, larger swimming pool, pantry, and WCs.
A new Kromm’s Court has been created housing 10 new hotel suites in four buildings that are positioned around a new swimming pool. On the far end of the property, along Bourke Street, Ferreira House and the Barn were upgraded and restored to accommodate seven luxury hotel rooms. The garden of the Ferreira House was landscaped and accommodates a further swimming pool for the exclusive use of the Ferreira House suites. Pergolas along the length of the new buildings provide shaded outdoor terraces that echo the timber structures previously situated around the property and low werf walls were introduced to the site. Landscaping throughout the property was designed by Jan Blok.
Given that the property has operated as a hotel on a continuous basis since 1867, it has played a significant historic role in the tourism of the town in addition to the cultural, civic, and agricultural importance of the site.
The restoration project has returned the Drostdy Hotel to the stately property it once was and has reestablished its reputation as the finest accommodation in Graaff-Reinet and the surrounding area.