EVEN if the Aa'Qtansisi guest- house is not one of Graaff-Reinet's more than 200 monuments, the building dates back to 1852 and owners Pierre and Ria de Lange have added the touches needed to ensure that visitors will mention it on their list of must-dos and must-sees in the Jewel of the Karoo – said to be South Africa's fourth oldest town.
The house is decorated with items Ria has collected on her many overseas trips and each of the six bedrooms is named after its own style – from the austere Slave Quarters to the exotic Zanzibar Room.
An interesting hat stand containing a selection of old-fashioned headgear meets one in the entrance hall. On the opposite wall, a display of photos and transfer documents in wooden frames chronicles changes in the property's appearance and ownership over the years.
Ria notes the house has always been a place of service – starting off as Dale Hall, which was used for functions, then a church, school, and a hostel before eventually becoming a private home.
Ria changed it into a guesthouse when she moved here from KwaZulu-Natal three years ago. "The building was a great find and the end of a search for a more restful lifestyle, preferably in an old house with wooden floors," she says. "After nearly two years of exploring smaller towns between East London and Cape Town, I bought the place after spending just one more night to look at one last house, which was not even on the market at that stage."
By the end of the next day it was hers – and six months later it was ready to receive the first guests.
For Ria, moving from the sea to a semi-desert was a huge but wonderful change.
"I walk to the bank now and use only one tank of petrol in a month. What a great life – and what a sellable product. My international visitors – mostly from Germany and Holland – can't get enough of it," she enthuses.
There is also good business from South Africans stopping over on their way to the coast and back. And, of course, guests relish chef Nico Wieneke's special meat dishes – including springbok and ostrich – and traditional puddings.
The Slave Quarters features cement floors and a Victorian bathtub. An old cupboard door is used in the bathroom as a mirror and newspapers from years ago serve as varnished wallpaper. According to Ria it has a touch of antique elegance.
The Zanzibar Room boasts a four-poster bed with mosquito net, saddlebags and carved mirrors, most of which she acquired from her many travels.
Marrakesh is also on offer. Here Moroccan lanterns, arched doors, mosaics and carved kists blend together colourfully.
For the single traveller a room featuring traditional barley twist oak furniture in stripes and plaid furnishings awaits, and like most of the rooms, it has a private entrance from the parking area.
Visitors can experience a taste of France in the tranquil "duck-egg" room, with cherub decorations and a Victorian bath.
Or guests can go back in time to the medieval period of the French Huguenots, where a queen-sized four-poster cast iron bed is dressed in blue and white.
Ria's own gypsy- inspired room is a colourful blend of red, purple and pink. This is where she feels "free, and where the magic comes alive". She firmly believes in recycling, saying that 80% of all décor comes from her previous home.
"I even used my old lounge suite and simply re-covered it. Only a few ornaments were later bought at antique shops."
Ria loves her new life in Graaff-Reinet. "I am very fond of people, and owning and managing a guesthouse is a fascinating profession," declares this lady, whose unusual guesthouse has also recently been awarded the Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence.
For bookings contact Ria or Pierre on (049)891-0243, or e-mail: email@example.com. For more information have a look at their very original website: www.aaqtansisi.co.za