The way we travel is changing and so is the way we choose our hotel stays. While the 80s and 90s were all about big, garish resorts, today’s traveller prefers the more intimate, personalised touch of smaller guest houses and boutique getaways. These homey hideaways provide the local charms that larger hotels lack, and are becoming increasingly popular in the modern age of travel. This is especially true in the Western Cape where exploring the long list of small towns offers endless opportunities for local escapes at more accessible prices.
From beginner travellers to seasoned travel veterans, it has become trendy to choose the smaller guys over their larger chain counterparts. One small spot well worth adding to your ‘must-visit’ list is Darling Lodge Guest House. This ‘home sweet hotel’ is located in the coastal-adjacent small town of Darling; a place lovingly referred to as the ‘heartbeat of the West Coast’. But, this isn’t your typical one-horse town; Darling offers visitors plenty of charm and a surprising amount of places to explore.
Cape Country Routes Approved
A member of Cape Country Routes (CCR) South Africa, this endearing guesthouse is an oasis of beauty, peace and tranquillity that aptly reflects the romantic name of the little town. Now having visited a few of the travel destinations under the Cape Country Routes banner, it’s easy to see why Darling Lodge was extended an invitation to join the growing, but exclusive, travel collective. Properties and activities invited to join the CCR club are chosen for character, charm and romance — the hallmark of Cape Country Routes.
The group represents a collection of privately owned hotels and activities in the Western, Eastern, and Northern Cape. Whether you are looking for adventure, wildlife, tranquillity, action or pleasure — Cape Country Routes offer you easy driving destinations, unique attractions, quality accommodation and memorable experiences.
Staying at Darling Lodge Guest House
Quite unassuming from the road, Darling Lodge is housed in a Victorian home dating back to the late 1800s. A red-painted door leads guests inside the sensitively restored main house, where peace and tranquillity awaits. A harmonious blend of old and new, Darling Lodge is ideal for travellers who love staying at places with personality; especially if you go gaga over a stunning small hotel experience with unique and thoughtful design.
This small town dream is a testament to the beauty of combining vintage with modern; soft shapes with strong lines; muted tones with rich colours. The lodge is the epitome of old-fashioned country-house glamour and exudes warmth and style. While the space successfully achieves an eclectic modern design, it somehow perfectly combines your grandma’s living room with ultra-chic vibes.
The main house of the lodge offers three individually decorated country-style rooms, and the more modern garden annexe offers a further three beautifully appointed rooms with a grapevine-covered patio overlooking the swimming pool. These interior rooms, while technically decorated in a period style, are done up in a knowing, modern way.
The garden rooms feel relaxed and elegant, and are ideal for travelers who love simple yet upscale design. I spent 2 nights in the Garden Suite, which is designed in calming neutral tones with carefully thought-out complementary rich colours, natural wood, and luxurious organic textures throughout. A Darling Sweets toffee on your pillow at turn-down every night is the final ingredient in this recipe for calm.
The generous room boasts twin beds, an en-suite bathroom, sitting area, kitchenette with coffee station, and a dining area. The room was so comfortable, with spaces that begged to be enjoyed, so I made sure to carve out time to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea in my little lounge every morning and evening. What’s more, the ultra-comfortable bed, dressed with white, marshmallow-soft linens provided the perfect invitation to crash into bed at the end of a long day exploring the town.
In the communal spaces like the shared living room and breakfast room, you’ll find colourful accents expertly combined with a rustic chic vibe. The shared living room is a homey oasis where guests can relax, read a book in front of the fireplace, or enjoy a glass of wine from the honesty bar. It’s hard not to enviously say to yourself “I wish my real home was like this.”
Bed and breakfast, but better
Visiting Darling Lodge Guest House for the first time, I was immediately entranced by its peaceful, tree-filled garden; its winding paths revealing carefully carved-out sitting areas complemented by a backdrop of greenery. Tucked away at the bottom of the bountiful garden, guests will find the pool with a deck area for lounging in the summer months.
Breakfast is the hosts’ time to shine as they show off their knack for hospitality with hot breakfast made to order and a delightful Continental Breakfast spread served buffet-style. The little buffet has personalised touches; like freshly baked bread sourced from a local baker, handmade preserves, and even a fancy Swiss bean-to-cup coffee machine of your dreams. It’s special details like this that remind you why you chose to stay in an owner-run establishment.
As beautiful as Darling Lodge is, you’ll find that the best part of your stay is the hotel’s intimacy. Owned and run by Swiss-born Stephan Moser and Oliver Studer, Darling Lodge Guest House is as private and intimate as it comes. The friendly owners interact with all their guests as little or as much as guests prefer, and they’re always on hand for a chat or to advise on restaurants and activities in the area. The owners have outdone themselves, having created a cosy-chic hideaway in Darling that should be on every Western Cape resident’s bucket list.
What to do in Darling
Located a stone’s throw from Darling’s main drag, Darling Lodge offers the perfect base from which to explore the town. While Darling is a tiny town with an even smaller population, it’s one of the Cape’s best-kept coastal-adjacent secrets. Wedged somewhere in between Melkbosstrand and Paternoster and just 25 kilometres from Yzerfontein, the town is ideally situated for a midway stop along a larger road trip.
Beyond enjoying the small-town appeal, Darling is just the place for unforgettable low-key foodie discoveries, wine tasting, and laid-back culture. Plus, this small artsy town is ideally situated for some serious ‘flower gazing’ in spring. Take a detour to Darling for a day visit or stay the night and soak up everything the town has to offer over 2 nights.
There is no shortage of foodie finds in Darling, in fact, there’s so much to sip and sample, that you’ll have to visit a few times to really get a taste of what Darling has to offer in terms of eateries and wine tasting spots.
Once you’ve quaffed enough wine and eaten to your heart’s content, then spend a laidback afternoon browsing shops on Main Street, before heading back to the lodge to park yourself at the hotel pool or enjoy a drink by the fireplace.
For adventurous types who love to explore on foot, there’s the supremely fun Darling Mystery Trail, which takes you from the Darling Museum to various places of interest using a series of clues as your guide. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had sightseeing and I learned so much about the town along the way.
If you’re keen to venture out a little further afield, then you’ll want to hop in the car for a visit to !Khwa ttu Nature Reserve. The San culture and education centre is based on an 850-hectare Nature Reserve just 15 minutes from Darling. This thriving tourism destination boasts a fantastic restaurant serving local and San-inspired meals, thrilling mountain bike trails, and a shop selling hand-crafted gifts. San guides lead unique tours for visitors, fulfilling !Khwa ttu’s mission to enable San to reclaim and share their heritage, in their own way.
Darling, eat your heart out
Almost every great holiday centres around food and Darling has no shortage of foodie spots to tempt your taste buds. It’s easy to spend a day in Darling eating (and drinking) your heart out.
Pop into the delightfully quirky Koffie my Darling for lunch, then go to dinner at Darling’s resident Italian spot, Ciao Darling (yes, everything in the town has some iteration of the word Darling in the name). In-between meals you can take a short stroll to Ormonde Private Cellar for wine tasting paired with bountiful snack platters, or visit Darling Brew for a beer tasting and brewery tour.
If it’s burgers and gourmet milkshakes you want, then the idiosyncratic Koffie My Darling is the place to find it. I was mesmerised by the incredible vintage South African decor at this little spot, but it was the delicious grub that made me want to linger longer.
You can’t miss out on the generous hospitality and homestyle South African cooking at this small town gem. If you have a sweet tooth, then be sure to try the Spoorweg Koffie (Moerkoffie and Condensed Milk). And, don’t you dare leave without checking out the retail therapy opportunities near the cash till inside — there are plenty of edible treats made by local producers to take home in your sakkie.
One of my favourite foodie finds from our trip has to be Ciao Darling. I’m a sucker for great Italian food and this authentic eatery is a haven for pizza and pasta lovers. To start, our table snacked on a fresh salad with Fior Di Latte and crispy, thin-based Focaccia. These starter bites were the perfect curtain raiser for my mains of Ravioli Meat (pasta pillows filled with feta, sundried tomato and rocket, served with Napoletana sauce).
Wine tasting at Ormonde Private Cellar was another not-to-be-missed experience. The farm offers two tasting options at R50 each — pick from the Heritage Collection tasting or the Standard Tasting or order a bottle for a relaxed afternoon sipping wine under the trees. I loved Ormonde’s Ondine Chardonnay for its vibrancy and freshness, and would highly recommend it for any Chardonnay lovers to sample when visiting the farm.
Of course, no visit to Darling is complete without a trip to Darling Brew. This working brewery and tasting room is a great spot to enjoy a pub-style lunch and a few drinks with friends and family. There’s something for everyone on the drinks menu, even those who don’t drink beer! Beer lovers can choose from a wide variety of beers or opt for either of the tasting flights at R60 each.
I had the opportunity to taste a great many beers from the range during our visit and the 4×4 Braai Pale Ale emerged as a new favourite of mine. For something the same, but different, try the Tjaila beer shandy lagers in Grapefruit, Lemon, or Cherry flavour. The DB Oepsie Apple Cider is another winner on the menu for those looking for something other than beer.
Book your stay in Darling
If character-filled stays and personalised service are what you gravitate towards, then I highly recommend you plan your next getaway to the little town of Darling and Darling Lodge Guest House. Whether it’s a weekend getaway or part of a longer trip exploring the West Coast region, this charming town is well worth the detour.
Need inspiration for your next local trip? The Cape Country Routes website is an incredible resource for anyone who is looking for a little help when planning an itinerary for a short or long trip up the West Coast. You’ll find some of the best places to stay alongside must-try activities and service providers all in one convenient place. Visit the Cape Country Routes website here and start planning!
After years of working as an Editor and writer for popular websites like Joburg’s Darling, Cape Town’s Darling and Joburg.co.za, Crystal left her sanity and an established career in lifestyle journalism behind to follow her dream of creating a website for the intellectual and discerning woman. Today she spends her time chasing the thrill of being the first to know about ‘the next big thing’. She’ll try anything once and has been known to put her body, hair and health on the line – all in the name of research.