Destination Art

From sculptures to charcoal drawings and jam-packed galleries, these lesser-known South African stays that celebrate local artists will spark your creativity.

Pierneef’s Kraal, Pretoria

Admittedly, there are no Pierneefs hanging in these Pretoria rooms, but all the more interesting is the artistic antiquity of this splendidly renovated complex of raw stone buildings. Jacobus Hendrik Pierneef hand-built this homestead, crafted around the remnants of an old kraal, back in 1939, lovingly planting many of the indigenous kiepersol trees that still stand today. Thanks to the bold vision of current owners Annette and Chris de Beer, the property was restored after standing derelict for many years. Rough-textured exteriors complement the minimal contemporary insides and, much like in Pierneef’s art, simplicity lies at the core of this sprawling guesthouse. Big breakfasts are served beside an old iron country oven; there’s also a braai area with generous outdoor seating, and seven elegant, spacious and uncluttered suites to retire to come evening.


Want to see actual Pierneefs? The La Motte Museum in Franschhoek is home to a heritage collection of his art, and Stellenbosch’s Rupert Museum currently exhibits one of Pierneef’s most acclaimed public commissions, The Johannesburg Station Panels.


Kruger Shalati, Skukuza

Easily one of South Africa’s most anticipated openings (which is due to welcome its first guests on 14 December 2020), the Kruger National Park’s latest accommodation sits in a historic steam train, and boasts designer suites brimming with contemporary African pieces. Designed and created locally, every element ties into the story of Shalati. Local lore and oral traditions maintain that before titling the railway, Shalati was an African warrior queen who ruled during the 19th century as one of the first female warrior chiefs of the small Tebula clan. And the train’s sultry decor continues to honour unsung heroines by profiling up-and-coming artists. For example, the designs on the bedroom blankets were conceptualised by Bonolo Chepape under her brand Lulasclan; they tastefully combine colour with heritage and culture.


You can get even more art on safari with a stay at Cheetah Plains in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve. This exclusive, off-the-grid safari escape features work by contemporary artists such as Lionel Smit, Arend Eloff, Emilio Eftychis, Gail Catlin Loyiso Mkize, Conor McCreedy and Greatjoy Ndlovu, among others.


Leshiba Mountain Retreats, Soutpansberg Mountains

In South Africa, woodcarving is traditionally a male undertaking – but Noria Mabasa was the first black woman to become a world-renowned woodcarver, and the luxurious Venda Village Lodge at Leshiba is covered with her ochre-orange artworks. Together with the characteristic mists of the Soutpansberg, the sculptures lend the ecofriendly bush lodge a fantastical air.

Kathryn Straughan first came to live here 27 years ago, and tells the story of how Mabasa’s sculptural work came to adorn the Limpopo lodgings. “Trent Read took us on a day trip to meet local Venda artists at their homes. We fell in love with their work, and set about raising funding to pass on their knowledge to the younger generation. After a few years, and having got to know the artists, we asked Noria Mabasa whether she’d make two sculptures for the entrance to our ‘Venda Village’. She arrived, aged 65, and proceeded to knock down the courtyard walls, then requested cement and two young men to assist her. In five weeks, we had a gallery of more than 40 of her works built out of grass and cement, and made to look like clay. Over time, we added pieces from artists such as Thomas Kubayi; more recently, Erinn Straughan (our daughter and artist) created sculptures for our recently built luxury suites.”


Top off your stay with more traditional indigenous art by exploring the Ribola Art Route.


The Turbine Hotel, Knysna

The unique structure of The Turbine in Knysna is creative enough, but interior walls kick up the artistry one more notch. Housed in an old power station, the boutique hotel doubles as a gallery. Guests walk past both bulky turbines, brightly coloured steel piping and ever-evolving menageries of artworks. Corlie de Kock curates Knysna Fine Art, which pushes local talent such as Jaco Roux, Geoff Horne, Aidon Westcott, Jacqueline Griffin-Jones, Jan Tshikhuthula and Gary Stephens, and provides most of the vibrant artworks for the hotel. “The works reflect contemporary South African trends, and represent a variety of media and styles,” De Kock says. “Realism
is juxtaposed with geometric abstraction, thick impasto oil on canvas, mixed media collages and romantic dreamscapes.”


Visit Knysna Fine Art while in the area. The historic Thesen House, with its yellowwood floors and high ceilings, provides a sublime setting for the works of Dylan Lewis, Anton Smit, Lionel Smit, Arabella Caccia, Grace da Costa and Elizabeth Balcomb.


The Graskop Hotel, Graskop

Tagged as “the art gallery you can sleep in”, this Mpumalanga hotel on the pretty Panorama Route sure lives up to its slogan. The old town hotel was lovingly restored into its current quirky boutique offering, which boasts 37 en-suite rooms. Be sure to check into one of the 19 upstairs bedrooms, each of which was individually decorated by an acclaimed contemporary South African artist. Willem Boshoff, Walter Oltmann, Gordon Froud, Cecile Heystek, Phyllis Green and many more have walked these halls…


Right next door is the Modern Art Projects South Africa (MAPSA) gallery, which exhibits mostly contemporary art. The most recent acquisition is a sculpture by Johan Thom, entitled Boat.