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When in Darling...

What started as a butter museum by the wives of local Darling dairy farmers in 1978 has become a quaint and interesting museum that is well worth a visit. Although Charles Henry Darling, then governor of the Cape, gave his name of the town founded on Langfontein (now Ormonde Estate), he never visited it. The area was originally called Groenkloof where farms such as Groote Post were used to graze VOC cattle and harvest salt.
Groote Post Wine Estate and Restaurant
The museum reminded me a lot of the Kimberly museum with its "living rooms" that demonstrate aspects of life and commerce. It has a dusty, well-loved feel about it and I enjoyed the voyeuristic vibe of looking through the remnants of real people's lives.

Decor inspired by local artists

A few houses away from the Darling Museum, which is in the old town hall building, is the Cape Victorian-period Darling Lodge, a four-star graded bed and breakfast. The rooms are decorated by and inspired by local artists and have a warm, country-life feel. Stephan Moser and Oliver Studer are the new owners. Stephan worked in the travel industry in Switzerland while Oliver left his position in private health care management in Europe to bring their combination of hospitality-industry insights and a good eye for travel marketing to this established business. We couldn't fault them and I wouldn't hesitate to visit again especially to take advantage of the Victorian slipper bath and the amazing art deco cat-shaped burglar bars that project a silhouette onto the window blind that made me feel just like Cleopatra. I recommend the Nicolaas Maritz room which we stayed in although the double bed feels a little crowded if you're used to sleeping in a queen. Sensational breakfasts and a pretty garden add to the experience.

Unexpectedly excellent cuisine

Darling Lodge
Groote Post is one of the oldest farms in the area. Hildagonda Duckitt was the South African equivalent to Mrs Beeton. She wrote Hilda's Where Is It? published in 1891 which went into a nineteenth edition and The Diary of a Cape Housekeeper. Duckitt lived and cooked at Groote Post and Hilda's Restaurant is named in her honour. I recommend you start with a green salad. Aside from rocket there was cucumber, green beans, griddled zucchini and avocado with a punchy Caesar dressing (R50) or the Brie and roasted tomato tart (R58) which JP had. The rich scent from the just-baked combination of piquant cheese and rich pastry made me wish I could eat it.

There was a knock-out slow roasted pork belly with heady aniseed flavours (R120) served with noodles, but I opted instead for the butter-bean puree which accompanied another dish and better suited my low-carb habit. We were running too late for dessert but the idea of the white chocolate cheesecake (R48) interrupted our concentration all the way through to dinner. I found the cuisine unexpectedly excellent.

Hard to leave empty handed

You can't make a turn in Darling without bumping into a Duckitt, and you should make a point of visiting their famous orchid nursery if you're there on the first Saturday of the month. From the vibrant blooms which you can view and purchase, to a local church group selling just-flipped pancakes, there's much to do there.

Trending with other pop-up restaurants is Marmalade Cat, in Main Road Darling, the most fabulous store selling homeware and gifts and a coffee shop that, on Friday evenings, becomes the town's buzziest pizza spot. This is a shop owner with a curator's eye that makes it hard to leave empty handed.

Chicory Cheese Café
Duckitt’s orchids

Chicory Cheese Cafe, in the Mantis Mall, is also unexpected in a small town. Not only is owner/chef Anesia happy to adjust dishes to meet your dietary needs, but you could also tell her that you were a lacto-ovo vegetarian with celiac disease and she'd know what to make for you. Another could order the Bubble & Squeak breakfast (R45) or a stack of flapjacks with bacon and fried banana (R37). Excellent coffee, too.

About Brian Berkman: contributing editor, travel

Brian Berkman can be contacted on 083-441-8765 or email .