As soon Lockdown allowed it the explorers among us hit the road, journeying like there’s no tomorrow. The Western Cape is road trip nirvana and the Swartland, deep in undulating wheat country, impresses with a suite of quaint towns and Insta-worthy landscapes, no matter the season. The stand-out dorpie in the collective is Riebeek Kasteel, charming and with an artisanal edge to romance the foodies and creatives among us. Here are a few of my top tips on what to see and do while on staycation.
COFFEE, WITH VIEWS
For coffee on the fly with a next-level spectacle on the side, follow the marker boards up the hill above town to the Eight Feet trailer and sip a flattie either at lookout point at the Bothmaskloof Pass lookout or down in the Kloovenburg vineyards below.
What stretches out before you is a treat in triplicate- the Kasteelberg mountains, dense olive groves and flourishing vines.
Aside from spreading the gospel of good coffee, Beans About Coffee on Fontein Street is the go-to for all day brekkie, from a traditional farmhouse plate to muesli bowls, mini quiches, pastries and freshly squeezed veggie juices. Thomas Jamneck of The Barn fame is behind the menu so you’re in excellent hands.
Part with your plastic on Main Street, the straight-as-an-arrow artery that slices through town from the turn off at the top of the hill – where you’ll want to take a moment to snap that picturesque intro – all the way down to the landmark NG Kerk at the opposite end.
Browse the fancy interior store Crystal & Twine, shop local art at The Gallery, stock up on established and emerging Swartland wine brands at The Wine Kollective and wander through Ancient Spirit for leisure wear and handcrafted fynbos botanicals and essential oil bliss by Still Pure, among other temptations.
Meander down Short Street (above) for a choice of eateries and vibey watering holes like The Alchemist.
Creativity runs in the valleys DNA and RK locals know how to pull a culture-centric crowd. Anticipate art exhibitions, public installations, theatre, and immersive experiences.
Performances by community groups and A-listers are regularly presented at the amphitheatre in the gardens behind The Royal Hotel, where gin on the stoep at 5pm is something of a ritual.
Emma Willemse’s Boat Circle installation is another attraction in that outdoor space and be sure to look down and note the stone Amphi Circles loosely arranged into the seating tiers, created by youngsters from the town as a social distancing reminder to audiences.
Solo Studios Intimate Arts Encounters just wrapped, an annual multi-cultural showcase that sees colabs with chefs, sommeliers, galleries, community projects and street artists like Falko One, whose site specific wall murals in neighbouring Riebeek West were the wow factor this year. For upcoming event intel, visit the websites listed below.
Long lunches at The Barn on Church Street are a thing, and for good reason. Thomas Jamneck’s al fresco eatery entices with its bistro fare, the epic location and family-friendly atmosphere.
As the grown-ups work their way through an unfussy menu, little feet can muck about with abandon in the fountain and play on the sprawling lawn. If you’re looking for destination dining, The Barn is it.
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One of the stand-out olive tasting rooms is at Kloovenburg Wine and Olive Estate owned by the Du Toit family. Conveniently, it’s right next to a spacious cellar and wine emporium so once you’ve waded through tapenades, infused oils and bowls of marinated, smoked, pickled and sun-dried olives, you may as well bounce across the threshold and sample their vino. In other news, the Estate has recently launched guided hikes through the vineyards that culminate in a picnic and wine tasting under ancient oaks. And if you feel like staying over on the estate, you can book a stay at The Pastorie.
FINE OLD VINTAGE (port) & WINE TASTING
Dating back to 1704, Allesverloren on the R311 between Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek West is the most established wine farm in the region, owned by the Malan clan since 1872. Their flagship fortified wine (aka port) is the Fine Old Vintage, a world famous tipple that’s smooth as velvet with hints of raisins, coffee, vanilla and mocha on the nose. The tasting room, part of which is a converted granary from way back when, leads onto a spacious veranda where you can sample their full range of excellent wines.
Vineyard Views Country House is a classically styled home-come-guest house set on the edge of a Colombard vineyard and it’s a sublime staycation spoil. The setting is superb – think meadows, cows, owl hoots and sculpted succulent gardens – and owners Grant Dewar and Gareth Dewar-Pienaar are hospitality personified.
If you prefer to remain ensconced, a three=course gourmet dinner can be provided at an extra cost and, if cakes are your undoing, be warned – Gareth’s gateaux are an omnipresent temptation!
I’d always thought that there was only one post office tree in the Western Cape, that being in Mossel Bay (PS, I wrote about M.Bay here). Who knew, there is another, between Hermon and Riebeek Kasteel. As was customary back in the day, mail was transported here and there on horse back and deposited under trees – citizens would then be alerted by the blast of a “you’ve got mail” horn. Finding out more about this 300 year old tree’s backstory was like trying to find a needle in a haystack by the way, until Chris Murphy from Swartland Heritage reached out (thank you Chris!) – read more about it here – wonderful!
Before heading out on your roadtrip, please do check the latest Lockdown level advisories pertaining to wine tastings and alcohol sales and visit the Riebeek Kasteel and Solo studios websites to find out what’s happening in and around town at the time of your visit.
Travel well, and stay safe *