Written by Janet Traill
(One of the runner-up entries in the City, Town or Village Writing Competition.)
January and February can be dreary, depressing months in the UK. So this is the ideal time to head for that dream holiday in sunnier climes, and one of the best destinations has to be Cape Town in South Africa.
With its impressive backdrop of Table Mountain, superb beaches of soft, warm sand, museums and art galleries, the V & A Waterfront, accommodation options to suit all tastes, and a multitude of restaurants, you will never be bored. All this and a favourable exchange rate, too.
But, having sampled what the city has to offer, why not hire a car as we did and head further afield? Driving is on the left, roads are good and petrol is cheaper than in the UK.
Just under an hour’s drive northeast of the city lies the romantically named village of Riebeek Kasteel. The Riebeek Valley is a rich farming area where around 1.5 million cases of dessert fruit – grapes, citrus, nectarines, peaches and plums – are harvested annually.
When we visited in January it was the height of the grape season – both table and wine varieties. There are a number of wine estates in the area, both large and small, who make and bottle their own wine, and I can recommend a visit to one or more of them. Some also grow olives and have their own restaurants and shops selling local produce.
The centre of the village is situated among the level roads around The Square, making walking easy, and parking is plentiful. Shops and restaurants occupy old house premises, giving each its own unique identity and atmosphere. Here you will find intriguing and unusual things you never knew you needed: essential oils (made in the village), exquisite table-ware, luxuriously scented candles, original oil paintings and sculptures, distinctive clothing and accessories.
And, of course, wine. Restaurants with names such as Bar Bar Black Sheep, Wicked Treats and Mama Cucina serve a variety of tempting dishes and all have well-shaded outside seating areas, so you can enjoy the hot weather in comfort – and it is hot! These are also ideal places to watch the diverse passing parade of locals and visitors.
We had a casual Saturday lunch at the Pleasant Pheasant, the restaurant at Allesverloren wine estate, just outside the village. Rustic tables were set under the huge, old oak trees and were crowded with families enjoying a convivial lunch. It was plain to see that many of the younger members had been taking part in a match at the nearby rugby academy.
I had a basket of calamari, chips and onion rings for R50 (£3). In the evening we dined at Café Felix and had tasty pork belly, fondant potatoes and French beans for R125 (£7). No room for dessert!
For a grand occasion, the Royal Hotel, one of the oldest in South Africa, has a sumptuous menu and, if you are tempted to stay the night, beautifully appointed rooms. There are many other accommodation options in and around the village. We stayed in Fynbos, a self-catering cottage on a busy export fruit farm, and enjoyed the activity and wonderful views. There are also guest houses, small hotels and, if money’s no object, the upmarket Bartholomeus Klip game reserve.
The Riebeek Valley has a long history. Stone Age artefacts found in the area show that humans have lived here for more than a million years. Rock paintings in the surrounding mountains depict ancient hunts of animals that once roamed here in their thousands. The Dutch were the first Europeans to visit the area, in 1661 on an expedition sent out from the castle in Cape Town to explore the environs. They named the local mountain, which reminded them of a castellated structure, Riebeek Kasteel and recorded that they then came to ‘a lovely valley’. This was gradually settled, a church built and the village grew.
The most famous of its sons was Jan Smuts, international statesman and founder of the League of Nations. The farmhouse where he was born is now a museum, as is the original church – both worth a visit.
Whether you go for just a day or spend a couple of nights and explore some of the surrounding countryside and interesting places such as Tulbagh, the slow, country pace, rugged mountains and far horizons are a great alternative to Cape Town’s fast and glittering pace and will create a vibrant memory to relive back home.
Recommended Accommodation: Fynbos self-catering farm cottage
Posted 6th October 2015 by Steve Hanson on behalf of Janet Traill. The photographs were supplied by the author after the Writing Competition had been judged.