Duncan recently enjoyed a great weekend at Blaauw Cottage in Riebeek Kasteel with his family.
Riebeek Kasteel, a small town set against the KasteelBerg mountain and only a short drive from Cape Town, has so much to offer. The great thing is that most of them are within easy walking distance from your accommodation. After checking into Blaauw, a quaint little self catering establishment, we pretty much parked our car and explored on foot. Most things are centered around The “Plein” (Square), and there is a great selection of restaurants, bistros, boutiques and galleries to keep you well fed and entertained. If you haven't been before, you really should make a plan!
A mini work crisis at the end of the week left me more stressed than I wanted to be, and meant I left later than usual. Luckily we'd planned the perfect antidote - a weekend away in a small town, and a great opportunity to relax.
Having arrived in the dark - that wasn’t the plan - we started the next day in the dark too. That wasn’t in the plan either, but that’s life with 3 young kids for you. Not that I’m complaining - it’s wonderful, although a little crowded, to have 3 kids join you in bed excited about the day ahead.
With the kids in a pram and on their bikes, we explored the town just after sunrise as it lay basking in the soft morning glow. The air was fresh, but still and not biting. We walked around to get a feel for the town, and then headed over to the “Plein” to grab a coffee and breakfast.
I love a great coffee, so Beans about Coffee (who serve breakfast) seemed an obvious first stop. You can see they’re passionate about their coffee - it’s evident everywhere, from the name to having “Coffee” blazoned across some of the tables. They even roast and sell their own beans and the coffee was fantastic, the perfect way to start the day.
The quote at the top of their menu caught my eye: “We decided to do an all day breakfast, as we all get up at different times, for different reasons”. Nice touch.
Now I must confess I'm a bit of a foodie. Making a good breakfast doesn't seem that hard to me, but I'm not often *impressed* by breakfast. Whether that’s because it’s difficult to make a remarkable breakfast (how many ways are there to prepare eggs?) or because clients don’t order the unusual, most restaurants seem to stick to the tried and tested. You know, English Breakfast, omelette, scrambled eggs - that sort of thing.
What caught my eye was their “Famous Egg Nest”. Right underneath it said “Please allow for 30 minutes preparation time”. Interesting. We weren’t in a rush, so I asked the waitress about it. “It’s worth it” was all she said. She was totally right. A “nest” of bacon, with a dash of cream and parmesan over 2 baked eggs, and some sides. Fantastic.
Riebeek Kasteel is traditionally best known for producing wine and olives. Not one to miss a wine tasting opportunity, we stopped in at Kloovenburg. Like many wine estates, Kloovenberg is steeped in tradition (it was first established in 1704), and in this case has a strong rugby history too. As we walked in, we couldn't miss the collection of rugby shirts framed on the walls. Amongst them was a Springbok shirt embroidered with the name "Pieter Steph Du Toit". I discovered that his grandfather, Piet "Spiere" (Muscles) du Toit had also played for the Boks between ‘58 and ‘61. There were some nice wines to taste (they're most well known for their Shiraz), as well as an olive tasting in the cellar.
After buying some wine at Kloovenburg, we headed to Allesverloren for another wine tasting and lunch. They have a wide selection of wines with some unusual Portuguese varietals, such as Tinta Barocca, Touriga Nacional and Tres Vermelhos. Not surprising, given that they produce one of South Africa's best ports! The food at the restaurant was typical pub fare, but what worked for us was the large jungle gym adjacent that kept the kids entertained.
If you prefer beer to wine, you'll be happy to know that there are two micro breweries in town: Garagista Beer Co in the center of town, and Flagship Brew just outside of town. We didn't have time for a proper tasting, but I couldn't help stopping at Garagista to buy a case containing one of each of their craft beers. If I had to describe Garagista, judging from their branding and marketing, I'd have to say hip and funky. Let’s face it, you’re making a statement when you call your ale “Tears of the Hipster”, and your light lager “Bat Piss”! I can't speak for the beer yet, but I'm really looking forward to cracking open the first ale at home!
After walking around town you really should stop for tea, or a quick "wyntjie" at the Royal Hotel. A bit grander, a bit older and not just a hotel, but a *Royal* Hotel. It has a great stoep, and as my friend Jon says, it's a “proper” one - it's long, wide, has lovely wicker chairs to relax in - and even has ceiling fans. The perfect place to stop and watch the world go by.
You really are spoiled for choice in Riebeek Kasteel as far as eating out is concerned - if you're a foodie, you'll love it. On the Saturday evening we were hard pressed to decide where to eat. The pork belly we saw on a few menus tempted me, but in the end we settled on Mama Cucina, a great little Italian place that offered creative, tasty dishes that appealed to my wife and me, as well as simpler meals for the kids - my wife's "Banting" lamb burger was stunning, as was my lamb shank. However, if you're self catering there's a Pick 'n Pay to meet your needs.
I'm always amazed by how markets have sprung up everywhere, and Riebeek Kasteel and surrounds are no different. Here's a quick list:
* First Saturday of the month
* Funky Market, Riebeek West.
* Last Saturday of the month
* Country Fair Market - Riebeek Kasteel
* Malmesbury Organic & Handcraft Market
* Piketberg-bo-berg Famers Market.
* Every Sunday
* Groenrivier Food & Craft Market - Riebeek West
Lots has changed, it seems, since my friend Jon used to have a place here. When they bought their place, there were no restaurants, and one bar (besides the Royal Hotel, I’m guessing). These days there are loads of great places to eat, wine to taste, two micro breweries, art and photographic galleries, shops and more. And, at just over an hour from Cape Town, it seems to be a favorite destination for bikers and Sunday explorers, which gave the town a nice buzz on the Sunday morning.
For Sunday morning breakfast we walked up to Cafe Felix, on the road between Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek West, and were a little lucky to get a table. Between a wedding party and a group of bikers, the place was pretty booked up. Another popular spot, it seems. They make a good breakfast, and I’ve heard they do a great pork belly for dinner.
One of the things I love about small towns is the peace and quiet, especially as the town lazily wakes up on the weekend, or slowly winds down in the evenings. The distant sound of a rooster crowing or of a flock Guinea fowl calling instantly transports me to a more chilled, “other world”.
Blaauw is the perfect place for a family or two couples to get away. Recently built, with a simple modern design, it has an open plan kitchen and lounge area, flanked either side by a bedroom with en-suite bathroom. It's great for both winter and summer - we arrived and to warm up we simply lit the closed combustion fireplace that had kindly been stacked for us - but weren't brave enough to take a plunge in the pool. There's an outside braai area, and there are lots of nice touches, such as body products from the local essential oils shop, "Still Pure" (www.stillpure.co.za for more info).
Checking out of Blaauw, having explored as much as our time allowed, we grabbed a take away coffee for the road (from Beans about Coffee of course!) and headed back home. Weekend breaks are the perfect way to break out of life’s routines, to slow down and look at life from a different angle, and this one was no different.
On the coffee table in Blaauw is a book called “The Life & Love of Trees”. As I drove back home, my mind wandered, and I was left pondering over one of the quotes I’d come across while casually browsing through it: “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit…”. How true.