07 June 2012

Riebeek Kasteel - The Village Atmosphere

Riebeek Kasteel, one of the hidden treasures of the Western Cape, is only an hour from Cape Town and transports you back to a slower pace immediately as you drive into the village. Imagine the glorious sight that welcomed the first explorers to this valley as early as 1661 - with wild game roaming free it must have been a sight to behold and a picturesque valley just waiting to be farmed.
The town was laid out in 1900 and has retained it's village atmosphere to this day - let's hope it stays as welcoming and rural  - a perfect getaway for a slow week-end or a lazy Sunday lunch.
The Main Street appeared on a map as far back as 1861 and was a route towards Tulbagh. The current square was designated already by 1911 as a market square and today it is lined on both sides by restaurants and interesting shops.

The Allesveloren farm was granted to Gerrit Cloete in 1704 after having first served as a VOC outpost. This wine farm is famous for it's red wine, port and restaurant where families and friends can gather for a leisurely wine tasting or lunch. Make a stop!

Klovenburg is another wine and olive farm granted to Jan Botma is 1704 and still producing today.
The valley is also known for it's olives and an olive festival is held each year. The village gets packed so be sure to book your accommodation well in advance. The variety of tastes are incredible! The Olive Boutique is open all year round if you miss the Olive Festival week-end.

Just don't try picking olives straight off the trees - they are so disgusting and bitter that you will spit them out faster than you picked them. So theft is not an issue! The various secret recipes for the brine make the olives unique and their tastes many and varied.
For the more energetic there are cycle routes and hiking trails - be sure to get your permit from the Tourism Office and enjoy the views from the top of the Kasteelberg Mountain which dominates the scene above Riebeek Kasteel.

The Royal Hotel - this beautiful, old Colonial hotel is the oldest in the Western Cape and has the longest "stoep" (veranda) south of the Limpopo! One is truly transported back to a bygone era when visiting this hotel. Pop in for a drink at the 150 year old bar or enjoy lunch in the gardens. Bikers, expensive cars, passing tourists - you name it, this hotel has visitors from all walks of life - just don't try to play on the old piano on the veranda - with keys yellow and stained, it's another relic.

Chat to the locals - you will be amazed at their friendliness and their stories. Who would think that a very down-to earth estate agent is also a  passionate wildlife photographer? Not like some "sell at all costs" ones that I have met in my life-time! His stories and photos are incredible and he will also find you just the right house or plot for your retirement or week-end retreat. Check out his unique window to the world in his office, especially on a hot day when he opens it to let the Valley breeze blow in!
The Wine  Kolletive sells wine from the smaller farms who are not open to the public and it's well worth a visit for wines you won't find elsewhere. The chatty lady on duty loves living in the valley and mentioned our late friend, Keith who was (small world!) her neighbour for awhile.
The quote below is Keith's interpretation of the "Valley Wave" written for the SA Navy News where he served for many years as a Warrant Officer. Our friend was always able to chat to everybody and knew most of the RK residents within a few weeks of moving to the village! Keith's lovely wife, Barbara, took ill shortly after moving to the village and never truly got to enjoy her new home
Such is life and we miss them both.

"Shortly after moving to the sleepy village of Riebeek Kasteel in the Swartland, I was introduced to a phenomenon called “the village wave”; a simple form of greeting that takes numerous guises and is practiced by all and sundry. The wave could be an arm shaken about vigorously out of the car window, or it could be the flick of the wrist, a simple finger casually lifted off the steering wheel or even a slight nod of the head. No matter in what form it takes, a villager never ignores a passer-by, a passing motorist or a couple strolling hand in hand around the streets, peering into shop windows or admiring all the beautiful gardens, irrespective of the registration number of their car. So, do not be caught off guard next time you experience “the village wave.” It is our local interpretation of a naval salute! "

Another "must do" on the 1st Saturday of every month, is the Funky Fresh Market in Riebeek West, a VERY short drive from Riebeek Kasteel. Again, an interesting collection of people selling jams, bottled fruit, fresh breads, bacon and egg rolls, vegetables, plants, herbal remedies, homemade lemonade etc. Did you know a bubble will appear and rise to the top of an upturned jar of pure honey? Try it!
The pancake ladies were from Malmesbury and it was their first time of trading  - they are from a local church in Malmesbury and all their profits are going to charity. The pancakes were lovely and sold with a smile. Most stall-holders are also very good sales people so don't try to escape without buying something. The herbalist from Mooreesburg very kindly gave me his lemonade recipe which we hope to try if I can find the piece of paper I wrote it down on! Sadly, I think the paper fluttered away somewhere as did my Lotto tickets. So well hidden that maybe they will both surface in a year or so....! Or maybe somebody has cashed in on my winnings already?

There are numerous restaurants so one is spoiled for choice - you certainly cannot go hungry or thirsty in this village. With an interesting mix of names, take your pick! Bar Bar Black Sheep, Cafe Felix, Eds Diner (check out the vintage cars and bikes!), de Jonge Cafe, Kasteelberg Country Inn (Allan Barnard - Radio Personality) Fat Cat's Kitchen (ice cold beer!) and Aunti Pasta to name a few.

Our hosts in the Valley are originally from UK and landed in Cape Town after months of a round-the-world trip when their children left home. They loved Cape Town so much that they spent 6 weeks relaxing in the city after their travels before heading back to UK. The South African lifestyle and sunshine had left their mark, however, and they were back here to settle. Looking around, they decided on a small farm in the valley, converted the existing house to a B&B and now have a very active social life after the weekly farming or B&B duties. With olives, grapes and baby marrows (currently) and 2 gorgeous Ridgebacks, they have settled in well!! The younger dog took us for a walk around the farm and was determined that we would follow. Luckily, she did not cross the Berg River on that occasion, as they apparently do on a regular basis, as it runs past at the bottom of the garden! It's certainly brings new meaning to "it's a dog's life" Forget the bad connotation to this saying - here it is pure heaven - a river to swim in, miles of farm to run in, food provided and guests who can be taken for walks! We loved the outlook towards the mountains and the sight of the many trains rumbling past as this is the main Cape Town - Johannesburg line. So when you are next on the Blue Train, give a wave to the Valley!

The farm has various olive trees, such as Mission, Coratine, Leccino, Frantoio and Kalamata and they produce cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. the olives are hand-picked at just the right stage of ripeness and pressed within twelve hours of harvesting. So look out for the "Riebeek Valley" Olive oil with the Fish Eagle on the logo.

Take some time out to relax away from the daily stress of the city - do remember to give your own "Valley Wave", enjoy the fresh air, the Shiraz wines, the olives, buy some olive oil, enjoy the quirky shops, the friendly locals and the relaxed atmosphere.

© Judelle Drake

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