There’s an apocryphal story about a neighbour who wasn’t too happy with his new German neighbours on the Wortelgat Road outside Stanford. But the German neighbours invited him nonetheless when they opened their new restaurant… and he accepted.
During the long lunch at Springfontein Eats, he had a phone call from his daughter, concerned about the rising level of the Klein River which passed right in front of his home. He told her he couldn’t worry about it now, he was enjoying the meal too much.
His daughter called again half an hour later to say that the water was at the door. Again, he said the meal was too good to leave. Her next call was to let him know that the water was up to knee height in the house. He told her not to worry, the house was insured and the meal was truly exceptional.
Yes, Springfontein Eats is that good. And although it opened five years ago, it’s still producing some of the most memorable gastronomic experiences you’ll get anywhere.
There are always unusual things coming out of Stanford. Like the gygpsey caravans Howard Dunbar builds.
He’s built about 16 caravans over the past four years, mainly in two sizes — 5.4 metres and 3.6 metres. A fully kitted caravan — with complete solar power system, pumps, fridge, fitted kitchen and bathroom — costs between R135,000 and R175,000.
Howard Dunbar and his 5.4 metre gypsey caravan
Sleeping and living area
The kitchen area
Bathroom with shower, basin and composting toilet
Two smaller 3.6 metre caravans — a Vardo with vertical sides and a traditional Bowtop behind it.
Stanford Hills Estate has become the de facto community hub of Stanford. It’s child-friendly… and has one of the best kids’ playgrounds anywhere. It’s also pet-friendly and dog walkers from the village take to its hills every day. If you don’t have a dog to walk, one or both of Peter & Jami Kastner’s Ridgebacks will happily take you for a walk. And you might come across the weekly art classes, the weddings and other functions… and the music events. It’s a friendly, unpretentious and… to use a word Peter and Jami use often… rustic place to relax, stay, play and and enjoy good wine and food. Peter and Jami really do enjoy people enjoying the place and they make an effort to make sure that locals feel part of it.
Jami & Peter Kastner
Stanford Hills has grown organically. Unlike many wine estates, there was no corporate budget to support the farm. It grew as and when finance became available.
Peter and Jami never set out to be farmers. Peter had a restaurant in Hermanus and Jami a flower exporting business when they bought portion of the old Weltevrede Farm, which they bought for its flowers.
Then one self-catering cottage became two, AfriCamps was added with five luxury “tents”, and the Manor House was converted to cater for larger groups.
In 2002, the then municipal manager of Cape Agulhas municipality, Keith Jordaan, asked me for ideas to improve the area for tourism. I gave him three ideas:
Create a world class, iconic site at Cape Agulhas to celebrate it as the southernmost tip of the African continent and where two oceans meet.
Napier was a dry and boring little village then with a largely ugly main street, so I suggested removing half of every third parking bay — which are rarely used — to plant an avenue of trees. (The sidewalks were too narrow for planting.)
Restore Bredasdorp’s old railway station — the southernmost on the African continent — and get tourist trains running there… steam trains preferably.
I discussed these with my old friend and respected colleague, David Jack, on his farm outside Napier over breakfast one morning. There are few people whose judgement I trust more. He was enthused by the ideas, and started telling me about the work of an American landscape architect he had seen recently, which would be so appropriate for Cape Agulhas. We spoke about a competition for designs and a possible champion, when we discovered that the then-CEO of the WWF had a house in nearby Struisbaai.
For Napier, Dave asked me to tell the municipal manager that he would donate the trees! I did, and at a subsequent municipal meeting I was asked to repeat the offer. The official responsible for services said he couldn’t allow it because it would mean raking up leaves!
In 2014 I became aware of a competition for the design of an iconic site at Cape Agulhas. I read the competition document and found it a bit wishy-washy, so I called one of the judges — the late Fabio Todeschini. He wasn’t aware that he was one of the judges and hadn’t formally accepted any invitation! So I wasn’t going to hold any high hopes…
Then Bernie Oberholzer, a landscape architect I’ve known and respected for decades, recently asked if I had been to see the iconic site. He sent me information about it… and I started looking forward to seeing it with eager anticipation. Might they have just got this right?
It’s against that background that I visit the so-called iconic site.
VOLMOED is a beautiful self-catering accommodation country retreat set in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near Hermanus.
Tucked away in it’s own little valley within the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley lies a peaceful place called Volmoed. As the Onrust River makes it’s way from the heights of Babylon’s Toring through De Bos Dam it tumbles down into this little valley with a waterfall and lovely natural rock pool, setting the scene of tranquility and natural beauty that are the hallmarks of this Retreat and Conference Centre.
It all started in the early eighties when Bernhard and Jane Turkstra felt called to establish a place that would minister to people who felt shattered by their life’s experience. After sharing their vision and buoyed by the prayers of their supporters, they formed a Trust and moved onto the property in April 1986. The property has always been known as Volmoed (meaning full of courage and hope) and the previous owners asked that we please keep the name – and what more appropriate name for a place of healing and wholeness! The valley first came to prominence as a place of healing during the 18th century when a leper colony was established here, and more recently when Camphill (next door) opened its doors to the sufferers of Downes Syndrome.
Today it serves the wider community as a facility for conferences and courses while still being accessible to individuals who simply need to get away from it all. Volmoed doesn’t offer TVs or games rooms but they do offer a peaceful environment, walks over the fynbos covered hills, and cozy log fires in winter.
These photos show the God-given beauty and Jane’s magnificent garden! (Click on any thumbnail to open the slideshow.)
“It was originally a general dealer, then a men’s bar, a wine bar, a place to buy picnics, a function space — but it never quite worked. Then it occurred to me that Stanford didn’t have a museum — so I turned it back into a general dealer — as a museum.”
A compulsive collector since the early 1990s, Penny van der Berg, owner of the Stanford Hotel, has had so much fun with this corner-store museum, sourcing goodies from across the country and describing it as, “A little bit Selfridges, a little bit Stuttafords, using my own poetic licence.” Continue reading →
Why is Elgin so often overlooked as a destination? Revisiting Elgin after a long time with a media group really got me thinking. It’s so close to the city, especially the Helderberg suburbs; it has spectacular scenery and natural beauty; there are wine estates of renown; and there are so many vibey places to go. But it was when Jody Aufrichtig of Old Mac Daddy asked the question why Elgin can’t become the adventure capital of South Africa that I really started thinking.
It was the Cape Country Connect Experience 2016 organised by Cape Country Meander. Each year they host the event in one of the Overberg towns which form part of the Meander — Botriver, Caledon, Genadendal, Elgin, Greyton, Riviersonderend, Tesselaarsdal and Villiersdorp. It is a platform where local suppliers from across the Theewaterskloof area have the opportunity to introduce and showcase their products and services to local and neighbouring product owners in the hospitality industry.
One couldn’t have wished for a better scene-setter than The Pool Room at Oak Valley Estate — one of the valley’s largest and most diversified farms with wine, fruit, cattle, pigs and flowers. Really memorable wines accompanied each course and were presented by winemaker Quentin Gobrechts.
Chef Gordon Manuel introduced each dish: Citrus Cured Seabass with Pickled Cucumber & Yuzu Pearls; Acorn Fed Pork — braised Pork Cheek, grilled Loin Chop, celeriac & cider pear puree; Beef Short Rib & Porcini Lasagna with roasted red onion and tomato compote; and Dark Chocolate Mousse, Espresso Ice Cream & Macerated Rasberries. Yum!
It’s all about “bringing the farm to the table,” Gordon says, “working with the best ingredients from the Valley and beyond.”
It was a most memorable dining experience…
And then the farm tour… free-range everything! Acorn-fed pigs and Simmenthaler and Waygu Beef.
These pigs are huge! The recent introduction of special cages for new moms and their piglets has reduced the number of piglets being squashed by mother pig when they try to drink milk by 75%!
And then it was off to Old Mac Daddy. Accommodation in vintage trailers in farmlands alongside a dam. It’s one of those places one just has to visit. It’s quirky and fun. It even has a beach and a beach bar!
The highlight of the trip was Jody’s speech during the Cape Country Connect function: Why can’t Elgin emulate Queenstown in New Zealand — NZ’s favourite visitor destination and rated as one of the world’s top destinations. With a population of only 19,200, it hosts around 2 million visitors a year. Why can’t Elgin become SA’s adventure capital?
Part of the area’s problem has been its identity… is it Elgin (the Valley) or Grabouw (the town)? For some years they confused everybody by using Groenberg/Green Mountain for the area, which meant nothing to most people. The town of Grabouw itself is a rather sad farming village. In some respects it’s a bit like some of the sad villages in the KZN Midlands as opposed to towns like Riebeek Kasteel, Greyton or Prince Albert.
Another problem which I hadn’t been aware of is that there was some antagonism between farmers and the tourism industry. Very surprising! The current mayor, Chris Punt, whose term expires in August, did a lot to address this. Someone needs to drive a shared vision for the Valley.
And there needs to be the political will to do something about the town of Grabouw. But is Theewaterskloof Municipality up to this?
Next morning, it was breakfast at the Hickory Shack before heading home.
Breakfast at the Hickory Shack
I can’t beat the story they provided, so here it is:
When a restaurant is inspired by an old shed, you can bet you’ve entered BBQ territory. Owner, and Elgin resident, Jay Haupt, had been exploring traditional food production methods for a number of years when the perfect location for a BBQ pit presented itself.
“I saw this old shed with all its character and just knew it was perfect,” says Jay, and with a bit of wrangling The Hickory Shack was born. The cooking happens in the smokehouse but the restaurant spreads out from a cosy interior to a chilled-out balcony and rolls on to a lawn complete with kids jungle gym. Plenty of parking is available up front -– and its likely Jay’s bright red 1958 Chevy pick-up will be parked among the visitor’s cars.
Set on Thandi Farm on the N2, Elgin, The Hickory Shack serves Texas style BBQ made in a cantilever pit. The result is tender, lightly smoked ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken. Using mostly apple wood in the smoking process for its subtle flavours, the Hickory Shack’s pit master broods over his craft -– making meat that is done low and slow.
The smoked meat dishes are served with slaw (no mayonnaise here), mash, fries or home-made baked beans. All the accompanying pickles and sauces — from apple chutney to hot bastard — are Hickory home-made.
Local Elgin ciders and Fraser’s Folly craft beer are the biggest attention seekers on the drinks menu which also includes jam jar cocktails, cordials, shakes and Elgin wines.
Whilst ribs and brisket lure in the crowds, the big breakfasts with home-made links (sausages) are excellent fare for travellers needing a refuel or wedding weekenders nursing a sore head.
Open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday to Sunday and for dinner on Friday and Saturday, the Hickory Shack is the real-deal pit stop.
The Intrepid Traveller ticks Elgin off his bucket list, looking across one of the dams on Oak Valley Estate.
It was pure chance and serendipity that we ended up here… a blessing… Klipfontein Keep is simply a Wow! It lies between Bredasdorp and Struisbaai, looking across fields of bright yellow canola. It’s a self-catering lodge that exceeds all expectations.
Klipfontein Keep across a sea of yellow canola
Views that let your brain breathe… from Klipfontein Keep
In a historic sense, a Keep is a fortified tower built within castles during the Middle Ages by European nobility. Klipfontein Keep has its low stone walls marking the werf, but you can easily imagine these as the stone walls of the castle. Inside, there is the drama of a double-volume space with a gallery, all covered by the exposed thatched roof — and it’s that delightful aroma of thatch that greets you when you enter the front door. And then there’s the upstairs suite with its balcony, with a panoramic view across canola fields to distant mountains and more bright yellow canola fields.
This is Jenny Uys’ creation — and it’s one of the most special places I’ve ever had the privilege of staying at. Because staying here is a privilege — it’s not another commercial accommodation establishment — it is a place you need to fully enjoy and appreciate, with respect. In some ways, it should remain a best-kept secret for those who do appreciate. (I’d hate, on the basis of CapeInfo’s recommendation, for people who don’t respect property to visit here.)
Johannes & Jenny Uys, in front of Langrug Lodge, built in 1912.
Jenny grew up in the hospitality industry and it’s part of her DNA. She may be a farmer’s wife now, but she’s taken hospitality to new levels with Klipfontein Keep and Langrug Lodge, her first venture 14 years ago.
The farm Visserdrift — where Langrug Lodge is located — has been in husband Johannes’ family for over 100 years and their children will be the custodians for the next generation. The farm includes part of Soetendalsvlei — the second largest natural fresh water lake in southern Africa. (It’s named after the VOC ship Zoetendaal which was wrecked on the coast nearby in 1678. One of the sailors was killed by an elephant on the ridge not far from the Lodge. The large sandstone blocks used to build the Cape Agulhas lighthouse come from this area.)
Then 22 years ago, Johannes bought the farm Klipfontein, on the opposite side of the R319, which once belonged to Lord de Saumerez, the English lord memorialised in Dalene Mathee’s novel Driftwood.
This is a luxurious lodge that puts many 5-star establishments to shame. There are two suites with big beds and full en-suite bathrooms (bath and shower). A third bedroom has two beds and an en-suite bathroom with shower. On the upper-floor gallery there are two sets of bunk beds. So it’s ideal for two families with some older and some younger kids.
Downstairs there are two living areas — one focused on a big screen TV with full DSTV; the other on the fireplace/indoor braai. The kitchen is the most comprehensively-equipped I’ve come across — it includes a washing machine, drier and dishwasher — and far, far more. There are in fact two cooking areas — a conventional stove/oven in the kitchen and a gas hob and another oven in the fireplace area. And there is a braai outside and a spacious stoep to enjoy the vista… which takes in Eland and Bontebok in the distance… and the sound of the sea.
Johannes’ biggest passion is game and Klipfontein is being stocked with eland, bontebok, springbuck and buffalo to supplement the indigenous small game — dyker, steenbok, Cape grysbok, rheebuck and bushbuck. The new game is in camps now but the medium-term plan is to take the fences down so they will be wandering around Klipfontein Keep. Jenny and Johannes have lots of plans! There are already two hiking trails of 20km and new trails for hiking and mountain bikes could extend into the adjacent De Mond Nature Reserve, with a self-permit system at Klipfontein Keep.
Buffalo at Klipfontein Keep
Springbuck come in various colours and the rarer ones get shot most by hunters for that reason. The Klipfontein herd has wide variety, including those we know best.
The Rainbow Nation
There’s also star-gazing, bird-watching and even the novelty of collecting fresh eggs from the chicken coop nearby, but, for those who don’t want to leave city luxuries too far behind, there is full DSTV, a DVD player and Wi-Fi.
Watch Klipfontein Keep become a renowned destination!
Now this is something completely different. It’s an old bywoners cottage that has been meticulously restored to offer perfect comfort. And it’s totally off-the-grid. Hot water comes from a “donkey”, lighting from flickering flames and cooking with gas. It’s total escapism right on the banks of Soetendalsvlei, with with its own jetty and rowboat.
Jenny’s poem says it all:
I dreamt of Africa. A cottage beneath the biggest bluest sky of all. Expansive vlei out front, endless fields behind. Wild neighbors far too shy to show.
I dreamt of solitude. A place of perfect quiet. Of lapping water and timid birds. Of long, long walks across the veld.
I dreamt of comfort. Crackling fires and broad, soft sofas. Of timber table tops, first planed centuries ago.
I dreamt of deep, hot baths. And still, dark nights. Where silence lulls and soothes.
I dreamt of all this and now that it’s real, my dream has somehow changed… I want the world to know my peace of Africa but, on the other hand, I’d like to keep it all to myself.
Langrug Lodge has been very popular ever since it opened 14 years ago. Some families have been back more than 20 times. Some book it for three weeks. Book your peace of paradise.
I first heard about Vermaaklikheid when a neighbour went there every year on holiday and swore it was the perfect holiday destination. And then, more recently, I discovered that three architect friends had bought homes there — Hirsch Fish, Graham Parker and Paul Andrew — and that piqued my interest. It must be special to attract architects!
So what will you find at Vermaaklikheid? Nothing. Except the Duivenshok River. And with little or no cellphone reception, it is the perfect place to unwind, paddle the river, eat, drink, read and enjoy the company of friends. There is a sort-of shop for the barest essentials.
Paul Andrew, now an artist, built or restored three houses in Vermaaklikheid which are available to rent for holiday accommodation. So expect something with great intrinsic style. My first surprise was waterproof doors — the river does flood so think of submarine door seals! At from R200 per person per night, you can afford to stay longer and unwind properly.
The one cottage is a few hundred metres from the river, the other two on the river (the one being on the other side so only accessible by boat or serious 4×4).
Most tourism offices whinge about inadequate budgets without demonstrating that they do provide value for money or create significant numbers of extra jobs with taxpayers’ funding.
Well, Swellendam has turned the “liability” of development on its head and gained itself a cash budget of R11 million a year for the next three years. And there’s much more in kind.
Brand Swellendam is the winner and it’s a credit to the board of Swellendam Tourism Organisation (STO) and the Municipality that this has been achieved. And to Peter Gratton for his dedication and perseverance — the submissions to DBSA were rejected twice before a visit to them convinced them of the benefits.
We (that includes Beezus) met Peter Gratton, who drove the project, and Rob Hicks, Swellendam Tourism’s development planner (discovering that we had crossed paths in a previous life) over breakfast at the pet-friendly Grace Walk B&B. It was a memorable breakfast in every respect… thank you Esther.
Rob Hicks, development planner, and Peter Gratton, head of Swellendam Tourism