Being recently blessed with a visitation from an old school friend who had never been to these parts before, I decided to take the day off and accompany her and her husband as ‘tour guide’. There being many options in our valley, I had to make some choices and therefore structured our day around spending the morning in Church Street and then taking a scenic drive in the afternoon to visit some of the out-of-town attractions.
I must say it was such a pleasure to see our lovely town and surrounds through the eyes of a tourist and gratifying to hear the oohs and aahs of wonderment from my guests! Since most visitors to our town have limited time to spend, you may find our little itinerary useful. And - watch this space – Timeless Tulbagh will soon launch a range of self-drive tours catering to every taste…
It being such a brilliant autumnal day - sunshine with a frisson around the edges - we set off at about 9am to explore Church Street and its museums. The whole street is in fact an open-air museum, being the only one in the country where all 32 houses are national monuments, featuring fine examples of early Cape Dutch, Victorian and even Georgian architecture. These were of course beautifully restored post the earthquake of 1969, so we kicked off by visiting the Earthquake museum which gives an understanding of the devastation - including eye-witness accounts - and the painstaking effort that went into the subsequent restoration. Personally I think the earthquake did Tulbagh a favour, for it took the buildings back to their original form (many having been modernised over the passage of time) and blessed us with a heritage asset of incalculable value.
From thence we went to the Oude Kerk Volksmuseum, fourth oldest church in SA and the only one in its original form. Annelien played us atmospheric music on an 18th century CD player as we wandered around admiring the antiques and later also peeped at the restored graveyard where so many people come to trace their ancestors. What is now the sports fields adjacent to the church was the original outspan for the farmers coming from far and wide for communion, christenings, weddings and funerals. A little further on House No 12 is one of the oldest in the street – built for the Reader of the Lesson; he being one of few literates would also naturally have been the schoolmaster. We also peeped into the Victorian museum at No 14 with its pretty rose garden behind, and the Pioneer house at No 22 for glimpses into how life was lived in the two previous centuries.
There is a placard in front of every house explaining its provenance, and the gardens are looking so charming with their lavender and iceberg roses and venerable oaks arching above. Despite the dreaded drought, Church Street has grey water for irrigation and Paddagang’s rolling lawns were lush and green with a flock of guinea and peafowl gracing it. It was also pleasing to see the master thatchers putting the final touches to two houses damaged by fire at the end of last year. As my friend remarked, it is like stepping back into a time which was much more leisurely than our frantic modern existence…
I had booked a gallery tour with the curator of the Christo Coetzee museum, Jan Barend Wolmarans, for 11h00 – what an experience! Jan weaves anecdotes involving the famous artist with history and philosophy as well as art appreciation, calling into question many of our modern shibboleths. We were also privileged to view the Judith Mason requiem exhibition in Coetzee’s old studio, an outpouring of reverence for another of South Africa’s great artists, and watched part of a documentary interview with this iconic artist, giving us much food for thought.
By that time we were starving so, after strolling to the end of the street (which is only 500m long) to see the Oude and Nuwe Pastorieë as well as the beautiful Ballotina, we were very happy to climb the stairs to Coffee & Cream at No 41. What a pleasure to sit in the sun on the leiklip stoep and enjoy old-fashioned jaffles filled with bobotie mince and cappuccinos - and then to decamp next door to the chocolatier at Het Land van Waveren for ‘pudding’!
Feeling sufficiently restored, we then ventured out along the Twee Jongegezellen Road, following it to its apex in the foothills of the Winterberg, where we visited Oakhurst Olives. What a delight to taste their premium oils, olives and tapenade, beautifully served and demonstrated in the most sublime surrounds… From thence we rolled back down the hill to TJ estate, home of Krone Borealis bubbly. My friends could not believe they were being served vintage MCC on an elevated terrace overlooking the oak grove and historic buildings – for free!
Another unquestionable highlight was our short visit to Saronsberg, surely the premier wine estate in the valley. An unexpected bonus was to find resident winemaker Dewald Heyns (the Sheik of Shiraz himself!) holding forth to a large group on the patio, so we were able to tune into his wisdom too. We agreed that it was a very fine thing to watch the sun sink behind the mountains beyond the dam presided over serenely by the Lady of the Lake… also that the world viewed through a wineglass is a much pleasanter place, especially if the glass contains Saronsberg’s Full Circle…
A very brief detour to Montpellier de Tulbagh followed, where we admired in short order the iconic chapel in the vineyards, the beautiful blue gum-lined approach, possibly the finest manor house in the valley and slave bell with its 1714 date, plus a glimpse of the glorious gardens. Our afternoon concluded with a leisurely drive into the cul de sac of the Winterhoek. Returning, we paused to admire the lovely proportions of De Oude Drostdy, designed by French architect Thibault, and were further blessed with the view of the long Witzenberg range to the east turning resplendently pink in refracted sunset light.
What a day to savour again and again in memory! #DiscoverTulbagh