This gem of a boutique country hotel nestles between the estate of the same name’s vineyards on the outskirts of Tulbagh village on the Winterhoek Road to the north. Often and often I send my guests to enjoy a sundowner on their pergola-clad veranda – what better than to admire the sun sinking behind the glorious Saronsberg through a wineglass darkly? In summer, with the banks of iceberg roses in bloom, it is a beautiful setting for a white wedding, and latterly the hotel also offers guests a luxurious wellness spa.
Last Sunday the family and I decided to try out their Governor’s restaurant’s famous Sunday roast – a delicious plateful with all the trimmings followed by a decadent baked pudding with custard. And of course I ordered a bottle of Mr Perfect with alacrity – the closest I will probably get to Mr Right in Tulbagh! (BTW resident Rijk’s Ridge winemaker Pierre Wahld makes wine like an angel – he has rewritten the record books by featuring on the ABSA Top 10 for 10 years and is colloquially known as the Pope of Pinotage…) Needless to say, we needed a serious middagslapie after all that indulgence!
And did you know that ‘Rijk’ is in fact a title, meaning ‘father’, given to Governor Tulbagh after whom our town is named. It was bestowed due to the respect in which he was held by the Cape community - fondly remembered generations later for a popularity occasioned by fiscal discipline, fairness, justice and applied common sense. He and his wife, Elizabeth Swellengrebel, being a childless couple, were benefactors to many orphans. It is perhaps no co-incidence that today Rijk Tulbagh Private School is also housed on the property an indeed, Tulbagh is also home to one of the oldest orphanages in the country, Steinthal Misson School.
We are so blessed to have such an asset on our doorstep!
Over a year ago now I had the amazing perspicacity to appoint the fabulous and efficient Sarah as marketing and sales liaison at HomeAway… and that relief (and expansion!) enabled me quite literally to lift my head up and look over the wall next door. My neighbour, who had been widowed and was not coping, had decided to sell and, by a wonderful confluence of circumstances, I was able to scrape together the wherewithal to purchase.
The property had sadly fallen into neglect, but luckily I was able to contract the services of one Mr Godfrey Makohono to quickly renovate the outbuilding into a cottage (our 5th!). There being such a shortage of accommodation in Tulbagh, it was literally snapped up on a long-term lease – which in turn has carried the standard overheads and partially helped to fund the ongoing reclaim of the rest of the property.
The dreaded drought of summer 2015/16 taught us some harsh lessons, but one of the positives has been that we now know the way forward is water-wise & low maintenance gardening. My faithful part-time gardener Benjamin (the vegetarian Rastafarian) has steadily cleared the erf and prepared it to take on a new persona. At one stage we found a 2m Cape cobra – who was promptly relocated to much more convivial climes in the Waterval nature reserve by CapeNature! I also organised a weekly delivery of rocks (from an outlying smallholding which quite literally grows them!) and Benjy has now created rockeries everywhere of the local honeyed stone, reminiscent of the Cotswolds, interspersed with contrasting gravels. Another happiness was the acquisition of bakkie loads of peach pips from our local canning factory - and so our Zen garden is gradually coming into being.
We have cloned all our aloes, succulents and vygies from next door HomeAway and, it being the same micro-climate, the babies are thriving! A kind friend donated many agapanthus plants, and yet another lots of little spekboomplantjies for a hedge, so we are confident that the next growing season (Spring) will give the necessary boost to establish the garden firmly – especially since we are being blessed with a wet winter. Here in the country we live very close to and work with the seasons…
When tackling the main house, again I was blessed to find Handyman Mark and his appie Elias, whose practical hands are capable of literally anything. For over four months we have worked diligently and daily together, deciding how to unlock the potential of this potentially very comfortable home. Many gremlins were encountered along the way, but fortunately Mark was unfazed and always resourcefully made a plan. The long and the short of it is that the house has been opened up, completely retiled and repainted, and is looking so spic and span I can hardly believe it! The grotty old bathroom and separate loo has been renovated into two lovely modern ones, both with showers, there are generous cupboards everywhere and in short every convenience has been provided.
Throughout flow and light has been created, along with a wood-burning kaggel in the living room for those snowy wintry days we love so much here in Tullieland. Mark even recycled the old bath into a snazzy new seat! In addition the house now boasts a wonderful entertainment area, with the ubiquitous braai, and the old reservoir has been converted into a sit-in plunge pool, which will be operational for summer 2016/17. There are lovely views of the mountains and I know guests will really enjoy relaxing there.
As always, when fitting up the Comfort Zone I tried to buy as local as possible, and was delighted to find bright, bold colours available in homeware fashions. My friend Crispian (another whose hands are capable of so many things) has made much of the furniture out of upcycled pallet wood - the miracle being he is 81 years old! There is now a fresh, uncluttered ambience in this house, which lives very easy - perfect for a group of friends or a family. Do try it out!
This Faire will be a celebration of our award-winning wines, top class olives and other products of the Valley. Experience our rich cultural heritage through locally made traditional dishes and tasty treats. It will be a day of family entertainment, music, fun events and an opportunity for visitors to spend the weekend in the country reliving days gone by.
Three kilometres outside Tulbagh along the Winterhoek road on a rise stands the majestic De Oude Drostdy, designed by French-born architect Louis Michel Thibault. Gracious in proportions and flanked by oak trees and iceberg roses, it welcomes with a wide flight of stairs into formal rooms featuring high, yellowwood ceilings and flaunts with a fabulous collection of art and antiques. It is one of five museums in Tulbagh – the others being De Oude Kerk, the Pioneer House, a Victorian period house and the Earthquake museum – one might even say it is the jewel in our crown of heritage buildings.
In order for a town to be proclaimed as such in the good old bad old days, it needed to have a church and a magistrate’s court in place. Tulbagh is the fourth oldest town in South Africa (after Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Swellendam); our museum church was built in 1756 (extended in 1795) and De Oude Drostdy (magistrate’s court) in 1806. Later the magisterial district was moved to Worcester and, no longer needed as a courthouse, the building was sold by Lord Charles Somerset into private hands. In the course of time it fell into disrepair but happily was salvaged and lovingly restored by Sir Meiring and Lady Beck, including having the original coat of arms of Governor Rijk Tulbagh (after whom the town is named) reproduced from Holland.
The magnificent manor house has withstood the test of time – including the great storm of 1822, the ravages of fire in 1934 and even the momentous earthquake of 1969. Today it is home to Drostdy-Hof wines, inspired by the legacy of impeccable craftsmanship and passionate dedication to the preservation of heritage. For a mere R20 one may wander through the vaulted rooms breathing of yesteryear and then, descending via a stairwell hewn into the rock of the foundations, sample the range of wines by candlelight in what used to be the old gaol beneath.
The Drostdy plays benign host to events and festivals, it is also very pleasant to enjoy a bottle of its finest on the garden terrace behind. Leaving, one cannot help goggling at the breath-taking view from the veranda across the valley to the Saronsberg… what a quality experience!
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run
John Keats surely knew a thing or two about this lovely season…
Tulbagh is, of course, beautiful in every season of the year. This year, however, we locals are particularly looking forward to a softening of the harsh summer drought and the occasional weak cold front pushing tentacles of cloud through the poorte. Our hearts leap when we feel the north-west (rain-bearing) wind freshen and the drop in temperature is just as welcome, as is the greening of the grasslands.
The harvest from the fertile soils of our Valley of Abundance is in; our winemakers are eagerly anticipating the new wines of the 2016 vintage and hardworking farmers can turn their attention to more mundane housekeeping tasks and perhaps, depending on the summer’s yield, begin to think of taking a well-deserved holiday themselves…
Visitors to the valley can revel in the crisp champagne weather (sorry, we’re not allowed to call it that, but pssst! do you know you can enjoy a fascinating cellar tour at our very own House of Krone as well as taste their heavenly vintage MCC wines for free!). Energy revives after the long, hot summer and a gentle hike in the foothills of the Winterhoek mountains at Murludi or to the Waterfall (which may actually start running) Reserve now seems vastly more appealing, not to mention a magical horseback ride through the glorious autumnal shades of the orchards and vineyards.
Why not try a self-drive ‘tastes of Tulbagh’ tour – alternatively bikes may be hired from Detour or Vindoux. Try award-winning olives and oils at Oakhurst, cheese at Kimilili, artisanal bread from the Amazi House of Bread, handmade chocolates at Moniki, traditional bakes, preserves and dried fruit from the Home Industry shop and wonderful wine from an array of more than a dozen cellars. All you need bring is a receptacle to collect your preferred goodies and a blanket to park off for a picnic in the Community Gardens in historic Church Street.
Those with especial forethought could organise a picnic hamper from Readers Restaurant or the deli at Vindoux and simply collect it!
Thanks to a recent BFound installation (and booster to strengthen signal) all guests may now easily receive free wifi without complicated login codes. The user-friendly portal is simply accessed by supplying one’s e-mail address (once off). It will politely ask if you wish to receive local information – frankly, every guest should promptly say: “Yes, please!” as it is highly informative about local happenings and opening times, what’s on offer etc. One may also sign up for BFound’s interesting newsletter.
The company operates from the principle that strangers are simply friends waiting to be introduced – what a pleasure - plus they showcase and support what’s local and very lekker too! The beauty of it is that the same friendly service is also available in many small towns throughout the Western Cape, so most places you travel to BFound will ‘remember’ you!
Last week I had the interesting experience of checking into one of my own cottages while other people occupied my house… all part of the grand plan, of course, having decided to share my lovely home with visitors since my boys are now at university. I have actually slept in all five of my cottages but only for one night to test drive them on completion, and that’s been awhile back!
So off to Cottage No 2 I hied myself with the menagerie. My two little dogs could not understand being denied access to their home, but after a while they resigned themselves to their baskets on the stoep. Needless to say Ms Cinnamon cat colonised her new abode in two minutes flat! My little HomeAway cottage really is so well-equipped I did not long for any of the comforts only 30m away – that’s because when I was setting up I thought about what I would like to be provided, including plenty of elbow room!
The fridge’s freezer compartment was big enough to accommodate my esoteric requirements (ice with wine!) and I decided to eat in, although I could easily have strolled down the road to sample the delights of our baker’s dozen restaurants. It was really easy to whip up a meal on the little two plate stove and microwave and I wondered why one slaves over much more elaborate concoctions, especially in this heat! I could equally have lit a fire outside by the pool and flung a worsie on the coals - tjop en dop is so quintessentially South African! However, I contented myself with lounging in the recliners and watching the sun set behind the olive trees. Later I lazed in the little plunge pool as the evening purpled into dusk and admired the far flung beauty of the Milky Way sparkling brightly overhead (there is little light pollution in Tulbagh).
I loved the big shower and the efficiency of the gas geyser, even tried out the complementary toiletries provided for those who have forgotten to bring along. And so to bed, perchance to dream, although I could have watched a little TV had I so wished. I have to tell you the bed is comfortable – knew it would be, having invested in best quality mattresses! Many of my guests bring their own pillows (and often leave them behind, which creates stress all round!), but there is really no need. Each bed has a fluffy and a flattie – you can have both, either or neither depending on the state of your neck.
The weather has been overly warm this summer, but thankfully it usually cools at night and because it is safe here I simply slept with the door open to catch the breeze. Failing that there is a good fan over the bed, and two types of mozzie spray (effective or eco-friendly, take your pick!). It struck me how very peaceful it was with all the lights off – only cicadas sawing away. In the morning I awoke to sunshine and birdsong and the happy prospect of exploring my hometown through the eyes of a tourist…
How fabulous to have this wonderful adventure activity in our area! Only 30 km from Tulbagh, after an amazing drive through the stunningly beautiful Michell’s pass and just as one enters the town of Ceres, one finds the zipline’s offices on the left hand side. One is received so cordially and the staff are amazingly professional in kitting one up and explaining the ins and outs.
They then take you per minibus up into the mountains and there you embark on the first of eight ziplines, zigzagging through the most spectacular scenery of the Skurweberg. At first one’s heart is in one’s mouth, but the reassuring guides make quite sure that nothing is left to chance and after a while one can relax and simply enjoy the exhilaration of this particular type of travel. It is an unique experience for any age group in pristine nature – small children can zip in tandem with their parents and even the handicapped are catered to!
And best of all, through our valley’s innovative Best for the Guest programme which showcases and promotes local businesses, if you stay at HomeAway you are eligible for a considerable discount!
One winds up to the cellar/functions venue from the R46 through the vineyards. Arriving, one has the sense of being above it all with long views up and down the Breede Valley and the energy of the beautiful Witzenberg mountains behind, plus a side view of the great lump of Mosterdsthoek (which in winter can look a little like Mount Fiji crowned with snow!).
The cellar is surrounded by landscaped gardens planted entirely with endemic vegetation which attracts abundant birdlife. One may take an easy walk in the mountain behind where fynbos grows prolifically and buy from the fynbos nursery. The farm is also a popular wedding venue with a chapel below the restaurant, and child-friendly with playground apparatus in the gardens. In spring the estate hosts the popular Green Faire, which celebrates everything indigenous and organic.
Entering past the delightful water feature, the tasting room welcomes one through baronial wooden doors into vaulted coolness. Here one can leisurely sample the award-winning range of organic wines and olives as well as delicious deli products.
Talented resident chef Francois du Toit has just completed his first year at Waverley Hills - his signature dishes have surely seduced all the locals, who return time and time again to sit on the veranda (or within if the South Easter is howling!). In winter both the tasting locale and the restaurant have a welcoming fire with comfortable seating surrounds.
Francois is now also providing picnics for passengers on the steam train running up and down the stunning Michell’s pass, which have been very well received. A dedicated siding has been built on the farm, and landscaping is in progress. Currently one can taste Waverley’s wines and take a blanket into the adjacent olive orchard for a patch of deep shade as part of the train experience.
The kitchen at Waverley Hills will be closed for an upgrade during early February, but watch this space for an entirely new menu! Us locals hope that Francois will continue with his Wednesday evening specials - who can resist those gourmet pizzas, served on butcher’s blocks of wood and topped with everything fresh and delicious, accompanied by a glass of gorgeous organic wine?!
A friend and I moseyed down to our own dinky little theatre last Saturday. It’s upstairs in a really cool Victorian building, with a restaurant (De Kreeft Stamkafee) and pub downstairs. The service is friendly and the atmosphere relaxed; on hot summer days it is pleasant to sit out on the streetside veranda with the sprayers disseminating a cooling mist.
Proprietor Chris Kreef (he of the Kreef Hotel fame) is very well connected in the music industry and consistently brings great acts to Tulbagh. Often one artist will perform on the Friday night and another on Saturday, usually for a modest couvert fee, and on Sundays one can listen to whoever has stayed on to busk on the veranda for the price of a drink. You will, however, find yourself unable to resist the delicious food! Chris’ wife Tania Grobler is the inspiration behind the menu, which has a distinctly home style flavour, and the restaurant is especially renown for its melt-in-the-mouth steaks.
The evening we were there the artist performing was Herman Kleinhans. Not knowing much about Afrikaans music, we were very pleasantly surprised – that young man has a great voice, sensitive lyrics and obviously much talent! Egged on by the odd tequila, he was even kind enough to play a couple of more familiar English numbers for die Engelse tannies!
Sitting in the cooling breeze, we watched the sunset colour the clouds and mountains pink and counted ourselves very lucky to experience such a wonderful evening with good food, wine and live music in our little village.