Thursday, July 23, 2015

Riebeek Kasteel Week - Part 4

Go to the start of this article by clicking - here.
Pieter Cruythoff Memorial Stone
Another thing to do in the day is the the History Route. Download the details on www.riebeekvalley.info. It starts just outside Riebeek Kasteel in the direction of Hermon. We popped into Hermon thinking it would be as quaint as Riebeek Kasteel. It's not. There's a bottle store, a general dealer and an agricultural supply outlet. That's it. The drive is not well marked but we managed to find most of the places or points of historical interest. We had to drive back and forth a few times before we spotted the Pieter Cruythoff Memorial stone. The museum at De Oude Kerk has genuine Boer (Dutch settler or farmer) day to day living items as well prehistoric tools. They have a touch screen information board where you can read as much or as little as you want.
Birthplace of Field Marshall J C Smuts
I loved the Jan Smuts museum at the PPC Cement factory. PPC is a bit of a blot on the outskirts of this pretty area but kudos to them, they have restored Smuts birthplace and turned it into a museum. You can see old newspaper cuttings and photos of Smuts. I worry that they have not been copied and the originals kept in a safe place but I consider myself lucky to have seen what they had on show.
Local designs at a boutique in town
Don't fancy driving? Well you could stroll around the central area taking in art galleries, boutiques, craft shops and eateries. We found art, ceramics, wrought iron work, clothing, home-made skin care products as well as jams and chutneys. That is by no means all there is to view or buy. RK has some rather out there decor in the eating places. Eve's Eatery has a "chandelier" made from a bicycle wheel and various stuffed characters dotted around. They do a 3 bean burger which was good. We LOVED Mama Cucina. They do the very best thin based vegan pizza ever. It's not on the menu but apparently they make it often so just ask.
The town square
Once the sun sets behind the mountain and the ambient temperatures drop, it remains light until the sun actually sets. Local residents come out in the cooler air and get fit walking, running, cycling or leisurely take their dogs for a sniff around. Kids come out to play or people head out for sun downers or a meal. We made sure we went walkabout with the dogs every day once it was cool and got to see as much of Riebeek Kasteel as we could. I loved the Beware of the Snakes signs. Not a common sight. We also got to see the tractors and trailers filled with grapes as farmer were furiously harvesting.
Local eatery
Since Riebeek Kasteel is a teeny tiny village, it doesn't generate the same amount of light as a big city. Which means the stars shine brightly. The full moon is so bright it's as if a light has been switched on outside. Even during full moon we could see Sirius, Orion's Belt, Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Castor and Pollux and The Southern Cross. How do I know this? My other half is a not so ancient mariner who still knows how to plot a course with a sextant. (He can tell the weather and time of day looking at the sky. The rest of us can download an app or map to do some star gazing. New moon is a perfect time.
Memorabilia at the Museum at Het Oude Kerk
After a whole week of time out we reluctantly made our way back home to face a never ending To-Do list. We were so lucky to have this break and should we come again, we know there's lots to do. Having said that, doing nothing can also be fun.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Riebeek Kasteel Week - Part 3

Go to the start of this article by clicking - here.
Wijn Kollectiv Winkel
Riebeek Kasteel gets hell hot in summer so bear that in mind when planning day excursions. Wine tastings are a good way to start as wines from this region have a distinct character. It has something to do with the seasons and the soil. There are South African cultivars that grow particularly well in the Swartland (Black land) like Shiraz. Pinotage is unique to South Africa, it's a new age Pinot Noir. Do make a point of tasting them. Visit The Wine Collective or Wijn Kollectiv in Short Street for wine tastings. They are in the heart of Riebeek Kasteel and stock a good selection of wines from the region to suit all pockets. We are unashamedly thrifty and the bloke who helped us wasn't fazed by that at all. If you happen like any of the wines you bought, they do on-line deliveries all over the world. www.thewinekollective.co.za. Good to know.
Wine tasting at Allesverloren
Wine farms are without doubt a really big attraction in the Riebeek Valley. The nearest wine farms are: -
Allesverloren -
The name of this farm means - All is Lost. The widow Cloete who owned the farm came home to find the San people had set fire to the place and she uttered those words. The name stuck but don't worry, the farm is in good nick. It is the oldest wine farm in the region. They do a wine tasting for R20 but waiver that fee if you buy wine. We liked that. And bought a few wines including a dry rose. Who knew rose could taste so good? They do an exceptional port but we're not keen on sweet or fortified wines. The Pleasant Pheasant cafe is on the other side of the farm and they serve - great wine obviously - at a bargain R20 a glass - but pizza, burgers and quiche with chips or salad. Not gourmet, but good. They are the only vineyard that has a restaurant unlike most of the other wine routes in the Cape.
View from our walk at Pulpit Rock wine estate
Pulpit Rock -
I mentioned we did a walk from this wine farm earlier in this post. You may want to do the same. Pulpit Rock is a new winery, the first grapes were harvested in 2004. It belongs to the Brink family who have been farming in the area for more than 5 decades. I loved the wines. And loved the prices.
Kloovenberg Wine Estate Riebeek Kasteel
Kloovenberg -
We couldn't do wine tastings - and still drive - to all the farms so this one sadly was given a miss. Hey, there's always a next time? What's nice about this estate is that it has buildings going back to the 18th century. It was mentioned in the History Route Guide as a "must see" for it's architecture.
Lunch Break at Pleasant Pheasant at Allesverloren
Swartland Winery -
We never got to this winery either but apparently it's a good source of exceptional quality bargain wines. They won 4 Bronze and 2 Silver Decanter World Wine awards in 2013 and 2014. Their Pinotage and Shiraz were in the top 100 wines in South Africa in 2012.
Italian restaurant in town
The Swartland Wine Route is a bit further out and includes even more wine farms. Ask for a Swartland Wine and Olive Route map at one of the wine farms or find it on www.swartlandwineandolives.co.za. We're partial to dry reds. Have to say, the dry reds in this region are right up our street. These wines definitely need to breathe to be at their best. My husband and I tend to buy organic wine but over the years of visiting wine farms we have noticed that farmers are steering away from using a plethora of biocides - aka herbicides, insecticides, nematicides, termiticides, molluscicides, piscicides, avicides, rodenticides, predacides, bacteriacides, fungicides - yes really - and engaging in a more natural approach to vinticulture. I've not seen nets covering the vineyards before to keep birds out, but saw them on this trip. And we heard birds in the area. Yay! So although the wines aren't labelled organic, they are much cleaner than in the past. South Africa exports a LOT of wine to Europe and the EU standards for pesticide levels are high. Also a consumer shift to cleaner and greener wines is forcing vineyards to be compliant to stay in business. Great news.
Local olives
Don't forget to do an olive tasting as well. Should you miss out on olives at any of the wine farms you can always pop in to Het Vlok Casteel which is right in Riebeek Kasteel. They sell the best olives ever. And other olive products such as skincare and oils.

Move to Part 4 with - this link.
If you go to My Holidays and Trips page you can find out about other places we have been to.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Riebeek Kasteel Week - Part 2

To read about this trip from the beginning - click here.
General Jan Smuts with Albert Luthuli
This area is birthplace to one fondly remembered political leader and another less so. Field Marshall Jan Christiaan Smuts was born in Riebeek West. He fought in both world wars and was head of state for South Africa twice. He is credited as the father of Holism. What is Holism? Smuts defined Holism as the "tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution". He was also instrumental in keeping South Africa on good terms with Europe and the west. He had a big role in establishing the League of Nations. Smuts spent a considerable amount of time out the country which was viewed with negatively by the opposition National Party and contributed to his downfall. Jan Smuts was an avid outdoorsman and nature lover. He took great pleasure in taking the British royal family amongst others on hikes in the South African mountains.
Smuts with the British royal family in The Drakensberg
The other politician from the area is Daniel Francois Malan. He succeeded Smuts and is widely known as the architect of apartheid. The National Party got into power and proceeded to implement racist Apartheid policies. He was born in Riebeek Kasteel. His descendants still run the wine farm Allesverloren successfully. Malan's descendants or family do not all share their ancestor's ideologies. Riaan Malan wrote an excellent book called My Traitor's Heart sharing his views on people and politics in South Africa after spending much time abroad.
D F Malan
What to do in the Riebeek Valley? The Tourism Office was friendly but not that helpful. We waited over half an hour for them to open during time they were supposed to be open. Once inside they had a quirky free map which they happily gave us. But volunteered almost no info. We had to ask. Are there good hikes? Um, yes. They have the Carl Thunberg Route and the Pieter Cruythoff Route.
Tourism office
Neither are a Sunday leisurely stroll - but hey we would have liked to know about them. You apparently need a permit so they - whoever they is - know who is on the mountain for safety purposes. You supposedly get a permit from the Tourism Office or The Royal Hotel. Except the Tourism Office can't afford to print permits so they don't have any.  You also need consent from the wine farm as the hikes are on private property. Some wine farmers get a bit upset when ramblers help themselves to grapes. Understandably so.
Quirky map
We decided to do the Pieter Cruythoff route as it was shorter and easier. You start at Pulpit Rock Winery. The woman there was super helpful and gave us a laminated copy of a map. The route is overgrown and we gave up trying to find the path and just walked as much as we could. We decided to do a spot of wine tasting while we there. Such nice wines. And the best prices. How could we not buy wine? We ended up with two cases of wine.
Pulpit Rock Hike

There are more hikes further out - Silverfontein Hiking Trail on the slopes on the Elandskloofberge, Waterfall Forestry Reserve (contact Tulbagh Tourism Office), Murludi Hiking Trail (north of Tulbagh) and Die Hel or Groot Winterhoek. Perhaps they are more structured. Turns out there are cycle routes too. Not sure about permits as we aren't cyclists.
Funky Fresh Market Riebeek Kasteel
We also asked at the Tourism Office if they had any markets. Yip, they have the Funky Fresh Market on the first Saturday on the month in Riebeek West. There was even a leaflet on it. Not the biggest market in the world I will admit, but it's a market. It's next to the main road. You can hardly miss it. They sell items like hand crafted soaps and jewellery, fresh juices and smoothies, artisan bread, home made food, coffee, antiques and loads more interesting stuff. There is also a Sunday Market @ The Barn. We weren't told about it, so we never got to visit that one. And there is a museum at De Oude Kerk. We discovered that by driving the History Route. Actually there is LOT to do.
Royal Hotel
Luckily we discovered a whole lot going on in Riebeek Kasteel by accident when we went to the Royal Hotel to catch up on comms. The Royal Hotel is the oldest hotel in South Africa. It's the top place to visit on Trip Advisor, plus they do really good coffee. When you sign up for their bfound wi-fi you can subscribe to the Riebeek Valley Newsletter. So perhaps do your own planning to ensure you won't miss out on stuff to see and do. Go to newsletter.rv.wc@bfound.co.za.

Read the rest of this article - here.
For more on places we have visited click on the My Holidays and Trips page.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Riebeek Kasteel Week - Part 1

What to do in Riebeek Kasteel

This trip was a "gelukkie" or - a little bit of luck - in English. Some friends were going away and they offered us the use of their home in Riebeek Kasteel. I suspect the main reason was to give their much-loved pets a bit of company. They have four dogs and three cats. Although a house-keeper feeds them daily and they get taken on regular walks, it's not company. We could certainly help out. Plus, my other half and I welcomed a chance to have some down-time away from home and responsibilities. And to be in such a beautiful part of the world was a bonus.
View of the Riebeek valley
Riebeek Kasteel is 1/3 of a trio of small villages along with Riebeek West and Hermon nestled close together in what's known as Riebeek Valley.  Riebeek Kasteel is named after Jan Van Riebeek the 17th century Dutch founder of the Cape. Jan Van Riebeek sent Pieter Cruythoff on an exploration into the area in 1661. Riebeek Kasteel is one of the oldest towns in South Africa. Kasteel means castle and the majestic mountains nearby are called Kasteelberg or Castle Mountain. The Riebeek Valley attracts the type residents who strive to preserve and restore the architecture, heritage and ambience of the area. It's a place where folk retire or creative people flock in their droves to eat good food, grow great wines or olives, make beautiful things and live well - away from the stresses of big-city life. It's a safe and open minded community. We like that.
Grapes at Pulpit Rock
Riebeek West and Riebeek Kasteel are close together and would have been one village were it not for a dispute over where to build the local church. The dispute was never resolved and two villages formed right next to each other. With two separate churches. The circumference of Riebeek Kasteel is just under 4 kilometres which means you can hear the church bells ring out the time of day and night within the town. Reminiscent of French villages. You can also hear roosters crowing in the morning. We took the dogs for a late afternoon walk every day. It's a great way to explore this not exactly big place. We got to see beautiful Cape Dutch style homes - old and new. And the odd Tuscan "themed" home! Sigh. Tuscan homes are a bit of an obsession in South Africa with the nouveaux riche. Such a pity when we have beautiful authentic architecture to draw from. People grow olives, figs, lemons, pomegranates, prickly pears, quinces, avocados, dates and I even saw amatungulus growing in a garden. What is an amatungulus you may ask? It's a type of plum native to South Africa that has a thick white sap.
A much loved pet
The house we stayed in is a 60's home restored to fit the area. It's been redecorated with an open plan kitchen and lots of access to outdoors and light. The decor is fresh and modern with a slightly Zen feel. Think stainless steel kitchen counter tops, natural stone mosaic tiles, discretely placed Buddhas and lots of votive candles scattered about. Fortunately Riebeek Kasteel is just over an hours drive from Cape Town (about 80 kilometres) on the N7 past Malmesbury. Many residents are willing to make the commute so they can live in Riebeek Kasteel. Others keep a second home in the village. Which means week-days are quieter. However come week-ends things perk up. A lot. You will be surprised at how many bars and eateries exist in Riebeek Kasteel. And how full they are. For a population of around 3000 - this town can buzz. 
In the town square
The pets made our break that much more for us. Each animal has such a distinct personality. Starting with the dogs, Dog One doesn't just wag his tail, he wags his entire body and head in different directions like a slinky. Dog Two loves the pool. He suffers from FOMO. We had to make sure his leash went on first so he was assured of going on a walk or he would get most upset. Dog Three is a strong dog. She took me for a walks. She also thinks she is a small dog and can fit on the bed. She's not. Dog Four is old. Not so keen on going for walks. The matriarch of the group.
Guess who slept on the bed?

And then the cats - Cat One spends most of his days in a vacant lot nearby and comes home to eat. He doesn't like dogs. But he NEVER missed a meal. If he wasn't on time, he would actually grab me to make sure I fed him. His carbon copy Cat Two eats, sleeps and lives on the kitchen counter. She drinks water from a glass - not a bowl. Cat Three moves about four times a day. Twice to eat brekka and supper. And maybe twice more to shift from sleeping on the dresser to sleeping on the bed and back again. Ah the life of such adored animals!

Read Part 2 of this holiday - on this link.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Gloucester Fortnight - Part 4

To read about this trip from the beginning - click here.
Gloucester

After a week of scoffing yummy food we knew we had better do a Parkrun. The weather was much better and we both did the Newent Parkrun, then went back to the guesthouse and watched James Martin's cooking show while washing and getting read to go to Gloucester. The key sights  - also known and the Gloucester 12 are: -

  •     Gloucester Cathedral
  •     The New Inn
  •     Gloucester Folk Museum
  •     St Mary de Crypt
  •     Gloucester Docks
  •     The Old Bell
  •     Beatrix Potter Museum
  •     26 Westgate Street
  •     Blackfriars
  •     Roberts Raikes' Inn
  •     Brunswick Square
  •     St Oswald's Priory

Gloucester Cathedral
There was the Crucible art expo on at Gloucester cathedral so we popped in there. Apparently some of the Harry Potter movie scenes were filmed in the Cloisters. Then we had lunch at the Guildhall. The Guildhall was having a One Direction special and was swarming with teenage girls. Then we took a stroll over to Gloucester Quays. Here old harbour warehouses have been restored and you can eat, shop, watch narrow boats tie up for the night, explore preserved old boats or read info boards scattered about giving info on how the quays worked in days
Bourton on the Water Cotswolds
gone by.

We headed back into town and had a take-out jacket potato at award winning pie shop just before they closed. We needed to have an early supper before going back to the B & B.

Sunday morning our guesthouse owner had come to terms with the demise of her cat and all the traumas of traveling so we decided to have her award winning breakfast. It was good. And good value. They do tend to go on about award winning this and award winning that in the UK. Almost every place had some award
Bourton on the Water Cotswolds
whether it was biggest pub, best pub, smallest pub, most loved pub, widest selection of beers pub. Basically every second place had won some award or other.

After breakfast our host kindly lent us a book on scenic drives in The Cotswolds. I don't know why we thought we could do it in a day. It's not a massive area (100 miles from north to south) but there are a LOT of villages and you mostly travel along narrow lanes which slows the trip right down. Houses in The Cotswolds have a distinct character, many built in honey coloured Cotswold stone. Timber and thatch also feature in local architecture. Development is limited to preserve the historical ambiance. You can also cycle or go walking through The Cotswolds. Go to www.cotswolds.com for more info. Sundays are busy and families flock into the region to wander around the villages, shop, eat ice-cream, have lunch,
Burford Cotswolds
visit museums about local industriess and characters, or just hang about. If you fancy something completely different try the - Museum of Mechanical Music - www.mechanicalmusic.co.uk .

The area in and around Gloucester has such a wide variety of things to do. From our walks in the Wye River Valley next to Wales, The River Severn, the country fair and book expo near Cheltenam, Gloucester itself and the historical buildings to The Cotswolds. We got to see a lot. The following morning we headed back to London to my husband's aunt. She had a fortnight without us and I can say hand on heart, was pleased to see us. If only for a few days.

For more on other places to visit scroll to My Holidays and Trips.