Broadly East of the Kasteelberg
Shelley-ann makes no bones about the fact that endless wine-tasting is more my kind of thing than hers. It's not that she doesn't like wine, she does. But she knows what she likes and sees no point in pontificating about it for hours on end. So I developed a long running ruse that started out with asking her to base some of her Fauvist painting on wine-related photographs I'd taken ...
The sequel to that, and her hard work, would be to visit some of the places she'd painted sight unseen. Places I'd been but she hadn't. Come to think of it, a large chunk of of the rationale for Around the Cape in 144 Days (AtCi144D) had been to share some of the bits of South Africa we hadn't seen together during the more than 40 years of our relationship.
So part of the plan for this episode, Part 1, of AtCi144D is to (re)introduce four of Shan's paintings. Explanations (where they came from etc.) will be in the second episode. Part 1 is also a sub-plot for yours truly to prepare for (sugar-coat if you like) a bit of more in-depth sampling of wine in the Western Cape.
I hope readers will think this is a bit of fun rather than a Machiavellian scheme by me to ensure that the following episode, Part 2, will be read. Nonetheless, hopefully the four paintings below will whet your appetite to carry on reading:
Hermanus at last
A year late but we got there. We were introduced to Mia, the 2-month-old latest addition to matriarch and great grandmother Judith's growing clan. We welcomed a debrief from Kerry (Shan's sister a.k.a. Kinks, who had been by their mother's side throughout lockdown) and Tim (Kinks' other half) in which we were counselled to allow 92-year-old Judith a good night's sleep before the reunion, Shelley-ann got to see her Mum at last. I am assured that it was an emotional and tearful reunion. Tim and I kept a respectful distance until the mum, daughter, sibling relationship was re-established. We took a stroll on the wonderful cliff path and admired the ocean.
After a week's unwinding, visiting, eating, drinking and reacquainting ourselves with Hermanus, we were ready to resume the trip that had been arranged and rescheduled multiple times since it had originally been conceived and reservations had been made.
The first stop was to be Saronsberg, which encapsulated the parallel missions of our 144 day Southern journey. A Western Cape winery with a magnificent art installation. In the mean time, serendipity had been rekindled by some joint painting sessions with Judy, Kinks and Shan.
So we headed North. Into the mountains. Again.
(Above L to R): We travelled broadly in an anticlockwise loop with a few sticking out bits as the mood took us, broadly West of the Kasteelberg were, in theory where the wine-making heavy hitters resided; as one arrives at Saronsberg, there are pieces of sculpture arranged in the nooks and crannies of the approach to the main building - we did wonder what these two might have been saying to each other - a couple of mature Gumnut Babies about to ascend the gum tree, perhaps?
Apart from combining art and wine, I had chosen to take Shan to Saronsberg for two more reasons: spectacular scenery and the simple but charming cottages providing the accommodation. We had planned to stay there for two nights but we'd come to grief after having to shift our holiday backwards. This actually ended up working to our benefit when we shifted our second night to Tulbagh.
But back to that one night in Saronsberg, the accommodation and views were as beguiling as I'd remembered them from my previous visit two years earlier but the complete lack of any personal touch was not as I had recalled it. When we arrived, our key was in the cottage door and there was wine on sale on the stunningly beautiful patio. But the choice was limited, especially when looking for a white wine that was not Sauvignon Blanc. There was a Viognier that was competent. We ended up buying a bottle of that. The bottle of the flagship Full Circle Syrah-dominated blend was smothered in stickers proclaiming its excellence. That and the price dissuaded me from testing it further.
The gallery itself was worth a visit on its own. Inside and out it is integrated with the surrounding winery and then the landscape ...
We sipped our Viognier contentedly on the little patio at our cottage and marvelled at the truly remarkable sunsets that occur in the Tulbagh valley.
The following morning we dropped our keys in the drop box and headed up the valley until we ran out of road. It didn't take long but did afford us a view of the splendid Twee Jonge Gezellen estate, which now seems to focus exclusively on its Krone range of bubbly. There was a time in my youth when Twee Jonge Gezellen TJ39 was the epitome (to my mind, at least) of posh South African white wine.
But now we were hungry and needed breakfast/brunch. We headed for Tulbagh and happened upon Kole & Deeg.
Once again my propensity for gluttony, coupled with a no-breakfast hunger encouraged by the drive in the country beforehand, mitigated against getting a photo until the meal was half-finished.
"If it's so bloody delicious, why don't you take a photo?" my wife exhorted me once my plate was half empty.
So what you see below is one of the mostest, ultimatest fry ups I've had. Having waited for late brunch may have something to do with it but, judge for yourself.
So as not to repeat the unpreparedness, we repaired directly to the Paddagang (middle below) and obtained a booking. We had heard it was popular. Perhaps the house cat had eaten the cream (and all the frogs1) by the time we got there many hours later. We were the only diners. Actually the grub was lovely - the lunchtime crowd outside when we'd first spied the place had dissipated.
Then we had the afternoon to survey the aftermath of the devastation caused by the 1969 earthquake and the phoenix that arose to become what is Kerk Straat2 today. I have already been berated on social media for exclaiming at the phenomenal restoration of the Cape Dutch architecture that exists in this street today. I do understand why a large sector of the South African population is not as impressed as I was at the rebuilding of this part of Tulbagh to its original specs. I really do. But a street vandalised by Victorian busybodies and then rebuilt to its original assisted by money provided by the Rupert family is not entirely a bad thing.
Check out a few of our pictures if you disagree and have the debate with someone else. Maybe go there too. There's a pocket museum with the details3. In the meantime, here are a few examples of what exists in Kerk Straat today, lovingly restored to its 170-year old glory, previously vandalised by Victorians.
In the same complex there is also a Christo Coetzee art museum that is equally small but perfectly formed.
One of our little excursions out from Tulbagh took us up the valley towards the mountains. There is no way through (by road anyway) the mountains. It's like a perfect amphitheatre with only a few tarred roads in its basin. Determined to explore every inch of it we veered up any road that would take us closer to the Groot Winterhoek range and the source of the Klein Berg River.
There is one main asphalt road with one or two lesser arteries which don't stray very far from the Winterhoek Road.
We were proceeding up this route when we were suddenly confronted with the virtual obstruction below. At first we were tempted to ignore the command and plead ignorance. After all there was a picture of a truck surmounting it and the appearance of the road on the other side was no different from the bit where we'd now ground to a halt.
We were left in no doubt when a large SUV appeared as if from nowhere.
The driver rolled his window down. He was polite but there was an underlying hint of menace.
"Where are you going?" he demanded. He was not smiling.
"We were hoping to go further up the road," I started, looking him in the eye. His face was hardening: "But I saw the sign and I'm now turning around."
He relaxed infinitesimally as I started to turn my wheels slightly resentfully towards the "draai plek". The SUV didn't move until we'd performed our U-turn and headed back from whence we came.
Questions started running through our heads. Look for yourselves. That piece of tarmac beyond the draai plek is maintained by the same authority as the bit we had been on. What was up there that we were not allowed to see? I had wanted to take the photograph above but it didn't seem sensible under the scrutiny of SUV man. Instead I did the unthinkable and ripped it from Google.
Heading for Riebeek Kasteel
With one road in there was nothing for it but to head back the way we'd come and take the gap made by the Klein Berg river South West of Tulbagh. I only mention this in detail because the new Nuwekloof Pass has views of the old pass that must have been a bit spine chilling when there was no other way through. The alternative would have been a one and a half hours detour around the mountains. Of course there was also the terrifying 170-year-old Bains Kloof Pass that probably would've been even slower.
So Riebeeck Kasteel (RK) beckoned. We were to spend two nights in Jacques Pauw's4 guesthouse, now named the Tin Roof Taverna. I had remembered it as the Red Tin Roof when I had last visited for a pukka Sunday roast a couple of years previously. Now it was a Portuguese-influenced taverna, which was fine. What wasn't fine, though, was that Booking.com had cocked up our booking. There was no room at the inn. Not on our first night, anyway.
In fairness to everyone involved, our itinerary had slipped so many times with the pandemic. What was concerning was that there was very little unbooked accommodation left in RK. We didn't really know where to turn. What we hadn't reckoned with was the wonderful Sam Rogers. She and Jacques were partners in this enterprise.
"Go and have some lunch in town and leave it with me," Sam promised. "I'll have some options for you when you get back." Sure enough when we got back we had some options. Good ones. We ended up at the upmarket Cafe Felix. Sam had arranged with the owner to cover our B&B expenses. Did we want to spend the second night back at her taverna? Yes we did. A decision we didn't regret.
(L to R Above): Our palatial room at Cafe Felix; back at the Tin Roof Taverna for a langoustine lunch and feeling contented.
And of course we popped into the unique Wine Kollective that surely has the most comprehensive kollection of Swartland wines.. Owner Anton Espost was in and we grabbed a few bottles of stuff we probably weren't going to find elsewhere (easily and all in one place, at least)
We skirt around the Kasteelberg in search of some wine legends and accommodation that had been arranged in London and been on hold throughout lockdown. Two years later I was hoping to fulfil some of the dreams hatched in Riebeek Kasteel in the Southern winter of 2019.