By Jacques Marais
Award-winning wines and world-class olives do make this corner of the Swartland special, but believe me there are plenty of other reasons why you want to hang out in the Riebeek Valley.
If you come to play in the Swartland today, there is so much excitement waiting for you. Early summer is in full swing in this region, with a patchwork of wheat fields, vineyards and olive groves that stretch all the way to the foothills of the picturesque Witzenberge.
Ougat villages such as Riebeek-Kasteel, Gouda, Riebeek-Wes, Darling and Yzerfontein slumber just an hour or so from the Mother City, boasting a menu overflowing with wine, outdoor adventure and pure lazy indulgence. And one thing you should know: the Swartlanders are goats for sports.
The monochrome nickname refers to the Swartland’s dark Renosterveld, but as soon as the rain comes, it transforms this landscape into magnificent shades of green. The Great Blue also waits just beyond the hump, as the region unfolds right up to Yzerfontein’s breathtaking coastline.
Kasteelberg already attracted the first Capetians in 1661, and it was one Pieter Cruythoff who during an expedition dubbed the peak ‘Riebeeck se Casteel’. Later, the village that arose among the vineyards on the foothills became known as Riebeek-Kasteel.
Both Jan Smuts and DF Malan made great strides here, but the idyllic surroundings have over the years brought a sense of calm over the Riebeek Valley. These days, therefore, there is much less polemic and politics, and any heated discussions more often focus on art, wine and eclectic togetherness.
The region’s biggest attraction remains the extraordinary wines and olives that are grown, poured and sold here. Then the people are also just nice, and all of this together makes for an authentic yet sophisticated rural getaway that you don’t want to miss. Visit www.swartlandwineandolives.co.za for more information.
Open studios: Every year in August, Klaus Piprek and the artists of the Riebeek Valley present their Solo Studios weekend. This initiative offers visitors the opportunity to meet artists face to face in their creative space. It creates an intimate contact to better understand both the individual and their creation, with more than 100 diverse artists exhibiting work in various mediums – www.solostudios.co.za.
Wine tasters: Riebeekvallei and Swartland have been bottling some of South Africa’s most award-winning wines for more than two centuries, but these days also make wine experts worldwide sit up. The region was recently nominated by the international Wine Enthusiast organization as a global Wine Star region, specifically because of the old-vine vineyards and regenerative agricultural processes that make their cultivars so outstanding – www.wineenthusiast.com.
Delicious olives: Lovers of all kinds of olive delicacies will lose heart and soul in this Mediterranean corner of the Swartland. The Riebeek Valley’s half dozen producers’ outstanding olive oils have already been awarded internationally, and my favorite place to do an ‘oil tasting’ is Het Vlok Kasteel – www.hetvlokkasteel.co.za.
Taste: The Valley Deli is undoubtedly the top place to stop if you are looking for the best organic vegetables, fresh baked goods, mouth-watering meals, imported delicacies and great wines. And if coffee capital and pizzas are your thing, visit Eight Feet Village at the top of Botma’s Pass for the best view of the valley.
Pedal bike: There are nice hiking trails waiting for you. Kasteelberg offers a perfectly circular route for the gravel bike brigade, with some nice tarmac ascents and good gravel that twists and turns through picturesque vineyards, wheat fields and olive groves.
Those interested can catch the annual Ronde Van Riebeek event; This new gravel bike 100 miler race also offers shorter distances, so choose between 160km, 80km and 40km. It takes place every year in April – www.rondevanriebeek.co.za.
There is also the Riebeek Valley mountain bike route, with several routes winding through the farms, vineyards and olive groves. You can even master the imposing Castle Mountain with its spectacular views. There really is something for everyone, from beginners to big dogs. Come visit in September and play together. Visit this Facebook page for more information.
More information at www.swartlandtourism.co.za
How does one do?
How to get there: Follow the N7 from Cape Town to Malmesbury; then take Exit 65, all along the R45 and R46 until Riebeek-Kasteel.
Stay here: The Royal Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in the Western Cape, and offers the most luxurious accommodation here in the heart of the Swartland. There are four suites and ten standard rooms. All rooms have en-suite bathrooms, TVs, air conditioning and so much more – www.royalinriebeek.com.