We are in the town that is sometimes called “African Mediterranean”. It is surrounded by wheat lands, vineyards, olive groves and majestic mountains. It is one of the oldest towns in South Africa with a lot of stories to tell. The picturesque surroundings attract a lot of artists here. It offers opportunities to do a little bit of retail therapy at various art shops. Here you can experience world renowned wines. You will love the rural atmosphere with a wide range of choice in accommodation, places to eat and drink. It is often referred as the best kept secret of the Western Cape. That’s the only explanation for the fact that some people we met in Riebeek Valley have been there for the first time in their life even though they come from Cape Town – just an hour away from the town.
We set out to discover more about Riebeek valley and what the town has to offer.
The history of the town
In 1652 three ships arrived in Table Bay, filled with employees of the Dutch East India Company. Jan Van Riebeeck and his party had been sent to establish a refreshment stop for ships travelling between Europe and East.
At that time stories were circulating about a fabled city of gold called Monomatapa. The East India Company sent out a detailed map how to get there.The expedition searching for Monomatapa was the first, led by people led by people of European origin, to gaze down the valley which is now known as Riebeek’s Valley. The expedition kept a log where they wrote: “ We journeyed east over the pass next to Riebeek’s Kasteel, which is a mountain, so called by us, when we came in the lovely valley east of the Riebeek’s Kasteel where we rested. The same day we saw thirteen horses, five rhinoceros and thousands of hartebeest”.
The expedition then travelled further north but they never found the city of gold.
Split in the community
When the Dutch reformed church was established, people started to trek from the Riebeek Valley to churches in Swartland and Stellenbosch. Due to slow primitive transport it took a day to get to Swartland and three weeks to Stellenbosch and back.
In spite of the difficulties in getting to churches, it was not until the 1850’s that the whole community agreed to build a church in Riebeek Kasteel. Half way through the project the wealthier residents of Riebeek West withdrew from the project and started building their own church four kilometres down the road. This split in the community between farmers and their workers led to the fact that in Riebeek Valley there are two towns Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek Wes and they are so close to each other that you can hardly see where one finishes and another starts.
The birth place of two South African prime ministers
Famous South African Leader Jan Smuts was born and grew in the Riebeek Valley. He led commandos in the Second Boere War for Transvaal. During the Second World War he led the armies of South Africa against Germany. He helped establish the British Royal Air force, signed treaties to end the First and Second World War, wrote the preamble for one of the world’s most famous institutions. He was a personal friend of Churchill.
After being prime minister of South Africa for 8 years, Jan Smuts lost the elections to Daniel Malan, also from Riebeek Valley.
Alarm system with cannons
Many historic artefacts can be found in Riebeek Valley. At the Museum in Riebeek Kasteel we saw a collection of old Dutch Bibles, ox wagons, guns, farming utilities and personal possessions.
An old cannon is situated on the town square. This cannon was part of a signalling system linking Riebeek Valley to Cape Town. The cannons formed an integral part of the defence system of the original Cape Colony and this warning signal system is unique to the Cape. When enemy ships were sighted, the cannon in the Castle was fired. Those who heard the signal fired their closest signal cannon and therefore started a chain reaction. The burghers knew they had to protect their colony.
Highlights of our expedition
Artistic nature of the town
Riebeek Valley is a paradise for artistic people. Enchanting nature, peace and tranquillity awaken imagination and desire to create. Riebeek Valley is known for its artists and musicians. It boasts the Steelband Project – a charity organisation and where children get quality music education. The project is active in many suburban and township youth as well as with street youth and with young people with learning difficulties. They perform at various functions and venues which include Ratanga Junction and Grand West Casino. The kids from the Steelband Project love music, enjoy their performances and are proud of their success.
The instrument they play is called a steelpan. It looks indeed like a huge pan with note symbols on it. The steelpan was invented on Trinidad in the Caribbean and it comes from people drumming on metal pans in their free time and during carnivals. With a few steel pans one can play almost any style of music. We asked the founder of the Steelband Project David Wickham to teach us to play a steelpan. We took part in the Steelband Project rehearsal and experienced how much technique and discipline this instrument requires. Try to play the steelpan yourself on www.steelband.co.za or watch our attempt to play it on the video below.
In Riebeek Kasteel there are more than twenty restaurants and cafes! Imagine that in this small town you can every day go to a new restaurant for almost a month. In places we visited they served delicious food accompanied by first rate Riebeek Valley wines. The restaurant with one of the most artistic design in the area is Bar Bar Black Sheep. Soft lights and open film screenings turn it into a magical space. We watched Pan’s Labyrinth while enjoying our meal outside. At Bar Bar Black sheep they cook with unique sometimes long forgotten recipes. We cooked Zucchini flowers with the chef Mynhardt, which was an easy, fresh and tasty experience. Want to know the recipe from the chef? Watch the video below:
We asked people we met in Riebeek Valley to describe the place in one word and many of them said that Riebeek Valley is peaceful. It is indeed a perfect place for relaxation and we couldn’t help but visit a Calamata Spa to try a popular hot stone massage. We learnt that stones for hot stone massage are dark fine grained basalt volcanic rocks, mostly imported from Hawaii where this therapy has been practiced centuries before it was introduced to ancient China, India and North American cultures. The stones are placed into a stone heater with water heated to about 50 degrees Celsius. Some stones are placed onto specific points of the body, others are held by the massage therapist and used to work the muscles. Certain styles of stone massage also used chilled stones. This stones are usually marble and are placed into a bowl of iced water before use.
Riebeek Valley is not only famous for its peaceful atmosphere and nice food. Its vineyards stretch along the Kasteelberg. The climate is perfect for grapes with low rain summer months, cooled by afternoon breezes and cold winters allowing the vineyards to rest.
We got involved in the process of winemaking by literally jumping on grapes. We took part in the Stomping Event at Riebeek Cellars. Grapes stomping is a process of crushing grapes by trampling them barefoot. For centuries grapes were picked by hand and grapes stomping was a method of extracting juice from grapes. Riebeek Cellars holds an annual grapes stomping festival where all comers can take part in wine production and win prizes. Although we didn’t win, we enjoyed participating in this ritual that comes from ancient Greece and Rome where they used similar techniques thousands of years ago.
Sadly, after a few days in Riebeek Valley we had to go back and on our way home we realized that maybe the first explorers did not find the gold they were looking for but they definitely found a treasure when they came over the hills to Riebeek Valley.
1 Where to eat:
Bar Bar Black Sheep
It’s a peasant country restaurant, specialising in slow cooking. They use fresh, seasonal, locally produced ingredients. Most of them are home-grown and organic.
The Royal Hotel
The meals in the Royal Hotel top quality restaurant are prepared by the chef Francois du Toit. Local wines are served in the restaurant. We enjoyed a three course meal there.
Kos & Kuns:
At Kos and Kuns restaurant you can visit an art gallery and a vintage shop. We enjoyed a traditional meal in the country yard under the big shady trees and watched town life pass by.
Where to stay:
Riebeek Valley offers a wide range of accommodation to choose from. They differ from designed suites, international hotels to homely comforts.
The travellers rest
Renowned for its warm hospitality and good food, Travellers Guesthouse, is truly a comfortable place to unwind whether by the private pool or in a cosy air conditioned suite. Travellers Rest boasts a beautiful garden under the shades of trees and the Victorian style country pub where you can enjoy a drink or a light meal. It is an owner managed guest house where you feel welcomed.
The royal hotel
It is now one of the oldest and most colonial hotels of the Western Cape. The hotel offers accommodation in true old world luxury. It was called one of the 50 most fabulous places to visit in South Africa. The hotel has recently undergone renovation to the tune of 12 million rand and the rooms were upgraded to the highest standards with under floor heating, internet and extra-large beds. The hotel offers a great view from the garden over the valley, the Kasteelberg and vineyards. We enjoyed a buffet breakfast on the stoep which is known to be the longest stoep south of Limpopo.
It’s a classic Victorian guesthouse where the owners offers distressing, peaceful, relaxing atmosphere and make your stay a home from home experience. Lovingly restored and decorated true to a bygone age of colonial opulence and a proud history of the platteland.
This elegant country accommodation is set in a mature garden with restful water features and ample space for quiet reflection. Beautifully decorated en-suite rooms are fitted with quality linen, air-conditioning, satellite TV & DVD players. Enjoy breakfast on the veranda. Relax at the large pool and quaint pool house in summer, and in the comfortable lounge by the fireplace in winter.
Shades of Provence
The guest house is decorated with soft pastel colours which creates a country style atmosphere. Here you are provided with a lot of books to read, a picnic basket and a bicycle to explore the town. Here they offer an outside Jacuzzi, sauna and treatments, such as for example Shiatsu.
1 Wine tasting at
Riebeek Cellars wines have won a lot of prizes and are exported world wide. The cultivars are planted in soil and at slopes best suited to them. As at Riebeek Cellars they believe that good wine can only come from the finest grapes. The finest grapes can only come from good soil and good soil only comes through collaboration with Mother Nature. At Riebeek Cellars they aim to decrease chemical intervention. They commit to protect remaining indigenous renosterbos and adopt better farming practices to ensure healthier natural systems. For Riebeek Cellars wine production, it is all about respecting what they have and being passionate and caring in what they do with it. That’s why Riebeek Cellars company is involved in Riebeek community. One of the events they organise is a grape stomping festival where all comers not only take part in wine production but also win prizes. It’s a fun day for the whole family.
Energy and enthusiasm, purpose and vision. The Du Toits of Kloovenburg have these – by the barrelful. Enough to achieve the high standards they have set for their wines – and enough to maintain a proud family tradition through decades to come. Come and enjoy the fruits of their labours – at Kloovenburg. The owner of Kloovenberg company and winemaker Pieter du Toit, has selected the best red grape cultivars for their farms exclusive range of red wines. Grapes from low yield vines go into the crisp barrel fermented chardonnay. Kloovenburg offers a wide selection of products including olive soaps, pastes and jams.
After making wine in a garage, the owners of The Wine Kollective quickly came to the conclusion that a garage full of wine is a lot of wine … if you cannot sell it. Options were evaluated and although they loved the idea of a blonde bombshell with an I-phone selling the wine, it was way out of their league. After a long time of deliberation in the bars of the Swartland, the answer dawned upon them. Start your own shop, call it ‘The Wine Kollective’, convince the best wineries to join the cause and voila …
What to do
1 Wine and dine at various restaurants, cafes, bars and wine farms.
2 Walk down the main road and short street and visit the markets and art shops.
3 Experience one of the hikes visiting historic sites such as the two churches, the museum, the birth house of Jan Smuts, the old signalling cannon and the red bull on the town square commemorating The Groot Trekand.
4 Listen to the birds singing: it’s believed to have a therapeutical effect.
5 Try Aqua aerobics and facial exercises in a salt water swimming pool at Moreson Manor.
6 Watch a sunset over Kasteelberg and take beautiful photos to remember the experience.
7 De-stress, relax and unwind at Calamata Spa.
8 Taste delicious food and enjoy a night film screening at Bar Bar Black Sheep.
9 Visit one of the festivals in the valley:
the MedFest in March; Wine stomping festival at Riebeeck Cellars in March; the Olive festival in May; Shiraz and Art Weekend in October;
10 Bring your art brushes and canvas. This setting is the ideal place to catch up on your creativity and enjoy painting one of the picturesque landscapes the town offers.
11 Listen to local bands perform (e.g. every last Saturday of the month at Etu Deli & De Jonge restaurant)
12 Immerse yourself in the magic of Riebeek Valley.
HOW TO GET THERE
From Cape Town, take the N7 north to Malmesbury. Turn off the highway at the first fly-off into Malmesbury and follow the signs for Riebeek Kasteel through the town. You’ll travel through Swartland wheatfields until you reach the Bothmaskloof Pass. After descending this pass, take the R311 to the left which will lead you to Riebeek Kasteel. About five kilometres further, you’ll find Riebeek Wes.