Splashes of bright blues, mint greens and mustards make up the characteristic, colourful display of Short Street’s shops in Riebeek Kasteel, located in the Western Cape. Georgian-styled buildings are the latest additions to the village since I last visited.
A plainer looking relative tucked away in a corner opposite is Plat Anna’s coffee shop/pub-cum nursery. A higgledy-piggledy mix of succulents, silverware, sculptures and bric–a–brac make up its contents where overpriced items hang haphazardly inside. And the ramshackledy building is seriously unkempt. Yet, it’s a popular meeting place for anyone who’s serious about getting the low down on and with the locals.
True to its name, it’s a ‘no frills’ operation. A long weather-beaten wooden table outside inspires intimacy and village skinner on those who gather over a coffee or a beer. I’m chatting to Alexi Price, whose business Riebeek Valley Reservations assists with accommodation, planning and sourcing needs for all sorts of travellers to town.
One of the first places she suggests for accommodation is Traveller’s Rest. Owner of the establishment, Pam van Pel purportedly became the victim of village abuse when she decided to fly the gay flag some years ago. Having a gay daughter and feeling strongly about what she was doing, she stood her ground and was eventually left alone.
Anyone who knew and loved the kitsch cabaret venue/restaurant ‘A Touch of Madness’ in Observatory’s Trill Roa, will adore the funky flamboyance of Traveller’s Rest. Once through the doors, a rich visual feast of decorative clutter and antique collector’s items against watermelon walls vie for your attention. You’ll need some help in defining where the museum-like ornamental collection ends and dining room functionality begins.
Rich-reds and burnished orange dÃ©cor entices you into the main guest house. While each of the five en-suite double rooms are individually decorated, they all emanate Pam’s warmth and sense of the dramatic. Known as the honeymoon suite, a beaded mosquito net and piles of satin cushions in varying shades of creams and whites adorn my bed –making it all feel rather medieval.
But it’s the little extras and how they’re presented that is noteworthy. Nougat sweets with the complimentary (good) coffee, guest tissue packs, and glass containers of bath salts to use in the giant, oval tub.
By contrast, Jess’s room is decked out in coppery colours and animal mosaic designs are embedded in the blue-tiled bathroom.
It comes as no surprise to hear Pam say she is a self-confessed hoarder. “I’m a collector from hell. My passion is in jumble sales, antique stores and I’m a bric-a-brac freak. I don’t part with a thing and I want the dÃ©cor to reflect the passionate person I am”. Which it all clearly does as the venue screams both ‘passion’ and originality.
“Doing up to four weddings a weekend at various venues, he also did the flowers for Nelson Mandela’s private wedding reception…”
We pass a single petrol pump en route to the village’s centre. All roads lead to the Square with its range of eateries dotted around.
Wherever you go in the area, though, the towering comfort of the Kasteelberg is never far away. It’s explained to me that Corporal Pieter Cruythoff, a VOC employee in 1661, somehow saw a castle in the mountain (although some locals vehemently disagree) when he discovered Riebeek Kasteel. And subsequently decided to name the valley after the big boss.
A road sign en route to the village reads: ‘Welcome to Shiraz country’. While the Riebeek Valley is renowned for this wine, it’s by no means limited to it.
Riebeek Cellars has an excellent ruby port, for instance, while Kloovenberg has a multi award-winning chardonnay and produces an extra virgin olive oil that was awarded ‘the best certified quality olive oil in the world’.
If nosing around doesn’t just involve doing it in drinking glasses for you, Allesverloren Estate also has historical interest. This 300-year-old estate is where DF Malan grew up and is still run by his family.
Not the only statesman the Riebeek Valley is famous for; the birthplace of Jan Smuts is also here – and literally cast in stone today. What was once his farm is now the PPC cement factory.
After too many indulgences, we’re opting for the olive tasting experience at the Olive Boutique instead. Everything from olive tapenades to olive mustards and roasted Kalamata olives can be tasted here. But if you’re really an olive/oil nut, it’s between April and July you’ll be able to watch the entire extracting and pressing process at work.
I’ve worked up quite an appetite and everyone local has been raving about Latitude bar and pizzeria. Not known as the vibiest spot in town for nothing, it’s a place with great attitude and chill factor. Water reed ceilings, oriental partitions and low lighting encourage a ‘let it all hang out’ feeling. Besides the fact they have some of the best value-for-money pizzas around.
Being a vegetarian, I’m always on the pizza prowl for good ones and this offering doesn’t disappoint. Jess is equally pleased with her spicy chicken Tikka variety. Owned by affable gay brother Jose Ferreira – arguably the village’s most stressed businessman – he runs between the graveyard shift at Latitude and tending his flower arranging business by day. Doing up to four weddings a weekend at various venues, he also did the flowers for Nelson Mandela’s private wedding reception.
It’s also at Latitude that we meet ‘lyrical realism’ artist Val Green and her long-time partner, Judy, who have a second home here. Although Val – who mostly works in oils – operates currently from the city, there are plans for a future studio here. Judy is a Jill-of-all- trades and a handywoman of note in the village. To vent her creativity, she stars in and directs local drag shows intermittently. “It used to be very ‘broderbond-ish’ here but the scene today is a far cry from the gay painter who was driven out of Riebeek West by locals in the early 90’s.”
Amongst the retirees, bohemians, artists and soul-seekers there’s a substantial gay and lesbian community inhabiting this Swartland village and surrounds. And the fact that nearby villagers flock here to socialise speaks volumes. We experienced it as an open, warm and welcoming place for a lesbian weekend away. Yet ancient village rituals remain intact. And in true tannie tradition those en route to church still welcome weird-looking visitors with a smiling greeting to the 21st century’s new, hip Riebeek Kasteel.
Riebeek Kasteel is situated approximately one hour’s drive from central Cape Town and Cape Town International Airport. For more info on The Traveller’s Rest and Riebeek Valley, visit www.riebeekkasteel.co.za and www.riebeekvalley.info.