A Charmed Life
Words Philippa Mcdonald, pics Kendall-Leigh Nash/HSMimages
Stanford locals are a stalwart bunch. Just this past summer, a monstrous fire, fuelled by unrelenting southeasterly winds, swept through the farms and fynbos on the banks of the Hermanus lagoon. Residents and holidaymakers were evacuated and many decamped to the village green in Stanford. Locals brought food and drinks and opened their homes to settle the displaced folk as comfortably as possible. It had the makings of a sentimental advert celebrating community against a backdrop of burning bluegum trees, but that’s how they roll in this neck of the woods – where every man is your neighbour and bands of children roam the riverbank in search of the next bout of mischief to be made. To the outsider it’s a charmed life. And those who live here agree. Life seems slower here and the typical South African small town Saturday afternoon desolation on the main drag (Queen Victoria Street to you and me) is certainly testament to this notion.
It’s not hard to see how the first residents were seduced back in the 1800s when the village was founded by one Sir Robert Stanford, who bought the first tract of land in the area and started the farming community here. From the Coca-Cola-coloured Klein Rivier that winds its way along the edges of town to the elephantine Klein Rivier mountains that stand silent guard over this Overberg escape, there is beauty at every turn. It’s why birders from all over the world descend on the village for the Stanford Bird Fair in September every year to see what they can tick off their lifetime’s list (the Klein Rivier estuary attracts thousands of bird varieties) and why there are so many artists living here too.
As a weekend escape it’s ideal. It’s close to Cape Town (an hour and a half’s drive) and it’s a combination of authentically quiet country life, salt-of-the-earth folk, gourmet spoils and outdoor activities should you feel energetic. There are mountain bike rides and walks to be had, swims to be enjoyed in the river and the potential for idle wanderings around the village if just to marvel at how many carefully preserved Victorian cottages there really are. While the river is at the heart of things, the sea and the beach in the Walker Bay Nature Reserve are a mere 10-minute drive away, perfect for long, uninterrupted beach walks and private picnics, while experts say that the whale watching at nearby De Kelders is the best to be had in this part of the Overberg – it’s certainly far less crowded than in Hermanus.
Keen sea fishermen head for Gansbaai where, if their fishing expeditions are not as successful as hoped, there is plenty to buy from the local fishermen. And of course, for the thrill seekers, Stanford is a perfect place to head to after the adrenalin of a shark cage dive in Gansbaai.
While it’s certainly an idyllic village that has managed to remain relatively unscathed by the ravages of mall mania, people who live here are an industrious bunch. For the visitor, the fact that so many of them are involved in food is reason enough to check in for a day, if not a weekend. Marianas is probably the best-loved gourmet establishment in Stanford. Owners Mariana and Peter are your cook and host respectively. I say cook for a good reason – Mariana baulks at the chef moniker and sees the couple’s much-lauded restaurant as an extension of the way she has always lived: as a follower of the seasons long before it became a fashionable way to cook. A lunch here (they serve between 12 midday and 2 pm Thursday to Sunday*) offers insight into what makes country life quite so intoxicating. The menu changes according to what’s available in the couple’s vegetable garden and ingredients brought to them by local suppliers, and guests are inclined to get drunk on the uninterrupted mountain views from their scrubbed tables on the cement stoep.
Country is certainly the theme in restaurants situated elsewhere in this small village too. A recently opened restaurant with its view of the village green is The Stanford Table, where a chalkboard menu brimming with rustic yet sophisticated delights tempts – try the oriental-flavoured slow-roasted pork belly and leave space for their decadent chocolate ganache cake. The Table is open from Thursday to Monday for lunch with dinner being held on Friday and Saturday evenings. At popular eatery Graze Slow Food Café (situated on, you guessed it, Queen Victoria Street), after your breakfast of scrambled eggs on home-made ciabatta toast and a strong Italian espresso, you can buy just-picked tomatoes for your salad grown by chef Tabby in her garden.
Just five minutes out of town on the road back to Hermanus and on the Sir Robert Stanford Estate is Madre’s Kitchen. Here, the rustic food seduces visitors as much as the beautiful views. This family-friendly spot is perfect for letting the kids run free while you settle into a suitably slow-cooked meal (they specialise in what they call ‘onthou kos’ – home-made food that evokes memories), but I love the old-school-style picnics – what better way to spend a lazy afternoon? Wine lovers really should factor in some time to enjoy cellars on The Stanford Wine Route (stock up on the Raka Cabernet Franc 2009, which won five stars in the latest Platter’s guide), while beer aficionados should head for Birkenhead Brewery and Walker Bay Vineyards for brewery tours and beer and wine tastings. Oh, and a visit to Klein River Cheese is a must – the selection of cheeses has grown enormously over the years and, while the world-class Gruyère is still a favourite, there are many others to sample and buy.
An extension of the food culture is the village’s two popular markets. On the last Friday night of the month is the Sunset Market that sees locals pour out of their homes for a catch-up on the village green. Local businesses set up stands selling their wares, from seafood wraps to wine, while their kids run amok on the green. It’s here I bump into Catch Caccivio. Catch home-schools her twin boys Luca and Fabio in between producing cutting-edge homeware designs, which are sold in national retail stores. She’s set up a stand selling a recipe book she’s collated, designed and produced to raise funds for the local school, and in between sales we chat. Catch and Jero, her husband, moved to Stanford nearly 10 years ago. ‘We moved here because life in Cape Town was just getting too busy and we wanted to raise our family in a place that felt real,’ adds Jero who still commutes to ‘town’ once a week to see clients and to have a surf at his favourite city surf spot. The family’s home was once a 19th-century trading store and still bears the scars of the clientele’s footfall on the wooden floors, while a portion of their property provides homegrown herbs and vegetables for much of the year.
The couple loves that they are able to raise their twin boys in such idyllic and carefree surrounds, where Catch occasionally forgoes a day’s schooling to take them tadpoling in the river and where they run barefoot from house to house, collecting friends as they go. It’s how so many of us would love to raise our families and it’s why I think Stanford is so popular as a weekend destination: it’s a village that offers people the chance to experience the life they’d love to be living, if just for a short time.
The next morning, at the Saturday market that’s held in a square on Queen Victoria Street, I bump into Catch again and join her in the jostle to stock up on the freshly made wares. I buy still-warm bread, four types of pâtés, home-made pies and some fresh salad ingredients – delicious sustenance for the lazy day ahead during which we plan to do as little as possible, have a dip and maybe venture out for a sunset cruise on the river a little later. It’s life Stanford style, and we love it.
How to get there
Stanford is situated 155km from Cape Town on the R43 from Hermanus. For a selection of charming self-catering options, visit www.stanfordcountrycottages.co.za and for info on accommodation and activities in the area, visit the tourism bureau on Queen Victoria Street (www.stanfordinfo.co.za).
* Please note that Marianas is closed from 28 April to 5 September 2013.
There’s a host of activities to be enjoyed in Stanford’s surrounds, sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the picturesque Overberg mountains
Hemel-en-Aarde Village, corner of R43 and R320
028 316 1633
A boutique winery owned by the Bottega family, Whalehaven has garnered a reputation for producing a diverse range of quality wines made largely from French varietals. The Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are iconic of this cool valley climate, while other award-winning wines in the line-up include the single varietal Merlot, the Cabernet Franc and the best-selling unwooded Viognier Chardonnay. Visit the tasting room from Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm, weekends from 10 am to 3 pm.
Hemel-en-Aarde Village, corner of R43 and R320
028 316 1875
Open every Saturday, come rain or shine, from 9 am to 2 pm, this popular food and wine market is your one-stop shop for delectable home-made goods (try Johan’s perlemoen stew and Gerrie’s artisanal cheeses) and tastings of winemaker Bartho Eksteen’s award-winning vintages. You’ll find their flagship full-bodied Bordeaux-style wine, Die Arnoldus, and Shiraz-driven blend, Die Martha, are worth more than a single tasting.
Shark cage diving
Kleinbaai Harbour, Gansbaai
082 559 6858 www.sharkcagediving.co.za
Take a deep breath as you await an eye-to-eye encounter with a great white, from the safety of a metal cage submerged next to the charter boat. If you prefer your adventure on the dry side, you’ll also have excellent viewings of the sharks approaching, circling and descending, from the comfort of the boat’s upper deck. Tours are daily, weather permitting, and numbers are limited so make sure you book in advance.
119 11th Street, Voelklip, Hermanus
028 314 8000
Book a stay in one of 11 stunning double suites at Birkenhead House, where you can expect postcard-perfect sea views and old-world luxury in a contemporary setting. Spa treatments, a restaurant serving delicious fusion cuisine (think exotic vanilla and butternut soup) and easy beach access tick all the boxes for a memorable seaside getaway.
83 Cliff Street, De Kelders, Gansbaai
028 384 1865
There aren’t many places you can watch whales while drinking tea in bed, but this is one of them. Perched on the cliffs at De Kelders, this stylishly appointed boutique guest house offers a choice of four standard rooms and a honeymoon suite (with 180º views of Walker Bay), so you can be assured of great service and attention to detail.
Source: Cape Etc