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Home of the Artisan

Home of the Artisan

 
     
Feb 2015

Words & Pics Franki Black

A friend asked how my trip to Wellington was. I responded with one word: Fantastic! I left Cape Town in the morning and 45 minutes later I was in Wellington, a town that embodies artistic flair, Victorian and Cape Dutch architecture and country allure. 

Talk about Wellington

My first stop is Twist Some More, a quirky farm eatery situated a few minutes from Wellington’s centre. Chef and owner, Johan Van Schalkwyk, welcomes us like long-lost friends and dives right into telling us about his love for Wellington. He believes that Wellington sets itself apart from nearby tourist hotspots like Franschhoek and Stellenbosch by preserving old-world charm. “In Wellington, winemakers and estate owners still shake your hand and welcome you in person,” he explains.

Johan’s greatest passion is his restaurant. Eight years ago, he stumbled upon a barnyard covered in cobwebs and since then, he’s transformed it into a space filled with chalkboard menus, handcrafted wooden tables and aromas of delectable food drifting from the kitchen. “Twist Some More is like an extension of me,” he says. All his food is prepared from locally-sourced ingredients. According to Johan, his Wild Boar Burger is a local favourite and thanks must go to the Europeans of yesteryear. In the 1920’s a number of wild boars were sent from Europe to Wellington. They were brought in to control agricultural pests, but over the decades they’ve multiplied, mixed with farm pigs and become something of a pest themselves. Johan is reaping the benefits and occasionally sends hunting parties into the surrounding mountains to source these prized beasts for their meat.

I feast on a “twisted” poached egg and salmon Florentine and the conversation turns to town design. We conclude that Franschhoek’s popularity can be traced to its central main road lined with shops and cafes, while Wellington’s charm lies in the very fact that its attractions are more spread out. This has kept tourist numbers relatively low and as a result, those in the know have the town’s artistic sanctuaries, world-class restaurants, wineries and breath-taking scenery all to themselves. It is here where travellers can find a tranquil country experience, coupled with welcoming locals and children who walk to school barefoot. 

Wine Time

After breakfast, we head down the road to Lelienfontein, an 8th generation wine farm that was applauded by Helen Zille for being a model of how land redistribution should be implemented in South Africa. Marketing Manager, Neil Buchner welcomes us at a 250-year-old cellar. We taste a creamy1952 Chenin Blanc (the fourth oldest in South Africa) and a hearty Adama red blend, while Neil tells us about the resident Bosman family. The Bosmans prove to be an exemplary clan - they’re involved in everything from growing vines across South Africa to running holistic development programmes to hand-grafting vines. And, according to Neil, Lelienfontein’s vine-growing nursery is the biggest of its kind in Africa. 

We follow Neil to the grafting workshop. Like a well-oiled machine, dozens of dedicated employees sort, cut and graft various parts of the vine. It’s an impressive system fuelled by drive and dedication. I’m intrigued to see that a number of the more experienced workers have adopted a head-bopping dance to accompany their labour. Worker morale is stimulated by Lelienfontein’s extensive social upliftment programmes that include: a day-care centre ; a karate club; a music school; a women’s club; an old-age home; a sports club; a library; bursaries and agricultural training – all aimed at farm workers and their families. 

A Wellington Bazaar

Perhaps above all, what stands out for me about Wellington is its artisanal character. During the 1800’s, the Wellington and Paarl areas were world-renowned as a wagon-manufacturing centres, and acclaimed for robust, well-constructed vehicles. South Africa’s first and only piano manufacturer (Dietmann Piano Company),  was based in Wellington up until 1989  and besides a robust wine route (and brandy route), Wellington is home to the country’s first indigenous grain whisky. 

Next on our itinerary is one of Wellington’s artisanal treasures, the Redemption Leather factory and shop. En route, my travel companions point to a “W” etched out of rock at the top of the Hawequas Mountains – it’s said to stand for Wellington. We pull into a lovely farmstead surrounded by guava orchards and fynbos and on it lies Redemption Leathers. Owner and artisan, Arnold Slabber, has been crafting the finest quality handmade products from his factory since the 1970’s. He learnt the tricks of leather-making at age 11 from Oom Japie, a 70-odd-year-old man who hailed from the Karoo. Having grown up on a wagon during the depression, Oom Japie made leather goods for a living and eventually became something of a leather master. He luckily lived to pass on his talents to Arnold who, in turn, is passing them onto his own son. 

Pockets of lavender lead the way to the leather shop that is situated in a beautiful Cape Dutch house decorated with coppers and kilims. I get lost in a world of leather.  Rich colours cover the walls and the smell of top quality leather drift through the air.  Sandals, wallets, bags, belts and leather fly-swats fill every corner of the room - it resembles a Granada bazaar. A local in the shop urges me to try on their legendary sandals. I step into a pair of red sandals and immediately put in an order - the perfect excuse to return. 

The Hub of Creativity

Our next stop – the Breytenbach Centre - seems to be the heart of modern-day Wellington’s diverse creative spirit. The centre is the former family home of acclaimed South African poet, Breyten Breytenbach, and today it serves as a hub for community-orientated training in visual arts, music and writing. We walk through a ceramics studio, a theatre, a poetry garden, a drama room, a book-and-coffee shop and a gallery filled with local and international art. The house exudes classic style - wooden floors lead to wrap-around porches and mosaic sculptures rise from lush gardens filled with surprise poems etched on glass stands. In the theatre, I glance at posters of musicians like David Kramer who have performed here in recent years and from the coffee shop drifts the smell of cinnamon.  It’s almost too good to leave, but our next stop promises wine that tastes like chocolate…

Chocolate Wine

Diemersfontein Wine and Country Estate is perhaps best known for its Pinotage on Tap Festival. Hosted in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, it has been dubbed the best wine event in the world by the Drinks International Wine Tourism Awards. The Cape Town festival alone attracts 2500 people who flock to the estate for free-flowing pinotage, local meals and live music. Diemersfontein Event Manager, Rene Reece, welcomes us to the estate. We’re all eager to get stuck into the famed chocolate-flavoured  pinotage, but first Rene presents us with Carpe Diem Chenin Blanc and a full-flavoured Cabernet Sauvignon. We sip and nibble on traditional Cape chicken curry and hearty beef burgers sent out from Seasons, the estate’s restaurant. “Our Diemersfontein Pinotage has a cult following,” says Rene as she fills our glasses with the chocolate-inspired liquid. Heavenly flavours of dark chocolate, mint and plum tantalize my senses. 

Ceramics Matters

We end our Wellington adventure at Ceramics Matters, a multi-award winning ceramics business owned and run by artists, Gerhard Swart and Anthony Harris. As former winners of the VISI Design Awards, this creative pair undertakes commissions from highflying clients based in places like New York and Hong Kong. They live in a house dating back 300 years and all of their delightful creations are born right here in the backyard.  As we drive along their driveway, I see Gerhard flanked by a patterned Great Dane and Anthony standing with a parrot perched on his shoulder. Gerhard is the chattier of the two and leads the way through the studio. Ceramic skulls, limbs and hearts, vases, bowls and plates fill every corner of their sunlit workroom. From the studio, we walk to their home, through rooms filled with objects like ceramic chickens and stuffed owls. An elephant’s skull rests on a wooden table and an avant-garde picture of the crucifix is displayed above a fireplace.  It’s the most unusual place I’ve ever seen. Gerhard and Anthony renovated and restored the house to make it what it is today and like many an artist, Gerhard declares that their home is a work in progress, and once they’ve completed it, they’ll probably move on. 

As we leave, I tell Gerhard it’s a blessing that important buildings like his home land in the hands of people with insight and style. They’ve turned it into something utterly gemlike.  Style, innovation and rejuvenation seem to be a trend among the handful of passionate locals I met during my trip. Keep your eyes on exciting Wellington: it might just be turning into a town that will give Franschhoek a run for its money.

Itinerary Add-On

Ouma Granny’s House Museum: Take a journey through history in this old, Victorian cottage that was built in 1876. Situated in Fountain Street, the Ouma Granny House museum exhibits historic furniture, artifacts and fascinating articles from the area. Contact: 083 231 7027, [email protected] 

Wellington Wine Walks: Calling all hiking enthusiasts! Wellington’s wine walks are the ideal way to walk through fynbos and the winelands. Sample wine along the way and enjoy delicious picnic lunches. Itineraries range from 3 to 4 days and accommodation is prearranged. Contact Judy at 083 313 8383, [email protected] , [email protected] 

Fynbos Horse Trails: Experience the foothills of Wellington’s Hawekwa Mountains on horseback. Trails range from short scenic outrides to three-day trails – accommodation ranges from self-catering to luxury. Contact: Diemersfontein Country House – [email protected], 082 335 8132 

Source: Travel Ideas

Travel Ideas