Words and pics Franki Black
Villiersdorp is a bit like the shy, grounded and beautiful sister of Elgin, Franschhoek and Hermanus. She’s not nearly as popular as her siblings, but she radiates Boland warmth and may just be more charming. Our first glimpse of the valley in which she lies is from the top of the Viljoenskloof Pass. This vast valley, surrounded by mountains, is carpeted in apple orchards and centred on the Theewaterskloof Dam, the largest body of water in the Western Cape. As I climb out of the car to look out over the exquisite vista, I’m reminded of my loveliest dreams.
View from Viljoenskloof Pass.
We wind our way into Villiersdorp after an hour’s drive from Cape Town. It’s Friday night and payday for the farm workers who are lined up at ATM’s and bottle stores along main road. One road down, we enter a part of town that couldn’t be more different. Here large oak trees hug the pavement, historic homes come wrapped with porches and neighbours exchange pleasantries from their gardens. Adam and I check into the De Villiers Country Lodge, a guesthouse deemed the best in the Overberg, and head straight to the Nagbreek @ Dagbreek night market, which is walking distance away. Everyone who lives in Villiersdorp is at the market. There are children, grandparents, even pets savoring the summer air. Stallholders sell homemade salad dressings, hotdogs and cupcakes. On a make-shift wooden stage two retired guitarists play Bad Moon Rising and members of the local wine club eagerly ‘sokkie’ the night away on a patch of grass. We top up our glasses with Stettyn’s Sauvignon Blanc and marvel at how friendly the locals are, especially when compared to city folk.
Nagbreek @ Dagbreek Night Market.
We befriend a lady who tells us about how her house burnt down; we meet a few of the local artists and a young couple hospitably invites us to visit them at their home. I even meet the town councillor who tells me that Villiersdorp’s community spirit is incomparable. “When I moved here ten years ago from Durban, local farmers would come and fill up my boot with crates of apples,” he explains. “You won’t find a better community spirit anywhere else.”
We leave with a list of things to do while in the area: watersports on Theewaterskloof Dam; mountain-biking on an 18-kilometre trek; golfing at the Theewaterskloof Golf Club and art classes hosted by a number of creative souls who live in Villiersdorp.
For the love of Art
The next morning we walk down the road to Country Classics, a courtyard café and art workshop, for breakfast.
Cheryl preparing breakfast at Country Classics.
Cheryl Castelein, the owner, moved to Villiersdorp from Cape Town seven years ago. “The city just got too hectic for me and I’ve always wanted to live out in the country,” she explains. Cheryl has never looked back. Pot plants, Budhha statues and chimes fill the courtyard, which leads onto her art studio where various projects are in progress. Here she offers three-hour workshop on how to turn second-hand furniture into bespoke items using the Annie Sloan painting method. I browse through Cheryl’s collection of books and feast on fresh croissants topped with smoked salmon trout, scrambled eggs and cream cheese.
Villiersdorp attracts artists from far and wide. Its distinct seasons coupled with soaring mountains, apple orchards and water features make it a very paintable destination guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing. We meet up with two established artists in town. First up is Gustav Bester, a graphics artist, who shows us his collection of prints and his workshop where he offers one to three day workshops in basic printmaking and ceramics. He’s wearing a tie-dyed T-shirt and a top hat and he makes a potter’s wheel look manageable. Besides art, Gustav spends his time on a smallholding where he tends to 100 olive trees and 75 bee hives.
Gustav Bester in his art studio.
Our next stop is the Dale Elliot Art Studio situated on main road. Over the last twelve years it has become something of a Villiersdorp icon and one of the best places in the country to do a course in fine arts. Mel Elliot, Dale’s son, who is also an artist, welcomes us on arrival and guides the way through an art exhibition and a spacious studio where workshops are hosted three times a month. He points out a work of art that was painted by his grandfather and tells us that his father has completed over 15 000 paintings in his 30-year career. The Elliott three-day workshops are suitable for beginners, intermediate and advanced painters and cover basic painting exercises and general painting techniques.
Ceramics with Gustav Bester.
In the late afternoon we head to the Aphrodisiac Shack, a restaurant and deli situated on Theewaterskloof Dam. Sean Hormann, the restaurant owner, welcomes us and declares, “I smoke everything!” And he truly does. He calls his restaurant a traditional smokehouse and shows us the two ovens where everything from chicken to salmon trout to cheese is smoked. “Hell, I even smoke beer,” he says. Followed by a pack of friendly dogs, Sean shows us his organic vegetable garden and his chicken pen. Soon he’ll be welcoming pigs, fish and a springbok to his plot. Sean is a born entrepreneur. Besides running his deli and supplying smoked goods to other restaurants, he also hosts a popular jazz and picnic event, dubbed Dam Fine Jazz, on the last Sunday of every month.
Just before sunset, we hitch a ride to the Theewaters Yacht Club with Shaun’s brother-in-law who picks us up via motorboat. We whizz across a bay filled with sailboats and surrounded by vineyards and mountains.
The yacht club is the heart of a family-friendly campsite and looks like something out of the seventies. It’s mostly made out of wood, draped in flags from around the world and inside it feels like a boat. Regulars are gathered around a bar where a seasoned bartender pours triple gin and tonics and children play outside on the swings. Conversation revolves around sailing and there’s a festive buzz in the air. I’m tempted to kick off my shoes. We nibble on a surf-and-turf platter, as Sean assists a boatman with his rudder. The sun sets over the dam and I overhear a man say that this is the most beautiful dam in South Africa.
Prints by Gustav Bester.
Hooked on Villiersdorp
By the time we leave Villiersdorp on Sunday I feel like a local. We’ve been welcomed with open arms by the whole town and everyone’s invited us back for another stay. This picturesque town where neighbours stop by one another’s stoeps for a glass of wine and graduates keenly return home to rural life remains surprisingly off the tourist track. Those who know it love it and are drawn back for another dose of down-to-earth country hospitality, nature at its best, creative inspiration and perhaps a smoked beer or two.
Good to Know
Villiersdorp is a one-hour drive away from the Cape Town International Airport. It can be accessed from Grabouw via the Viljoenskloof Pass or via the Franshhoek Pass.
Views on the way to Villiersdorp.
Where to stay:
De Villiers Country Lodge is run by the warm-hearted Johannie Barnard who will make you feel at home straight away. The tasteful guesthouse offers six large en-suite rooms, a fully equipped cottage and a three-bedroom house next to the swimming pool. Guests can relax indoors in the lounge around a fireplace or outside on the shady patio or around the pool. Guests are treated to a delicious English breakfast every morning. Johannie is a natural people’s person and describes life as a song. De Villiers Country Lodge is a home away from home. Contact Johannie on 083 312 1476, [email protected], www.devillierscountrylodge.co.za
Nagbreek @ Dagbreek Night Market.
What to do:
Tractor Museum: Visit the tractor museum situated at the Kelkiewyn Café to see a wide variety of 20th Century tractors. There are dozens of tractors exhibited in a large warehouse and visitors are able to climb onto the tractors.
Contact Zelda at the Kelkiewyn Café: 082 977 3041, 028 840 0900
Print-making and ceramics workshop with Gustav Bester:
Contact Gustav on 082 091 9823 or 028 840 2125.
Breakfast at Country Classics:
Contact Cheryl on 082 979 4992; [email protected]
Lunch and Dam Fine Jazz at Aphrodisiac Shack:
Contact Sean on 083 682 5030.
Winetasting at Stettyn Wines: Situated 17 km from Villiersdorp on the R43 towards Worcester, Stettyn wines offers cellar and vineyard tours by appointment.
Contact: 023 340 4220.
Go Golfing: The Theewaterskloof Country Estate’s nine-hole golf course is rated among the top nine-hole golf courses in South Africa by Golf Digest.
Contact: 028 840 2213, [email protected]/ www.theewaterskloof.co.za
See how ‘moskonfyt’ is produced and sip ‘witblits’ from an acorn shell at the annual Stookfees hosted in April.
Nagbreek @ Dagbreek Night Market.
Source: Travel Ideas