This inspiring new film made by South African Tourism is so worth watching. Make sure you watch it to the end – and then watch it again knowing what you’ll know. I am still wiping tears from my eyes!
This inspiring new film made by South African Tourism is so worth watching. Make sure you watch it to the end – and then watch it again knowing what you’ll know. I am still wiping tears from my eyes!
Every now and then comes along a rare occasion when the guesthouse is empty, the sun is shining, we have a little money in our pockets … and it’s Sunday!
This week we decided to take full advantage and take a drive to one of the restaurants or wine farms in the surrounding area. From a shortlist of many tempting choices, we opted for De Kaap restaurant in McGregor.
I had visited De Kaap as part of a media educational a few months previously, and remembered it as a wonderful place with great food and free flowing wines from a list of all my favourite wineries, which we, the media group, had visited after a grappa tasting at Tanagra. I was interested to see if my memories were so radiant because of the alcohol content in my blood at the time, or if indeed De Kaap was indeed the place I had stored in my memory file marked EXQUISITE.
It was Dave’s first visit, and neither he nor I were disappointed by the setting and style of the place – it’s simple and rustic, yet classy. My previous visit had been at night, so I had been unaware of the magnificent view and sun-streaked patio.
Being low season, it was quiet, which suited us very well. Inside, the cosy interlocking rooms, with simple country style decor, ensure an intimate dining experience at the busiest times – and outside, it’s possible to imagine a full complement of summer visitors enjoying magnificent views under either of two shaded terraces.
The menu was not extensive – a choice of two starters and five main courses, two of which were vegetarian. However, we were happy with all the options: the large group next to us who were accompanied by assorted small children had less luck, as there was no special provision for the short people. Who, nevertheless, seemed to enjoy the experience thoroughly as they had freedom to explore, to consort with the passing ducks and field-mice, as well as enjoy some swings, placed far enough away for the happy squeals of playing children to be unobtrusive to those who prefer to enjoy their child free status in peace.
Despite seven years living away from Britain’s rip-off South African wine prices, I still get a frisson of delight when boutique wines are offered for a fraction of the cost they would be in UK. Illogical I know, as I live firmly in the rand economy now. We were happy to see that featured on the list alongside our favourite wine farms (Graham Beck and Springfield), was Arendsig boutique winery. I love being able to accompany meals with wines made from grapevines which I can actually see from my dining table. So, when in McGregor … we opted for Lord’s Shiraz. It turned out to be an excellent choice, with the usual “food enhancing qualities of the succulent hand picked Shiraz grape.” (Dave says this sounds far too pretentious, so let’s just keep it honest and say ‘it went really well with the food’, and hope that my fledgling career as a food and wine blogger isn’t all over already).
Starters of tempura battered calamari and vegetables (Dave) and baked Camembert (Me) did not disappoint, simply cooked and beautifully presented. Dave’s vegetables were particularly delicious, crunchy and the batter was perfect. The Camembert was light and fluffy – and started the inevitable discussion of Masterchef South Africa, to which we are both addicted. Recently some of the contestants had to taste and smell cheese, and we Europeans were shocked to find that at least five of these wannabe top chefs had never heard of, or tasted Camembert. We were pleased to find that in McGregor there are well informed and cosmopolitan chefs.
I had opted for the pork fillet with cider apple sauce, This particular dish has a special place in my heart as it was the first dish I ever cooked at my boarding school “Sunday evening leisure cookery” club. (It was also my last, as I drank all the cider and ended up singing “Ain’t no mountain high enough” at the top of my voice outside the School Chapel at quiet time. I was banned for life.) (From cookery club, sadly, not chapel) I was delighted with my choice – the vegetables were crunchy and beautifully presented, the rice ‘al dente’. The cider apple sauce was a little on the sweet side for my taste, and could have done with a little more seasoning, but the fillet was perfectly cooked – tender, full of flavour. Dave had chosen a Portugese style sauce to accompany his beef fillet and shoe-string fries: described as “slightly spicy” by the waitress, he was somewhat disappointed to find that this was an accurate description, as he prefers his food on the fiery side. But he admitted that it was an spicy enough for a ‘normal’ palate, with very authentic Portugese flavourings. And the best thing - rare steak – hot!
I can’t remember if there was an alternative to the delicious dessert – strawberries, ice- cream, meringue, a perfect pavlova for a refreshing end to our leisurely Sunday sojourn. And at last there was something that all the kids on the next table were in raptures about!
I would definitely recommend De Kaap for a gentle afternoon’s relaxation with good food, local wine, and a serene ambiance. I would hesitate to recommend to families with children with unsophisticated tastes , cos a burger and chip place it really isn’t.
They don’t take credit cards, but were kind enough to trust us to pay by EFT on our return home, another example of South African hospitality you would never find in Britain! As far as price went, I think it was fair, for the quality of both the food, wine and experience.
Vrolijkheid McGregor 6708
Open Thursdays to Sundays
After six months devoted to marketing and promoting a brand new festival in Swellendam, which in the end only had limited success, I am officially withdrawing from helping to get the town on the map and focusing instead on getting my own business / newly formed drama group and / embryonic book into fine and polished condition.
The blog I used to write: Mrs Gram’s life in the Dorpie will from now be visible on this site…. enjoy!
WHY SWELLENDAM? PART 1
One of the downsides of running a guesthouse with visitors eager to learn about life in SA is that you have the same conversations, (albeit with different people) every day. In the beginning it was fun, as we liked to ‘tell our story’, and we were so enthusiastic about our new lives we were definitely in danger of becoming bores. But over time we have realised that the questions are ALWAYS THE SAME.
Sometimes, relaxing over a glass of wine before dinner, when the anecdotes seem quite entertaining, and become more so as the evening wears on, it is bearable.
Sometimes, in the morning, when you are desperately trying to ensure every guest is served on time, kept happy, has their eggs done to order and their toast is hot – and “Mr Chatty” is determined to find out your opinion on South African politics, the best route to Canishner (Knysna), what is that bird, how high the mountain is, and how much crime /people /nightlife is there in Swellendam…….it is not very bearable at all.
The question that is asked more than any other, (and would make us financially independent for the rest of our lives if we could only find a way of being paid for the answer) is “Why Swellendam?”
People actually ask us this as they sit on our deck in the sunshine, being entertained by sunbirds, weavers, cape white eyes, bulbuls, olive thrushes and drongoes, looking out at the beautiful Langeberg Mountains and down into the valley where sits the beautiful church. They are delighted by the harmony and friendship surrounding them. And they still ask the bloody question.
We have been tempted on many occasion to respond flippantly … “It was the only place where the police / family / ex-wife/ wouldn’t be able to track us” “The drugs are cheap” “Oops, we thought it was Stellenbosch – oh no – what have we done!” but you can never be sure how far your sense of humour will carry you when dealing with guests, (the spectre of Trip Advisor looms large) so we stick to the truth, though occasionally I just shrug and wave cheerily at the beautiful view and say “That’s why”.
SO… for those of you who have never been to Swellies: here are some of the reasons we chose Swellendam, and also some of the reasons why we hope never to leave here. And I shall print the page out and silently place it on the Breakfast table next time Mr and Mrs Chatty and all the little Chattys come to stay.
IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER
BEAUTY: Swellendam is stunningly beautiful. The mountains which shelter the valley in which Swellendam lies are always changing: you can never get tired of the shifts in hue, the effect of light and shade as the sun rises and falls, occasional dramatic golden fringes when fire takes hold, the sparkling waterfalls after heavy rain, in winter the crisp white frosting, and the ever changing effects of clouds – folding and rolling over the top.
Thank you to David Schlapobersky of Bukkenburg Pottery for this picture
HISTORY: The town is stuffed with history and the beautiful architecture of the buildings give testament to the vision and tenacity of the early settlers. The NG Kerk is one of the most photographed churches in South Africa, and the Drostdy Museum is a far cry from the stodgy brick dull museums of my UK childhood.
Bloemfontein Huisie, originally housing Jack and Anna Bloemfontein and their twelve children, and still in the ownership of the same family – is a reminder of the simple life – unencumbered by technology. There are all sorts of wonderful stories about the Swellendammers of old – who (allegedly) declared Swellendam a Republic and the Hermanus Steyn the President of the world. Prior to colonisation, the area was home to many tribes of the Khoisan People and the grave of Laang Elsie, tall female tribe leader of one of the fourteen local tribes can be seen in Bontebok Park.
NATURE: Bontebok Park itself – a real undiscovered pleasure and treasure. The smallest SANpark in South Africa – but not small in terms of its biodiversity, its blomme, bokke and birds. It may be small, but my daughter and myself managed to get ourselves thoroughly lost on one of the marked trails – (too busy talking as usual). It is home to Cape Mountain Zebra, Bonteboks, Hartebeeste, Grysbok, Springbok as well as many species of birds and reptiles, and also, surprisingly, the Swellengrebel Airfield.
And on the subject of nature, there is also Marloth Mountain Nature reserve, stuffed with flora and fauna, with one of the top hiking trails in the whole of Africa! You can walk to the waterfall in one and half hours, or, at the other extreme, take the five day walking trail. I confess to having done neither, somewhat suspecting that the waterfall walk would turn out, in my case, to be the five day one.
More in my comfort zone of a car, it is a 50 minute drive to De Hoop Nature reserve, which has to be one of the most beautiful places to watch whales in season, and worth a visit at any other time of the year.
BERRIES: Swellendam may not be the capital of the world politically, as the Swellendammers of 1795 chose to believe, but it is certainly the berry capital of South Africa. The stunning Hermitage Valley is the natural setting for berry farms, and between November and December berry picking, berry eating, berry jams, berry cheesecakes, and other berry pleasures are a major feature of life in Swellies. 90% of the youngberry crop in South Africa is grown in Swellendam, and if you have never tried youngberries, then get yourself to Swellendam for berry season.
GOOD FOOD: Swellendam can really rival the better gastronomically known areas of the Western Cape. The restaurants and guesthouses are all owner-managed, and thus the care and passion with which the food is presented is deep and it shows! I am not a cook, so, in our house either long suffering Husband cooks, or we go out for a meal, therefore quality, variety and budget is extremely important on a personal level, let alone as a option for our guests. It is possible in this town to eat out in a different restaurant every night on consecutive evenings, and have wonderful food, great service, and meet wonderful people.
Coffee at The Old Gaol on Church Square in Swellendam can too easily turn into lunch, accompanied by a glass or three of Blush from Bon Courage. Sitting on the deck in the shade of some wonderful old oaks and overlooking the stunning much photographed NG Kerk, one often finds oneself in conversation with interesting creative people. Here it was that the idea of “Swellengram” was born, brainchild of Henk Klijn, another guesthouse owner in Swellendam.
Little did I realise that this simple concept and excellent name would become my child to rear – and little did I realise that this sweet infant would grow into a monster of gigantic proportions!
Swellengram is an online community information service – it started with a small database of local friends – and has now grown to a participant reach of over 1000. It is picked up by other local information services and so its viral reach is possibly twice that. Initially the idea was to make sure people in Swellendam knew what was going on in the town: events and specials. By offering free advertising to restaurants and businesses only if they were doing something special, the community would benefit from the increased amount of special deals. As a community service I decided to add requests for local information and opportunities for lift sharing. This has grown exponentially into lost dogs, lost parrots (there was a veritable rash of escaping parrots a few weeks ago – they were probably all looking for Louis) (see previous blog entry) jobs wanted, jobs offered, accommodation, and all the usual stuff. But the difference from this and any other information service, is the persona of Mrs Gram, who adds her own spin to the information and to the titles awarded to the most interesting Grams.
The pseudonym of Mrs Gram was awarded early on in the procedure and she has grown her own personality. She is loved by many, and once people realise who it is, they will hug her (me) or press gifts into her (my) hand on meeting in the street, and Mrs Gram received far more Christmas emails than I did.
Mrs Gram organised a charity do called SwellenGlam (luckily she has a willing husband who plays in a band) where yet another alter ego arrived, “ Mrs Glam” (Martyn Turck, local fruit farmer from Wildebraam Berry Estate) on the back of a Harley Davidson) dressed in Pink Lamé and a golden blonde waist length wig, set off delightfully with a pair of green wellies.
Mrs Gram also took it upon herself to play Cupid on Valentine’s Day and suggested that if people emailed their Valentine messages, she would send them anonymously. A Swellengrammer then offered a prize for the best one, and Mrs Gram suddenly found herself the recipient of some of the worst poetry in the world.
Like me, Mrs Gram struggles with Afrikaans, and has to rely on “Google translate” for many of the incoming Afrikaans grams. If they arrive in English, that is how they stay, as Mrs G does not want to risk ridicule by trying to translate the other way. She already suffered slings and arrows when she wrote about Tow Trek.
But most of all she struggles with the temptation to send out Grams that arrive with spelling mistakes that have passed the spell check and given a total different meaning to the original Grammer’s intention. Occasionally she has missed one or two.
One local restaurant was shocked at the outcry caused when Hot Steaming Cinnamon Nuns were presented as their special of the day. After an apology for the mistake, the outcry came because it turned out everyone WANTED Hot Steaming Cinnamon Nuns on the menu. So do visit Pennantwing when you are in Swellendam and ask for their Nun speciality. If nuns are off that day, at least the rest of their stuff is excellent! Recently a gentleman was searching for two roosters, which he wanted very badly. ‘Roosters’ was not the word he used but TWO COCKS WANTED BADLY did not seem to be the right turn of phrase. The above mentioned green wellies also suffered an unfortunate vowel change when Mrs Gram was ‘gramming’ her news about SwellenGlam, causing much hilarity and a red face for Mr Turck.
Apparently studies have been done which show that the perception of a quizmaster is that he/she is more intelligent and well informed than those participating contestants, despite the fact that all he is doing is reading out the questions and has the answer on a card. It would appear that the same thing is true with Mrs Gram. She is considered erroneously to be the fount of all knowledge. She (dressed as me) is frequently accosted on the street and asked such things as When was Swellendam declared a republic? Is there someone here who can service my boiler? Where can I get two cocks? When does the pub open? Can you give me ten rand for some bread? (OK that last person may not have realised that he was speaking to Mrs Gram, but he soon did when Mrs Gram showed him a very empty purse.
There is no money in it for Mrs Gram, but she enjoys the goodwill it engenders, and also is always first to know about events and bargains. If you have a Facebook and would like to check it out – it will be one of the best ways you can find out how we Swellendammers roll!
Our guesthouse prides itself on being pet friendly, gay friendly, biker friendly, wheelchair friendly – and next week we are going for official accreditation as birder friendly. In fact we are just so darn friendly that the news has got around the local dog population, one or two of whom likes to pop in at breakfast time to charm the guests out of parting with a sausage or two.
We made a conscious decision not to have pets of our own when we opened the guest-house, precisely so that we could accommodate people travelling with animals, so our little morning visitors are really not welcome, but they don’t seem to take the hint, however forcefully it is dropped.
The current regular is a little Jack Russell, who has an unfortunate scratching habit and is definitely not the most attractive example of her species. She is an Afrikaans dog, though however much we try “Huis Toe!” and “Voetsek” she affects not to understand our English accents, and looks pleadingly at whichever guest she happens to be pestering, as if to say – ‘see how cruel your hosts are, they are not animal friendly at all’ (but in Afrikaans, obviously) . Then off she goes to find a place where the guests will shortly be wheeling their luggage to leave a brown parcel for them to help them remember our guesthouse. Obviously we don’t know her name, though husband has come up with some choice epithets for her.
She is a poor substitute for our previous regular morning visitor – again, Afrikaans speaking, but much more accepting of our lack of language. A border collie, highly intelligent – once again nameless, but we imaginatively called him “Dog”. The house rule is not to feed visiting animals, but it was impossible to resist the limpid eyes and waggy tail of Dog. Dog always ran for sticks and refused to give them back, Dog loved children, Dog would accompany guests on runs / walks / hikes through the Marloth Reserve at the back of our house, Dog never left poo in the garden. Both Dog and our latest canine visitor both developed the habit of dozing away the day on our garden furniture, but at least Dog responded to “Uit” “Af” and “Neer”. He was the best sort of pet to have: we had all the pleasure and fun of a dog companion, with no vet’s bills and no expensive dog food. Guests fell in love with him, children adored him, and he would guard the house for us during the day when we went out.
I have no idea where his real family thought he was during the weekdays, but every weekend Dog would dutifully do his Family Pet duty, and we would see him walking past our house, obediently, on a lead, with a faint look of boredom on his face, beside his family on a weekend walk. When they reached our house he would cast us a little panicky and conspiratorial glance, as if to say “Don’t give me away, don’t call me, don’t recognise me” – so we played along. I wish now that we had made the effort to get to know his family, because after a year of growing to love Dog unconditionally, the family moved away – we didn’t know that they were planning to go, and so did not get the chance to say goodbye. I still miss him.
Another uninvited animal visitor to Impangele, was the boomslang which decided to inhabit the vine which shades our breakfast area. Fortunately we have a brilliant “snake lady” who comes to collect snakes and take them away – though her arrival while the guests were actually eating their breakfast rather gave the game away. We had, as you can imagine, been very circumspect about our little visitor, just casting the odd glance upwards to check Boomy wasn’t joining us for breakfast. But the guest thoroughly enjoyed the African spectacle of the Snake Capture – and subsequently posted pictures all over the Internet of the “snakes at the guesthouse”. Not really how we want our place marketed…….
Not all our animal guests are uninvited – some indeed are booked in along with their owners, and we enjoy getting to know them, with the odd exception.
A pair of lovely, if very dotty, ladies booked in for Christmas a few years ago, and at the last moment told us that their beloved Cuddles would be joining them and us. We imagined Cuddles to be a cute fluffy Maltese poodle, but the car pulled up, boot opened and out leaped Cuddles – a large black Rottweiler with a baleful look in his eye, who was fiercely protective of his elderly charges. Serving breakfast became a scary and life endangering experience, though the ladies remains sweetly oblivious of the low pitched murderous growling emanating from under the table, and the large yellow teeth from which ravenous saliva dripped as Cuddles lusted covetously after our ankles.
But my favourite guest has to be Louis the African Grey parrot.. Owned “since he was an egg” by a delightful gay couple, Louis decided to join us for breakfast. (“he’ll just have a little scrambled egg and an incy bit of toast, darling” ) I asked one of his ‘Daddies’ if Louis could speak. “Of course he can” was the indignant reply. “We’ve taught him everything he knows”. So, in that parrot type voice that everyone puts on when they converse with talking birds, I repeated “Hello Louis, hello Louis”. Louis looked up at me, lifted his right claw and waved it effetely – and then said, in the campest way imaginable “Hellllooooooooooo, sweetie”. More African Gay than African Grey.
The rare Cape Mountain Zebra can be found in Bontebok Park which is South Africa’s smallest National Park and is one of Swellendam’s many interesting places to visit. The Even Rarer Small Brown Nosed Zebra can be spotted frequently at Impangele when they come to work with Beauty!
At Van Loveren Wine farm you can try an elegant combination of food and wines – including charcuterie and wine, chocolate and wine, cheese and wine, and even a children’s choice of non alcoholic grape juice and jelly tots! Impangele’s guests from America and UK enjoyed a wonderful tasting experience on Boxing Day 2012 – favourites included a Cape Malay Chocolate accompanied by Van Loveren Cape Ruby Port.
This lovely old lady spent the night at Impangele on her way back from a vintage car rally in George – her owners are determined that next year – the rally will happen in Swellendam! So it won’t be the last we see of her, I hope.
Staying in the cottage this last week was AC/DC tribute band ‘SA/DC’ who have been performing at the 2012 Up The Creek Festival Dave has enjoyed having fellow musos with whom to talk all things Rock and Roll…..
Laurence and Edwina, from London, have stayed in Swellendam on every trip they have made to SA. Just for one night. They have stayed at four or five different guesthouses, and two years ago they stayed at Impangele. And now…they are back! This time for two nights – because we persuaded them there was far more to do in Swellendam than just spend the night! They booked into La Sosta restaurant for both nights of their stay – and who can blame them: it is a fabulous contemporary Italian restaurant of which Swellendam is extremely proud.
Last night Amanda and Dave were proud to present a Certificate of Appreciation and R2,300, which had been donated by some of their guests, to Meisie Bokwana. The Mayor of Swellendam attended the event and Meisie was able to explain some of her projects to him. Entertainment was provided by some of the children who spend their afternoons working on dance and music projects at Meisie’s house in Railton, Swellendam.