RiebeekKasteel jewel of the Swartland

A visit to the picturesque town of Riebeek-Kasteel, north of Cape Town, will provide you with a truly unique South African experience. Simply follow the N7 out of the city and once you've reached Malmesbury, follow the sign-posts to this quaint one-horse-town. Barely an hour's drive from the city, the village is situated against the slopes of the Kasteelberg (Castle Mountain), in the heart of the Swartland region.

Apart from the natural beauty of the Riebeek valley and the dramatic surrounds of the Swartland mountains, there are many attractions to visit in the area. The Swartland is well known for it's superb wines and olives and Riebeek-Kasteel and the surrounding valley is a perfect example of its fruitfulness. Situated right at the entrance to the village, is Kloovenburg - a beautiful Cape Dutch estate with excellent wines and olive products. Park under the century-old oak trees and visit the Kloovenburg cellar for a taste of their world-class produce.

Here, wine maker Pieter du Toit produces outstanding red wines and the estate is especially well-known for its first-rate Shiraz. Du Toit's wife, Annalene is the olive expert and is responsible for the estate's superlative olive oil which recently won the "Migliore Olio Extravergine di Oliva - Fruttato Intenso" award in Italy for the best certified quality olive oil in the world. Some of her other superb olive products include olive tapenade, olive jam, delicious black olives in blue-berry vinegar and a range of olive beauty products. Around the corner from the legendary Kloovenburg, en route to the center of town, stop at the intriguing Cape Francolin Art Hotel. Here owner David Bellamy and his dog Clive, present their hotel as a living work of art. The property is an eccentric mix of cosy accommodation, off-beat installations, various found objects, serious art and formal exhibition space, and the hotel's permanent collection even include works by such esteemed international artists as Damien Hirst, Wolfgang Tillmans and Jean Cocteau.

Have a cup of tea in the old barn, beautifully restored as the "Stoep D'amour" or witness artists-in-residence producing their work on site. Various artworks as well as lights, wrought iron sculptures and ceramics are for sale. The hotel also hosts a once-a-month, seven-course supper club influenced by the recipes of legendary South African writer and cook, C. Louis Leipoldt. If you're not around for one of these special evenings, simply buy a jar of "the best home-made strawberry jam in the world".

Opposite the enigmatic Cape Francolin, pop in at the Olive Boutique where they promise the "Ultimate Olive Experience". A wide variety of olives, olive oils and pastes as well as cosmetic products, are available. Or watch the olive press making real olive oil. Take a turn to the right, a couple of hundred metres down the road from here, and you'll find yourself in the heart of the village.

Here you can relax with a cup of coffee at Cafe Oppie Square where delicious breakfasts and other "country fare" like home-made bread, hearty soups, and confectionery is served. An enclosed garden makes it the perfect spot for families with children. For a slightly more formal atmosphere head to the beautiful Cape Victorian homestead of the Kasteelberg Inn.

It's beautiful thick walls, wooden floors and fireplace makes it a perfect winter location. On the way to the neighbouring town of Riebeek Wes, Allesverloren Wine Estate is famous for its full-bodied red wines such as Touriga Nacional, Tinta Barocca, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. The estates also produces a legendary Port wine.

On the other side of the village, heading towards the nearby hamlet of Hermon, you'll find Riebeek Cellars where a wide variety of locally produced red and white wines are available. Drawing on centuries of Huguenot wine-making tradition, Riebeek cellars produce wines of exceptional quality, catering for a wide market with their range of extremely affordable wines. Back in the village, L'Attitude pub and restaurant is the perfect location for a lazy afternoon beer or late night drinks. If you stay late enough you might just find yourself partying with a bunch of friendly, eccentric locals. For a quieter option, try the charming Victorian-style pub of The Travelers Rest.

Another Riebeek-Kasteel icon is the recently renovated Royal Hotel. This 150-year old establishment now boasts a four star rating as well as a brand new restaurant, pub, conference center and amphitheater. Whether you're a discerning wine-lover or fanatical about olives, head to Riebeek-Kasteel for a relaxing weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the city, or a day trip of wining, dining and true South African hospitality. .

By: Kobus van der Merwe

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