Cape Town - Swellendam has, over the past few years, become synonymous with one of my favourite Afrikaans words – kuier – which in my mind can never truly be translated into English. Sure, it means “visit” but it’s more than that. There’s a certain degree of geselligheid (cosiness) and gasvryheid (hospitality) which goes part and parcel with kuier. And this all rolls together to underpin why my parental unit decided to uproot themselves from the far south peninsula and remove themselves to the Overberg town of Swellendam. So, perhaps with these associations, there’s a fair degree of nostalgia and a return to life’s simpler pleasures whenever we pull a mission over Sir Lowry’s pass. Swellendam is almost home to me – where I get to visit my folks and, for a short time, forget about the hubbub of the Mother City.
This weekend was no different, but we we’d been invited to go kuier with Michel and Henk, who run Augusta de Mist Country House in the heart of historical Swellendam. This was a visit years in the making, and always something that had to be deferred. But this time fate was not able to throw a wrench in the works. My better half and I woke early, filled the car, and hit the N2 to make good on our promise to swing by.
Late winter in the Cape is a great time to see the Overberg. The moment you descend the Houwhoek pass you enter a verdant world of rolling wheat fields interspersed with rudely yellow canola. When the sun shines you’re pleasantly warm to enjoy a walkabout, but when it’s chilly, it’s best you snuggle by a fire with a cup of coffee. To be honest, either option was good for me.
But a word on our accommodation. The façade is deceptive. Although Augusta de Mist fronts Voortrek Street, set quite far back from the road in a quaint English-style garden, there’s a whole lot more to this grand old dame than meets the eye. Beyond the architecture, parts of which date back to 1802 (yes, she’s a National Monument), there’s the garden.
Michel describes this 1.5ha wonderland as “controlled mayhem” but I’d rather opt for a secret garden. Step onto the numerous pathways and it’s easy to feel as though you can lose yourself and end up a million miles away from civilisation. Birds call to each other from thickets. Round a corner and discover little quirks, like a pair of clogs planted with cacti, or intricately wrought garden furniture begging you to bring a book so you can read in a quiet nook. You can almost forget you’re in one of the Overberg’s bustling towns.
Augusta has seven guest suites, with accompanying en-suite bathrooms and sitting rooms. The décor is an eclectic blend of old and new, and from what Michel told me, each room, item of furniture or painting has its own story attached. From handmade wrought iron lamps to the somewhat ominous monkey statue guarding the dining room, Augusta de Mist is full of delightful little quirks. But unlike some upmarket accommodation, she’s stylish and comfortable.
We weren’t here to just soak in the surrounds. Oh no. Our visit was primarily foodie-orientated, and pomegranate-themed at that. At the start of the weekend I admitted that all I knew of this fruit were the Greek myth of Persephone and a few biblical references, coupled with childhood memories of using pomegranates as makeshift hand grenades – the resultant blood-red mess staining my clothes was quite spectacular and remains etched on my memories.
Did I mention that Henk loves to cook? Henk is the mastermind behind The Passionate Pomegranate brand, which he created after local farmer Jan van de Merwe, owner of Pont Boere, approached him. They introduced us to a range of products that disabused me of the notion that the pomegranate is just “that fruit you sometimes buy in Pick n Pay then aren’t quite sure how to eat”. From a syrup to a reduction or simply in a pure, unpasteurised juice, the humble pomegranate lent itself to every dish we sampled. A tangy reduction added a bit of zing to our greens while Michel outdid himself with his top secret malva pudding recipe which was, naturally, served with a pomegranate ice cream I’m definitely going to try make myself.
Certain sectors of the health business tout this fruit as numbering among the “super foods” and fresh, pomegranates are rich in vitamin C, potassium and anti-oxidants. Jan, over coffee and a rather deviously wonderful melktert (decorated with swirls of pomegranate syrup, of course) told us a little about the juicing process, which sounds like quite a gedoente, because his pomegranate juice is marketed as a frozen product.
“It’s completely fresh, unpasteurised and preservative free,” he told us. Was it worth the hassle? Definitely, though its initial taste and texture takes a little getting used to. It’s not as sweet as most fruit juices and is certainly heavier, but I’m afraid I developed an inordinate fondness for the ruby-hued elixir.
Thankfully, however, I’ll be able to indulge again closer to home, since a number of delis and markets do stock these products, and can wax lyrical about the pomegranate preserve, which is so good I’ve caught my husband eating our personal stash straight out of the jar with a teaspoon.
And this is what I love about digging beyond the obvious attractions that lie in Cape’s small towns, and hats off to Henk, Michel and their team for inviting us to kuier with them. They successfully blend epicurean delights in an environment framed with comfort and spiced with stories. Whether you’re looking for a base of operations to strike out and explore the Southern Cape or wish to withdraw into a quiet garden retreat, August de Mist succeeds admirably, and you truly feel as though you’re welcomed into a home.