By Adrian Rorvik
Cape Town - Tulbagh slumbers in the northern end of a beautiful valley in the Boland (Western Cape), almost completely surrounded by mountain ranges.
It is so postcard perfect it’s hard to imagine an earthquake in this tranquil place, but more than 70 percent of the buildings were damaged in 1969 during the most destructive earthquake in South African history. The calamitous event had it’s flipside – buildings in Church Street have been painstakingly restored to become a showpiece to display the rich history of the village.
Church Street has the largest concentration of national monuments in a single street in South Africa – 32 buildings. I got a huge kick from having the key to a heritage site and and unlocking the door to our 200-year-old “home” for a couple of days.
Tulbagh Country Guest House is part of the Cape Dutch Quarters portfolio, all of which are in Church Street. There are fancier places aplenty, but the pervasive history here is hard to beat.
This manor house, built in 1809, retains all its original features and is a classic “H-shaped” house, the epitome of grand Cape Dutch living. Great care has been taken to retain the authentic atmosphere of the lovely home with its yellowwood floors, ceilings and grand rooms, as well as the antiques and art that are on display throughout.
Manager Jayson Clark is, to put it mildly, passionate. Grumbling that he hadn’t secured another Pierneef original at auction to add to the collection in the house, he left us in the hands of housekeeper Jennifer Lopes, who got us settled before showing us around. There are three king-sized luxury rooms, a family suite that sleeps four people in two rooms, and a single suite, all en-suite. Bar fridges, aircon, free wi-fi, plus office facilities for those on working holidays as well as self-catering options are all enticing extras.
We loved the massive, bowed (and thankfully reinforced) beams over our four-poster bed, the shower and loo with shiny old brass, porcelain and tiles. This led via a stable door into a side garden planted with buchu and other indigenous plants, and then into a shady, calm courtyard.
The neo-classically inspired swimming pool at the rear of the building must be a life saver on hot days. The lapa had large day beds and sofas to laze on.
Jayson took us on a fascinating historical and cultural stroll before we headed further afield. We visited De Oude Drostdy Museum, which houses a collection of early Cape furniture, household articles and an unusual collection of gramophones.
We next parked under the oaks at Twee Jonge Gezellen and sampled renowned Krone Borealis methode champenoise bubbly under a vine covered gazebo at the foot of Saron mountain in the company of charming Luke Krone. Tulbagh has always been innovative in its approach to wine making, and Twee Jonge Gezellen owner Nicky Krone introduced night harvesting to South Africa in the early 1980s.
We popped in to neighbouring Saronsberg. Contemporary has rarely looked so good – and Saronsberg is worth a visit to admire the architecture and art – from the signature Angus Taylor sculpture to Walter Battiss paintings. The wines reflect the austerity and grace of this spacious, light interior.
Almost opposite Saronsberg is family-run Vindoux Guest Farm and Day Spa. Sophie du Toit welcomed us, a bit disappointed that we weren’t staying in one of the luxury tree houses. Instead we indulged in our love of fynbos with a fynbos wrap at the day spa.
We found the Iceberg Terrace at Rijk’s Country House perfect for reflecting in the evenings. It has a gorgeous outlook, fragrant roses and great menu choices.
We returned in the daytime to adjacent Rijk’s Estate, a boutique winery. Here Elaine van Heerden impressed us with her favourite Rijk’s wines – the Estate Syrah and the Private Cellar Chenin Blanc – and several other superb offerings.
The fertile region produces olive oil, peaches, grain, pears and 70 percent of the country’s plums. Rhodes Food Group is in Tulbagh and we went via Tulbagh Dried Fruit to do what locals do, clamber up to the waterfall outside town for free massages from the cascading, beer coloured water and the view. We then traversed Mitchell’s pass to Ceres, famous for its fruit.
Fruit was also on the menu at breakfast at Tulbagh Country Guest House. Served on a table set with antique Spode crockery, silver cutlery, the three-course fare has won wide praise, and ours. Captivating.