The slow passing of time in McGregor.
DO you know there are 180 different breeds of donkeys in the world? Neither did I until I visited Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary
in McGregor, a small village in the Breede River Valley about an hour’s drive from Cape Town.

Eseltjiesrus is a place for little donkeys to rest. At the sanctuary, this is exactly what they do, sometimes after hard lives often, sadly, involving abuse. Others are there to live out their retirement in peace, and sometimes they can be given foster homes.

Bianca Coleman making friends with a rescue donkey at Eseltjiesrus in Mcgregor.

The sanctuary is open Thursdays to Sundays from 10am to 4pm (closed on Good Friday) for anyone who wants to come along to learn more about, and meet, these plucky animals, each of whom is named, and has his or her own story to tell. 

Should you feel moved to do so, you can “adopt” a donkey - for yourself or as a gift for someone else - from as little as R50 a month. I asked if this meant I could name the donkey, but the answer was a soft yet emphatic “no”. Although it was hinted that, should I wish to do so, they would agree to call that donkey whatever I wanted when I came to visit. Seems fair.

La galleria art gallery in Mcgregor. Picture: Danis Photos.

The good work being done here relies heavily on kindness and donations and there are various ways to contribute. Besides adoption, there will be a Mammoth Winter Book Fair in McGregor from May 18 to 20 to raise funds. You can buy all sorts of donkey-related trinkets and handmade crafts in the gift shop, and they even have their own wine for R40 to R50 a bottle.

There is a “Special Friday Breakfast” available in the restaurant - scrambled free-range eggs, bacon, tomato, toast and tea or coffee for just R55. 

In McGregor itself there is another sanctuary, but this time it’s for humans. Temenos Retreat is a beautiful and calm space where you can visit for the day or longer in one of the quaint thatched self-catering stone cottages tucked away between the trees for privacy.

A range of healing therapies and workshops are available, as well as access to private sacred spaces and shrines (leaving your shoes outside the door indicates “do not disturb”), a labyrinth and a forested spiral. While exploring the pretty garden - which provides welcome shady respite from the blistering summer heat - you’ll come across abundant birdlife , a private lap swimming pool and tranquil libraries.

Visitors can also enjoy guided early morning walks or yoga, and there are two gentle meditation sessions every day which anyone is welcome to join.

The annual Poetry festival - a celebration of the written word - takes place for the fifth time this August.

At La Galleria, which opened a year ago, you can view the photographic work of owner and photographer, Daniele Debellis, as well as solo exhibitions by other South African artists.

Lunch at one of the many festivals held in the region every year.

McGregor is the ideal destination for a truly relaxing getaway but if you need a bit more excitement in your life, there are several annual events in the region to put in your diary. 

The 15th Wacky Wine Weekend takes places from May 31 to June 3, with food, wine, entertainment and children’s activities at all participating farms in the area.

The McGregor Food And Wine Festival in September will showcase wineries on the McGregor Wine Route as makers present their finest wines, including fruity whites, delicious rosé, reds, whites, beautiful blends and organic bubbly.

At Robertson Slow in August, you can sample the old-fashioned, rural hospitality synonymous with the Robertson wine valley’s winemaking community. 

In October, Robertson Wine On The River happens, well, on the banks of the Breede River with more than 40 participating wineries showing off more than 300 wines.