The Abbey Rose restaurant is a popular eating spot. Picture Myrtle Ryan
The Abbey Rose restaurant is a popular eating spot. Picture Myrtle Ryan
The mountains and part of a retirement village viewed through a grape vine. Pictur Myrtle Ryan
The mountains and part of a retirement village viewed through a grape vine. Pictur Myrtle Ryan

It had to be the most decadent chocolate milkshake ever. The tall, frosted glass was coated with chocolate then the milkshake, already rich and thick, was infused with large shards of pure Belgian chocolate. It was a meal in itself, and for the rest of the day my girlfriend and I could not face another morsel of food, though her husband, with his hollow legs, was soon hungry again.

It was the setting, though, which made such indulgence memorable. We were having lunch at Abbey Rose restaurant. Life passed gently by on the street, and ancient trees whispered overhead.

Blessed with an aura of peaceful contentment, Greyton, nestling beneath the majestic Riviersonderend Mountains, is a great favourite with those wanting to escape the treadmill of city life. Although over weekends it often bursts at the seams with visitors, everyone switches to relax mode, as though there is an unwritten code that frenetic city behaviour is a no-go here.

Though more and more people are settling in the village, it does not seem to have changed that much. Sure, there are some modern monstrosities, but somehow the character of the village has remained mostly intact.

Determined to show me why they had chosen to relocate from Durban, my friends set about a fine balancing act. While I had to see as much as possible during my brief stay, I also had to find time to chill. So a typical day went something like this…

Rise with the birds, and settle on the porch with a cup of coffee and rusks, to watch the sun slowly lighting up the face of the mountains – all framed through the leaves of a grape vine over the porch.

As it got hotter, move to the other porch, with a different view of the mountains, and watch the sugarbirds squabbling over who was going to have a sip of nectar from the bottle of sugar water suspended from the branches of a tree. Every so often a more sedate, colourful bee-eater would take its turn.

Then a walk or drive into the village and meander along the streets, flanked by leiwater channels. Some of the plots are still the original, long narrow ones, with the house close to the road and behind this grazing land and orchards. Originally these were owned by small stock farmers, and even today sheep, cows and horses graze contentedly on some of them, adding to the rural atmosphere.

Many of the older houses are full of character. Some still have outdoor ladders leading to the loft; covered verandahs, resting on pillars, and thatched roofs, add to the charm. There is not much Cape Dutch influence, mainly because the residents of villages such as Greyton were not affluent, and lived more simply.

In 1845, Henry Vigne, an English gentleman farmer who was to shape Greyton, moved onto the farm Weltevreden, which had already had several owners. At one stage it was occupied by a prominent family who bred and grazed prize horses.

A bit of a visionary, Vigne wanted to develop part of his farm as a unique township. He named it Greyton, after Sir George Grey, the governor of the Cape.

Visitors can choose from a variety of accommodation, be it The Post House, built in 1860 (and a National Heritage building), to a quaint self-catering cottage, or charming B&B. Greyton Lodge was a trading store in 1882, and later the local police station. Many of the surrounding farms also offer accommodation.

A good way to soak up the atmosphere is to kick off with the historic Village Walk. The Greyton Tourism Bureau provides a map with details of what to keep an eye open for.

There are lots of hiking trails to choose from, especially in the Noupoort Kloof with towering rock walls and a tea-coloured mountain stream. The more energetic might like to tackle the Boesmanskloof Trail to McGregor, where they can overnight before walking back again. Scenic waterfalls and rock pools are perfect for cooling off in.

The Saturday Market is a gathering place popular with the locals and visitors. I was told one of the favourites is a stall which sells pancakes filled with lemon curd. Artists and crafters show off their talent; there are plants and herbs for sale, to name just a few items.

A chocolate factory lures the sweet-toothed; there are many restaurants to choose from; as well as local wine farms. Or you might like to pack a picnic and settle down somewhere to chill. A visit to nearby Genadendal is a must.

With mountain bike trails; a doll’s house collection; horse riding; lots for kids to do; a Rose Festival (when many of the guest houses are decorated with flowers),what more can a family ask for?

l Greyton Tourism: 028 254 9564 or 028 254 9414; e-mail [email protected]; - Sunday Tribune