Long to unplug and remember the fullness of time? Baardskeerdersbos is where the community takes their lead from nature, inspired by the landscape and a collaborative spirit.
The first dish chef Suzi Holtzhausen ever cooked for me was fillet with smoked mussels and orange granita. I sat down a sceptic (I’m not usually keen on fruit ice with my roast beef) and left a fan, admiring her bold moves. Since then Brandon and I have returned to Paternoster to eat with her whenever possible, whether at her restaurants or her home. On our latest visit, it was barely breakfast when Suzi nudged me out of my culinary comfort zone. That’s also when she revealed she’d been spending more time in Baardskeerdersbos.
Baardskeerders, or B’Bos as it’s fondly referred to, is an aspiring town with a name linked in legend to the Solifugae spider-scorpion or baardskeerder. It’s positioned between Gansbaai and Elim in the Overberg, with easy access to Pearly Beach and Stanford, and until quite recently the 100-odd residents had been left to their own devices because the road there was never tarred. Now with the roadwork complete, it’s being touted as the alternative route to Cape Agulhas.
Its obscurity attracted enough artists over the past decade to support a biannual art route. One of them, a sculptor and landscape painter called Niël Jonker, teaches artisan bread baking. And Suzi travels to cook at a pop-up venue called Lokal, finding her inspiration from what the land provides. So we followed her to the first Art Route of 2017, and she became our point of connection to the community of retiring creatives who have chosen to call Baardskeerdersbos home.
We knew to find Suzi in the kitchen at Lokal, a magical spot built by her friends Stanley and Lainy Carpenter, and Lainy’s parents Helena and Albert, maker of B’Bos Wines. Together they are the Lokal ‘family’. The bare-brick façade sits demurely behind an established organic garden, complete with raspberry canes. It’s on the left when entering on the main road and opposite Marietjie’s Pub & Grill, where brandy and Coke at a friendly price draws bachelor parties and Sunday bikers fall upon breakfast platters.
In the spirit of collaboration that has developed around Lokal, we arrived bearing pomegranates harvested from our tree at home. The seeds would be strewn over floating islands of torched meringue hiding poached tamarillos and crowned with spun sugar. It represented the flaming, hyperreal heart of a pincushion protea as photographed by Kali van der Merwe and titled ‘Symphony in Late Summer’ – one of the works by an exhibiting artist that Suzi was interpreting for the weekend’s menu.
We were privy to the calm activity of the build-up, the hours of unseen work spent harvesting and processing. It takes a village to raise the ingredients for a feast. Stanley was stationed at a griddle pan, methodically cooking off tacos made from ears of red corn. Olives from nearby farm Die Werf had been brined, cured, pitted and air-dried. Bone broth simmering in a cast-iron pot would be poured over pressed brassica leaves that unfolded in the hot beef tea inspired by Niël’s bronze artwork ‘Kopbeen’.
Suzi glanced at her notes, which were pegged to a length of twine strung across the high-ceilinged space, like a conductor referencing sheet music. Since she isn’t tied to an establishment of her own right now, this is where she explores her creativity, conceptualizing a completely new menu for each event. Conveniently, Lokal backs onto Niël’s house, separated only by what locals call ‘the forest’, so Suzi took a break to lead us there.
We wended our way through the vegetable patch, picking basil as we went because we’d been volunteered to make our Napoletana sauce for lunchtime pizza bases. We would share our skills; another student, his home-brewed bottle of mead. It was Suzi’s idea, I’m sure, and explained the brown paper bag filled with end-of-season tomatoes nestling in the crook of her elbow. We followed her through rustling trees, past a sizeable sculpture in the shape of a sleeping woman and up the steps to Niël’s stoep – where a chopping board and three onions lay waiting.
In this open-air classroom the wood-fired oven, three by two metres, is a feature. Niël spent time in California building bread ovens with a master on the subject, Alan Scott, and a photograph of the two of them (from a time when we still developed rolls of film) hangs slightly askew on the bakehouse wall. It depicts a much younger Niël and a man with white hair and beard. They are both laughing. ‘That’s where I learnt there is another way of contributing rather than driving and buying and wrapping in plastic. Baking bread is a philosophy,’ explains Niël.
He covers technical aspects such as shaping and calculating the baker’s percentage, but if Niël thinks the wholemeal loaves need more resting time, he’ll light the flame under a wellworn, lime-green whistling kettle and offer tea. ‘The practice of making bread helps us deal with our own impatience,’ he says calmly. It’s a good challenge for Type A’s used to optimising every minute: surrendering to the peace on that stoep shaded by vine leaves, with Niël’s bronze creatures gracing the communal table and no sounds other than the wind in the poplars and a resident robin. More than bread baking, the lesson was about allowing nature to take the lead.
The gentle souls making up this community of relative newcomers seem to have a heightened awareness of the fragile thread connecting us to the natural world. Many make conscious choices about alternative energy, growing their own food or homeschooling their children. A more thoughtful approach overrides the ways society conditions us to conform. Consumption is not currency here. Given Suzi’s commitment to provenance, her love of art and playful style which challenges convention on the plate, her affinity to B’Bos makes sense.
On the way, we stayed first at Farm 215 where we were surrounded by a sea of fynbos. The views stretched across a dam to neighbouring Lomond Wine Estate. Here, single-vineyard wines are named after species in the floral kingdom and tell the story of terroir. The farm has 21 pockets of soil, each with its own identity – ‘Like a patchwork quilt,’ says founder and viticulturist Wayne Gabb. The Pincushion and Sugarbush vineyards are side by side, and the grapes vinified in exactly the same way, but in character these two Sauvignon Blancs are starkly different.
At our second lodging, Hoopoe House, fynbos is visible from every window and Cape sugarbirds dunk their heads into proteas with abandon. ‘Did you see the stars last night?’ enthused Doug Hey, our host at Hoopoe, as we forged a path through his patch of indigenous vegetation. ‘They were hanging like chandeliers!’ His reference to the dazzling celestial display is fitting. He and his wife Dezzie have invested in a plot neighbouring Caroline Rillema, owner of Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar, who produces a Sauvignon Blanc-Sémillon blend named Celestina.
Doug and Dezzie’s love of good food shows in the attention to detail at their neat-as-a-pin, sandbag-built accommodation. There are sharp knives (hallelujah!), a herb chopper fashioned from a railway sleeper and a braai with adjustable levels designed by Doug (an engineer by profession). Nothing ever seems too much trouble for this cheerful couple. When walking with Doug, he made a strategic stop where he’d gone ahead and tied a cup to a branch for drinking from the stream. Having lived in the area for 16 years, the couple are only too happy to share their knowledge.
It feels like Baardskeerdersbos is poised for another transition. Some of those who were part of the first wave of new arrivals have put their properties on the market: Hoopoe House, Farm 215 and the home of artist Joshua Miles, who has an enviable fruit orchard and designed the Lokal aprons with a lemon-press block print. But they are not leaving. Doug and Dezzie are planning a move ‘into town’, if you can call it that, about six kilometres away. Maarten Groos (Farm 215) has already made that move, and Joshua has bought a piece of land next door to his original house.
Right now the only place you can find a flat white in B’Bos is from a mobile van that shows up at the Saturday boeremark, where an older generation who were born into a life here sell crocheted baby booties and curried tripe. This is still a dorp where, if it’s late and you’re lucky, someone might pull out a 1,5-litre Coke bottle and deem you worthy of sampling their homemade witblitz. It will be interesting to see how the next phase unfolds, but here’s hoping whoever arrives next treads carefully – and leaves their espresso machine at home.
Plan your trip to Baardskeerdersbos
Take the N2 from Cape Town, head to Hermanus on the R43 and continue to Gansbaai. Just outside town, take the turn-off left to Baardskeerdersbos (20km). It’s best to take a vehicle that can handle dirt roads.
Hoopoe House is ‘home-away-from home’ and made for a family or close group of friends who love to cook and eat. For winter there’s a fireplace in the lounge and a Dover stove in the kitchen. Downstairs is an en-suite master bedroom, with two bedrooms upstairs in an open plan loft set-up, one of which is en-suite (sans door). R1500 per night (sleeps six).
Farm 215’s fynbos suites provide peace, seclusion and total immersion in nature. In summer, be sure to watch the sunset at the pool. It is not self-catering so meals are taken at the on-site restaurant. Suite from R1550 per person sharing B&B (sleeps two).
Tierfontein Rondawel is artist Liz van den Berg’s self-catering hideaway for two on the edge of a lily pond on a fynbos farm. R800 per night.
Eat an imaginative lunch prepared by Suzi Holtzhausen at pop-up venue Lokal in B’Bos. From R425 per person for four to five courses. Sign up for the newsletter to find out about upcoming dates. lokal-bbos.co.za (If Lokal is not open, there’s Marietjie’s Pub & Grill for a meal in town, 0724525210.)
Taste wine at Lomond Wine Estate – in December, ask to do this under the milkwoods. The Estate Range tasting (R30 pp) comprises five wines; the Single Vineyard tasting (R35 pp) includes Sugarbush, Pincushion, Snowbush, Conebush and Cats Tail.
Do the Baardskeerdersbos Art Route. Local artists open their homes for a weekend, and guest artists from across SA and internationally come to exhibit too. It happens twice a year, in autumn (late March) and spring.
Note that Suzi will be away in the USA during this Art Route, learning new smoking, wood oven and pit-cooking techniques).
This story first appeared in the July 2017 issue of Getaway magazine.
Our July issue features the best places to stay in the Midlands, budget family breaks in Durban, and the best (and mostly free) things you have to do in New York.