It’s not difficult to fall for the allure of country living in Riebeek Kasteel, but here are over 20 places to visit, eat and stay, that will certainly help you on your way.
In 1661, Commander Jan van Riebeeck and Corporal Pieter Cruythoff set off on an expedition inland where they climbed up a mountain (now known as Bothmanskloof Pass) and found before them a fertile valley that stretched as far as the eye could see. That day they saw “13 horses*, five rhinoceros and thousands of hartebeest” and they were stalked by lions.
Lions no longer prowl the Riebeek Valley and instead you’ll find vineyards and olive groves, along with a small town called Riebeek Kasteel, where those who choose to visit often end up falling for its country charms and never leave. It’s not difficult to fall for the allure of country living in Riebeek Kasteel, but here are over 20 places to visit, eat and stay, that will certainly help you on your way.
*The “horses” were probably quagga which are now extinct (the last one died in 1883), but thanks to modern science and DNA technology, quagga are being re-created. There are now 120 quagga in the world and Bartholomeus Klip in the Riebeek Valley has approximately 30 of them in their breeding programme.
Places to visit in Riebeek Kasteel
1. De Oude Kerk Museum
De Oude Kerk opened its doors in 1855, but due to lack of money, a pastor didn’t arrive in Riebeek Kasteel until 1881. The building is now a museum that pays tribute to the Voortrekkers who settled in this valley and you’ll find plenty of wagons, farming implements, school desks, hymn books and other antique knickknacks.
Look out for the horse-drawn hearse with a coffin (on the left as you enter) that dates back to 1880. Due to the shortage of wood during the flu epidemic of 1918, bodies were wrapped in a sheet before being placed in the coffin and after the funeral the coffin was re-used, time and time again. De Oude Kerk is also rumoured to be haunted and many visitors have reported feeling ghostly cold spots, especially by the old pram displayed in the museum.
Tel 0224481584, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
2. The Olive Boutique
There are a few olive outlets in the town, but I only had time to visit this one, owned by Michael and Juliana for the past 14 years. There’s a table laid out with all manner of olives, oils, and tapenades. Juliana will explain the different types of olives, the difference between virgin and extra virgin oils, while guiding you through the myriad of olives and olive products. The Kalamata olives in a Blueberry dressing and Green Olive Mustard were a firm favourite!
The benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil on the skin have been known for thousands of years and The Olive Boutique also stocks a homemade olive oil skincare range, including soaps, body creams and oils, shaving lotion and even Anointing Oil, enhanced with Myrrh & Frankincense.
You can’t miss the Aitsa building on the Main Street with its bright red stripes and it turns out that everything inside is bright and cheerful too. They sell all manner of goodies, from local jams to toffees, cooking oil and crockery, to bread and (apparently) delicious biltong.
Tel 0224481492, email email@example.com.
4. A La Maison
Next door to Aitsa is A La Maison, a French-style store filled to the brim with home décor, trinkets, clothing and vintage items. I loved the church-style interleading doorway, the wooden hearts hanging on the door and the very South African biltong bag! I settled on a small momento from my visit to Riebeek Kasteel – a sheep’s milk soap in the shape of, yes, a tiny wooly sheep. At R20 it was too cute to resist and I am willing to bet that when you see them, you’ll want one too! They also have them in heart shapes if you don’t fancy a small soapy, wooly creature adorning your bathroom.
5. The Gallery
Opposite A La Maison is a sunshine-filled art gallery that represents mostly local Riebeek Valley artists. Art-lovers will relish the many paintings, sculptures and ceramics and there’s bound to be something that will catch your eye. You may even find yourself walking away with a piece of art, as I did.
6. Le Petit Chocolat
If you love chocolate as much as wine and olives, then you have to pay a visit to Ida Degenaar’s chocolate haven next door to The Gallery. At Le Petit Chocolat you’ll find handmade chocolates in every shape, flavour and colour. Browse through books on chocolate, indulge in a chocolate-tasting and select your favourites from coconut truffles and chilli truffles to chocolates infused with Amarula and champagne, peanut clusters and even brightly coloured speckled eggs. I also recommend you try a scoop or two of Ida’s homemade icecream on the way out.
Tel 0833055935, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
7. Les Amis and It’s Me on Main
These two shops are next door to each other and you can’t miss the red tin roof and bright blue garden furniture and shutters of Les Amis. The store is also filled with interesting decor items, clothing, gifts and trinkets. They also serve meals.
It’s Me on Main specializes in weddings and since Riebeek Kasteel is popular for weddings, anyone planning their nuptials will probably find all they need for the perfect day here.
8. Still Pure
Lesley from Bartholomeus Klip insisted that I visit Still Pure and I can see why. First off, my dream bath was displayed in the middle of the shop and secondly, when you walk into the store the smell of natural oils sends you into a sensory overload. It’s heavenly (if you like that sort of thing) and they have an overwhelmingly wide variety of natural hand-crafted products, from healing balms and bath salts to soaps and even a range of men’s and kiddies’ products.
9. NG Church
The red steeple of this church, built in 1913, can be seen from most parts of the town and the church itself is pretty impressive. I never went inside (and I didn’t go to a sermon on the Sunday either as suggested by my friends), but I enjoyed taking in the architecture and wandering around the well-kept grounds, where you’ll find some interesting graves dating back to 1888.
10. Jan Smuts Museum
PPC Cement Factory
General Jan Smuts was born in 1870 in Riebeek West and it’s worth taking a short drive to his birthplace, found very unglamorously on the grounds of the PPC cement factory. The rather quaint house is laid out as it would’ve been when he grew up there and there are photographs on the walls of his mother and other family members. The museum part holds the story of his life and makes for interesting reading if you are history-buff.
11. The Olienhout “Post Office” Tree
Riebeek Kasteel – Hermon Road
Back in the day, mail was carried by post cart from Hermon and left under this Olienhout tree near Waterbron. The postmaster would then blow his horn to let the local farmers know that post had arrived. I never actually saw this tree as only found out about it after my visit, but I do love the story! Unfortunately the post office tree is now obstructed by a Telkom line, but valley residents are requesting Eskom move the line in light of the tree’s historical status. Let’s hope they succeed.
Wine farms in Riebeek Kasteel
12. Allesverloren Wine Estate
R311 between Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek West
When I mentioned to friends that I was visiting Allesverloren they all started digging in their purses to give me money to buy them a bottle of the wine estate’s Port. Not without good reason – their Fine Old Vintage is heavenly! But they also have a heavenly view over the valley and their vineyards from the tasting room.
The farm dates back to 1704 and got its name from church-going folk who returned to the farm after attending a service in Stellenbosch to find that a fire had destroyed the property. “Allesverloren!” someone exclaimed and that became the name of the farm (Allesverloren is Afrikaans for “all is lost”). One of South Africa’s prime ministers, D F Malan, was born at Allesveloren and the farm is still owned by the Malan family who produce award-winning wines, including Portuguese varietals.
Not only can you taste and buy wines from their tasting room, you can also enjoy a wholesome meal at their restaurant, The Pleasant Pheasant. There’s also an outdoor play area for kiddies.
13. Kloovenberg Wine Estate
R46 to Riebeek Kasteel
When Pieter du Toit (son of Piet “Spiere” du Toit, a former Springbok rugby player in the 60s) was only eight years old he made a secret bid to buy the neighbouring farm. This dream became a reality and Pieter is now at the helm of a family-run wine estate on the slopes of the Kasteel Mountain.
When you drive through Kloovenberg’s white-washed gates, look out for the “gaurdians of the estate” – a falcon to guard during the day and an owl to guard during the night. Once inside, you can’t help but notice that family is key here, with a giant family portrait taking precedence in the tasting room. This is also evident in the “Eight Feet” blend that was produced by Pieter’s four sons when the youngest was only 6 years old. Now there’s a novel way to keep little boys out of mischief!
Apart from producing award-winning wines, Kloovenberg also makes olive products, from oils to salad dressings, tapenades to jams and beauty products. You can taste and test their olive range at the same time as enjoying a wine tasting.
14. Riebeek Cellars
Wine Shoppe on the Square
Much to my horror, the wine farms in the Riebeek Valley are all closed on a Sunday – except for the Wine Shoppe, home to the wines of Riebeek Cellars. This funky little spot is a great place to spend an hour or two wine-tasting on a lazy Sunday afternoon. While you are there, pick up some useful recipe cards (think Lamb Shank with Basil Pesto Mash using their Kasteelberg Shiraz and Creamy Chicken & Mushroom Pasta with their Riebeek Cabernet Sauvignon) along with a few bottles of their wines that are very reasonably priced. I loved their Montino range which has a slight sparkle to add some fizz to your afternoon. They are also low in alcohol and low in calories!
During the week you can visit their cellars in Pieter Cruythoff Avenue and take a cellar tour to learn more about the wine-making process. While the tours are free, it’s advisable to book ahead, especially during harvest season (January to April) when things get busy. Look out for the little paper ships in the reception area – the owners fell in love with them on a visit overseas and I was quite enamoured with them too. And the wine of course!
Where to eat (and drink) in Riebeek Kasteel
15. Bar Bar Black Sheep
Apart from the clever name, anything that says “Bar Bar” in it will always catch my attention! This quirky restaurant with its chalkboard menu, quotes on the walls and shabby chic décor stole my heart as did the Rum Pork. I also tried Caper-Berries for the first time (encased in a beer batter and deep fried) and even though they were a starter, they would’ve sufficed as a meal on their own. The portions are large, so go with a good appetite. if you feel like being adventurous, try the Lamb Hearts and Wild Boar Stew. If you go during the winter months, nab the chair by the fireplace. After a plateful of their food you may find yourself nodding off.
16. Beans About Coffee Roastery
This is a great spot for breakfast and if you love your coffee then there’s no better place to be. The smell of roasted coffee beans drifts up your nostrils as you walk through the doors and wraps you in its caffeine-embrace while you go through the menu. The breakfast items are very reasonably priced and the portion of food on your plate will definitely see you through until lunchtime, or longer. I merrily tucked into my multi-layered stack of toast with bacon and tomato wedged in between each layer and topped off with a fried egg. Coffee-lovers will find coffee beans from Columbia, Indonesia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Brazil, which are available to buy (they’ll grind them up for you too). They also have a selection of jams, fudge and other treats for sale.
16. Eve’s Eatery & Bar
Short Street seems to be the home of quirky restaurants and another great spot if you like things a little bohemian is Eve’s Eatery. The restaurant is crammed full of interesting bits and pieces that have obviously been collected (and possibly donated by patrons) over the years. I was there on a Sunday and had a cosy spot next to the very ornate fireplace, although you can sit outside if the sun is shining. Sundays are always good for roasts (although owner, Eve Thompson, believes that Sundays are always good for wine – I like her!) so I opted for their Sunday roast – a large plateful of wholesome “just-like-your-mom-made-it” food served with a glass of wine for R80. If you aren’t there on a Sunday, or roast-with-wine is not your thing, there always daily specials on the chalkboards, including curries, burgers, fish dishes and pastas. While you are there, look out for the interesting mannequins.
17. Kasteelberg Country Inn & Bistro
Radio celebrity, Allan Barnard and Julien Debray own this brasserie-style restaurant in a beautiful Victorian building that is popular with locals and visitors alike. It’s the sort of place where you arrive for lunch and leave in the early evening. Unless you end up in the much-talked-about Secret Garden at the back of the property, where you are likely to party until the wee hours. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t favourable for a party in the Secret Garden so I can’t divulge any secrets, but the front stoep was a pleasant place to be for lunch, with a fire keeping us all warm on a winter’s afternoon. The menu was varied and the food was a tasty, home-cooked affair. The portions are generous (they like to eat in this town!) with the Petit Poulet being far from petit! It could’ve easily fed two, so you may find yourself asking for a doggy bag (actually giving it to your dog is optional).
18. Olive et Chocolat
“When in doubt, drink tea” says a sign on the wall of Olive et Chocolat – I couldn’t agree more! I never actually had tea here, but I loved the décor and the concept – a cosy spot to have a cuppa and read a book. There are plenty of books to choose from (new and second-hand) and they serve teas, coffees, breakfasts and light meals with a side serving of literature…
Tel 0836797797, email email@example.com.
19. The Royal Hotel
Whatever you do in Riebeek Kasteel, do NOT miss the Gin & Tonic happy hour (17h00-18h00) served on the stoep of this landmark colonial hotel. Not only are they, quite frankly, the best gin and tonics I have had (yes I had a few), they are served in gigantic brandy glasses with slices of cucumber, pomegranate seeds and a beaming smile… The biggest and best G&T’s in the Western Cape, from R16, for real. While you are there, book for their five-course dinner, which is a steal at R98! The menu changes daily and bookings before 17h00 are essential. If it’s breakfast you’re after, they have a breakfast menu to die for, with starters, mains and dessert! Think smoked salmon with crispy spinach & feta springrolls & poached egg, freshly baked croissant with truffle & cream cheese scrambled egg, Camembert & baby leaves and banana & chocolate bread with dried figs, coconut yoghurt & hazelnut praline. Have you ever? I have and it was delicious!
Where to stay in Riebeek Kasteel
Corner Main Road and Fontein Street
Katarina’s is a fairly new, modern-Provence style establishment that’s pretty much within walking distance from everything the town has to offer. My room (room 2) was open-plan with a lounge area and separate bathroom with a shower and fabulous harlequin flooring. There’s complimentary tea, coffee and rusks, but the rooms are not self-catering, so you will have forage for your food in the town (really not a problem with so many options).
Katarina’s would make a great spot to stay if you are in town for a wedding and need a comfortable and clean place to sleep, or if you end up partying all night at The Secret Garden (Kasteelberg Country Inn & Bistro is literally right next door).
Note that there is no “reception” – you phone the owners upon your arrival and they bring the key for your room.
21. The Royal Hotel
If you’ve indulged in too many Gin & Tonics during their famous happy hour, I recommend you spend a night at the oldest hotel in the Western Cape. Boasting the longest stoep south of the Limpopo (with 14 archways to boot), famous presidential guests (including Jan Smuts, D F Malan and Nelson Mandela) and a 150-year-old bar, this hotel will take you back to a time when lions prowled the valley and there were shoot-outs in front of the saloon (apparently they really did have shoot-outs in front of the hotel and the original doors were saloon-style swing doors). The stoep is filled with colonial-era memorabilia and inside you’ll find a few animal heads adorning the walls from the days of trophy hunting. There’s also a swimming pool with a deck that looks out onto the mountains, a lounge with a fireplace and a spa service.
My room came with a four-poster style bed (sans the curtains), under-floor heating, air conditioning, DSTV and a minibar. The en-suite bathroom (which also had a heated floor – lovely for winter!) had both a bath and shower and I thoroughly enjoyed using the big bowl of bath salts when I retired to have a bath after my 5-course dinner.
Check-in comes with a complimentary glass of sherry and after 15h00 any available rooms for that night are less 50% for the night, including breakfast. With the check-in deal, the G&T’s, the 5-course dinner and 3-course breakfast, I think this is one of the best deals in town and would make for a fantastic weekend away from the city.
22. Bartholomeus Klip
Not strictly in Riebeek Kasteel, but not still in the valley and not far out of the town. Indulge in opulent country living served with generous portions of food and relaxation. Read more about Bartholomeus Klip
This farm, also a little further out of town, is perfect for school groups and youth camps, or if you are a large crowd looking for weekend accommodation and don’t mind sleeping in single beds. They also have a chapel and “honeymoon” lodgings for weddings. Goedgedacht is a charitable trust that supports a variety of community projects and they also supply Pick n’ Pay with olives and olive products.
Of course one can never do everything and see everything over a few days, so there are few recommended places that I have left out, like Het Vlock Casteel, Wicked Treats and The Wine Kollective, along with hiking and cycling trails. I will simply have to go back! And perhaps never return…
Note: While the wine farms are closed on a Sunday, everything in town is open with most places being closed on a Monday. This is because most visitors come to Riebeek Kasteel over the weekend so the locals have their Sunday on a Monday.
Need more information on Riebeek Kasteel?
Contact Felicia at the Riebeek Valley Tourism Office on the town square. She’ll do everything she can to help you from advice to accommodation options. Tel 022-448-1545, email firstname.lastname@example.org, www.riebeekvalley.info.