McGregor: On the road to nowhere

Posted by Nandi Majola on 31 October 2018 Tags:,

Set in the foothills of the Breede River Valley, McGregor is a village where time stood still but life is full. Nandi Majola gets into the rhythm.

McGregor has some of the best-preserved Victorian and Georgian architecture in the Western Cape. Image by Jotham van Tonder

The Insider

Mira Weiner has called McGregor home for almost two decades, and is the town’s accommodation agent. She loves that she can witness the fruit trees changing to orange in autumn or see the blossoms in spring, a true sign of living in the countryside.

Voortrekker Street is McGregor’s main road, one of few that is tarred and the only one with streetlights. Just beyond town, Voortrekker dissolves into a dirt track that locals call the ‘Road to Nowhere’, which heads off into the Riviersonderend Mountains. They will tell you McGregor is a destination, not a through-road (in fact, there is only one way into town). They believe the Road to Nowhere is the reason their charming village remains untarnished by commercialisation.

‘McGregor’s biggest export is peacefulness,’ says Edna Fourie, an artist and gallery owner, who sought a new life here almost 20 years ago and has never looked back. ‘The village slows people down. And once you slow down, you find that there’s more to do here than you could possibly manage over a weekend.’ Residents include both millennials, like Mira Weiner, and retirees, like Barbara Jacobs who moved here 15 years ago. ‘Life is full in this little town,’ says Barbara. We’re sitting in her decor and gift shop, How Bazaar, which also boasts a tea garden out back, and I’m eager to try her famous cheesecake. Apart from running the shop, Barbara belongs to the village swimming, bridge and Scottish dancing clubs. She’s also part of the Worst End Theatre Company and the lead singer of Random Act, a local jazz band that performs ‘whenever there’s a need’. ‘A lot goes on behind the scenes,’ confirms Mira, when I meet her at the McGregor Ice Saturday Afternoon Food Market.

McGregor is surrounded by rivers and dams-this one on the edge of town is a popular spot for swimming. Image by Jotham van Tonder

This pop-up restaurant is one of many ways in which McGregorites get together. Three people serve meals from different cuisines. Today, the main dishes are spaghetti and meatballs, Moroccan tagine and Asian spring rolls. ‘I sometimes think of McGregor as a very rustic, country version of New York!’ says Mira. ‘We have such an interesting collection of people from all over the world who’ve chosen to move here.’ Some even had careers in showbiz, like Mary Corpe from the UK who was a dancer on Top of the Pops in the 70s. She launched Next Step Dance Academy and First Step Ballet in McGregor as charity efforts. Mira herself came to McGregor when she was seven. Her mother wanted her to live somewhere she could ride a bike and swim in a dam. It’s also where she’s honed her entrepreneurial skills, becoming an ambassador for the village that raised her. Stroll the streets of the sleepy village and you’ll be surprised by what you can find.

Voortrekker has most of the treasures,  including How Bazaar, Bemind Wyne (‘beloved wines’ in Afrikaans) and La Pizza Pazza (‘the crazy pizza’). The pizzeria’s owner, Axel Daniel, hails from Cologne and saw this place as the perfect backdrop for an eatery, albeit one that exudes the eclectic, urban feel of a restaurant in Cape Town. At Billy Kennedy’s Temenos Retreat, people come to meditate or do yoga, but simply walking through its lush gardens is therapeutic in itself, what with the duck ponds, art gallery, chapel, two libraries, labyrinth, peacocks and other birdlife. The outer edges of the village also have much to offer, including a charming donkey sanctuary, a nature reserve, an olive estate and boutique wine cellar and distillery.

How Bizaar. Image by Jotham van Tonder

McGregor is a festive place. I’d missed the annual musical production, The Wizard of Oz, which had a cast of moms, estate agents and school kids. But Poetry in McGregor, a festival created by Billy. Each year, people gather for three days in venues across the village to enjoy wine and the spoken word from well-known and up-and-coming poets. In September, there’s a three-day mountain-bike race called the Ride2Nowhere, and this year will see the inaugural Run2Nowhere, a two-day trail run in the surrounding countryside. The annual Hands-on-Harvest (February) and McGregor Food & Wine (September) also make this a mecca for foodies and wine lovers.

But McGregor is also the kind of place where you can do absolutely nothing: just chill, braai, play board games, read books and drink wine. At Tigh-na-Breagha (‘House of Beauty’ in Gaelic) I feel at ease, knowing I’ve plenty of time to relax. The house is spacious, with a garden that requires at least half an hour to explore. I take it all in and allow my noise-polluted ears to acclimatise to the silence. McGregor doesn’t seek anything beyond itself. The residents have everything they need here. As Edna put it, ‘It’s not the people that make McGregor. McGregor has its own character. When people come here, they slot into that character.’ And for a few precious days, I took the time to get into character too.

Tigh-na-Breagha. Image by Jotham van Tonder

3 alternatives to help you unwind

Reiki

Deidre Scott-Rogerson at Riverstone Farm Retreat offers this Japanese form of energy healing (R300 a session) as well as deep tissue massage (R450). 0721580521

Reflexology

Through working on the feet, different areas of the body can be balanced. It can be used to treat digestive disorders and insomnia. A one-hour session with Iona Palmer at Temenos Retreat is R360. 0812703703

Temenos Retreat. Image by Jotham van Tonder

Ozone Sauna Therapy

Said to have myriad health benefits, from detoxing to alleviating allergies. R300 a session at the Old Mill Country Spa on Voortrekker Road. 0797962583

Where do locals go?

Voortrekker Road was, ironically too narrow for ox-drawn carts back in the 19th century. Image by Jotham van Tonder

Shannon Hartzenburg, waitress

‘I enjoy running along the Boesmanskloof Trail from McGregor to Greyton, feasting my eyes on the mountains and waterfalls.’

Nolan Allnutt, manager of Tebaldi’s

‘How Bazaar has the best toasted sandwiches and baked cheesecake around.’ 0236251876

Floris van Zyl, artist

‘Hiking along the Kleinberg Trail and adventure biking on the old dirt road between Robertson and McGregor.’

Brucille Lekota, tasting-room manager

‘I like to take walks around McGregor with my husband and kids and get ice cream at McGregor Ice afterwards.’

0827809241

Plan your trip

Getting there

Take the N1 from Cape Town to Worcester via the Huguenot Tunnel (toll is R38), and head to Robertson on the R60 (50km). Turn right at the first four-way stop and drive until you cross a bridge (20km). Keep left and follow the road into McGregor.

Stay here

Rose House is an old Georgian home with a contemporary feel. It has four bedrooms, a well-equipped kitchen plus braai area, a stoep for lazy days and a pool. From R1 250 (sleeps eight). 0723077399

Tigh-na-Breagha is a two bedroom house with spacious, comfy living areas. Sun bathes the veranda and enchanting garden in the mornings. Guests can order in picnic baskets (from R120) and home-cooked meals (from R65 per portion). From R625 per person sharing (sleeps four). 0723077399

Green Gables Country Inn has buildings dating from 1862, including a watermill. On Friday evenings the restaurant serves a meal with a complimentary glass of wine for R100. There’s a pool and pub on site. R550 per person sharing B&B. 0236251626

Rose House. Image by Jotham van Tonder

Do this

Taste the local produce. Wine tastings at Bemind Wyne are R30 per person (free if you buy a bottle). 0833801648. Tanagra Private Cellar does wine, grappa and eau de vie tastings for R20 per person. 0236251780. Rhebokskraal offers olive tours, including tastings and a platter, from R350 per person. 0826582370

Go to a show. Wahnfried is a house-turned-theatre for film screenings and music. Email [email protected] for a programme of events.

Admire the art. Edna Fourie Fine Art Gallery has works for sale as well as a permanent collection. The garden is just as interesting, filled with art installations. 0833025538. La Galleria on Bree Street displays photos and fine-art prints by Dani, whose work captures the beauty of the surroundings. 0762641417

Throughout the gardens at Temenos there are sculptures and sacred spaces honouring different faiths and beliefs; you’ll find a bit of history on almost every corner as you walk the streets. Image by Jotham van Tonder

Explore the countryside. Dogs on leads are welcome at Krans Nature Reserve, accessible from Church, Van Reenen and Smith streets. The vegetation transitions between mountain fynbos and succulent Karoo, and you may spot fish eagles and blue cranes. There are six different trails, including the walk beside McGregor’s leiwater dam. Time it right and catch a gorgeous sunset. 0236251954. Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve (5km outside the village) has two bird hides on the Heron Trail (one is wheelchair-friendly). It also has a Braille Trail, an 8km MTB track and picnic sites. Permits are R40 for adults, R20 for kids. 0824962448

Do a quirky tour. Awie Page, who has built many houses in McGregor, offers 40-minute historical tours on the ‘Noddy Bus’, a wooden bakkie he made. R35 per person for four or more people. 0766634494

Visit the donkeys at Eseltjiesrus (5km out of town). Free entry. It also has a curio shop, bookshop and restaurant that serves a delicious, filling vegetarian breakfast (R45). 0236251593

Play a game of boules (free, and boules are supplied) at How Bazaar, which also sells gifts and decor and has an art gallery and cafe. Don’t miss the cheesecake! R28 a slice. 0236251876

Browse the market on Saturday morning, opposite the NG Church. It often sells out in under an hour, so get there by 9am to snap up fresh veggies or home-baked goods, including homemade dog biscuits. 0236251954

Eat here

Every village needs a sweet spot, and McGregor Ice, with its delicious gelato, is it. Image by Jotham van Tonder

Tebaldi’s at Temenos is good for breakfast. It has muffins, croissants and great coffee. The traditional plate of eggs, bacon, bangers, rösti and toast costs R85. For lunch, the vegetarian tapas (olives, gherkins, humus, tzatziki, ciabatta) is R95. 0236251115

La Pizza Pazza uses doublezero flour for light, velvety pizza bases. You can add your own toppings (from R10), such as artichoke or truffle oil. Most ingredients (olives, goat’s cheese, charcuterie) are locally sourced. There’s also flammkuchen, German-style pizza, for R85. Pastas from R105. 0818567410

McGregor Ice Saturday Afternoon Food Market serves global cuisine. There are three main meals on offer, priced between R50 and R100. Open from 12.30pm. See Facebook for the menu.