10 Things to do in Swellendam
Nancy Richards lists 10 "very now" things to do in the Overberg's historic capital
Swellendam celebrates its 180th agricultural show this month (February 24-26), which represents a lot of well-bred stock over the decades. But there's more than just a load of bull, boer and bridles to be seen in the Cape's third-oldest city.
1. 'ALLO ALOES
Prepare to be amazed at the sheer mass of aloes at Rooiklip Nursery, where geologist and environmentalist Jaap Viljoen has taken what began as a hobby to new heights. He propagates and cross-pollinates species and is a licensed grower for Sunbird, supplying nurseries in the Western Cape. His pride is the tall aloe "Rex", that could take over where the Quiver tree is failing due to the effects of climate change. He estimates that he has around 20000 aloes on the premises as well as a good few thousand cycads and clivias with a supporting cast of succulents. In aloe flowering season the enviro-exhibition centre here is awash with colour.
2. GO STRAIGHT TO GAOL
Roosterkoek rule at The Old Gaol coffee shop on Church Square right opposite the town's over-the-top, icing-sugar NGK. Get there early and watch them baking the daily bread over hot coals in the gardens. A community project, the restaurant has hung on to its name since the days when it was housed in the Drostdy Museum. They have since become more famous for their cakes, home-made melktert and traditional menu with a trendy twist.
See www.oldgaolrestaurant.co.za; 028 514 3847
Recently swept by a devastating fire, the Marloth Nature Reserve outside town is just asking to be walked in. Check with CapeNature to see what conditions are like after the fire. If you're up for more strenuous stuff, day one of the Swellendam hike in the Langeberg mountains has been labelled one of the toughest in the country.
4. BERRY YOUR PROBLEMS
Visit Wildebraam, the youngberry estate in the Hermitage Valley, said to be the biggest berry-growing area in the country. Treat your taste buds to their jams and tempting locally flavoured liqueurs - from the original youngberry through to the eye-opening chocolate chilli. In November and December you can do berry picking and throughout the year you can stay in their self-catering accommodation, with all sorts of outdoorsy activities on the doorstep.
See www.wildebraam.co.za; 028 514 3132
5. MOUTHWATERING HISTORY
You can take your pick of regular restaurants in lovely, old buildings in the main road, but at Eighteen53, the conservatory eatery in Schoone Oordt, the Victorian country house, chef Wander Bester does a class four-course act, with soft jazz backing track.
See www.schooneoordt.co.za; 028 514 1248.
At the other end of town, at La Sosta (stop over) - also an add-on to a 19th-century home - Cristiana and Gianni Minori of Milan bring the bona fide taste of Italy, with Bocelli as the background sound.
See www.lasostaswellendam.com; 028 514 1470.
6. REMEMBER RAILTON
On the other side of the freeway, Railton recently celebrated the opening of its first restored historic home as a museum (under the auspices of the Drostdy), Bloemfontein House in Siegelaar Street. The thatched and humbly furnished one-room house, built in 1922, was named after its original residents Jack and Anna Bloemfontein who lived there, incredibly, with their eight children. It's the last example of the town's typical architecture before forced removals began. You can also do a Ubuhle Besintu cultural township tour of Railton with Meisie Bokwana.
Call 084 775 1269
7. CHOOSE YOUR MUSE
With an epidemic of national monument plaques, the town is packed with old important buildings and museums. The Drostdy sets the scene in heritage green and whitewash and is filled with all the trappings of life back in the 18th century. In the garden round the back is the Ambagswerf collection of smithies, tanners and tradesmen's workshops. Next door is the original Old Gaol (mercifully the whipping post no longer exists) which is now a restaurant. Across the road are Zandrift and Mayville, two other restored homesteads furnished in period style; Mayville also has an old rose garden.
See www.drostdymuseum.com; 028 514 2675
8. MEET THE POTTERS
Clay lovers will be in paradise at Bukkenburg Pottery - the studio is totally hands-on with rows of projects in the firing line, a whirring wheel and giant kiln. If you're lucky, you may catch residents David Schlapobersky or Felicity Potter in action. The showroom is evidence of the output of their nearly 40 years in the pottery business and their flourishing vegetable garden with towering sunflowers and gourmet greenery is evidence that they are not the sort to sit idle.
See www.pottery.co.za; 028 514 1644
9. FAIRY INTERESTING
Believers and the very young should be sure to go and see what's at the end of the garden at the Sulina Faerie Sanctuary, where there's always a winged welcome.
10. UP THE BOKKE
If you're looking for something more bush, the Bontebok National Park, smallest in the SA National Parks stable, is just outside town. Go for the day, hike, fish, swim and canoe, or camp or hire a chalet.
See www.sanparks.org.za; 028 514 2735