In autumn, the magic of the little-known Riebeek Valley rivals anywhere else in the Cape Winelands. The vineyards become ablaze with sunset colours, the pastel pink peach blossoms are out in force and the Kasteelberg mountains start flushing green from the first sprinkles of rain. This simply accentuates the prettiness of the little villages in the valley, which are charming all year round.
The valley lies about an hour’s drive from Cape Town, 10 km west of Malmesbury, and encompasses the hamlets of Riebeek Kasteel and Riebeek West. The mountains of the Kasteelberg Nature Reserve offer panoramic views of both villages, as well as of the dramatic Swartland landscape.
The real intrigue lies within the villages themselves. Both are amongst the oldest towns in South Africa, having been established by recognised founder of the Cape Colony – Jan van Riebeeck – in 1661. The centrepiece in Riebeek Kasteel is the 1863 Dutch Reformed Church with its red steeple and cemetery with graves dating back to 1888. De Oude Kerk museum on Hermon Street is also worth a stop, featuring a variety of implements and antiques from the time when the Voortrekkers settled in the valley. In Riebeek West, you can pay a visit to the Jan Smuts Museum in the former home of the statesman himself, who was born in the village in 1870. To stay in an historical atmosphere, the Riebeek Valley Hotel (built in 1903) is perfect, featuring Victorian architecture, grand gardens and antique-strewn interiors. The hotel’s garden terraces are also home to Heatherby’s Heritage Rose Sanctuary, displaying more than 6000 roses.
Riebeek Kasteel is often compared to Franschhoek 15 years ago, and an increasing number of quaint shops, coffee shops and restaurants are appearing on the streets. Olives and wine are two of the valley’s most famous products, so there are several outlets specialising in these. The Olive Boutique in Church Street features a dazzling array of products, from oils, to tapenades and colourfully flavoured olive varieties. The Wine Shoppe is the home of Riebeek Cellars, and is one of the few alcohol establishments in the area to remain open on Sundays, offering the chance to do some laidback wine tasting. On any other day, you’re free to visit one of the numerous wine estates in the valley.
Taking a wander down Main Street, you’ll find delightful delicatessan shops such as Aitsa and Le Paitsa, and boutique trinket stores like Le Amis and A La Maison. Other outlets stock everything from handcrafted soaps to the artwork produced by the numerous painters who’ve drawn inspiration from the valley’s beauty. If you want to discover this beauty yourself, then you can walk, drive or bike along some of the scenic dirt roads, or set out along one of the hiking trails in the Kasteelberg Nature Reserve. In addition to being a fantastic accommodation establishment, Bartholomeus Klip Guest House in nearby Hermon offers game viewing day trips on a 4000 hectare private nature reserve.
*For more information about the Riebeek Valley, visit www.riebeekvalley.info.