The local version of Willy Russell’s critically acclaimed West End production ...
The Royal Hotel in Riebeek Kasteel
Home to the longest stoep south of the Limpopo
Home to the longest stoep south of the Limpopo
“I’ve lived a bit of a wild life,” says Robert Brendel over a lunch of fisherman’s soup and springbok tartar, the afternoon sun highlighting his blonde hair. We’re sitting on the back terrace of The Royal Hotel in Riebeek Kasteel, a charming town settled squarely in the heart of South Africa’s olive country (roughly one hour from Cape Town).
White ducks waddle around the restaurant, tremendous views framed by the Kasteelberg Mountains cascade in the distance - on the perimeter a rippling dam leads into plump orchards - and rolling green lawns sprawl out in the foreground. Just off from where we’re sitting is the swimming pool, an appetising body of water elevated on a wooden deck with surrounding white deck chairs that no doubt boast the best vantage point. Underneath, waits an outside bar, with all the ‘fixings and mixings’ for cocktail hour.
Robert and his wife, Carminda, bought the rambling property in 2004, after meeting and falling in love in Spain, where they were both working.
“…wives, girlfriends, clubs, fast cars. They made a documentary about my life; cameras followed me around for a while,” says Robert, continuing his thread. Not many people earn a place in the limelight, but Robert lived such an interesting and extravagant lifestyle, and was in-turn such a high-profile businessman, that the TV time was inevitable. After that, the Dutch bad boy abandoned a corporate life on the stock exchange in Holland and moved to Spain, where he opened two restaurants and a nightclub and lived for 14 years. Though, he left his wild ways behind him when he met Namibian-born Carminda, and the pair came to South Africa with the intention of buying a wine farm.
“I saw a picture of this hotel, and it looked like I imagined South Africa to be,” recounts Robert of his first view of The Royal. “It was more English and colonial in style, not like the Cape Dutch architecture that characterises most of the wine farms. I fell in love. I saw the hotel in the morning, and signed the papers in the afternoon.”
Gin and gentleman
The Royal Hotel is a colonial treasure, and is as famous for its age – it’s said to be the oldest in the Western Cape, dating back to the 19th century – as it is for its expansive stoep. Stretching along the perimeter of the hotel’s façade, the vast verandah – it’s credited as ‘the longest stoep south of the Limpopo’ - is decorated like a tableau for old world explorers—among the colonial clutter: antique chairs, battered suitcases, a birdcage, a typewriter and green fan palms that add colour and symmetry.
Not just a stage set though, the broad front porch’s handsome chairs are quite comfortable, and are perfect for sinking into with a gin and tonic. Speaking of which, served in a brandy goblet the size of a flower vase, the cocktail cum mosquito repellant is packed with ice, lemon and only the finest gin (the hotel has a premium selection of the spirit, from Beefeaters to Bombay).
Inside the colonial theme continues, bamboo fans spin lazily in the air above dark wood furniture polished to a high shine.
Just off from reception is the bar, a room dressed in the same mahogany as the rest of the hotel with framed daguerreotypes decorating the walls. The black and white images seem a salute to the hotel’s long history, which is said to include appearances by the likes of bygone South African politicians Paul Kruger and Jan Smuts.
The bar is adjacent to the main area of the hotel’s restaurant, which spills out into the back where we’re enjoying lunch.
After Robert recounts future plans for the restaurant, we finish off our meal with an antipasti platter (I know, we’re doing things backwards, but we’re in the country after all). The wooden board is loaded with parma ham, Riebeek Valley olives, slow roasted tomatoes, and cheeses. Once every last crumb has been siphoned up, we’re led to our room, which is on the edge of the garden.
The décor is simple and elegant. A long white bed fills the space, high white ceilings and deep carpeting complete the effect, and the overall impression is one of relaxation.
All of the usual facilities and amenities are taken care of, from the heated towel railing in the en-suite bathroom to the well-stocked minibar.
Once settled in, we go for a walk around town. Outside we spot Robert heading off on his Harley, with a roar and a wave the charismatic owner disappears down the road.
Riebeek Kasteel is home to a mix of people, including a large community of artists. Over the years the picturesque surroundings have attracted many painters, and a short walk confirms the creative spirit of the town:we spot bric-a-brac shops with hand-painted signs and craftworks on sale, bespoke back garden sculptures, and bohemian locals who decorate the streets.
Aside from its surpising cultural character, the village is also the epitome of country leisure. Famed for both olives and wine, the Riebeek Valley hubs hosts festivals throughout the year - the biggest are the MedFest in in March, the Olive Festival in May, and the Shiraz and Art Weekend in October – and from its stronghold in the heart of town, the Royal Hotel is the perfect outpost from which to enjoy them all.
The next day, after a buffet breakfast on the stoep, we pack our bags; and like good colonial explorers, we’re off to discover something else.
By Malu Lambert
Read more about eating at the Royal Hotel's restaurant in Riebeek Kasteel.