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The historic heart of the Overberg
The tale of Swellendam, the third oldest ‘permanent settlement’ in South Africa, is one of a double-barrelled surname. The district was named for the reigning governor of the Cape, Hendrik Swellengrebel, and his wife, Helena ten Damme.
The town lives up to its romantic history: the streets are lined with storm gutters and blossoming hedges, and there’s the scent of cinnamon and jasmine in the air. We’re ravenous, no doubt spurred on by the appetising scent of the streets, and park our car by the Drostdy Museum (028 514 1138).
The museum is a good place to start if you want to plug straight into the history of the town. It’s a beautiful Cape Dutch building, and it also houses the Old Gaol, where you can see torture paraphernalia from a bloodier time. We’re after gourmet though, not gore, and are disappointed to find that the Old Gaol restaurant no longer operates from the old prison courtyard.
We’re redirected to Church Square, directly opposite from the monolithic Dutch Reformed church, where the restaurant trades under the same name. For lunch we eat the house specialities; roosterkoeks and melktert.
The weather is inclement; storm clouds are gathering rather poetically above the imposing white church. Taking it as our cue, we head into the more industrial side of town to pick up supplies for our braai later that night. We’re staying in Bontebok National Park, located six kilometres outside of town. The Breede River runs through the beautiful reserve, making it a must for anglers, birdwatchers and hikers. There are plenty of other places to stay in the area; from guesthouse accommodation on farms to hotels in the town.
Pink passion, berry orchards, and fairyland
The next morning we wave goodbye to our comfortable SANPark chalet and head into town for breakfast. A restaurant with a sprawling stoep on Swellengrebel Street looks perfect; it’s aptly named Oppi Stoep (028 514 3745), and we settle into low wooden chairs plumped with cushions. On a second look we see the chairs are pink, the table is pink, the menus are pink, even the salt is pink (Himalayan crystals). Feeling as if we’ve stepped into a quaint, but kitsch dream, we order classic breakfasts, which thankfully don’t come in pink too.
On the outskirts of town is The Continent of Sulina, also known as the faerie sanctuary. Once inside its latticed wood gates, we spend a few hours in its enchanted garden, or is it days? Tricky fairies. However long it is, we have still have one more stop before heading back down the highway to Cape Town.
Swellendam is the largest youngberry producer in South Africa, and the farms make the most of their juicy harvest. Berry picking opens to the public from November to mid-December, and some of the farms also offer accommodation. We’re headed to the Wildebraam Berry Estate (+27(0)28 514 3132), but we also recommend popping in at The Berry Farm for a fresh berry smoothie, or to purchase homemade liqueurs and jams (+ 27 (0)285141919).
The youngberry is a cross between a blackberry and a dewberry, but it looks a whole lot more like a mulberry to me. The taste is also similar, just not as tart.
We’re ushered into the tasting room, all small-town charm. The estate makes a range of liqueurs: youngberry (the flagship), rooibos, chilli and chocolate, honey…the list goes on. There’s also shelf after shelf of pickled and preserved goods, some dangerous like the cherry bombs (the fruit is soaked in witblitz), others more innocuous. We stock up on liqueur and grab a bag of frozen berries (R22 for a kilogram). We've barely scratched the surface on things to do in Swellendam, but there's always next time.
Cruising home, we can't wait, and our hands are soon sticky and purple from the delicious berries.
By Malu Lambert
Tip: Stay over and discover the hidden wine route of Bonnievale. This gorgeous little valley is making beautiful wine; from the Méthode CapClassique at Weltevrede Wine Estate to the muscadel at Wolvendrift.
We also said hello to South Africa’s second-oldest town, Stellenbosch.
Idyllic Swellendam farm-style getaway, boutique wedding or big group stay with some unique experiences? Have a look at Rotterdam Guest Farm in Swellendam.
Another good reason for a road trip to Swellendam at Rotterdam Restaurant.