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Camping for grown-ups in the Riebeeck Valley

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VIEWS

On a recent trip to the Riebeeck Valley, where I camped at the Fish Eagle River Lodge, I had a couple of days to uncover what this picturesque area filled with magnificent scenery, vineyards as far as the eye can see and some very friendly folk had to offer.

Within a diverse community such as this, you’re bound to bump into musicians, artists, farmers and a wide spectrum of highly entertaining people along the way.

The owners of Fish Eagle Lodge are a prime example of what you can expect in the Riebeeck Valley. When I asked Steve if I could get a photograph of him and his wife Kay, he called her over to the front of their large guest house, which borders their wonderful riverside campsites and said, “Kay, come over here quickly and take off your clothes, Stuart needs a photograph for Caravan & Outdoor Life magazine.”

Much laughter followed as the couple stood for a quick snapshot… fully clothed I might add.

WINE & OLIVES

Fish Eagle River Lodge is set on the banks of the Berg River and is named after two breeding pairs of African Fish Eagles that nest in the area. During my stay I saw numerous other birds including a family of Kingfishers, birds of prey, a blue crane, Cape Robins, Cape white eyes, malachite sunbirds, bee eaters and weavers.

After setting up my tent on the lush green lawns of the campsite, which overlooks the Berg River, and getting everything sorted out for my stay, I decided to take a drive through the town of Hermon and then onto Riebeeck Kasteel, Riebeeck Wes and surrounds.

ANNUAL EVENTS

Annual events in the Riebeeck Valley include the Riebeeck Valley Wine Company Annual Grape Stomp in February, the Riebeeck Valley Olive Festival in May, the PPC Riebeeck Berg Marathon and the Solo Studios Intimate Art Encounters in August, the Riebeeck Kasteel Go-Cart Derby in October, the EVOO Expo, the Olive Boutique and the Riebeeck Kasteel Christmas Market in November and finally, the Riebeeck Valley Day of Goodwill Cricket Tournament in December to complete the year. After all these festivities, a large portion of the Riebeeck Valley population is usually in need of a new liver or a comprehensive detox at the least. This is completely understandable when you’re surrounded by so many wonderful grape cultivars and other rich edible delicacies.

My first stop was Kloovenberg Wine & Olive Estate for wine tasting. I was drawn in by the beautiful façade of the main building which was beckoning a photograph. Wine tasting is free at Kloovenberg and what delicious wines they produce.

I purchased a bottle of the unwooded Kloovenberg chardonnay which is a beautiful wine and very reasonably priced, as are their other wines. Also on offer are other whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, barrel-fermented Chardonnay and Eight Feet, the name derived from the four Du Toit boys grape stomping barefoot in a barrel.

Kloovenberg is owned by Pieter du Toit, father of Pieter-Steph the South African rugby player. I didn’t get a chance to get a photo of Pieter and his wife Annalene when I was at their farm, but I did manage to get a snapshot of them the following evening. I’ll go into detail a little later about this.

Our wine tasting host was Willie, who happily imparted all his knowledge relating to the different wines produced on the farm (white, red, sparkling and Cape Vintage Shiraz port) and the farm’s history.

Be sure to try some of the great olive products such as the cold extracted unfiltered extra virgin olive oil and the olive jam. If you want to pamper your partner, buy her some of the olive oil body butter and the olive oil shower scrub that is produced on the farm.

When I asked Willie whether he knew an artist friend of mine whom I had not seen in 30 plus years, he smiled and said: “Take a left into Riebeeck Kasteel, second road on your right, house on the corner, that’s where Gordon Williams stays.”

It seems everybody knows everybody in the Riebeeck Valley.

GET SPOOKED

After my delicious wine tasting, I trundled off and stopped in at the Riebeeck Valley Museum housed in the Oude Kerk, where Elizabeth Torii kindly showed me around. There are some very interesting antique pieces and artefacts to be seen as well as horse drawn vehicles, including a horse drawn hearse with coffin, that are on show.

The museum is said to be haunted by a women who dropped dead while preparing chickens for a church bazaar and there are other strange phenomenon that occur relating to an antique pram. Though my visit was very interesting and informative, it was uneventful in the supernatural department.

I then went in search of my friend and we met at the Jolly Olive. I met a whole lot of the entertaining locals there and was also introduced to Danie Malan, the owner of Allesverloren Wine Estate. He’s quite a raconteur it seems, as the crowd of friends gathered around him listening spellbound to his humorous stories. During a brief lull in conversation, I managed to request a visit to his wine estate the following day, too which he happily obliged.

Then, at the suggestion of the locals, I explored the town centre and enjoyed a great hamburger at a restaurant called The Alchemist. This restaurant is a melting pot that offers live music, great food and equally good beer.

Another venue that is a must to visit is The Royal Hotel, which is situated in the main road. The bar was built in 1862, and the famous arched porch is said to be the longest stoep south of the Limpopo.

After my scrumptious dinner at The Alchemist, I set off for my home base (campsite) at Fish Eagle River Lodge for some welcome shuteye.

FISH EAGLE RIVER LODGE

In the morning I woke early and cooked a delicious breakfast on my portable gas cooker. Eggs, fried tomatoes, sliced pork and fried onions accompanied by loquats picked fresh from the loquat trees bordering my campsite and sliced as a sweet breakfast accompaniment. You’ve got to be a bit inventive when the nearest grocery store is a few kilometers away.

Fish Eagle River Lodge is the only camping site in the Ribeeck Valley, and has two smallish camping areas which have lush thick grass, power points and drinking water.

The communal ablutions are very neat, clean and modern, with hot showers, tiled floors, neat basins and mirrors.

There is an Honesty Shack adjoining the ablution area where you can put money in a tin for essentials such as firewood, ice and other basics.

One of the hard and fast rules of Fish Eagle River Lodge is that the campsite is reserved solely for over 18’s and no animals are allowed. This offers adults the perfect getaway to enjoy the prolific bird life, the refreshing and rejuvenating country air and to really get away from it all.

Fish Eagle River Lodge has two swimming pools for residents and campers to enjoy and canoes are available for leisurely paddles on the Berg River.

Bed and breakfast or self catering accommodation is in comfortable, air conditioned rooms with sundecks offering amazing views of the Elandskloofberge and the Porseleinberge. All the rooms have their own entrance with TV, DVD and bar fridges.

Grab one of their delicious breakfasts and enjoy it on the verandah overlooking the Berg River.

Eddie, the farm manager for the two days that I was there, ensured my stay was a happy one, and it didn’t take much for him to twist my arm to join him for a cold beer on the verandah overlooking the Berg River.

Fish Eagle River Lodge has the friendliest ridgeback dog I’ve ever met. Ridgebacks can often be quite surly, but the one that is part of the furniture at this campsite is all about tail-wagging and love. The second smaller dog, that appeared on their doorstep as a pup and was taken in, is also very sweet.

FRUIT  & VEG, ART & MUSIC

The Riebeeck valley is literally bursting with fruit and vegetables. You’ll find the tastiest figs and grapes in January, February and March; pomegranates and olives in May; Clementines in June; oranges and nectarines in September and October; and plums, peaches, Waterblommetjies, butternut and squash in November and December.

You’ll also find many of these fruits and vegetables in the form of jams, chutneys, bottled olive products and preserves throughout the year in the valley.

There are two craft beer brewing companies in the small town of Riebeeck Kasteel – Garagista and Flagship – that offer some very tasty speciality ciders and unpasteurised beers.

There are numerous art galleries and the valley is teeming with painters, sculptors, metal workers and creatives plying their wonderful trades.

And let’s not forget all the musicians that abound in the Riebeeck Valley; I chatted to Mike Gordon-Turner, a pianist/keyboardist from the valley and he filled me in about the blossoming music scene that is a integral part of the glue that binds the many enduring aspects of the Riebeeck Valley.

RIEBEECK WEST

Further up the R46, just after the turnoff to Riebeeck Kasteel, is Meerhof Wine Farm, which apparently has the most amazing views from its vantage point high on the mountain. I was on my way there until I hit the stop and go roadworks which resulted in me turning around and heading back towards Riebeeck Kasteel. I’m no good at waiting, particularly at enforced traffic stops.

I also took a drive into Riebeeck West, which is literally a kilometer from Riebeeck Kasteel, to have a look around. It’s the birth place of Jan Smuts, and apart from a Pick n Pay and a few other shops and guest houses, there is not too much going on there. The picturesque Allesverloren Wine Farm and Pulpit Rock Wine Cellars are on the outskirts of either side of town.

GUESTS & GATECRASHERS

Come evening, I was “invited”, that means I gate-crashed, the renaming of the Riebeeck Valley Wine Company, and what a great event it was. A Caravan & Outdoor Life T-shirt and a camera will get you in almost anywhere.

All the locals turned out in their finest wear, with delicious snacks and live music to treat the guests.

This was where I managed to snap a picture of Pieter and Annalene du Toit, the owners of Kloovenberg, as well as Danie Malan the owner of Allesverloren.

After a wonderful evening mingling and chatting with the guests, it was back to Fish Eagle River Resort for my final night, before packing in the morning, saying my goodbyes and hitting the road for Cape Town.

The Riebeeck Valley has a leisurely way of weaving its vineyard lined vistas into your heart and as I drove home, I hoped that I’d be back soon to its picture perfect landscape. I wonder what house prices are like out that way?

For a full list of where Stuart stayed and visited, find this article in the June issue of Caravan & Outdoor Life Magazine.
By Stuart Reichardt

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