There’s a reason Riebeek Kasteel is the most talked about of the Riebeek Valley’s trio of tiny towns. Sure, on the surface it seems like just another wine and olive stop in the Western Cape, but there’s a spirit of revolution here that awakens the senses and opens the heart.
A sense of history
Riebeek Kasteel numbers among South Africa’s oldest towns, and you can explore its Voortrekker past at De Oude Kerk. Built in 1856, this impressive old church is now home to the Valley Museum. Or, if it’s too lovely to be indoors, simply pass by the red ox in the town square – this solemn bovine was erected in 1938 to commemorate The Great Trek.
The town’s history dates long before that however. Both RK and the valley were named for Commander Van Riebeeck of the Cape, who commissioned an expedition into the interior that led to the settlement here. You’ll find a VOC (Dutch East India Company) cannon in the town square too, a tribute to the village’s founding fathers.
Your first port of call upon arriving in the afternoon should be the Royal, Riebeek Kasteel’s grande dame of a hotel established in the early 20th century. A gin and tonic here is a non-negotiable, and you’ll find your chilled glass bursting with fresh lemon, lime, cucumber, strawberries, pomegranate seeds and granadilla syrup. The wide verandah with its potted palms and lazily-circling fans is just the spot to transition from city bustle to the slower pace of life observed here.
Sip and swirl
If it’s wine tasting you’re after, you’re pretty well placed too. The Riebeek Valley is home to the Swartland Independent, a collective of winemakers who are revolutionising the area’s wine industry. And by revolutionising, I mean going back to the beginning.
Their focus is to produce wines that are a true expression of their origin, with natural production methods and minimal intervention in the cellar. In order for a bottle to bear the coveted SI brand, it needs to fulfill a few requirements, mainly that the grapes are grown, vinified, matured and bottled right here in the Swartland, and that no supplements, tannins or chemical processes are used. Cheers to that!
Call well ahead to arrange a visit and tasting at the farms of Eben Sadie (Sequillo), Hein and Adi Badenhorst (AA Badenhorst Family Wines) and Callie Louw (Porseleinberg), three of the original Swartland revolutionaries and all characters in their own right.
Where to eat
If you’ve heard of RK, you’ve heard about Bar Bar Black Sheep in Short Street. It’s had punters making the 90-minute pilgrimage inland for years, tempting them with the likes of kudu carpaccio, viskoekies, goat stew in Jamaican curry and the Bar Bar lamb burger.
Speaking of lamb, you also need to get yourself to Mama Cucina for the best pizza in the Swartland. The Carne Al Mama with pulled lamb, baby spinach, local feta and minted yoghurt is a winner, though you can’t really go wrong here no matter what you choose. The pizzas are pretty sizeable too, so order a few for the table to share.
Small town meandering
Activity in Riebeek Kasteel is mostly concentrated in three or so blocks around the town square. Here you’ll find boutiques, vintage treasure troves, handmade chocolate, natural soap, biltong and other delights.
There’s also the Wine Kollective, with local bottles at cellar-door prices, and you can’t miss the Olive Boutique, where a selection from this valley’s other notable industry is available for tasting.
Photography Jade Taylor Cooke, Riebeek Valley Tourism