Situated in the heart of the Overberg farming region, Swellendam is a restful stopover for travellers exploring the Garden Route.
By Ingrid Casson
About two hours’ drive north-east of Cape Town on the N2, halfway to George, the Overberg opens up into a sea of golden wheat fields enveloped by the majestic Langeberg mountain range. It’s wheat, wool, canola and youngberry country, with vineyards fed by the Breede River. The region is a delight for adventurers, hikers and foodies, and the town of Swellendam makes for an ideal base from which to explore.
Schoone Oordt Country House
The place: Schoone Oordt Country House is an elegant Victorian mansion dating back to 1853. Its ornate architecture, fascinating history and sprawling grounds helped to make it a national monument in 1983. After years of chequered history and eccentric characters calling it home, Schoone Oordt was bought in 2003 by present owners, Richard and Alison Walker. With the mansion in a heavy state of disrepair, it was a mission of love for the couple, who spent nine years restoring the home to its former glory.
Its inception: Richard and Alison always dreamt of raising a family in the country. When they simultaneously discovered Schoone Oordt and that Alison was pregnant with their first child, they realised country life could become a reality. Richard tackled much of the renovations himself and sourced most of the beautiful antique furniture, which he carefully restored.
The rooms: Ten romantic suites feature elaborate antiques that add grandeur to the rooms. From the fixtures to furnishings, everything has been placed with extreme comfort in mind… extralength king-size beds with goose-down bedding, fireplaces, oversized showers and original ball and claw bathtubs.
The food: Chef Wander Bester and his sous chef, Obakeng Mhlolo, are doing inspiring things in the Schoone Oordt kitchen. It’s all about seasonal, local produce, like creamy regional goat’s cheese, veggies sourced from neighbours’ gardens and thick slabs of organic bacon… think buchu-smoked beetroot carpaccio, watercress salad and a Buffeljagsrivier goat’s cheese mousse, and free-range pork belly with a charcuterie jus (wholegrain mustard, pickled onions, gherkins, tomatoes, parsley) with pomme soufflé. Breakfast is always a highlight and a bit outside the box: buttermilk plaatkoekies, local youngberry compote and vanilla poached pear with coconut and pistachio filling, served with double thick yoghurt. These are partnered with homemade breads and pastries, with a pitcher of fresh fruit and veggie juice.
Bonus points: The cosy ambience is the result of team effort and passion between Alison, Richard, Wander and his wife Sonette, who helps run the property. They have a keen sense of community and readily offer suggestions on where to eat and what to do in this thriving country town. Call 028-514-1248 or visit www.schooneoordt.co.za
The Old Gaol on Church Square
Run by dynamic Judi Rebstein and her husband, Brin, the building once belonged to Judi’s great-grandfather, Jacobus Willem van Eeden, an esteemed farmer and Member of Parliament in the area. Today roosterkoek is king at this lovely eatery under the trees. If you get there early enough you can witness the pillowy loaves baking over glowing coals in the garden, after which they are stuffed with sweet or savoury goodies. Or get there for lunch and indulge in daily specials like waterblommetjie bredie, homemade pasta and Judi’s famous chicken pie. 8A Voortrek Street, Swellendam. Call 028-514-3847 or visit www.oldgaolrestaurant.co.za.
Wildebraam liqueurs and goodies
In 1998 Natalie Turck swapped city for country and relocated from Joburg to Swellendam, and she hasn’t looked back. Her Wildebraam Berry estate, which started off as a home industry specialising in berry liqueurs, has blossomed into a commercial operation. Today Natalie’s farm store brims with more than 120 different products, including 10 flavours of liqueur (choc chilli, fennel and the region speciality, youngberry), which can be enjoyed neat or topped with tonic or soda for a refreshing long drink. The chutneys, jams and relishes are made with ingredients sourced from the area and Natalie has created a range that goes particularly well with cheese, from sweet pepper jam and ripe fig to orange wheels. 22 Freesia Street, Swellendam. Call 028-514-3132 or visit www.wildebraam.co.za.
If you’re looking to stock up on gorgeous bathroom goodies, the Rain franchise was started by Swellendam local, Bev Missing. Her stores are now located worldwide and the pretty shop in town offers their nourishing handmade products comprising African ingredients like Kalahari melon, baobab oil and mafura butter. An adjoining room features pretty crockery and kitchenware from the trendy Mud Studio. 274 Voortrek Street, Swellendam. Call 028-514-1737 or visit www.rainafrica.com.