Working its charm

Riebeek Kasteel, West Coast

Nestled at the foot of the 946-metre high Kasteelberg, Riebeek-Kasteel is one of the oldest villages in South Africa. Countless alternative lifestylers, artists and writers have succumbed to its lure and many city folk yearn to live their dream in this beautiful valley.

Known for its wheat, olives, table grapes and Shiraz wines, the town’s name is a mix of Jan van Riebeeck and the majestic Kasteelberg, a solitary rock of Table Mountain sandstone. It came about when, in 1661, Commander Van Riebeeck ordered a discovery expedition under Pieter Cruythoff. On 3 February the group ascended a grand mountain from where they witnessed the lush splendour of the valley below.

The team reported spotting rhino, hartebeest, lions and ‘horses’, but the latter were probably quagga, which became extinct in 1883. However, thanks to DNA technology, nearby Bartholomeus Klip today has a breeding programme with 30 quagga.

Two centuries later, both Jan Smuts and Daniel Malan were born on the outskirts of the valley, both becoming South African prime ministers. The town was laid out in 1900 around the existing church and the neighbouring Royal Hotel, the oldest hotel in the country.

Framed by olive groves, vineyards and wheat fields, a vibrant community of 4 761 souls call the village home and the place bustles with guest houses, bistros, studios, restaurants and interesting shops. Blue cranes in the wheat fields are a common sight. On the village square, the Red Ox Monument, erected in 1938, stands proudly in honour of the brave oxen of the Great Trek.

There’s no doubt: Riebeek-Kasteel will captivate even the most jaded traveller.