The history of Riebeek Kasteel and the wider Riebeek Valley in the Swartland goes back a long way, as stone-age tools and KhoiSan art found in the mountains around it show. But today it’s a much-loved weekend getaway for Capetonians. Here’s my pick of things to do in Riebeek Kasteel and the Riebeek Valley.
1. Visit the wine farms
You can also do an olive tasting at Kloovenburg or book a picnic from Kringe Inni Bos next door to the tasting centre. Collect your food and drink from a kiosk and park off at one of the picnic pods under the trees. There’s a playground for kids too.
Kloovenburg Pastorie, originally the pastorie for the Dutch Reformed church (see point 10), also provides Riebeek Kasteel accommodation.
At Pulpit Rock at the foot of the Kasteelberg the young woman dealing with us just told us which wine she’d poured, then left us to ourselves. I missed a bit of chat about the wines, their growing conditions and their flavours. She later confessed she was fairly new, so perhaps by the time you visit things will be better. They have three ranges, the budget Stories collection, the Brink Family Vineyards range, and the Louisa collection that includes an MCC, a red blend and a fortified dessert wine.
If you’re in the mood for more wine, try Allesverloren, the oldest wine farm in the Riebeek Valley. It’s best known for reds – including cultivars like shiraz, touriga nacional and tinta barocca – and for its port. Or perhaps Meerhof, which has one of the finest views from a hilltop looking down into the valley. You’ll find a range of whites, reds and rosé to taste. They also make a dessert wine called Mooistrooi with pineapple and citrus flavours. Each of these estates also has a restaurant. Marras Wines has recently opened a new tasting centre in Riebeek West where you can also get burgers, pizzas, steaks and salads. Mullineux & Leeu Wines do tastings on the first Friday of the month for those who book ahead.
2. Taste craft beer
3. Taste olives and olive oils
My favourite olive tasting in Riebeek Kasteel has to be at Het Vlock Casteel in Kerk Street, in a villa with hint of Tuscany about it and great views from the upper courtyard. They have the widest range of olives and olive oil products I’ve ever seen. The informed olive tasting includes 10-12 products, both green and black olives, as well as dried olives, smoked olives, olives with flavours of balsamic, fig, pomegranate, chilli or lemon. There’s a host of other products in the shop, including olive relish, olive chutney, olive oil soap, and more. They produce various single cultivar extra virgin olive oils (think mission, frantoio, leccino and coratina) and a blend that is their flagship. Het Vlock Casteel is also a popular wedding venue.
Or visit the Olive Boutique opposite to discover delicious bottled olives from a much smaller producer. My favourite kalamatas were in blueberry dressing, or with rosemary and garlic. You can try a range of different olive oils, from light/delicate (much loved by South Africans and Australians) to coratina intense, which is the choice of serious tasters in the Mediterranean. There’s also a range of olive oil bodycare products.
Kloovenburg (see point 1) and Goedgedacht (see point 17) also produce olives.
4. Visit Jan Smuts’ birthplace
5. Hike the Kasteelberg
6. Sit on the longest stoep south of the Limpopo
7. Enjoy the Short Street precinct
8. Admire a greenhouse and nursery
9. Wander the streets
10. Visit a museum in a church
11. Eat at Riebeek Kasteel restaurants
There’s a number of restaurants in Riebeek Kasteel and the Riebeek Valley worth a stop. When we first visited Beans About Coffee in Fontein Street, Riebeek Kasteel, the roastery was in a room next door. But things have grown since then and the roastery has moved offsite. You can still enjoy a good cuppa using freshly ground beans from around the world. They do breakfasts, toasties and light lunches like quiches and burgers too. Their chicken mayo toastie on seed bread was super filling and I washed it down with an iced coffee with condensed milk – great on a meltingly hot day. There are mid-morning pick-me-ups in the form of carrot cake and cheesecake too.
The Barn on Kerk Street in Riebeek Kasteel is where the coffee roastery is now (it’s owned by the same folks as Beans about Coffee). The best thing here is to sit outside and enjoy the view out over Riebeek Kasteel and to the mountains lying blue along the horizon. We enjoyed a lunch of slow-roasted lamb neck which was good, although the mash was served cold. I’m sure they would have rectified that, but we were too hungry to wait. Other menu items include steaks, burgers and salads.
Stop at Eight Feet Village, part of the Kloovenburg empire, even just for a cup of coffee while you enjoy the sweeping views over the valley from the Bothmaskloof Pass. The restaurant menu also offers salads, burgers, steaks, chicken and fish.
There’s a bunch of other eateries in the valley – look for names like La Parilla, Aardvark Eats, Bay Leaf & Thyme, Eve’s Eatery, The Red Tin Roof and Old Dalby.
12. Get arty
13. Support First Fridays
First Fridays are held in Riebeek Kasteel from 17:00 to 20:00 on the first Friday of the month. Lots of people get involved, with shops and restaurants offering specials and discounts. A lucky packet of tastings, performances and exhibitions may be part of the event too. If you’re in town on the first Friday of the month, you’ll love hanging out with the locals.
14. Go shopping
15. Visit the Riebeek Valley Village Market
A village market takes place in the village square in Riebeek Kasteel on the first Saturday morning of the month. Visit to find handmade arts and crafts, farm-fresh produce and homemade foods at a variety of outdoor stalls. Browse the art, plants and décor items while enjoying the friendly, happy vibe. There’s plenty to eat at the market or take away for later.
16. Go for a game drive
A devastating fire in the nature reserve in 2012 killed about 300 geometric tortoises, one of the world’s rarest reptiles. An exclusion plot was set up for the survivors, electrified to protect them from crows, feral pigs and baboons. Hatchlings are monitored in a separate camp. ‘They’re about the size of a R5 coin when they’re born,’ said the guide. The survival rate here is about 20 a year so it is taking a long time to replace the 300 lost in the fire.’ They’re fully grown at about 6-7 years and live to about 30.
Your guide will point out plants as well as animals. The nature reserve consists of fynbos and renosterveld and has ten red data plant species, four of them endemics. It was declared a natural heritage site in 1988.
17. Support a community development trust
Visit the farm to buy Goedgedacht olive oil (you can also find it at Woolies and Pick n Pay), walk in the the Olive Peace Grove, enjoy tea in a tree, or stay over in the accommodation. It’s popular for weddings and retreats.
18. Stay at Riebeek Kasteel accommodation
Best time to visit Riebeek Kasteel & the Riebeek Valley
The climate in the valley is similar to the northern coast of the Mediterranean, but summers (October to March) are definitely hotter than Cape Town to the south, high 20s and into the 30s being quite common, low 40s not unknown. Luckily, it’s less humid than Cape Town, making the higher temperatures more bearable. Winter nights can get down to about 6 or 7 degrees Celsius. Most of the rain falls in winter, with some 60% of it between May and August.
Because of how near to Cape Town the valley is, there’s a very different feel when Capetonian weekenders flood the valley. It’s also a popular wedding venue, so Riebeek Kasteel gets especially busy then. If you prefer a more laidback vibe where it’s just you and the locals, try to visit during the week when it’s calmer but be aware that some shops and restaurants may be closed. Also, keep your eye on the timing of festivals like the Olive Festival (May) and Art Festival (September) when you’re choosing your time to visit; these will be busier and you’ll need to book your accommodation far in advance to have a wider choice.
Where to find it
Riebeek Kasteel lies about 95km north-east of Cape Town via the N7 and R46. Riebeek West is only another 6km further north.
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