5 Things to do in Hopefield, on the Cape West Coast

I’d never been to Hopefield, until my latest house- and pet-sitting gig landed in my inbox. It’s one of those small West Coast havens in the heart of Fynbos country, where people flock to, come Spring, to see the land covered in wildflowers.

wildflowers western cape

In Spring, parts of the Cape West Coast are covered in a multi-coloured blanket of wildflowers that draw scores of snap-happy tourists.

Granted, it’s autumn, so no flowers. And the severe drought we’re having has dried up the river that runs through the town. Still, I had nine days to slow into the Hopefield pace of life, on a plot on a dirt road just outside town. Keeping me company were two dogs, a kitten (!), and shelves and shelves of books. (One of the homeowner couple is also a freelance writer.)

The house had no alarm, and the gates to the property are left open (both rare in South Africa). I worked with the doors open, looking at views of horses and alpacas. Amid all the farm murder and land grab discourse circulating the land, it was a privilege to be in open space, sans high walls, noisy city neighbours, and Cape Town’s howling southeaster. I made a retreat of it by reading very little online, turning off the radio, watching the sunset each evening on the veranda, and walking the property under the night sky.

zoute river hopefield

The oddly soothing view of the dry Zoute River from the main house overlooking horses, alpacas and sheep.

The owners, who rent out a cottage to creatives needing somewhere quiet to work, are great people. We spent an evening drinking wine and chatting under the stars, as they filled me in on the house, pets, and local amenities.

succulents

cottage kitchen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unsurprisingly, the town boasts a Pep store and (more surprising) a basic Spar − which the owners jokingly call “Sparse”. (True, it’s not fancy pants. But the staff are super friendly, and it does stock things you might not see in a city Spar, like a section for wool, and Jigsimur – that vile-tasting but effective aloe drink helping many a tannie’s ailments.)

Other than that, it’s mostly churches (and a newish Internet café where I could do printing and scanning, etc.). Hopefield was started as a church community in the 1800s, and it still boasts a ridiculous amount of churches for the size of the population – including the iconic Dutch Reformed Church built in 1879, where you can still hear the antique Foster & Andrews organ installed in 1911 being played during Sunday services.

Dutch Reformed Church Hopefield

The NG Kerk on Hopefield’s Church Street.

On my first trip to the Spar, I was thinking: This really is a one-horse town, when a man came by trotting on a horse in the middle of “the high street” (Voortrekker Road). So it’s more a one-horse, one-man town 🙂 And therein lies its appeal. Hopefield looks like a Karoo dorpie, but it’s just a 1.5 hours’ drive from the Mother City. You may literally see a chicken cross the road, like I did, and have to let sleeping dogs lie where they are, in the middle of the road in the middle of the day. Another indication on the smallness of the place is that the police station is on Stasie [station] street; the main church is on Kerk [church] street. So you’re not likely to get lost 🙂

Here are five other ways to while away the (slowed-down) time on your visit…

Bees and propolis products

Inside the sweet-smelling Simply Bee shop of affordable natural products.

1 SIMPLY BEE

The morning I left for Hopefield, I’d been admiring the new Simply Bee range of solid perfumes at a health shop in the city, not knowing that the beauty brand is based in Hopefield. The beekeeping family behind Simply Bee are passionate about bees, which is evident when you visit their observation centre, on Church Street. There’s a hive behind glass, and other educational material for tour groups or individuals to browse and observe. Fascinating stuff, and the friendly staff are right there to answer any of your bee-related questions as you watch the activity of the hive. They also stock products for beekeeping, which is becoming increasingly popular as a hobby in the Cape. Next door, there’s the rather pretty Simply Bee shop, packed with their honey, propolis and beeswax products.

farmer market hopefield

Fresh finds — yummo!

2 THE SATURDAY MARKET

Every Saturday, locals catch up at The Mill Country Fair Market, organised by the Merry Widow guesthouse, also on Church Street. It’s a farmer’s market, so you can get fresh produce, yummy breads, homemade condiments and the like. I went with a small shopping bag, but when I saw the wares, I immediately grabbed one of the huge baskets they have for you to fill – which I did in about 15 minutes. The food is seriously good, and seriously cheap. One of the recent locals in town later told me that’s one of the reasons she’s loving her move to the country. Local food is affordable, and she watches a lot of it grow right next to where she lives. I bought biltong, organic meat, a quince, figs, cheese, pesto, wild mushrooms, sweet mustard and more… (the mini milk tarts and mince jaffle griddle toasties are divine, BTW).

Langebaan kitesurfing lagoon

The dreamy, desolate beauty of Langebaan Lagoon.

3 LANGEBAAN

The place where many learn to kitesurf is a 20-minute drive away, so off I went for a day of beach reading and kitesurf watching. The area has seen a lot of development since I was last there, thanks to the influx of kitesurfers, but the beach was still pretty quiet on the weekday I went. I found a seashell shop, called Neptune’s Cave, the likes of which I haven’t seen since childhood, which made my heart happy. And looking at the blue of the seascapes there made me completely get the West Coast’s particular appeal. I had mussels and a glass of vino at the beachfront bar this time, but would recommend going to Die Strandloper, if you’re after a serious seafood feast nearby.

dollhouse miniature

This grand little design beckons you in…

4 THE DOLLHOUSE SHOP

On my way out of town, I spotted a dollhouse outside shop next to Moose, another gift-shop-come-café popular with locals. What a find! Inside, there are haberdashery and craft items, alongside a row of dollhouse ‘box rooms’, including a garage, a fabric shop, a grocery store, and a medieval-style chamber, complete with four-poster bed. The book The Miniaturist, by Jessie Burton, came to mind. I asked the owner/dollhouse-maker if she’d read it. (She had.) And she told me about the Mouse Mansion.

“Do you have daughters and granddaughters,” I asked.

“I do,” she replied. “But dollhouses and miniatures aren’t for children. They’re for adults.”

I tend to agree 🙂

tart tapas

5 T’ART

The homeowners were glad to have found someone who takes pet-sitting seriously, but they didn’t want me getting cabin fever, so they reminded me about the new local tapas spot (yes, you can even get tapas in small towns these days). T’Art is situated overlooking the river, at the town’s small theatre, Monte Christo. It’s currently only open on Wednesday and Friday evenings, and it’s BYO until they get their liquor licence. So take a good bottle and select titbits from the blackboard options, while the resident cat entertains you with his antics on the Moroccan-tiled stoep. I had octopus with potatoes, a veg phyllo pastry one, and the most delicious mini burgers I’ve ever eaten – seriously juicy! The chef, Werner, trained as a pastry chef, so if you like sweet things (I don’t), I’m told they’re to die for. (His pretty creations are also on sale at the Saturday market).

Hopefully, I’ll be back in Hopefield in Spring for the wildflowers and annual flower show, and to visit the fossil museum, and have a beer at Die Plaasmol.

EXTRAS:

  • If you’re interested in staying in the cottage of the property I looked after, check out the listing, here.
  • Read more on the architecture of Hopefield (and get a pear pavlova recipe!), here.
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Asparagus in August: From farm, to market, to plate

After two years of loving cultivation, and a lot of hard-won lessons, my friend Gabriello Carnazza, a Swiss-Italian former designer now farming in South Africa, sold a batch of asparagus from his first harvest at the Oranjezicht City Farm market for the very first time this weekend.

Asparagus at market

Giove cultivar asparagus, going for R50 a bunch at the OZCF Market Day. All sold out, and we clinked glasses after to celebrate.

Like a lot of urbanites, Gabriello had dreamt of living a simpler life, closer to the land. He researched locations and set his sights on the Western Cape, on the tip of Africa – not realising he was actually continuing an old family story. His Sicilian grandfather had once farmed citrus in Africa, in Ethiopia, after working as an engineer on the roads there.

“When I told my father, ‘I am going to buy a farm in Africa,’ he said, ‘Not another one,’” says Gabriello, who hopes to make a success where others before him did not.

Initially, Gabriello had planned on getting a job in his field, set design. And that’s the back story of how our paths crossed. He was interviewed by my close friend Leon, now Gabriello’s partner. When the employment plan didn’t work out (paperwork issues I think), Gabriello fast-tracked his farming dream.

He chose the farm he decided on, named Kliphuis and located in Wolseley, because it was one of the few farms that boasted a beautiful garden around the farmhouse. Wolseley itself is a small town between Tulbagh (part of the Cape Winelands, recently identified as a property hot spot for out-of-towners) and Ceres (the ‘Eden of the Cape’ named after the Roman goddess of agriculture). And asparagus? Well, most of those on shelf in SA are imported, yet the soil and climate in the region is ideal for growing asparagus locally.

Sunset farm

Gabriello’s image of sunset on the farm, asparagus in foreground.

Driving into the Tulbagh Basin from Cape Town (just under two hours’ drive away) is a euphoric experience. The basin, which was inhabited by indigenous Bushmen and Koi peoples for hundreds of years before the Dutch and Huguenot settlers arrived, is surrounded by mountains on three sides. Whenever I dip into it after the Nuwekloof Pass, I swear I can hear Julie Andrews sing, “The hills are alive with the sound of muuusiccccccccccc”.

I love that I get to visit the farm. Since Gabriello has an urban sensibility and has pretty much taught himself to farm, he eagerly shares details on plants, growing, harvesting and forming a relationship with the farming community (he’s known as “The Italian” in the village).

Gabriello has successfully continued harvesting pears from the 14 000-odd established pear trees in the orchard. He has planted about 1 200 olive trees. And then, his 18 000 beloved asparagus plants (pronounced “aspara-goose” in his Italian accent).

Since the first yield was relatively small (compared with what’s expected in coming years), he has sold his first harvest of asparagus to local establishments and those in the city, including the Madame Zingara chain and Chefs Warehouse and Canteen.

Beyond the farming, Gabriello has bigger tourism and transformation plans for the farm, including possibly renovating cottages so visitors can come to pick olives and press their own olive oil at the Waverley Hills Organic Wine Estate nearby. He is also using Solms-Delta wine farm, in Franschhoek, as a model for developing projects that ensure his workers will derive a more sustainable economic benefit from the farm, too.

I visited Kliphuis earlier this month, for the national Women’s Day long weekend. Here are a couple pictures.

To read more on Gabriello and the process of harvesting asparagus, see the profile OZCF did on him here.

To join the Kliphuis Facebook page, click here.

Kliphuis sign

The entrance to the farmhouse.

Couple in field

Leon and Gabriello, with Kalahari melon (citrullus lanatus) gourds on ground on the right.

olives

The olive orchards.

asparagus soup

Gabriello’s asparagus in a soup at Mama Cucina Italian Restaurant in Riebeek Kasteel.