Fifty years ago the earth moved, literally, for people in the small South African farming towns of Ceres and Tulbagh. The earthquake shattered families and their homes. With the input of architects who came from the area, Tulbagh’s Church street was rebuilt as a showpiece of what life in a pristinely kept street might look like. Today, mostly used as accommodation, restaurants and art galleries, Church street remains that picture-perfect location, locked in time.
Ask Jayson Augustyn-Clark about it. He wrote an Architectural Master’s degree dissertation on the subject, The Restoration of Tulbagh as a Cultural Signifier.
The surrounding Saronsberg mountains amplify the climate so, on a warm day, Tulbagh invites you to spend long afternoons outdoors and at the pool and, in winter, with snow on the mountains, it offers the promise of being warm and cosy. The white-washed buildings in the Cape Victorian/vernacular and Cape-Dutch style with its telltale roof gable, act as a highlighter for the colourful gardens that spillover from the front porches or “stoeps” as they are known in Afrikaans. Eye-popping red bougainvillaea, purple lavender and the softest pink roses abound. Fertility continues, albeit in a more formal way, in the Tulbagh Kitchen Garden, also in Church street. Here, in this community project, organic fruits and vegetables are grown for the benefit of the community. There is a peace garden too. Jayson Augustyn-Clark is the force behind these and many other improvements in the road that highlight the village’s cultural roots.
Cape Dutch Quarters is a management business that provides a wide range of accommodations in historic Tulbagh. There is the Manor House, where we spent the night, in a luxurious suite with a four-poster bed festooned with a mosquito net, but there are others too that offer self-catering accommodations. The Cape Dutch Quarters offices, in a former bank building, facing the main road, are connected to the adjacent Church street by a leafy courtyard with shaded areas in which to relax. There is an outside fire-place and BBQ area and a little pool with loungers. There are five buildings in the road, all former homes, that are now available to rent and even an old farmhouse, about seven miles out of town.
Self-confessed magpie when it comes to collecting, Augustyn-Clark shows off his vast collection of blue and white Spode and cabinets of collectable silver. The two cannons that sit on the porch outside the Manor House are heirlooms that date back to the earliest VOC period when the Dutch first colonised the Cape.
Not everything is historic mind you. Although the exterior of Makers Mark looks like the rest of Church street’s buildings, interior spaces are contemporary and a shocking freshness compared to most of the other interiors. The offering – coffee, snacks, art, and artisan fashion and ceramics – is smart.
In a historic road, it makes sense to find a restaurant offering historic cuisine. Padagang, directly opposite from the Manor House at Cape Dutch Quarters, has an illustrious pedigree and we were impressed with their traditional Cape-cuisine offering. Consider a sampler plate of items for a mini culinary tour. A few paces down the road is Church street’s much-loved Readers Restaurant and Curious Cats Gifts. Chef Patron Carol Collins has been wowing locals and visitors alike since 1997.
While everything, including the famous Church and the earthquake museum, are easily accessed on foot, a five-minute car journey brings you to acclaimed wine and olive estates. The fine wine of Saronsberg Estate aside, simply visit to view their enviable art collection. Oakhurst Olives, also nearby, offers an olive tasting from fruit to oil and everything in between. A short distance away, for walkers, there is an easily reached waterfall which offers the opportunity to explore the fynbos floral kingdom and rare Renosterveld, endemic to the area.
Use your time in Tulbagh, less than 90-minutes by road from Cape Town International Airport to explore the Ceres valley, a further half-an-hour away, famed for its apple, pear and cherry farms and the Matroosberg, one of the few areas in the Western Cape to regularly receive snow.
You will be hard-pressed to find a region that provides such comfort and elegance at equally affordable prices. Ask Augustyn-Clark, a registered tour guide, to help you plan your itinerary to make the most of the area. Or, if you are celebrating, his husband, Marcel is an acclaimed floral and events designer. Do also consider other properties included in The Fine Collection, a marketing business with a range of charming options around the Western Cape and beyond.
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From about £63 per suite a night.