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A Charmed Life

Words and pictures: Marion Whitehead. Article from the October 2014 issue of Country Life Magazine.

In the Little Karoo dorp of Barrydale, the slow life ambles along, inspiring those who gravitate here for the friendliness and peace

Lamb chops on the hoof: older plots in the village are big enough to keep a few sheep, giving Barrydale an atmosphere of pastoral charm.

Ruth Goodman's giant pumpkin dwarfs the other produce at her weekly vegetable market. I made more friends here in my first three months than in thirty years in Cape Town,” says Ruth Goodman, who sells houses and runs a small weekly community veggie market called Ruth 62 opposite Barrydale’s Dutch Reformed Church. “Some of my best friends are 93,” she says with a grin, tucking a little something extra into an elderly customer’s basket. Her own veggie patch is proving so productive that the giant pumpkin she and partner Mike Saul grew took four men to carry in a sling. It’s attracting quite a bit of attention. “Is that thing real?” yells a passing motorist, pulling over to gawp.

Older plots in this village on the banks of the Huis River in a valley below the Langeberg mountains on Route 62 are big enough for growing a block of vines and olive trees, or keeping a few lamb chops on the hoof. Ruth and Mike’s two hanslammers (hand-raised lambs), Chop-Chop and Bling-Bling, are living a charmed life.

Kobus van Collerwas born in this stone barn, said to be the oldest building in Barrydale, founded on land his family once owned. Food artist Michelle Berry's Mez restaurant is a favourite with locals and visitors.

Artist extraordinaire Nigel Hewett's sculpture of a rhino will be completed with a covering of ferrous cement once it's found a home at a game lodge.Many weekenders escaping from Cape Town two-and-a-half hours away end up retiring here, but more young people are moving in – those who are looking for quality of life and can work via the internet. Crime is so low that the local bookshop doesn’t bother to move its sale books off the veranda at night. “I don’t know if it would be the same if they left DVDs out though,” remarks a resident.

Mark and Ruth are motorbikers who met on Route 62 outside Barrydale. “My bike was giving trouble and he stopped to help,” explains Ruth. The couple bought a fixer-upper and moved to Barrydale two years ago where they’re enjoying the relaxed pace of life that leaves time to chat and get to know your neighbours.

Life here is so chilled that some don’t bother to make the trek to the bright lights of Cape Town. “I last went there five years ago,” confesses Leon Riley, co-owner of the historic Tradouw Guesthouse. “It’s just got too busy and noisy for me in the city.”

The Barrydale Karoo Hotel plays host to road trippers on Route 62 looking for stylish comfort. Vineyards grow along the banks of the Huis River in the centre of Barrydale, where the tallest building is still the Dutch Reformed Church.

Then again, it’s not that Barrydale is without entertainment. The revamped Barrydale Karoo Hotel is known for its alternative music gigs and Piet Botha and the Lyzyrd Kyngs are regulars. On my weekend in the village, I strike it lucky with a Karoo cabaret: Petronel Baard fills the hotel bar with her big voice, the sequins on her Karoo sky-blue pants sparkling as she switches easily from love ballads by Shirley Bassey to her own interpretation of one of Antjie Krog’s poems set to music. But it’s when she sings the blues that she really hits her sassy stride and the audience yells for more.

Barrydale has a cosy spot in a valley atthe northern end of the Tradouw Pass

Eating and drinking is part of the slow life here – there are more restaurants per capita in this tiny town than probably any other Karoo dorp of comparable size. “Have you been to Mez?” every second person I meet asks. “Michelle’s a real food artist.”

So of course I have to try Michelle Berry’s little restaurant that she opened last October. It spills out onto a garden terrace with a lovely view of the craggy Langeberg mountains. It’s easy to while away a balmy evening under the stars, enjoying her excellent Mediterranean-themed cuisine.

Living the life of Riley: Leon Riley of Tradouw Guesthouse is so over the bright city lights that he hasn't bothered to make thetrekto Cape Town for five years.I bump into Michelle on her night-off, eating at Barrydale Karoo Hotel. New chef Derek Lowe offers alternative Karoo sushi: springbok carpaccio rolled in stywe pap and seaweed. After cheffing across the country, Derek has come full circle; born in the Overberg, his grandfather was one of the famous Barry tycoons who had a finger in every business pie in the district, to such an extent that Barrydale was named after their patriarch, Joseph Barry, when the village at the northern end of Tradouw Pass was founded in 1880.

‘Local farmer Petrus van Coller provided land for a town on condition a church was built’, writes Leslie Howard, author of Barrydale Unplugged: Discovering the Klein Karoo and a Remarkable Village. ‘Before that, young people wanting to get married had to hike Bruidegom’s Voetpad across the mountains to Swellendam’.

Barrydale Cellars’s top brandy is named after Joseph Barry. “It’s the best brandy in the world,” says A Place in Time owner Mike Loy, a staunch promoter of all things local. “And they have international awards to prove it.” In the tasting room at the cellar, I find this is no idle boast: the framed awards lining the walls include a gold from Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in 2010.

Winemaker Meyer Joubert and his wife Beate who runs the alfresco deli and restaurant at Joubert- Tradauw Vineyards & Cellar.Wine tasting is best done in relaxed fashion at Joubert-Tradauw, 11 kilometres west of the village on Route 62. It’s a pretty fruit and dairy farm where I stayed in a beautiful cottage in a pear orchard with a view of the Langeberg. Meyer Joubert went backpacking around the world after graduating from Elsenberg and ended up spending two years learning the secrets of handcrafted boutique wines in California’s Napa Valley. When he came home, the family stopped selling their grapes to the co-op and Meyer began producing a range of wines that were soon scooping awards.

I linger over a delicious lunch at their alfresco restaurant. Meyer has also been smart enough to hook a wife, Beate, who cooks so well she was a contestant on KykNET’s Kokkedoor this year. Beate uses much of the farm’s own fresh produce to conjure a medley of flavours and is writing a cook book that will be launched on the same lawns where she sometimes holds unplugged concerts featuring musicians such as Tony Cox.

Barrydale is a great magnet for creative types. “It’s the stillness here,” says artist and sculptor Nigel Hewett, “you can focus and get on with your art.” He teaches art classes in his big, airy gallery on a hillside above the town and takes pupils on art holidays, and teaches art to kids from the township. Now 70-something, he’s left false modesty behind and casually admits to being the best artist in the world.

Some of his former pupils have gone on to do well in their own right. Joan Peeters’s work now hangs beside her former teacher’s in the little MUD Gallery beside Route 62, along with other local arts and fine crafts.

Carol Morris is the driving force behind Barrydale Hand Weavers and MUD Gallery. Expert weaver Tivane Mavume helped start Barrydale Hand Weavers.MUD owner Carol Morris is the driving force behind Barrydale Hand Weavers, where expert craftsman Tivane Mavume has trained local women to make everything from rugs to cotton tablecloths on big hand looms. It’s a successful job creation project that now supplies retailers around the country.

And if you want to see why Michelle Obama bought light fittings from Barrydale for the White House, pop into Magpie Art Collective to see how they recycle old plastic and glass into eye-catching chandeliers with a difference.

Manager Kirsten Fugard shows off the retro decor at Diesel & Creme's bar.Barrydale also attracts plant lovers. “We’re at a junction point between Cape Fynbos, Succulent Karoo and Renosterveld biomes,” says botanist Flora Cameron. “There’s an incredible richness and diversity here, and some very special endemic species.”

Flora’s a member of Crew (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildfiowers) and hiking with her up the Barrydale Trail through hardy fynbos to a waterfall is an eye opener. I spot a beautiful yellow gladiolus mottled with maroon spots and in no time Flora has whipped out her GPS to plot its position. “There seem to be more of them this year,” she says excitedly.

Breakfasting at the top of the waterfall, we gaze down the valley at the town’s water supply dams just above the village. A pretty picture, and one that makes it easy to understand why this tranquil village is a favourite with those yearning to escape the city.

Barrydale info office 028 572 1572, email, website

Property

• There’s no doctor in town, so quite a few retired people who bought cheaply in the 1990s are now selling, to move to care homes in places like Swellendam, says former fruit farmer Barend Jones, who plans to do the same.

• Expect to pay around R470 000 if you’re lucky enough to score one of the large old plots of 3 000 m².  Ruth Saul of Dormehl Property Group has just sold a three-bedroom house for R650 000, which was considered a good deal.

• Johan van Eeden of Seeff says smallholdings are rare finds; an 11-hectare olive farm with its own press is going for R5.2 million as the owner is retiring. Big farms in the area seldom come on the market as they are passed on to the next generation.

Where to Eat

• New kid on the block at the western end is Diesel & Crème, an American-style diner specialising in waffles and milkshakes. 028 572 1008

• The Country Pumpkin is an old favourite, with bikers chowing Sunday roast on the deck.

028 572 1019

•  A Place in Time rustles up a good springbok potjie as well as wood-fired pizzas. 028 572 1393

• Tapas at The Jam Tarts is popular and of course you have to try one of their sweet or savoury tarts. 028 572 1173

• At Clarke of the Karoo Mike Clarke is the undisputed king of chefs on this strip, and you’ll find quality food, including his signature dish of Karoo lamb curry. 028 572 1017

• Mez on Riebeek Street is a must for its delicious seasonal Mediterranean-style dishes.

082 077 5980

• Barrydale Karoo Hotel‘s inventive chef always has something quirky to tempt even jaded palates. 028 572 1226

• Out of town, Joubert-Tradauw‘s al fresco restaurant 028 572 1619 is a fine spot for whiling away a lazy afternoon.

 Where to Stay

• Map of BarrydaleLentelus farmstay offers B&B just 11 km from Barrydale on Route 62 towards Montagu. The cottage in a pear orchard offers touches of luxury, while an annex to the house is more budget-friendly. Book dinner as Meyer Joubert’s mother, Helena, is a superb cook and loves entertaining.

028 572 1636, email, website

• Tradouw Guesthouse is famous for its friendly hospitality and the tiny bar filled with memorabilia is a jolly gathering place.

 

028 572 1434, email, website

• Barrydale Karoo Hotel has recently been refurbished by new owners and is a stylish take on a country inn.  The garden suite is a great romantic spoil for special occasions.

028 572 1226, emailwebsite

• Garden cottages: author Leslie Howard offers a neat self-catering option, 028 572 1596. Artist Nigel Hewett has a simple, homely unit with a starry outdoor shower. 071 111 1757

Where to Play

It's best to get an early start when hiking through the fynbos to the Barrydale waterfall orthe heat will catch you.Barrydale hike to the waterfall and back is about five hours; going over the Langeberg to Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve is a more strenuous trek and you need a permit from CapeNature and leave a vehicle that side.

028 722 2412, website

• Botanical walks with plant fundi Flora Cameron. 082 853 6452

• Brandy tasting at Barrydale Cellars. 028 572 1012

• Wine tasting at Joubert-Tradauw Vineyards & Cellar. 028 572 1619, website

• Scenic drive: Tradouw Pass’s rocky contortions and wild river are awe-inspiring.

• Visit Barrydale Hand Weavers (028 572 1488) at their workshop, MUD Gallery (028 572 1950) and Inkaroo (028 572 1094) for hand-crafted jewellery. Pop into Magpie Art Collective (028 572 1997) to see recycling at its best. 

More info on the town of Barrydale More info on the Klein Karoo area

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