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Gorgeous Greyton …offers a good life

Text: Petra Vandecasteele. Pictures: Petra Vandecasteele and Mick Kock. Article from the September 2013 issue of Country Life Magazine.

We bought a plot!” announces Willow Constantine enthusiastically as she and Fred von Heyer, both from Hout Bay, arrive rather late for our Sunday lunch in the village. “It’s absolutely perfect!” I know exactly what type of cottage we’re going to build on it.”

A peaceful Greyton street scene

I smile. I see it all the time, first-time visitors to Greyton falling head over heels in love with the laid-back ambience and enchanting setting in the Overberg. It happened to me, a few years back…

The Greyton Transition core team outside Pure Cafe, the project's shop and info centre. From left to right: Bradley Taylor, Nicola Vernon, Marshall Rinquest, Sunnye Collins, Nadia Groenewald and Candice Mostert.There’s a genuine hospitality among the cosmopolitan characters here, a fascinating mix of inventors, painters, writers, conservationists, filmmakers, photographers, sculptors, musicians, winemakers, astronomers, chefs, business people and world travellers. You name it. And all have an incurable love for the good things in life, and for sharing it with others. Socialising is also key, and the locals are a friendly, chatty bunch. Add to that the mountains, lush scenery, beautiful houses, good food, good wine and good shopping, and it’s easy to become hooked.

About 90 minutes’ drive from Cape Town, this village in the Overberg is steeped in history. In 1854 it was founded by Herbert Vigne, who had emigrated from England, and named it after Sir George Grey, then Governor of the Cape.

Greyton Central Pub is a favourite haunt.Over the years, the village has managed to preserve its old-world atmosphere, and escape the impact of urban development that many a village has undergone during the last few decades.

More than 150 years ago, Vigne had sold many erven to purchasers from across the Cape and this was followed by an irrigation scheme of leiwater channels that still supply water to the village. Today the cottages once built in the rural Cape vernacular are superbly preserved, all with a stoep close to the street to encourage neighbourliness, and to leave a large portion of the erf at the rear for growing onions, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, beetroot, carrots, pomegranates, apricots, pears and the like.

A common sight in this neck of the woods. Today, the Greyton Aesthetics Advisory Committee (GAAC) is the watchdog that preserves this architectural integrity. Anyone wanting to build or renovate in the village has to submit plans to the municipality which, in turn, sends a copy of the application to the GAAC for comment. Building guidelines can be obtained from the committee.

As a result, Greytonians are able to embrace having stoeps near the street, and the pleasure of living among people all looking out for each other. And at the back of the house there is that long, narrow land so ideal for veggie growing, something most residents here are passionate about. Whoever has surplus can sell or exchange their produce at the Incredible Edible Table in front of Via’s Deli on any Wednesday – another good excuse for locals to socialise and spend their freshly earned rands on a lekker cappuccino.

Alex Camilleri, owner of Greyton Organics, with his magnificent home-grown artichokes.But growing your own food is just the start in Greyton. Becoming independent of fossil fuels, and working towards living in a self-sufficient and self-sustaining village is high on the agenda. It’s a worldwide initiative called The Transition Movement, founded in the UK a few years ago but followed at present by more than 3 000 towns and villages across the globe. In Greyton, a dynamic group of individuals, with Nicola Vernon – a.k.a The Transition Town Lady – the driving force.

At the moment a structure is being set up to connect local food suppliers with restaurants, shops and residents who want to buy fresh, locally grown, organic produce, and the Incredible Edible Table is the springboard of the project. Nicola is known to be relentless and no project is too big or too small. The village has its own recycling system and even the municipal dump has undergone a major facelift. You’d have to know it’s a dump to recognise it. And there’s much more to come.

Local Coenie Visser welcomes back ex- Greytonians Sugne Verwey and Divan Venter.Certainly the village is no sleepy hollow. Many residents run highly successful businesses in Johannesburg and Cape Town from their Greyton homes and have found the magic formula to get the best of both worlds. Then there are the exciting annual events that bring in busloads of visitors, with local Coenie Visser – often called ‘the most handsome man’ in the village – regarded as the key behind the most successful events. Coenie is the much-loved owner of the Oak & Vigne Cafe, and is also a top entertainment consultant in the Western Cape. Thanks to his connections in the music arena, each year’s Greyton Genadendal Classics for All Festival at the end of May is guaranteed to be one of the top classical music festivals in the country, bringing some of South Africa’s greatest talent to a tiny country village.

Perhaps Greytons greatest appeal is the quality of life it offers – it’s tucked away but at the forefront, offering excellent restaurants and superb art, decor and gift shops in a quiet but exquisite area of the countryside

Owner Elsabie Meyer at the Blue Door Country Bistro.Because of its preservation as a village, it’s easier to sense the history. You can feel the wagons and carts turning at the Post House and the farmers and villagers offloading their produce at the depot, which is now Catherine Paynter’s gallery. From here, their goods would be collected and sent to the Cape Town markets. A little further away, the children would walk to the Oak & Vigne Cafe, now the social hub of mountain biking enthusiasts, which used to be the school. Next door, Vanilla Cafe was once the wagon-maker’s workshop. The many shaded lanes and pretty gardens with quaint cottages each have their own history, such as 22 Oak Street, where old Mr Coxson used to repair shoes at his workbench in front of the upstairs window.

Perhaps Greyton’s greatest appeal is the quality of life it offers – it’s tucked away but at the forefront, offering excellent restaurants and superb art, decor and gift shops in a quiet but exquisite area of the countryside. But the star on the tree must surely be when villagers gather with friends at the ‘local’ or on their stoep to share a glass, chat to passers-by riding their horse or walking their dog, and toast the good life.

10 + 1 Must-dos in Greyton

1. Stock up at the Saturday morning market. 

Open from 10h00-12h00, it offers fresh local produce, home-cooked delicacies, handcrafted arts and crafts, aromatic body lotions and more. By buying at the market you support the Greyton Conservation Society, which preserves Greyton’s natural and cultural heritage,

Painter Adele Fouche at work.2. Meet resident artists. Enjoy an aperitif with artist Catherine Paynter (072 286 2511). On Saturdays from 12h00, friends and art lovers get together at Catherine’s eye-catching studio and gallery to socialise and share some wine and G&I Be amazed by Ruth Brunskill’s (079 184 3605) sculptures of the human form, visit David Kuijers’s (082 705 1521) funky art gallery, join artist Adele Fouche (082 522 4010) on a workshop and discover your inner artist. Pop in at Galleria Gibello and enjoy Caroline Gibello’s (072 143 4503) awe-inspiring ‘Out of Africa’ photography.

3. Enjoy Gretha Quinlan’s (082 780 8914) exquisite handmade, scented candles at her delightful Studio and Candle Shop.

4. Browse to your heart’s desire at The Inside Story 028 254 9827 a country homeware and decor institution in the village. Owners Carol Gibbs and Michelle Halloway continually source an eclectic mix of anything old and new, from fabulous handmade bath soaps to cotton throws from India, scarves and shawls in jewel-bright colours and special pieces of previously-loved furniture.

5. Visit the Genadendal Handweavers workshop in Main Road. See the ladies at work and have a look at their gorgeous colourful baskets and rugs. 082 433 3540

6. Enjoy a mountain bike ride and wine tasting at Lismore Estate Vineyards. It’s a combination of spectacular scenery and excellent wine. 083 235 9612

Richard von Geusau conjures up chocolate.7. Indulge in decadent handmade chocolates. Have one with your coffee at the Oak & Vigne Cafe (028 254 9037) and visit the Von Geusau Chocolate Factory. You will not easily forget the delicious fragrances there. 028 254 9100

8. Have a sundowner with live music. Greyton Lodge (028 254 9800) usually has a local band playing on Fridays from 17h00, Searle’sTrading Post (028 254 9550) on weekends.

The Oak & Vigne Cafe (028 254 9037) regularly hosts musicians on weekends.

Free, safe parking for a much-used form of transport in the village. Not much beats sundowners and tapas on the Post House Country Hotel veranda.9. Explore the countryside. Put on your hiking shoes and visit the Greyton Nature Reserve (028 254 9597) or join the local birding club walk (083 252 1183) on the last Sunday of every month. Or get on your mountain bike and join the locals every Saturday and Sunday morning to check out trails off the beaten track around Greyton.

Novices and experts welcome. 082 852 4366

10. Pop in at Searie’sTrading Post (028 254 9550) to see Norma Muscroft’s delightful dolls house. The figures, furniture and decor are created with great attention to detail and give a wonderful glimpse into a bygone era.

11. Visit Genadendal and its beautiful Moravian mission, 5km from Greyton. Genadendal Tourism Bureau. 028 251 8291

Handy Contacts
  • Mountain bikers revel in the surrounding countryside.Greyton Tourism
  • For information on MTB trails and for maps and permits or www. Greyton Aesthetics Advisory Committee 028 254 9253
Where to eat
  • Abbey Rose Great South African dishes such as oxtail and kudu pie. Tuesday pizza nights. 028 254 9470
  • Post House Country House Revel in the village atmosphere and enjoy sundowners and tapas on the veranda. 028 254 9995 Via’s Bistro and Deli Serves yummy health juices and a wondrous daily lunch buffet. 028 254 9190
  • Peccadillos/The Wink Excellent springbok and beef fillet, and the very best duck in town. 028 254 9066
  • Driefontein Farm Restaurant Delicious (and huge) Sunday buffet lunch (only some Sundays, but worth the wait). 028 214 1914
Greyton Rose Fair

Fresh pancakes are a must at the marketAs usual it promises a feast of fabulous roses in a spectacular setting, and the many local gardens on show are in walking distance from each other. The Saturday morning market has 100 stalls on this weekend.

26-27 October

Where to stay
  • Oewerzicht Cosy, self-catering farm cottages and comfy tented camps on the riverbank, 10 minutes’ drive from the village. 028 254 9831
  • TheTreehouse Delightful self-catering treehouse near the market in the heart of the village. 084 764 6012
  • High Hopes B&B and retreat Tranquillity at its best in a lovely lush garden with pond and swimming pool. 028 254 9898
  • The Oaks B&B and self-catering cottages A beautifully restored farm with spectacular mountain views 10 minutes’ drive from the village. 028 254 9710

Article from the September 2013 issue of Country Life Magazine.

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