(An SA Blog Beta Post from Your Correspondent)
The hamlet of Tulbagh offers perhaps the best motoring weekend away from Cape Town. It has peace for the world-weary; adventure for the energetic; fantastic dining for gastronomes; the best value-for-money wines in the Western Cape; and (of signal interest to BootsnAll readers) its own home-grown boot factory. You simply can’t go wrong, visiting Tulbagh, as SA Blog will demonstrate over the next several days.
The area can be quite hot in summer and quite cold in winter, so check the week’s weather forecast when booking.
Part 1/6: Getting There
The town’s name rhymes with Bach, as in J.S. It’s situated in the heart of the Swartland, one of SA’s main wheat-growing regions, about 2 hours’ drive from Cape Town.
Many roads lead to Tulbagh, but they all could be better marked. The word “Tulbagh” only begins to appear on signs once you’re near Ceres, Wolseley, Hermon or Malmesbury, so aim for these towns first.
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Leaving Cape Town, you have two options:
(1) The N1 to Wellington, which in turn offers the R44 to Hermon, or alternately the R303 to Wolseley and Ceres, the latter traversing one of the most beautiful mountain passes in SA, Bain’s Kloof – budget an extra hour for the convoluted Bain’s Kloof road, two if you pack a picnic.
(2) My favourite route, the N7 to Malmesbury, which leads to the R46 and Riebeek-Kasteel, thence to the R44 and Hermon, and thence to Tulbagh, over the extremely tame Nuwekloof Pass.
Heading out on the N7, look for the prominent “Please No Hooting – Ostriches Getting Laid!” sign just beyond the city limits, which has been pleading for quiet for feathered friends for years. You’re on the right track.
The N7 leads to Malmesbury, a major wheat-milling and beer-brewing center in the Swartland. Take either of the two exits into the town, and look for signs pointing to the R46, Riebeek West and Riebeek-Kasteel. Proceed on the R46 to the latter, and stop for lunch.
Riebeek-Kasteel is a lovely village with several cafes on its main square (the suitably-named Cafe Oppie Square is representative – and a favorite); it’s also home to Allesverloren, one of the Cape’s top wine estates, whose Shiraz is perpetually wowing judges. Allesverloren is an essential post-prandial tasting destination.
History buffs with time on their hands can then travel on to Riebeek West, and thence to Ongegund, Jan Smuts’ birthplace. But there’s history on the road to Tulbagh, too, so don’t feel too bad if you “forget completely” to visit the old General’s memorial.
Follow signs to Hermon; at Hermon, turn left/north on to the R44, which leads directly to Tulbagh. About 6kms later, look out on your left for one of the country’s best-preserved blockhouses, a rectangular structure sitting rather forlornly between the road and the railroad tracks. Blockhouses used to dot the Cape landscape: they were built by the British as garrisons during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1901), and protected major supply routes. Your Correspondent feels a certain tenderness toward these old, mute, neglected relics from another time.
Pulling yourself together after this emotional moment, continue to tear down the R44 to the Nuwekloof Pass, which rises all of about 100 meters over a few kms, and then down into the Tulbagh valley. The mountains on the valley’s other side are the Groot Winterhoekberge, and the town is nestled directly below them.