As a frequent visitor to the Garden Route and a Cape Town resident, spending a night in Swellendam has never crossed my mind, especially since it’s only a mere two hour’s drive from the Mother City. By that time, I’m usually not thirsty, bored or tired yet. But this time was different. What started as a routine blog trip to just another small Western Cape town, turned into a surprisingly wonderful weekend filled with interesting characters, beautiful architecture and amazing food and wine. Never have I experienced such true hospitality like I did here in Swellendam.

Being a very new initiative, the Swellendam Winter School  invited us to this quaint little town ─ a simple gesture that marked the beginning of three days of learning, exploring and appreciation.

By the time we rolled into town, most of Swellendam’s inhabitants were in their pajamas already. We headed off to Barrel and Blues for a drink and a bite to eat, and planned the rest of our trip huddled in front of the fireplace and listening to the locals having a merry time. This pub and grill, decorated with wall paintings of Johnny cash and Piet Botha, offers gin on tap, woodfired pizzas and live music performances on the first Friday after the 25th of every month. Musicians like Valiant Swart, Mel Botes and Saartjie have all performed here. The vibe is best described by the owner, Gerald: ‘Everyone from 18 to 80 years old chill here!’

Our first morning in Swellendam was Rain(y), but in a good way! We treated ourselves to a wonderful massage uniquely inspired and curated by experts in a toasty 28°C room with African sounds enhancing the relaxing atmosphere. We then proceeded to buy half of the shop’s stock! The mastermind behind Rain, Bev Missing, teaches a soap-making course as part of the Winter School where participants can try their hand at it and take some of the soap home afterwards. About 25 years ago, Bev got soap recipes from a lady in Texas and taught herself the art of soap making. Today, Rain has 32 shops all over the world, with the biggest branch in New York and the one in Swellendam being the flagship store. They are fair trade accredited and ensure job creation by employing, amongst others, the Venda women to harvest baobab and the Kalahari melon for their products.

After working up quite an appetite, I joined Meraai for a crash course in bread baking. She presents the full course as part of the Winter School. Meraai learned the art of making artisan bread in France. I was surprised to learn that real sourdough bread is quite healthy compared to other bread, seeing as it eases the digestion of gluten. She also notes that unsalted butter is the best thing to eat with freshly baked bread and that if you truly have a passion for something, you can turn it into a sustainable, healthy and satisfying job. She got up at 02:00 the next morning to bake fresh loaves for her stall at the Saturday Under The Oaks Market. We could barely get a photo as the people were queuing even before she and her business partner, Yvette, arrived!

Our final afternoon in Swellendam was made memorable by none other than the magnificent pottery masters, David Schlapobersky and his wife, Felicity Potter. They moved to Swellendam 23 years ago and David started doing pottery at the age of nineteen. They now have a studio and, apart from presenting his two courses at the Winter School, they also host weekly classes and present pottery courses paired with lunch in their beautiful garden. Some of their unique work include manufacturing ceramic wine casks used for ageing wine. It is shipped all over the world, but are also locally used at the Sijn Wine Farm in Malgas. He also built his own kiln (oven) using ceramic fibre, like they use on space ships!

We also visited the Sulina’s Faerie Sanctuary and this whimsical place is perfect to entertain both your inner child and your whole family! It’s absolutely stunning and a lot of effort is put in to creating this fairy tale world.

In between our meetings and introductions, we also had the chance to enjoy some coffee at Café Sofietjie, taste some of Wildebraam’s liqueur and see how bees make honey at the Bee & Honey Shop. Our trip was topped off by a delectable dinner at the Drostdy Restaurant where you can find traditional South African dishes with a french flair. 

We had jam-packed days, but we were fortunate enough to return to the sublime Moolmanshof & Stables every night for a good night’s rest! Moolmanshof is absolutely drenched in history and there are rumours that it is the oldest standing house in Swellendam. The owner, Lizette’s, hospitality and her scrumptious breakfasts gave us the energy to enjoy our weekend renegades to the fullest.

David, the potter, mentioned that moving to Swellendam has created a “beautiful perchance existence” for them. I can now say that our trip to Swellendam was indeed a beautiful perchance experience!

For more information on the courses mentioned in this blog or to browse through any of the other wonderful courses, you can visit the Swellendam Winter School’s website

Main image: Adriëtte Le Roux