Pretty Citrusdal is hot. And it is the height of orange season, so the air is rent with the pungence of really sweet citrus flowers – no guesses about where the town’s name originated as it’s surrounded by citrus farms. The little country village is popular with Capetonians, who head out here at any time of the year for weekends not least because it lies right in the heart of the Cederberg Wilderness on the banks of the Olifants River, but also because it takes but a couple of hours to drive here.
Petrus Smith, who has taken on the Rasta name of Naphtal, which I think means ‘green’, wears his hair in an astounding hat. He is quiet, unassuming but eager to tell me about his studies in business that allowed him to take on his position during the holidays at the local tourism office …
He shakes his towering head when I ask him for a brochure about the local history of Citrusdal. Everything here is geared towards activities and where to stay. But he tells me about the Sandveldhuisie just up the road, and about the Old Village on Modderfontein farm, both of which sound worth a visit.
Back in the car, my better half and four-year old have been quietly sweltering whilst I’ve been swopping gossip with Naphtal. They’re a little anxious to get going so that they car can cool, understandably. And the Sandveldhuisie, right next to the town’s museum in Church Street, is just the ticket.
Photographs – Left: Sandveldhuisie / Right: Jolanda and her Mother’s going away dress
I chat to Jolanda, who tells me that despite looking as if it’s been here for centuries, the Sandveldhuisie is a rendition of old architecture of the valley and is built to look like the old houses originally here in the Sandveld – the area known best for growing potatoes, she assures me, dragging out a bag of potatoes from her kitchen to show me the Sandveld logo. She is also brewing some kind of tea and has just made toasted sandwiches for a couple of locals who already know where to pick up a good breakfast.
Jolanda hasn’t been running the Sandveldhuisie for long. The former manager now runs the Farmers’ Market that meets right outside the Sandveldhuisie every Saturday morning selling organic vegetables and other local farmers’ products. Jolanda, who has a very distinctive style of her own, has dressed up the shop’s interior with some wonderful décor – it will definitely appeal to visitors, filled as it is with a display of local crafts and foods, intermingled with her own collection of antique clothes (her mother’s going away dress hangs proudly near the cash register) and a few home-made roses and hats.
In the front room next door (it’s a long house, so every room is ‘next door’) there is a fire place, infront of which stand a couple of benches and tables, ideal for teas and breakfasts, and a black board advertising tea and ‘roosterbrood’. Num. There are other tables and chairs on the verandah outside, and Jolanda’s two chickens, who accompany her to work every day, are hiding under a bush outside. I buy a couple of roses to pin on my blouses – I’ve been looking for these for a while and I listen as Jolanda tells me how she loves creating things out of material. Indeed, the chair alongside is covered with the jacket of her mother’s dress. It looks amazing.
Photographs – Left: Restaurant and pub at The Old Village / Right: Inside the pub at The Old Village
Modderfontein farm is where the Old Village is located. It sits perched on the edge of town, its restaurant, pub and The Old Village guest houses now open for business. I happen upon Michael Stekhoven, the owner of the farm, chatting to Keith Blake who runs the restaurant, and make the unforgiveable social blunder of assuming they are brothers (well, they do look alike). ‘The only thing we have in common’, laughs Michael, ‘is our age’.
Michael acquired Modderfontein in 2001 and began work restoring the historical buildings of the farm, some of which have been here since 1757. The main farm house was badly damaged in a fire and the work has been painstaking. The farm has also been converted to organic growing and continues as a working farm producing citrus and rooibos. What was once the old post office and trading store – originally the main road used to pass through here – are now a country restaurant and gorgeous Victorian-style pub.
The restaurant’s chef is Nico Pretorius of Le Quartier Francais fame and his mains on the day we pass through include a wild mushroom and Gruyere cheese risotto, roasted duck leg with crushed potato, pear and almond, and a pan-fried angelfish with roasted fennel and pickled lemon. Dessert almost had me take a seat just to sample the dark chocolate mousse with poached navels and honey biscuit. There is also a kiddies’ menu available.
Photographs – Left: Restaurant on the main drag / Right: Graveyard at the old village
Four of the buildings on the beautiful farm are now luxury self-catering cottages but what really caught my attention was Marissa’s suggestion that I head down to the toilets as this used to be the mortuary on the farm. It’s cold down there, and some of the original wall still remains. There is also a ghost, Marissa who manages the restaurant, assures me, although she hasn’t seen it. Others have recounted a presence.
We stay out of town in a beautiful orchard filled with oranges. Boschkloof farm and De Oude Boord cottage are simply heavenly. Tessa the farm’s fox terrior, makes herself at home immediately. It is like she has always been a part of our family, and she accompanies us on a hike around the farm. Apart from a most unfortunate incident with a burst toilet pipe, our stay here is relaxed, peaceful and thoroughly enjoyable.
Wonderful how mastery of the Piekernierskloof Pass now allows us to enter the Olifants River Valley, to experience the town of Citrusdal. Without the pass we would be confined to remaining on this side of the Cederberg.
Photographs – Left: Boschkloof Farm Cottage / Right: Tourism Info Centre and Uitspan Coffee Shop