Why I’m telling no-one about McGregor
It isn’t easy to find somewhere to stay on a farm that is remote but still close enough to a small town to provide light entertainment when needed and supplies when necessary. I spent quite a bit of time on the internet before I found our little gem on a farm just outside Robertson and McGregor (bonus as we got two quaint towns for the price of one!).
The unbelievably beautiful valley that holds Robertson, McGregor, Ashton, Bonnievale and Montagu in its embrace has something magical about it. And if you don’t believe me, visit it yourself and you’ll understand what I mean. The secret is to take the time to stop in the towns, as we did in Robertson and McGregor, so that the charm of each can find its way into the corners of your mind. Because it won’t be anything tangible or something you ‘discover'; the magic is simply there for the taking, you have but to imbibe …
It happened that my choice of hideaway lived up to all expectations but had one major drawback. Robertson in summer is VERY warm (read: bladdy hot) and a couple of days where even the vaguest breeze refused to make its presence known necessitated a hasty retreat to somewhere cooler. In this way we got to know both of the little villages, but McGregor in particular.
There are over 40 wineries in the greater Robertson / Bonnievale part of the Breede River Valley. This is the part of the world where the Wacky Wine Weekend attracts thousands of visitors, and encounters with wine estates are one of the more pleasant outings in the valley. Robertson is a good old-fashioned country town. Some of the houses here have been restored to their former glory and chain stores like Pick n Pay and Spar have taken up premises. Capetonians have second homes here, whilst others having chosen to retire here – it isn’t difficult to see why.
But it was McGregor that really stole our hearts during our stay in the valley. The brochures describe the town as a jewel, and ‘the best preserved and most complete example of mid-nineteenth century townscape in the Cape Province’. But whilst this description does indeed capture the landscape of the town, it doesn’t explain the charm and almost other-worldliness of the village.
McGregor’s main road is lined with traditional, whitewashed and thatched cottages. The streets are quiet, the town is small, the mountains surround the town, and time seems to stand still.
Perhaps it is that McGregor lies on ley lines and is recognised as a sacred site because of the high level of natural energy they bring to the town that it feels like a natural place for creativity and healing. Artists, potters, craftsmen, healers and plenty of other characters have made the little town their home, and Temenos retreat and wellness centre is based here.
A drive along the main street is enough to have you oohing and aahing. A number of the houses here are cob and strawbale, thanks to the influence of local Jill Hogan who runs McGregor Alternative Technology, an advocate of alternative energy, permaculture and sustainable building, and gardens are half-wild whilst water trickles past in old stone irrigation channels.
We were content to drive around whilst the air conditioning in the car kept us cool, but after a while exploring the town’s side streets, a number of which peter out into sand roads, we decided that a pit stop was in order and pulled again into the main road to explore our options. We ended up at Villagers farm stall and restaurant. They have a selection of the surrounding area’s arts and crafts and stock all of Rhebokskraal’s products.
In fact, after some chatting with the lady at the till, we discovered that the shop was actually run by Rhebokskraal, the olive estate. Not only was the olive tapenade one of the best we’d ever tasted, but the olives are farmed organically. Their oliva secca (dried olives) is close to heaven, and the seating area down the side of the restaurant/shop under a series of grapevines, a welcome respite from the heat of the day. If you manage the trip, make sure you sample their olive chocolates, a combination of salty dried olives and sweet dark chocolate! Hmmm
After a couple of hours spent sipping tea and ginger beer under the vines, we wondered across to Deli Girls Bistro. A strawbale house this used to be a series of stables and is brimming over with breads, cheeses, smoked salmon, home-made produce and even frozen meals, so if you’re self-catering whilst staying here, you don’t need to go far to find your meals.
The only thing McGregor seems to lack is access to fresh vegetables and fruit, but there is a weekly farmers’ market in Robertson or stop off at the Affie Plaas Farm Stall just before Robertson. There are also a number of people in town with their own vegetable gardens who might be persuaded to part with the odd salad or beetroot.
The grounds of Temenos are simply beautiful. As its name suggests, these grounds are dedicated as a sanctuary or holy precinct, isolated from everyday living space. While it is marketed as a ‘country retreat’, the exquisite gardens and sacred spaces create something serene and almost sanctified – in many ways Temenos feels something like the grounds of a monastery, although there are no rules or religious agendas here there are regular silent retreats.
Hard to believe that in 1997 these gardens were fields of fynbos and scrub. Now Temenos takes up a number of blocks of McGregor and is well worth a stop. To walk through their gardens is something they allow freely, and you won’t be sorry you took the time!
McGregor lies at the foot of the Riviersonderend mountains, roughly 20 kilometres from Robertson and about two and a half hours from Cape Town. The road through McGregor runs through the village and then comes to a stop. It was never completed and is commonly known as the ‘road to nowhere’.