Never quite so happy as when in Greyton
There are a couple of things you don’t realise at first about Greyton by viewing it on a map. One is that the quaint town is at the end of a road, it is not a thoroughfare (so no trundling trucks at midnight), and the other is that it is undeniably one of the most beautiful towns in the Western Cape. I say this unreservedly.
Greyton is a quaint little English-style village just beyond the mission town of Genadendal, on the east side of the Theewaterskloof dam, and on the other side of the Riviersonderend mountain range from McGregor. Actually, there is a hike you can do through the beautiful range of mountains from one village to the other, but considering that on this occasion the mountain peaks were tipped with snow, we decided to give it a miss (to be honest, hiking across great swathes of mountain has never been my strong point and, considering that the Boesmanskloof Trail is often done as a there-and-back hike, I was smiling prettily!).
I was, instead, perfectly content to curl up alongside a roaring fire with a book, whilst my other half and our ever-enthusiastic four-year old (where do they get that energy!) got to build taller and ever more challenging towers out of wooden blocks around me. And just as well pretty Blossom Cottage, nestled perfectly on Ds Botha Street next door to the Vanilla Café and across from the Oak and Vigne Café, was well kitted out for the cold, as we had a fire going for most of the three days we were in town.
Photographs – Left: Vanilla Café / Right: Abbey Rose
But it did not rain for long, and despite the cold we were soon exploring out of doors up and down the oak lined garden filled streets of Greyton. Before long I was ambling from store to store, shopping bag over shoulder, intent on drinking in the ‘this could be your life’ feel of village living. I liked how it felt. I could do this. I began nudging my nose against the glass of estate agencies. But the prices of houses is another story.
On speaking to villagers, it becomes apparent that Greyton has long been ‘discovered’. My instant love affair with the historic village is regrettably not the first. People have been buying up second homes here for at least the last decade. And the consequence is that pokey little two-bedroom cottages now go for a cool R2.5 million! (really, the only spot I could find for just under R1 million was a one-bedroom can’t-swing-a-cat number. I was staggered).
My daydream ever-so-slightly shattered, I had to content myself instead with chatting to the villagers, who also feel slightly infringed upon by the escalating prices. They won’t actually say it outright, as obviously it is their bread and butter who swan in and out of the village every weekend, but there definitely exists an ‘us and them’ flavour to the atmosphere here between those who have lived here for a time, and those who just visit.
Photographs – Left: Restored cottage on Vigne Lane / Right: Snow on the mountains
It does nothing to detract from the beauty of the village. Greyton is an experience. The pace is slow, people greet you whatever the weather, donkey carts clatter along the main road alongside people exercising their horses, leiwater channels conduct water from one quaint cottage to another, and quality restaurants, coffee shops, art galleries, a bakery and the odd charity shop all nestle together to form the heart of the village.
Greyton’s initial existence was agricultural – people built little Cape Vernacular style cottages (no sign of Cape Dutch architecture here) and on the rest of their long and narrow erven, planted their own vegetables and fruit. The reason for the establishment of the town isn’t apparent, but Herbert Vigne was the man responsible for its existence, and his great grandchildren still live in the village today.
The little cottages were initially humble dwellings – not much more than three-roomed rectangles with gables and pitched roofs. Roofs were originally thatched and later covered with corrugated iron. Many had lofts that one could access via an external ladder. Drive down Vigne Lane and you’ll see evidence of some of the original cottages, still very much intact, or certainly recognisable, despite restoration and additions in some way or another.
Photographs – Left: Greyton on The River / Right: Morovian Church
The last 100 or so years of history is interesting. Reading between the lines, the town was a very healthy mix of coloured and white Afrikaans speaking folk. The apartheid politics of the 1970s forced the coloured residents from the town and into the township Heuwelkroon that stands just outside of town. They sold their cottages on to an influx of white out-of-towners. Over the last 25 years or so it has evolved into a holiday and retirement retreat with mostly wealthy city people, foreigners, and those on retirement buying up property here, extending and renovating the cottages, and turning Greyton into an enviable country lifestyle town.
And there is very little evidence of development here. You would have to get past the aesthetics committee – responsible for maintaining the predominance of white washed, single-storey, thatch or tin-roofed dwellings – first, even if some of them are out of context and scale. Plots are carefully sold, and there is little alternative style building here – most of it maintains the cottage look and feel, which makes it all the more desirable.
Photographs – Left: Bicycle Hire / Centre: Side street scene / Right: Oak and Vigne Café from Orange Blosson window
Hence the village is incredibly popular during summer. People flock here from Cape Town as it’s so close, for weddings, out door living, peace, sanctity and a few days of restored sanity. It helps that the little explored nature reserve, on the edge of town, is the third biggest reserve in the Western Cape, and that Von Geusau’s chocolate factory sits on the town’s outskirts. There is plenty to do, and plenty to love about the town.
Must do’s when in Greyton:
- do the historic village walk to acquaint yourself with the buildings and streets
- visit the Greyton Saturday morning market – it’s on for only about 2 hours from 10am, and a fabulous feast of locally produced cheese, cakes, pudding, pies, breads, pestos, jams, bottled fruit, pancakes and other delicacies
- stock up on Von Geusau chocolate – you’ll find an outlet in the Oak and Vigne Café (staying just over the way from this village haunt was not good for my hips!)
- if in Greyton with kids, stop off at the only child-friendly restaurant in town – Vanilla Café in Ds Botha Street
- stock up on bread at Wollie’s – stone ground flour, no additivies, no preservatives
- hire a bicycle or two at Greyton’s Bikes and explore the village and surrounds
- destress and pamper yourself at High Hopes Healing Energy Centre
- eat at any number of excellent restaurants – The Post House, Peccadillos, the Oak and Vigne Café, Abbey Rose
- pick up cheese and delicacies at Via’s Deli
- eat home-made, traditional icecream available at the Oak and Vigne Café
- picnic at the picnic spot, just off Vlei Street, opposite Regent Street
- explore the Ghobos River along Vlei Street
- drive the gravel road to Riviersonderend
- pick up a Greyton pamphlet at the local info and do one of many walks