Attractions / Reviews and Visitors' Perspectives / Western Cape

McGregor weaves a spell over you, and all resistance crumbles

Updated Wednesday, 26 December 2018

McGregor is a wee village, tucked away in a valley at the foot of the Riviersonderend Mountains. It also happens to rest on a series of ley lines (spiritual earth energy connects here in a big way) that lend the village something the folk who live here term ‘magic’ (they usually shrug their shoulders and look all starry eyed as they say it, as if it’s all a little beyond them). A stay here, it seems, is incomplete without falling in love with the place, or certainly experiencing something other than the ordinary.

Spring in McGregor is something akin to gorgeous…

It has just rained as we drive through Gate A at Temenos, a retreat right in the heart of the town, and everything is in bloom including the resident peacock, who, when not honking and calling at the top of his spectacularly eerie voice is strutting his beautiful self, feathers and all, for all to see (well, the female peacocks specifically but we get the full treatment too).

As its name suggests, Temenos is not your average spa promised by those resorts offering ‘soothing time out’.

This is the real thing – from the wonderful gardens in which to emerse yourself, to the lovingly crafted little nooks and crannies, chapels, zen garden, inner well and other sacred spaces in which to meditate or simply ‘be’ –  this retreat is better described as an initiation into transformation, and not the kind that leaves you with a clean and healthy skin alone (although naturally this is a byproduct of a lot of sleep, rest, meditation and reflection without a five-year old in tow).

Photographs – Left: Twilight in the gardens at Temenos / Centre: The waterways at Temenos / Right: Temore at Temenos

McGregor is only 150 kilometres east of Cape Town, the other side of a series of mountains from Greyton (there is a hike that connects the two) and regarded as part of the Breede River municipality – one crosses the Breede River just before reaching the village. That and numerous vineyards, for McGregor is well known for its small but wonderful wine route.

The village is historical and often described as ‘lost in time’, although this is not quite true given today’s hustle and bustle and the obvious activity enjoyed by its residents. It does have one of the highest counts of historically relevant buildings, many of them former ‘nagmaal’ houses – farmers used to have weekend houses in villages so that they could attend church – most of which line the main road through the village, and many of which have been lovingly restored into shops, guest houses and homes. Aesthetically, as a result, it is more than a little charming.

It is also really close to the town of Robertson, and most of the locals shop at Robertson’s Pick n Pay, there being only a couple of local supermarkets in McGregor that supply but the bare essentials, and the health shop known as Jacob’s Larder on the main road where you can stock up on organic elements, particularly dry goods, beauty products and things like honey (make sure you leave enough time to have one of their smoothies). This health hub is also cleverly the local wi-fi station, and many  McGregor locals hang out here to catch up on email.

McGregor photographs
Photographs – The train, an example of Nagmaal House / The NG Church in McGregor

Perhaps the best part about McGregor is that the road passing through goes nowhere. Just 16 kilometres outside of town it peters out completely as if whoever designed it absentmindedly stumbled from the path and went on to other things. It was supposed to link McGregor to Greyton, and subsequently Cape Town. But this lack of connection serves to keep the town’s streets quiet and traffic free, despite their obvious width.

I spend a couple of days effortlessly merging with nature in Temenos‘ gardens, living like a hermit amidst doves, ducks, beautiful words (their library will keep you busy for weeks it is so well stocked and freely available to all, 24 hours a day, should you be a suffering insomniac), and time registered only by the monolithic NG Church – in the middle of McGregor and thus not far from the oasis that is Temenos – that strikes on the hour and half hour. But even this is soon coloured by the sanguineness of the sanctuary and no longer intrudes.

I do a walking meditation in the spiral garden that links five great spiritual traditions, honouring each with its own shrine, I sit by the side of the indoor well built on a natural spring and one of the sites of the twice daily silent meditations offered by the retreat, I read near the sculpture of Theresa of Avilla and pass by the Angel for Lost Children on my way to Temore, a really little (just space for two) six-sided domed sacred space that is an explosion of blue light and stained glass windows. The beauty of it all cannot help but envelop you in another sphere completely.

Temenos photographs
Photographs – Left: “honour the silence” at Temenos / The little chapel at Temenos

After a couple of days I slowly surface wondering how the village has managed to remain relatively devoid of the ‘second-home’ syndrome suffered by so many other similar little villages that leave them bereft except on weekends and holidays.

It is true, I discover, after chatting to Chris at the relatively newly opened Chas Everitt offices, that Capetonians and others have been buying, but not so much that the price of land is now off the radar screen and certainly not enough to dislodge the number of long-term residents, many of whom have relocated here but who love to remain in the village all week long. Just as well I left my cheque book at home, or we might already own a piece of land…

Sally, who is taking over at Jacob’s Larder, upon hearing that we are on the search for a salad (the only restaurant at which we can eat that evening serves just about only meat on the menu, including Kangaroo – most restaurants remain closed until Wednesday evening when things obviously begin warming up) returns to her vegetable patch to rustle up one of the most gorgeous green salads we’ve ever eaten, and hand-delivers it to us at Temenos on a little wooden tray, together with some rice and a dressing for the greens.

McGregor photographs
Photographs – Left: Jacobs Larder health shop / Right: Late afternoon in McGregor

I leave McGregor with my faith in neighbourliness and human nature firmly restored. With so much to look forward to, a second visit is most definitely on the cards.

McGregor Links:

What to do in McGregor

  • sip wine at at least 11 different estates on the McGregor wine route
  • visit Rhebokskraal Estate and olive groves – rumour has it you can pick your own
  • visit the McGregor Alternative Technology Centre (MAT) just down Church St
  • visit the gardens of Temenos – they allow visitors to stroll through
  • visit the Krans Nature Reserve or the Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve, between Robertson and McGregor
  • walk the Boesmanskloof Trail to Greyton