The Cape Winelands town of Tulbagh could well be the new Franschhoek (you heard it first here!) with Church Street, in particular, not missing a beat over the past two years. If you haven’t been in a while, now’s the time to pack the car and head out to experience it. This might be the only town in the Winelands with an earthquake museum and the oldest standing church in South Africa, but it’s piqued the interest of two couples who design restaurants, houses, hotels and glamping resorts for a living in Monaco, St Tropez, Northern California and New York.
Lars and Marie honed their skills developing luxury boutique hotels in the Mediterranean and represented the bespoke Princess Yachts in Scandinavia. Jamie and Joakim met in San Francisco before moving to Sonoma where they ran a Burning Man-inspired ranch with yurts, Airstreams and more. The four met at a design fair in Stockholm… and the backstory that explains just how and why they joined forces on the African continent to renovate and create this gloriously cocooning Tulbagh hideaway is worthy of a novel. Suffice to say, they know more than a thing or two about hospitality! Expect the softest linen and thoughtful touches that come with an innate understanding of what it takes to make people feel completely relaxed, calm and connected.
First impressions? Ballotina looked like a “sugar box” from the outside, but its architectural proportions are attributed to Thibault and Palladian proportions are his trademark. They’re certainly evident here – even in the town’s cemetery! Today, restored Burmese teak beams and a port-coloured hallway – where the light magically dances on the walls in the morning sunlight as it refracts through crystal chandeliers – make a striking first impression. The Georgian inspired Farrow & Ball paint, ‘Paean Black’, adds theatrical glamour here. ‘Victorians knew a thing or two about sequential theatre in their layout,’ they explain – having restored a few in their time – but took the concept further. ‘It’s the Japanese idea of compression and release that works here,’ says Jamie, as he describes the walk from the theatrical entrance to the double Cape Dutch doors leading to the garden. Here, birds call out to welcome you, the goats bleat and blue gums silhouette the hill beyond. A quintessentially South African landscape that stirs the soul. ‘It’s that iconic moment,’ says Joakim, ‘when you sit and look and listen, that stays with you forever. It’s simply the greatest luxury of all. When guests come here, we invite them to do nothing else!’
We’d second that… so you’ll need to stay longer if you’d like to get under the skin of this beautifully preserved village, where the roads end in no less than three mountain ranges (so high, they are capped in snow in winter), and the grapes of Krone’s outstanding vintage-only Méthode Cap Classiques are harvested by moonlight. Sip a glass of this heavenly bubbly around the boma in the garden with the warmth of a wood fire at your feet and you’ll step back in time, focus on the stars, and be ready for a blissful night’s sleep. Isn’t that what a country escape is all about?
What we love!
- Krone is a highlight, one of SA’s oldest wine farms and top MCC producer.
- Obiqua cafe at Duikersdrift farm, about 3kms out of town, has spectacular views and feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere.
- Rijks Wine Estate & Hotel, known for their pinotage, is doing superb lunches and dinners.
- Hotel Tulbagh, within walking distance, also does meals and tapas, and opposite, visit Kole en Deeg for freshly baked bread.
- The village sells plenty of artisanal foods, local olive oils, cheeses, chocolate, and the community garden next door does veggie boxes.
- Spa treatments at Vindoux, five minutes’ drive out of town on the road to Saronsburg and Krone.
What you need to know …
- There are two resident kitties in the garden at Ballotina.
- There’s air conditioning for hot summer days, and underfloor heating and a fireplace for winter.
- Pack your hiking boots as there’s a beautiful waterfall not far out of Tulbagh, or you can hike with Dirk Swanepoel on Oude Compagnie’s Post farm.
- Go horse riding or hire a bicycle at the hotel and explore mountain bike trails (enquire about the trails app).
- Made in Tulbagh (known as MIT) sells locally sourced craft and design – worth a visit.
- For long stays, there’s loads to do: Bosjes is a mere 30-minute drive away (known for its architecturally striking chapel and farm restaurants); Barthomeuslklip, on the way to Riebeeck Kasteel, does pre-booked game drives and dinners.
Reviewed by Holly Durcan