Although Robert Frost would not agree, they say good fences make good neighbours. And if that’s true you’ll want to be on extremely good terms with your fellow weekend escape artists when staying on Vredendal farm.
Because the low-key boltholes that make up Keisie Cottages like to rub shoulders with one another. These three converted farm cottages are the sorts of place where you can lean out the kitchen window and (almost) borrow a cup of sugar from the neighbours. Perhaps not ideal if you’re looking for privacy, but perfect for road-tripping groups of friends and family.
Happily – despite three kids under the age of one – our merry party of six (or nine, if you count the ankle-biters) were more than good neighbours. Rather close friends who’d been through good times and bad, and the farm’s quaint cottages where the ideal spot to kick back and catch up.
Conversation flowed, braai fires were lit and lazy days passed in a haze of relaxation: for Vredendal is a place that’s positively soporific in its splendid out-of-the-wayness.
The farm’s name may translate as ‘peace in the valley’, and peaceful it certainly is, but it could just as easily be called ‘Sloth’… or perhaps ‘Lethargy’. Or even ‘Glorious Idleness’, for the real attraction of this Klein Karoo hideaway is doing a large amount of not much at all.
That said, the historic winelands town of Montagu is a short drive away. There’s an old museum where Paul Kruger slept after a long day in the saddle, and a quaint weekend market, and a coffee shop or two.
Or, if you stay put, there are walks across the farm and up into fynbos, and a dam to fish in, and gooseberry fields to explore. But really, what’s the rush?
IF YOU GO…
Where it is: Between the N1 and the historic winelands town of Montagu, in the gorgeous Koo valley.
Why go there: Turn up (with a boot-load of good wine and braai meat), turn off (those cellphones) and drop out (for the weekend). This is the kind of place where you roll out of bed and onto the porch, only breaking your day of inactivity for a dip in the pool. A sunset walk into the hills is permissible if you need to work up a thirst for that first G&T, or an appetite for local lamb chops on the braai.
What it's like: A laid-back escape that’s far enough off the Route 62 tourist trail so you’re justified in doing not much at all, yet close enough to go exploring if the mood takes you.
About the only thing in a hurry on this farm is the resident sheepdog Aqua. The farm welcomes well-behaved pooches on the farm, but if you don’t have your own Aqua is happy to be adopted for the weekend.
About the only downside is the R318 winding up Burger’s Pass, which is just a touch too close for comfort. But at this price you can’t be too picky.
What it offers: Three quaint cottages set right alongside each other, on the edge of a small vineyard. Two cottages sleep two in one bedroom, while the third sleeps four in two rooms. Each cottage is well equipped with the usual necessities, and owner Toni van Hoey Smith is only too happy to assist with extra microwaves or kitchen goodies as required.
A concrete reservoir has been converted into a fantastic swimming pool, where kids (OK, we did it too) can while away the hours making whirlpools. The pool is also where Aqua (get the name?) keeps her favourite stick.
And the food: Self-catering all the way, with well-equipped braai areas to help you make the most of the balmy summer nights.
To supplement your supplies, ask Toni what fresh goodies she has for sale: the farm produces gooseberries, apricots, quinces and pecan nuts. The ever-energetic Toni also cooks up her own range of (mostly organic) jams and preserves. The farm’s free-range chickens chip in with fresh eggs.
Rates: Cottages from R400/R600 per night (sleeping 2/4), making this one of the most affordable weekend getaways in the Cape. Dogs cost R50 per dog per stay… and need to bring their own bedding.
Getting there: Fifty-five kilometers north of Worcester, turn off the N1 onto the R318. Follow this scenic road (leave time to take it slowly) for 50 kilometers, until it descends the Burger’s Pass. Two kilometers from the bottom of the pass, turn right onto the marked gravel road to Keisie Cottages.
Contact: Visit www.keisiecottages.co.za, or call 023 614 2336.
First published in the Sunday Times Travel