Road Trip through Ceres.
First published in Road Trip Magazine. April 2018. Click here to see the original.
Although a 1950-something Renault 4 CV was the first family runaround, it was only until the 1973 arrival of Valerie that my father had a car he was so proud of he liked to leave it in the driveway for all to see. Valerie was a red Chrysler Valiant Rebel with bucket seats so wide it was hardly possible to reach across from the driver’s seat to open the passenger door. She also become my first car when I started to drive and her appalling petrol consumption was only compensated by being able to carry six in comfort.
Now I drive a Mini One and the only thing Minime has in common with Valerie is fabulous, head-pushed-back-against-the-seat torque.
In the days of the Kimberly mining rush, the main road from Cape Town north went via Ceres and in recent years this largely farming area has experienced a tourist revival.
Neighbouring Tulbagh rose to international prominence as the epicentre of the 1969, 6.3 magnitude earthquake. As a two-year old I don’t remember it but my mother and sister oft remarked at the beds that bounced around at the then renowned Belmont Hotel, in Ceres, while we were visiting. The earth literally moved for many in the area.
Many families too head to Ceres during winter as one of the few Western Cape locations to have frequent snow and The Matroosberg Private mountain nature reserve is always popular with snow seekers. Similarly, come November and December, people head to Klondyke Cherry Farm to pick cherries and picnic under the oaks.
For thrill seekers, Ceres hosts the annual October Tru-Cape Eselfontein Mountain Bike Festival with some of the most challenging single track downhill. Ceres Zip Slide Tours, eight slides, 1.4 kilometres in total which range from the short and fast 100m dash to 290m, is a must-do and is recommended above many other Zipline adventures because of the mechanical breaking system which is much easier to use than slowing oneself using the glove. Tours leave every hour and in all weather as all equipment and rain jackets are provided. Some Zipline tours also involve much uphill walking but there are just a few stepped climbs which even unfit people could manage. Other than the thrill of the speed the views over the Koekedouw Dam and surrounding mountains are spectacular. Interacting with the friendly but professional staff is a pleasure.
Right next door is a country coffee shop and eatery, Deja Brew, that delivers just what you’d expect from a charming place in the country. Warm-hearted service and generous portions and excellent coffee. Decorated with old farm implements, mismatched cups and saucers and a pantry selection of preserved fruits and chutneys, the savoury-mince omelette is an excellent breakfast offering as is their hand-made burger.
As a valley Ceres is special as it provides for a number of different climatic zones. Some areas are green and lush while others, in the Tankwa Karoo, for example, almost desert like.
Our first night on the foothills of the Mostertshoek Mountain between Wolseley and Ceres, was in fabulous self-catering cabins at Big Sky Cottages overlooking the owner’s Buchu farm. Although graded three stars, these self-catering semi-detached units offer every comfort with the added benefit of a well stocked honesty bar from which to buy wood and fire starters and quality local products like olive oil, snack bars, dried fruits and nuts and, usefully, a toothbrush. There is free wifi throughout and a limited selection of tv channels. The owners have small antelope which can sometimes be seen while driving up the mountain to the cabin but wild small antelope and porcupines are also reported on the mountains.
For bird lovers, it is a perfect location and for friends travelling together the semi-detached accommodations can be shared via a balcony door. A number of good eateries are nearby: The Harvest Table Bistro at the Winterberg Inn is renowned and owned and operated by an entrepreneurial couple who had former careers in the media and now count the Inn, Harvest Table, The Toll House Bistro and Capish! among their projects.
If you need to be nearer to the centre of Ceres, the 20-suite Village Guesthouse has comfortable and elegant lodging. What started in 2000 with just a restaurant and four rooms has become one of the town’s premier accommodation options and is geared to people on business with free wifi and a well-lit work area but is as convenient for leisure guests. Sensitive sleepers should be aware that the neighbouring church tolls every 30 minutes and on Sunday mornings is quite insistent.
Some rooms look on to a pretty courtyard fountain and free-form swimming pool and large oak tree. Ours, one of the most recently refurbished, was a 25m2 suite with a Queen-size bed as well as a sleeper couch and en suite bathroom with a shower.
Also in the village is a trendy coffee stop, Tremor, for serious Java lovers. Perhaps the name hints at the valley’s earth-shaking preponderance and it wouldn’t be too much of stretch to say they have shaken up the local coffee scene. Nearby is Capish!, an Italian-style restaurant with excellent thin-based pizzas and an Ossobuco to die for. Some of the pizza names are inspired by local Ceres school teachers, others, Vampire Slayer comes to mind, for its pungent garlic. This open-plan restaurant is relaxed and decorated with ancient family portraits and reclaimed fruit-carrying crates.
As a farming region, Ceres is famous for its apples and pears but increasingly also for magnificent MTB and Trail Running Trails and international events like the Tankwa Trek. Prince Alfred Hamlet, a blip of a town between Ceres and the equally diminutive Op-Die-Berg, are in one direction towards the Witzenberg Valley mountains and Koue Bokkeveld while Bo Swaarmoed is in another. Which ever direction to choose, there will be something that shakes you enough to want to come back.