There is a direct, heartstring-strumming connection between the smallness of things and that gasp of sure astonishment it usually leads to. I recently gave birth to a small baby, and every morning, afternoon and during the wee hours of the morning I’m still amazed by the amazingness of this tiny little human. It sure is something.
But I digress (and gush), as sleep deprived mothers often do.
So back to my original point. Small cups of espressos are – and let’s be honest here – way better than milky lattes. And as far as the gastronomical blessings of my spirit country Mexico goes, tacos really are little morsels of heaven.
The same goes for small towns – they’re like those nice bite-sized biscuits you get with a coffee. They’re so good, you sometimes order another cuppa just to get another biscuit.
A while ago (I was still pre-waddle pregnant), a friend invited me to McGregor for the weekend. She’s there on a story and doesn’t want to drink alone on the stoep after sunset. Drinking alone is okay. But there’s something sad about drinking alone in a small Western Cape town after the day called last rounds.
‘Sure’, I said, while preparing my nose for another weekend of sniffing wine as opposed to drinking it.
And so we packed our toothbrushes, three lamb chops and a box of rusks and left Cape Town for the weekend. Through the Huguenot tunnel, past the landscapes of the Montagu pass, across the belly of Robertson and voila! You’ve arrived.
A bite-sized town for a bite-sized weekend
McGregor is a one street town. We arranged to meet my friend at Temenos Gardens, which is just down the main street. And snoozing in the middle of the street, right in front of the gardens, a black dog – baking in the half-baked winter sun, waiting to reach his daily quota of belly rubs. With hands smelling like dusty street dog, we went inside to look for my friend. The black dog took the lead. And with wagging tails, we entered the gardens.
Temenos Gardens was created for the sole purpose of acceptance. Everyone is welcome. Every religion, human and spirit in search for some peace and quiet. Even the neighbour’s cat left the comforts of his home and moved in. This massive garden pays homage to the world’s beliefs through little shrines, quotes or meditation areas around every corner. And for the bookish, there’s a librarianless library. Go on, have a read or a quick browse. The doors are never locked and the books are always keen for a conversation.
The artist, the wine maker and the cinema operator
Every small town features at least one of the above mentioned. And if you’re really lucky, it’ll even throw in a candlestick maker* as well. McGregor has all three. As well as a Top of the Pops go-go dancer from way back when, an olive farmer, a German grappa distiller and a donkey sanctuary. All of this, neatly packaged in a one-street town.
The story of the artist is the quintessence of McGregor. Painter Edna Fourie traded her city shoes for the rustic nothingness of the Renosterveld just outside McGregor, where she paints and breathes. And this open sky simplicity speaks volumes in her work. Bemind winemaker Ilse Schutte cashed in on her dream of having her own wine cellar. She ended her tenure as wine maker at the big wine estates and moved to McGregor. Today she produces a Shiraz that will make – in the words of Mick Jagger – a grown man cry. Her Bemind Shiraz smells like the leathery study of an old, rich gentleman with a fondness for literature, female tennis players and many a glass of wine.
And you know how you always rock up at a place and think ‘My oh my, let’s give up everything and open our own beach bar/yoga retreat/taco stand right here, right this moment’? Olive farmer, Annalien van der Colff and her husband did exactly that. Passing through McGregor, they fell in love with the town and the farm that was – by complete coincidence – for sale, and decided on the spot that this is it. They’re going to break up with city life and start a new life in McGregor. And they chose olives to make it happen.
The story of the cinema operator is my favourite. Why? Because he showed us a 10 minute clip of Prince Igor in the poppy fields on an unsuspecting Sunday morning? Maybe. Or because they decided it would be a good idea buy the slightly odd Moroccanesque house on the corner of a street and turn it into a cinema and live music hall? Definitely.
The aptly named Wahnfried** is the home of all cultural affairs in McGregor. In the mood for a classic movie? Go and take your seat in the Wahnfried. How about some live music? The 1873 Bechstein grand piano is very eager to share some notes with you.
And now I’m done with my story
But not with McGregor. This town will definitely see me again. Actually, we’re going back in a month’s time. Yes.
Before I go, and should you go, remember to go to these places as well
Tanagra is a definite must-visit. They produce a range of Marc (also known as Grappa, distilled from fermented grape skins) and Eau de Vie (distilled from fermented fruit). Now, the Husband (who is coincidentally also named Marc) tasted a rather fetching amount of Marc samples at 10am. The rest of his day was a hoot.
Lord’s Winery is the perfect spot to wave the sun goodbye after a long day of small town endeavours. This wine estate is just outside McGregor and it really is the most serene spot. They make a mean Pinot Noir as well.
You simply cannot visit McGregor without scratching a donkey behind his ear. Eseltjierus Donkey Sanctuary is the home of many a rescued donkey. Ask for a tour, the guides are always more than happy to introduce you to the donkeys and share their stories.
Oh yes. And give Mira a call if you need a bed. There are loads of really nice accommodation options available. You really have no excuse.
*Not too sure about the presence of a candlestick maker. Will have to get back to you on this.
**If you chop the word Wahnfried in half, you get madness (wahn) and peace (fried), which fits this vernacularly obscure space like a glove.