Country Living: Barrydale

Barrydale-churchLiving the charmed life
The graceful Dutch Reformed Church is still the tallest building in the Little Karoo dorp of Barrydale, where the slow life ambles along in low gear, nurturing the creative juices of those who gravitate here for its timeless peace and an abundance of simple human kindness.

 “I made more friends here in my first three months than in 30 years in Cape Town,” says Ruth Goodman, who sells houses and runs a small weekly community veggie market called Ruth 62 opposite the Dutch Reformed Church. “Some of my best friends are 93,” she grins, tucking a little something extra into an elderly customer’s basket. Her own veggie patch is proving so productive that the giant pumpkin she and partner Mike Saul grew took four men to carry it in a sling. It’s attracting quite a bit of attention.
“Is that thing real?” yells a passing motorist, pulling up to gawp.

Older plots in this village nestling on the banks of the Huis River in a valley below the Langeberg Mountains on Route 62 are big enough to grow a block of vines and olive trees, or keep a few lamb chops on the hoof. Ruth and Saul’s two hanslams, Chop-Chop and Bling-Bling, are living a charmed life.

Many weekenders escaping from Cape Town 2,5 hours away end up retiring here, but more young people are moving in – those who are looking for quality of life and can work via the internet. Crime is so low that the local bookshop doesn’t bother to move its sale books off the veranda at night. “I don’t know if it would be the same if they left DVDs out though,” remarks a resident.

Mark and Ruth are motor bikers who met on Route 62 outside Barrydale. “My bike was giving trouble and he stopped to help,” explains Ruth. The couple bought a fixer-upper and moved to Barrydale two years ago and are enjoying the relaxed pace of life that leaves time to chat and get to know your neighbours.

Life here is so chilled that some don’t bother to make the trek to the bright lights of Cape Town. “I last went to there five years ago,” confesses Leon Riley, co-owner of the historic Tradouw Guesthouse. “It’s just got too busy and noisy in the city for me.”

Barrydale-viewThen again, it’s not that Barrydale is without entertainment. The revamped Barrydale Karoo Hotel is known for holding alternative music gigs and Piet Botha and the Lysard Kyngs are regulars. On my weekend in the village, I strike it lucky with a Karoo cabaret: Petronel Baard fills the hotel bar with her big voice, the sequins on her Karoo sky-blue pants sparkling as she switches easily from love ballads by Shirley Bassey to her own interpretation of one of Antjie Krog’s poems set to music. But it’s when she sings the blues that she really hits her sassy stride and the audience yells for more.

Eating and drinking is part of the slow life here – there are more restaurants per capita in this tiny town than probably any other Karoo dorp of comparable size. “Have you been to Mez?” every second person I meet asks. “Michelle’s a real food artist.”

So of course I have to try Michelle Berry’s little restaurant on the side of her house which she opened last October. It spills out onto a garden terrace with a lovely view of the craggy Langeberg Mountains. It’s easy to while away a balmy evening under the stars imbibing her excellent Mediterranean-themed cuisine.

I bump into Michelle on her night off eating at Barrydale Karoo Hotel. New chef Derek Lowe offers alternative Karoo sushi: springbok carpaccio, rolled in stywepap and seaweed. After cheffing all over the country, Derek has come full circle; born in the Overberg, his grandfather was one of the famous Barry tycoons who had a finger in every business pie in the district, to such an extent that Barrydale was named after their patriarch, Joseph Barry, when the village at the northern end of Tradouw Pass was founded in 1880.

“Local farmer Petrus van Coller provided land for a town on condition a church was built,” says Leslie Howard, author of Barrydale Unplugged: Discovering the Klein Karoo and a Remarkable Village. “Before that, young people wanting to get married had to hike Bruidegom’s Voetpad across the mountains to Swellendam.”

Barrydale Cellars’ top brandy is named after Joseph Barry. “It’s the best brandy in the world,” says A Place in Time owner Mike Loy, a staunch promoter of all things local. “And they have international awards to prove it.” In the tasting room at the cellar, I find this is no idle boast: the framed awards lining the walls include a gold from Concours Mondial Bruxelles in 2010.

Wine tasting is best done in relaxed fashion at Joubert-Tradauw, 11 kilometres west of the village on Route 62. It’s a pretty fruit and dairy farm where I stayed in a beautiful cottage in a pear orchard with a view of the Langeberg. Son Meyer went backpacking around the world after graduating from Elsenberg and ended up spending two years learning the secrets of handcrafted boutique wines in California’s Napa Valley. When he came home, the family stopped selling their grapes to the co-op and Meyer began producing a range of wines that were soon scooping awards.

Barrydale-marketI lingered over a delicious lunch at their alfresco restaurant as Meyer’s also been smart enough to hook a wife who cooks so well she was a contestant on Kyknet’s Kokkedoor 2014 season. Beate uses much of the farm’s own fresh produce to conjure a medley of flavours and she’s writing a cookbook which will be launched on the same lawns where she sometimes holds unplugged concerts featuring musicians such as Tony Cox.

Barrydale is a great magnet for creative types. “It’s the stillness here,” says artist and sculptor Nigel Hewett, “you can focus and get on with your art.”

He  teaches art classes in his big, airy gallery on a hillside above the town and takes casual pupils on art holidays, as well as giving lessons to township kids. Now 70-something, he’s left false modesty behind and casually admits to being the best artist in the world.

Some of his former pupils have gone on to do well in their own right. Joan Peeters’ work now hangs beside her former teacher’s in the little MUD Gallery beside Route 62, along with other local arts and fine crafts.

MUD owner Carol Morris is the driving force behind Barrydale Hand Weavers, where expert craftsman Tivane Mavume has trained local women to make everything from rugs to cotton tablecloths on big hand looms at this successful job creation project that supplies retailers around the country.

If you want to see why Michelle Obama bought light fittings from Barrydale for the White House, pop into Magpie Art Collective to see how they recycle old plastic and glass into eye-catching chandeliers with a difference.

Barrydale also attracts plant lovers. “We’re at a junction point between Cape fynbos, succulent Karoo and renosterveld biomes,” says botanist Flora Cameron. “There’s an incredible richness and diversity here, and some very special endemic species.”

Flora’s a member of CREW (Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers) and hiking with her up the Barrydale Trail through hardy fynbos to a waterfall is an eye opener. I spot a beautiful yellow gladioli mottled with maroon spots and in no time Flora has whipped out her GPS to plot its position. “There seem to be more of them this year,” she says excitedly.

Breakfasting at the top of the waterfall, we gaze down the valley where the town’s water supply dams nestle above the village. It’s a pretty picture that makes it easy to understand why this tranquil village is a favourite with those yearning to escape the city.

This article first appeared in Country Life

Property peep
There’s no doctor in town, so quite a few retired people who bought cheaply in the 1990s are now selling to move to care homes in places like Swellendam, says former fruit farmer Barend Jones, who plans to do the same.

Expect to pay around R470 000 if you’re lucky enough to score one of the large old plots of 3 000 square metres. Ruth Goodman of Dormehl Property Group has just sold a three-bedroom house for R650 000, which was considered a good deal.

Johan van Eeden of Seeff says smallholdings are rare finds; an 11-hectare mini olive farm with its own press is going for R5.2 million as the owner is retiring. Big farms in the area seldom come on the market as they are passed on to the next generation.

There’s a throng of restaurants where Route 62 runs through Barrydale. Where you stop depends on what you want to eat.

New kid on the block at the western end is Diesel & Crème (028 572 1008), an American-style diner specialising in waffles and milkshakes. The Country Pumpkin (028 572 1019) is an old favourite with bikers chowing Sunday roast on the deck and A Place in Time (028 572 1393) rustles up a good springbok potjie as well as wood-fired pizzas. Jam Tarts’ (028 572 1173) tapas is popular and of course you have to try one of their sweet or savoury tarts. At Clarke of the Karoo (028 572 1017), Mike Clarke is the undisputed king of chefs on this strip and you’ll find quality food, including his signature dish of Karoo lamb curry.

Mez on Riebeek Street (082 077 5980) is a must for its delicious seasonal Mediterranean-style dishes, while Barrydale Karoo Hotel’s inventive chef always has something quirky to tempt even jaded palates. Out of town, Joubert-Tradauw’s al fresco restaurant (028 572 1619) is a fine spot to while away a lazy afternoon.

Lentelus is a great farm stay offering B&B on Route 62 just 11 kilometres west of Barrydale. The cottage in a pear orchard offers touches of luxury, while an annex on the house is a more budget-friendly option. It’s worth booking dinner as Helena Joubert is a superb cook and loves entertaining. 028 572 1636 | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. |

Tradouw Guesthouse is famous for its friendly hospitality and the tiny bar filled with memorabilia is a jolly gathering place. 028 572 1434 | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. |

Barrydale Karoo Hotel has recently been refurbished by new owners and is a stylish take on a country inn. The garden suite is a great romantic spoil for special occasions. 028 572 1226 | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. |

Garden cottages: author Leslie Howard offers a neat self-catering option (028 572 1596, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) while artist Nigel Hewett has a simple, homely unit with a starry outdoor shower (accommodation only, 071 111 1757).

Barrydale Hike to the waterfall and back is about five hours; going over the Langeberg to Grootvadersbosch Nature Reserve is a more strenuous trek and you need to get a permit from CapeNature and leave a vehicle that side. 028 722 2412,

Botanical walks with plant fundi Flora Cameron. 082 853 6452

Brandy tasting at Barrydale Cellars. 028 572 1012

Wine tasting at Joubert-Tradauw Vineyards & Cellar. 028 572 1619 |

Scenic drive: Tradouw Pass’s rocky contortions and wild river are awe inspiring.

Arts & crafts: see the Barrydale Hand Weavers at work in their workshop (028 572 1488), browse MUD Gallery (028 572 1950) and Inkaroo handcrafted jewellery (028 572 1094) and pop into Magpie Art Collective to see recycling at its best (028 572 1997).

Barrydale Info office 028 572 1572 | This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. |

Barrydale Unplugged is available from Leslie Howard at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.