There is not a whole lot happening in Tesselaarsdal, but that is kind of the point. If you want to get away from it all and feel your every-day problems fading into oblivion, head out on the R320 Hemel-en-Aarde road, take a right at the Tesselaarsdal turn-off and follow the gravel road as it winds itself high up into the valley.
The Overberg landscape is bathed in shades of green at this time of the year, so different to the dry colourless fields of summer. And pretty soon the canola fields will be in full bloom, turning the landscape into a riot of yellow extravagance. Along the way to Tesselaarsdal you’ll pass flocks of contented sheep, some lazy-looking cows, a few horses, swathes of aloes with bright orange flowers and all manner of birds, including our national Blue Crane.
Barely on the map, Tesselaarsdal is not really a village but rather a scattering of dwellings, including old farmhouses and outbuildings, some in ruins and some lovingly restored, a shop, a bottle store, a church and a graveyard. The quiet community numbers less than 2 000 people, with some families having lived there for generations. Now there are also newcomers who have either established a second home as a refuge from city life or who have settled down to immerse themselves in real country living.
An example of the latter are Brendan Daly and Sonia Fourie, owners of De Postkantoor Café in the Main Road (which is a bit of a misnomer as most of the passing traffic I witnessed was either on foot or on a bicycle). When their three children had flown the nest, this corporate couple decided it was time to migrate to the Cape and enjoy a more relaxed life in the country. “We visited Hermanus and drove all over the Overberg,” Brendan recalls. Almost by accident, they stumbled upon Tesselaarsdal on their last day while en route to the airport via Caledon.
Once back home in Richard’s Bay, they started searching the internet for properties for sale in the valley. On a return trip in 2014, while scouting the area, properly this time, they found the old post office building, dating back to 1891. “The abandoned building was completely dilapidated and filled with cobwebs; it had a sagging roof and broken windows…” Brendan remembers. But the simple charm and historical significance of the building won him and Sonia over.
The first job they tackled was fixing the roof – and that’s when they discovered all the uncollected post hidden among the rafters: telegrams, catalogues, letters… They had these treasures photographed and documented, and many of them are now tucked into an album that can be viewed by visitors. The room where the mail was sorted is now the guest bathroom, where the original wooden door, weathered and creaking, has been retained.
“The original idea was to open a B&B, but instead we now run a country kitchen,” says Sonia jovially. They named their eatery ‘De Postkantoor’ (Dutch for ‘The Post Office’), as it was formerly known, and do all the cooking themselves, using as much of their own fresh produce as possible. “We try to keep our food simple and satisfying,” says Sonia. On one of the blackboards it says: ‘We’re a small country kitchen. We cook all food from scratch using fresh ingredients. We appreciate your patience and hope you enjoy your food.’
And that’s exactly how it works at De Postkantoor Café. There is no rushing in, expecting fast service; nothing is done in a hurry. Instead, people stretch out in the gorgeous winter sun on the stoep, admiring the scenery of rolling farmlands under a clear blue sky and drinking in the tranquil atmosphere, lulled into deep relaxation by the fresh air and the faint smell of wood smoke, the soft sound of a wind chime in the gentle breeze and the far-off sounds of farm animals. It really is quite blissful.
Warm hospitality and wholesome food are Sonia and Brendan’s trademark. When they are not in the kitchen, they can be found chatting to guests or people dropping in – and it struck me that this may very well be one of the last towns on earth where people come by, in person, to deliver messages, make arrangements or discuss some issue, rather than sending a WhatsApp. Everyone clearly knows one another and just because it’s a small town and the pace is slow, it’s not to say that there’s nothing going on.
I visited De Postkantoor Café on a Friday, and if a lazy day of peace and quiet is what you’re after, I can really recommend it. The eatery is only open from Friday to Sunday, and from what I hear it can get very busy over weekends, especially on a Sunday. De Postkantoor specialises in breakfasts, using free-range eggs and the tastiest, crispiest bacon which is hand-cured and smoked by Brendan himself. Light lunches include various pancakes, toasted sandwiches, burgers, salads and kiddies’ meals, and on a Sunday there are always lunch specials on the blackboard.
The coffee is made with an old manual La San Marco machine, which, Brendan says, “is as old as our children, but much more reliable and cheaper to run!” The beer is ice cold and they offer most spirits and mixers, along with a small selection of local wines that may change from week to week.
Open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays from 09:30 – 20:00. Available for private functions. Contact 084 583 7095 or firstname.lastname@example.org