Riebeek Kasteel is one of those places that everyone should know about, but whenever Jeanne-Louise Wiese asks someone about it, they answer with a dumbstruck, “Isn’t it that star-shaped castle in Cape Town?” Needless to say… it’s not.
It is in fact a beautiful little town nestling on the slopes of its own mountain, the dramatic Kasteelberg, only an hour from Cape Town.
The first time I came across Riebeek Kasteel was en route during the One Tonner road cycling event, which had us winding through this lovely countryside for what seemed like forever. The town is surrounded by vineyards, wheat and canola fields as well as olive groves which create a sort of a Mediterranean atmosphere in South Africa. The area is famous for its arts, culture and food festivals and a perfect weekend breakaway for the adventurous girls out there who can kick up some dust in the morning, sport a summer dress at a farmers market over lunch and enjoy the sunset with a glass of wine in hand. Although the mountain is not shaped like a castle noris there a real prince hanging around waiting for a lucky girl to make his wife, the area is a fantastic cycling kingdom where one can enjoy a multitude of mountain biking and hiking trails.
The area was named when Pieter Cruythoff was sent out with a party on 4 February 1661, by Commander Jan van Riebeeck to scout the hinterland. When they arrived at this mountain, they named it Riebeeck’s Casteel, in honour of the first commander of the Cape for which a memorial was erected at the parking spot on Bothmanskloof Pass. But before you head out to do some exploring yourself, be sure to pop in at the Riebeek Valley Tourism offices and obtain the needed permits which is required for some of the trails in the area. One of the trails is the Kasteelberg cycle trail which passes through the villages of Ongegund, Riebeek West and Riebeek Kasteel and over the leg thumping Bothmanskloof Pass and along the Riebeeksrivier. Other trails in the area include the Riebeek Kasteel valley farm road trail and Riebeek West valley farm road trails.
The area is well known for its soft hues of pink and white peach blossoms and beautiful yellow flower carpets which appear around August each year when the Canola plants start flowering. It makes for the perfect setting for a late winter wedding (such as my own) or simply a sight-seeing excursion on your bike. Don’t forget to stop by the Royal Hotel, the oldest hotel in South Africa or visit some of the famous artists in their own homes or the quaint galleries in town. One of the conservation attractions of the area is the Bartholomeus Klip Reserve which stretches all the way into the Elandskloof mountains and is home to the rare and endangered geometric tortoise, which is one of the rarest tortoise species in the world. The geometric tortoise has a very distinctive black and yellow pattern used for camouflage and to ward off predators. This species was thought to have been extinct in the 1960’s, but when a surviving population was discovered in 1972 efforts were made to protect this fragile species. The decrease in population is mainly due to loss of habitat since this species rely on lowland fynbos and renosterveld for food and is restricted by large mountains to certain patches within the Western Cape. Other threats include the capturing of these tortoises for their shells which are used to make decorative items, sourcing of the eggs as food in certain areas and also the addition of domestic animals which might harm them. These days there are laws which protect these tortoises and you will be very lucky to spot one of these out on the trails. You might also run into Brin, one of the dogs trained through a Cape Nature programme to detect these rare tortoises for conservation purposes.