Tulbagh Spring Arts Festival by Lisa Huang
Imagine a fertile valley surrounded by snow-peaked mountains, blooming wild flowers and magnificent sunshine. With Obiqua Mountains to the west, Winterhoek Mountain to the north and the Witsenberg range to the east, Tulbagh is a historic Boland village nestled in the picturesque valley. As a result of heavy winter rains this year, residents warmed up next to roaring fireplaces and enjoyed views rivalling the Swiss Alps. With the promise of sunshine and spring flowers, I took a weekend retreat to Tulbagh valley to unplug from Cape Town city's hustle and bustle, and stumbled upon the annual Tulbagh Spring Arts Festival. The rich heritage and culture formed the perfect backdrop to the festival, with the valley home to the country's largest concentration of National Monuments in a single street - counting 32 National monuments!
In its third year, TSAF aims to showcase South Africa's talented youth, artists, musicians, writers, food producers, winemakers from the valley and beyond. With maps from the local information center, I was able to explore the town on foot for its hidden gems. Dotted with Cape Dutch, Victorian and Edwardian houses along Church street, I was transported back in time to a 18th century Cape village. Most buildings have been transformed into art studios, guest houses and private homes. Acclaimed South African artist, Solly Smook exhibited at the Yellow Wood House, with selection of portrait and real-life oil paintings. My favourite exhibition was Kobus Walker at the Cape Dutch Quarters, taking inspirations from indigenous roots and everyday objects like Ouma Rusk and Marmite. As the afternoon sunshine reflected off blue porcelain crockery set throughout the old farm house, one can experience the artist's communication with his chosen subject matter.
For the early-risers, Tulbagh resident Norman Collins held photographic tours to capture the first light on mountain peaks. With crisp Spring morning chills, I was tucked in duvet heaven and didn't quite make the 6am climb. A great alternative was breakfast with award-winning journalist, Carla van der Spuy at the Obiqua prison. Carla led a discussion on her book "Man or Monster", with excerpts of interviews with inmates, forensic and psychology experts to discover the human faces behind bars. Guests were also invited to bring books for donation to the prison's library! Returning to town, a crowd had gathered by the Van Riebeeck Park to cheer on rising stars from the 8-member AmaWolseley Marimba Band. These young talents are from various townships in the Witzenberg Municipality, perfecting their Marimba skills while performing in local communities and schools. Clearly the local sweethearts, I was blown away by their engaging stage presence and seamless coordination!
Saturday evening's programme was the highlight of the festival: visitors were spoilt with choices from jazz saxophone quartet SAXIT!, rhythm and blues with Die Blue Boers, virtuoso guitarist Loki Rothman, to opera soprano Magdalene Minnaar... I decided to join Irene Ashurst, owner of the Vindoux Treehouse Guest Farm where I was staying, to Magdalene's concert at Drostdy-Hof museum. A Coloratura soprano, Magdalene Minnaar was featured in Pieter Toerien's Phantom of the Opera as Christine. She sent chills down our spines as she hit stratospherically high notes in a selection of "Mad scenes" from famous operas, including Lucia di Lammermoor and Hamlet! She was accompanied by Jose Diaz (piano), Bridget Rennie Salonen (flute) and Cheryl de Havilland (cello), and each scene weaved into another through haunting melodies composed by Diaz. A spectacular performance, the full production of “Waansin” (Madness) will be staged at Clover Aardklop festival in Potchefstroom from September 24 to 28.
At the Tulbagh Spring Arts Festival, I got to meet amazing people during my stay. I believe that human interaction is the essence of travelling, as we become the vessel that carries the untold stories of people we encounter on our journey. The stories of how residents come to call Tulbagh their home is truly fascinating, with my host Irene as a prime example. Originally from Yorkshire, England, Irene's husband Roy was assigned to manage the regional office for the textile manufacturer he worked for. The family moved to Zimbabwe, and had their first taste of the African soil. When the textile industry began outsourcing to Asia in the early 90s, the family moved to Scotland for a short stint. Before long, Irene and Roy's followed their heart and returned to Africa, this time to Cape Town where the American retailer, Victoria Secrets established their sub-Saharan headquarter. They knew they wanted to make South Africa home to raise their daughters and son, and eventually bought the Vindoux Farm in 2008.
Today, Vindoux is a family run farm with self-catering cottages and the only luxury tree houses in the Western Cape. Managed by Irene's daughter and son-in-law, Sophie and Driaan du Toit, they have extended the farm to offer day spa treatments, game viewing (Driaan was a game ranger and conservationist!), wedding venue and more. Set amongst idyllic vines and fruit orchards, Vindoux has made many couple's special engagements. Irene sighed happily as she shared stories of unique proposals, from enveloping rings in chocolate to an antique chest "treasure hunt" where clues were left for the bride-to-be to discover. From our chats, I could tell that the family whole-heartedly enjoy contributing to their guests' special memories. They have certainly helped made my trip to Tulbagh an extraordinary experience!
I hope you will create your own memories in Tulbagh this September, before the snow dissappears from mountain peaks and the wild flowers blossom fades. Visit Tulbagh Tourism for more details on the upcoming Horse & Wild Flower Show and White Blossom Festival.