Market Review: Sunday Fun at pre-spring Groote Post Country Market

Having kindly been invited – along with my parents – to attend the ‘Groote Post Country Market’ some two weeks ago, I had been looking forward to a fun, family-orientated market, held on what looked like a truly beautiful, yet homely Cape farm, nestled in the midst of the Darling Hills – and after a hellish week in terms of uni. assignments, I was really excited to be headed for the charming West Coast countryside for Groote Post’s pre-spring market.*

*(Except in the winter, the market is held on the last Sunday of each month).

So it was that we arose bright and early on Sunday morning, eagerly hit the open road shortly thereafter – leaving a moody, blustery Mother City behind us, as we passed briefly through ocean-front Northern Suburbs like Milnerton, Melkbosstrand and Blouberg – and joined up with the expansive R27 West Coast Road and in turn, entered into fynbos and ‘flower country’.

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Said flowers – which usually carpet entire fields and verges during springtime, especially in mid-September – were certainly apparent on the day, but their colourful faces were only half-heartedly upturned towards the blanket of clouds and, though somewhat less breath-taking than they might have been in fairer weather, they were more hopeful than I when it came to those faintly foreboding skies overhead…

+/- 40-odd kilometres on from the Blaauwberg Nature Reserve, we reached the R27 Groote Post turn-off. That was well-signed and easy-to-find but I must say that the quaint dirt road, which stretched on for a few kilometres, was bumpy and challenging at best. For me, however, the sight of rolling, emerald green farmlands, dotted with grazing flocks of dirty Merino sheep or else, overrun by orangey-yellow spring-flowers, smoothed out the journey somewhat.

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However, the Groote Post driveway (again, clearly demarcated by signage, some of which highlighted the market in a humorous and fun way, such as: “It’s Wine o’Clock” or, my personal favourite that went something along the lines of: “(Are you) ready to uncork and unwined?”) made for an easy drive and when the huge, white barn came into view, we knew we’d reached our destination.

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We arrived at 10:15 a.m., having made good time, and considering that the market had started at 10:00 a.m., the double line of vehicles gave an indication of the kind of turnout we could expect. Though, honestly, the count we had when we left later in the day was still quite staggering – though not at all surprising.

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You see, my pleasant preconception of the market was indeed spot-on and everything was as I’d imagined, but for the weather… Sunshiny spring weather would certainly have capped off the market splendidly – but fortunately for stall owners and visitors alike, the overcast weather held for most of the day (with the first real smattering of rain rolling in after 13:00 p.m.) so my week-long prayers for decent pre-spring weather were half-answered. 🙂

Once we had parked on the grassy field, we were greeted by the ladies at the first tent where ‘I <3 Yzer’ and ‘I <3 Darling’ signs prevailed. They welcomed us to the market, as some 40-odd (I asked my dad to help me count them later when it was crowded… I think we arrived at around 50, give or take) canvassed tents came properly into view, with the giant barn looming smartly behind on one hand and the amazing rock shelf – where a cannon and the rather iconic GP slave bell, depicted on its gold-and-white wine labels, are perched – and the pond is enclosed by a neat, low post-and-rail fence that hugs the smooth reddish road, on the other.

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After that we decided to explore the general courtyard area, where colourful, roadside farming implements lie, as the first sounds of local band, Klaasik (they performed popular mainstream ‘golden oldies’ from the ’70s and ’80s like: “Have You Ever Seen The Rain”, as well as what I can only assume were their own Afrikaans ballads; I liked the Afrikaans songs they performed best and the atmosphere added by their easy-to-listen-to music appealed to me. :)) drifted down to us from the veranda of the popular Hilda’s Kitchen (the only S.A. restaurant in the region to be nominated for both ‘Best Bistro’ and ‘Best Country-Style’ in 2013 by Eat Out, it is also a choice venue for weddings and other functions).

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The famous wine farm restaurant itself, currently enjoying its 12th year of business – which I later admired from the outside as I snapped photos of its rockery garden (there’s also a nice jungle gym area for kids nearby) and in between the lovely, beautifully set outside tables – is a wonderfully maintained 18th century building with a sweeping ‘stoep‘ true of all proper Cape Dutch architecture. It is named in honour of renowned S.A. author and Cape cuisine queen, Hildagonda Duckitt, daughter of one of Groote Post’s 1800-era owners, Frederick Duckitt, who was once a member of the then-Parliament.

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(Please note: Like most winery restaurants, prior booking is essential. The restaurant is only open for lunch on Wednesday to Sunday, from 12:00 to 14:00 p.m. I can see why, for on the day of our visit during lunchtime, the restaurant was positively packed out with contented-looking guests.)

After admiring the two horses giving rides to the kiddies (I unfortunately didn’t get the price for this or the splash-inducing, sealed ‘water balls’, which looked like great fun and had me feeling faintly jealous of the little ones…), we then stopped by the cellar and wine-tasting room (GP wine tasting and sales run Monday to Friday from 08:00 a.m. to 17:00 p.m. and on weekends and public holidays from 10:00 a.m. to 16:00 p.m.), which is adorned by photographic memorabilia from Groote Post’s past and present, as well as promotional pamphlets and brochures of nearby Darling.

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It would be hard to give Groote Post the historical account it deserves (though I advise checking out their attractive and informative website at: www.grootepost.co.za for more info.) but I would like to say a bit on the present-day owners and the farm as it is today.

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The Pentz family, in particular father and son duo, Nico and Peter, purchased this beautiful farm in 1972 when they were looking for a cool climate for their three-generational dairy business. Later, they added the equally historic, Klawervallei Farm, and thus, the 3000-hectare Groote Post Vineyards were born.

According to www.grootepost.co.za, Groote Post’s name is, “derived from the farm’s original status as the largest guarding post in the area, set up to protect cattle and sheep from marauding Khoikhoi stock thieves.”

Furthermore, the joint farms enjoy a rich Cape history that includes possessing, “A series of restored historic buildings on the estate serve as evocative souvenirs of the farm’s illustrious history dating back to 1706. Coowner Nick Pentz and his family live in the historic Groote Post Manor House built in 1808. This National Heritage Site was once Lord Charles Somerset’s only genuine ‘shooting box’, and later became the home of… Hildagonda Duckitt. On the adjoining historic Klawervallei farm, where all the old buildings are National Heritage Sites, a restored 18th century fort is the home of the Groote Post cellar and wine tasting centre, and Groote Post’s popular Hilda’s Kitchen restaurant is located in the original Klawervallei Manor House.”

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Because I was blessed with a bottle of 2015 Pinot Noir Rosé from GP’s 4000 limited release, we didn’t really need to go wine tasting (though I’ll be wine tasting later this week, when my family and I crack open the bottle to celebrate a special occasion and I can’t wait to try the gorgeous-looking and sounding Pinot Noir Rosé! 🙂 [Update: GP’s 2015 Pinot Noir Rosé was wonderful, one of the best rosés I’ve had. I like that it was strong but still had a lovely, sweet tatse! :P] Also, its classy and beautiful packaging instantly appealed to me), though there was even a special stall for this, offering a “Rosé combo. for R100”, which received its fair share of visitors.

As did the ‘Dragon Ginger Beer’, ‘Darling Slow Beer’, ‘Grind Away Caffe’ and ‘Darling College (which offered the standard cold drinks and snacks) stalls. I tried the last two (receiving a complimentary drinks coupon for the latter (R10 per drink) and being decidedly tempted – especially with the brooding weather – by the former, which offered take-away, hot beverage options… From there, we opted for a filter coffee for R14), proving that good, homemade food must always be accompanied by equally good drink(s).

There was no shortage of food stalls, offering tasty morsels of every kind – from homemade jams and sauces, to elaborate-looking cheeses, cakes and desserts, calamari and packaged sushi, hearty winter food (such as my favourite butternut soup), samoosas/springrolls (which we sampled at a price of R12 for 3, proving that, although country market fare isn’t always cheap, nor can you expect it to be as producers need to break-even and still generate a profit, prices aren’t in any way outrageous either) and other Asian and Indian cuisine, as well as ‘chip twists’ (highly popular on the day), French pancakes/crêpes, cookies, rusks and homemade breads to name just a few. Needless to say, I walked around the entire market at least thrice and before I was even half-way around, I was mentally salivating as my appetite made its presence felt.

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We had a most excellent brunch around 11:00 a.m., sitting atop the fresh-smelling hay bales – conveniently placed about the market itself, underneath the lovely, drooping trees and in front of the restaurant too – and, as a loose member of the media, I, along with my parents, was fortunate enough to receive complimentary lunch tickets, leaving us with a difficult choice between two equally fine stalls.

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In the end, I think we made the right decision (though it was not easy to reach) in opting for the ‘Urban Pantry’ stall. From there, I tried the chicken, leek and mushroom pie, with salad greens, butternut and sweet potato pieces (R55), whilst my mum had the butternut and bacon soup (R45) and my dad had the quiche and salad (R55). It was truly mouth-watering and positively wholesome food that filled me considerably – and what’s more, the service and all-round presentation (as was the case at all the stalls I tried or even merely visited on the day) was excellent.

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Later, when we had walked off the main meal, we tucked into sweet treats from one of the more popular stalls, so much so in fact, that by 13:00 p.m., they looked almost cleaned out. My mum chose a lemon meringue (R30), whilst I decided to break from my usual tradition (or not…) by choosing an apple crumble, decorated with a gooseberry and baked in an adorable, yet practical fake ‘wicker’ cuppy for the same price. It was really tasty but we both had to pass half onto my dad as again, it was a little filling. 😛

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However, food was only one (though quite considerable and important) part of the country market. Other stalls offered interesting, lovingly made or else, utterly quirky/humorous items of clothing, jewellery, homeware products, photo frames, leather shoes and so much more! Half the fun lay in exploring the stalls and discovering their wondrous offerings first-hand, whilst sharing a word with the welcoming stall owners or enjoying time spent with your friends and loved ones.

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Aside from the couples and families with young, excitable children, there were also a lot of dogs, in all shapes and sizes. Generally, it was the smaller breeds that were up to the most mischief and ‘barking’ for a fight – but all were leashed as requested and added a pet-friendly element to the market.

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Shortly after we arrived, I noticed a bakkie driving in with a few forlorn-looking woolly fellows… Later, these half a dozen Merino sheep were locked away in a little, metal ‘kraal’ where they awaited their ‘fate’, which entailed being shorn for the approaching spring and summer seasons, as is customary at this time of year.

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Having grown up on a horse- and sheep farm as a child, I am familiar with the shearing process but unfortunately, we missed the live-shearing demonstration, though judging by the one poor semi-naked sheep that we later saw when we went to watch the carefully guided horse rides (as well as the nearby ‘target practice’, which naturally comprised of a band of determined, young boys…), there was at least one such demo. on the day. I still enjoyed getting up close-and-personal with the timid, amber-eyed sheep, which were well-cared for and monitored by a few farmhands.

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(I feel it’s important to state that the sheep do struggle and wriggle around a bit during the shearing, which inevitably results in a few unintentional nicks, but as is right, these were carefully treated with the rather horrid-smelling, purplish ‘animal wound spray’. This prevents infection and keeps flies and other irritants off the hurt until it heals to.)

Another highlight was the elderly gentleman and his beautifully ornate, wind-up music box.

There was also a highly acclaimed play entitled, ‘Augustus’ that was performed at 11:30 a.m. in the wine cellar by a touring Dutch theatre group, at a cost of R30 per ticket.

(Also, there are two main bathroom facilities. One is nearest the market (where there is a single, basic toilet for each gender and then, closer to the restaurant area and just opposite the horse rides, there is another for men and women alike. This is the main guest toilet facility and is thus more spacious and ‘done-up’.)

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If the market was busy earlier in the day, then by around 13:00 p.m. and even 13:45 p.m. (we left then because the light rain was becoming somewhat steadier and we still wanted to pass through Darling before heading back to C.T.), it was positively abuzz with people of all ages.

We chatted to a few people and one couple in particular surprised us by saying that they had lived in and still co-owned a farm near Montagu (my hometown) and when I chirped up that we were “originally from Natal”, even told us that they’d stayed quite close by to us there too at one time.

It was also unexpectedly pleasant to be at one market talking about my town’s own humble ‘Park Market'(shout-out to school-fundraising Saturday mornings, spent rolling pancakes…), as well as a Piketberg market… I love the friendly, laid-back atmospheres that country markets encourage and that, for a time at least, we get to forget about life’s worries and allow time to tick by at a more natural, gradual pace… The GP country market certainly encouraged all of this and so much more!

Although I have been on a few tractor rides in the past, I can honestly confess that the tractor ride (we had to wait a short time for it and brave a few raindrops during our full-circle ride) was indeed my biggest highlight on the day and I think my parents thoroughly enjoyed it too.

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We went with a young group of parents and small children but all were well-behaved and sat nice and still, so it was a fun and enjoyable trip overall that lasted for 20-25 minutes if I had to hazard a guess.

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Perched atop hay bales on a chugging, yellow-and-green John Deere tractor and trailer and carefully clutching onto the sides of the cool iron at every bump in the road (though I managed to free my arms to film and take photos and didn’t drop either device or bounce off by some small miracle 🙂 ), we saw some beautiful sights along the way, including the nearby, reed-lined dam and the Duckitt family graveyard (it is locate in a beautifully wild, fynbos-strewn valley near a curve in the farm road), flower-strewn, fenced-off lands and rocky knolls, as we passed through a small section of the nature walk.*

* (There is also apparently an excellent Game Drive available to visitors. For more info. on both this and the walk, please contact Groote Post directly or see their website.)

The tractor ride was truly enjoyable and comes strongly recommended. In and of itself, it receives a firm 10/10 from me. I was fortunate enough to have received complimentary tickets for three for it as well, but there is a small cabin where you can purchase tickets (which you hand over to the driver either before or after you’ve climb the iron ladder up onto the large trailer before the ride commences. Also, please note, the tractor only departs once it has a full load so you might have to wait around a bit. After a while, we just sat on the trailer waiting for others to join us and I was able to take some more photos and help a young mum take photos with her two boys. 🙂 ). Again, I am not 100% sure of the ticket price but I think I overheard someone saying that it costs R30… though I apologise in advance if I am mistaken in this regard.

Once we arrived back from the ride, we decided it was time to head for Darling (the land of mole-crossings… Just as a quirk, I have to mention that the molehills in this part of the country are seriously large and built high and as we later found out – when a mole, roughly 80 cm long at least, crossed the main road in front of us before settling amongst a nice bed of purple spring flowers – so are their busy, little builders…) via the R307 and we passed the friendly ‘I <3 Yzer’ ladies again.

My dad asked them if they had kept a count of everyone entering the market and even 120-odd minutes before the end of the market, they told us that the visitors’ number had already reach 1514 and judging from the masses spread out all around, this was certainly true.

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I’m really not surprised after experiencing the market for myself, though and I think that, had the weather been a bit warmer and sunnier, there would easily have been many more visitors, both new and old alike.

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The next market falls on the 27th of this month and will hopefully enjoy fine spring weather and even larger crowds. It’s really the perfect way to spend a Sunday in the countryside, as it’s only an hour’s drive from Cape Town and 15-20 minutes away from tiny Darling, made famous by the annual ‘Rocking the Daisies’ concert (which kicks-off on October 1st this year), spring flowers and of course, S.A. satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys’ Evita’s Peron.

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I would gladly attend the market again and can strongly recommend that you do too. It’s a really fun and worthwhile experience for the whole family and for people of all ages.

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With all this in mind, the GP Country Market receives a well-deserved 10/10 and I would like to extend my thanks to Posy Hazell, the ‘I <3 Yzer’ tent ladies, all the stall owners and lastly, to the Pentz family and Groote Post as a whole, all of whom helped to make my experience all the more enjoyable and each of who, in turn, helped to make this review possible.

I would also like to thank the Groote Post website (www.grootepost.co.za) for the additional info. used in this post.

Please note: All views expressed herein are entirely my own and are not influenced by any other person/organisation. Also, I apologise for any errors that may have cropped up in this post.

The GP country market runs from 10:00 a.m. to 15:00 p.m. and offers free entry for all.

For more info. on the Groote Post Country Market, please contact Groote Post telephonically on: +27 (022) 492 2825 or else contact Eldré Strydom on: +27 (082) 877 6677 or email her at: eldre@iloveyzer.co.za.

Alternatively, you can find and follow Groote Post on social media:

 

 

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