Close to Cape Town and the start of the West Coast, this little town packs a punch when it comes to flavour and charm.
I was lucky enough to visit Darling for the first time a few years ago in early Spring, when wild flowers carpeted the land on the side of the road, and there is truly something magical about the way that the landscape bursts into colour at this time of year. While the flowers remain my favourite sight, I have discovered something new on each subsequent trip. The best way to soak up the charm of the little town and its surrounds is to take it slow – have tea at quirky cafes, enjoy lazy afternoons tasting local beer and wine, and savour some of the region’s best cuisine.
Eat and drink
For a small town, Darling is home to a fair number of restaurants. A personal favourite of mine is The Marmalade Cat, a sweet space best suited to coffee and carrot cake or a tasty breakfast of pancakes with scrambled eggs and cream cheese, enjoyed in the quirky courtyard. Another cosy option is Chicory Cheese Cafe. Located on the main road, it’s a charming space that serves casual breakfasts and lunches, and the menu includes some surprising sweet treats, like chocolate and beetroot cake, fudgy peanut smoothies and Mexican chocolate waffles with ice cream, fresh strawberries and a dash of cinnamon.
Hilda’s Kitchen at Groote Post is open for lunch, and although the menu changes daily, each dish is made with locally-grown and sourced produce. Expect country cooking, with a bit of a modern twist, with options like blue cheese and caramelised onion tart; slow roasted pork belly with plum sauce and noodles; and buttermilk tart with coconut ice cream.
The craft beer industry has exploded in recent years, and we’re spoilt for choice these days in Cape Town, but Darling Brew was one of the region’s pioneers. Established in 2010, the brewery has grown significantly and now boasts a beautiful taproom just on the outskirts of the town. They offer an interactive beer tasting experience overlooking the working microbrewery, and have a range of light meals and cheese and meat platters on offer, all of which are made with local, seasonal ingredients.
If wine tasting is more your style, the Darling Wine Route is well worth a visit. While it’s smaller than some of the other routes around Cape Town, it’s equally scenic and includes some much-loved names, like Cloof, Groote Post, Darling Cellars, Ormonde, and Tukulu. To stock up on all your favourites, pop into The Darling Wine Shop, which offers mixed cases with selections from local producers, as well as ‘wine of the day’ tastings.
Perhaps Darling’s most famous drawcard, Evita se Perron is a cabaret theatre and restaurant created by actor and comedian Pieter-Dirk Uys, and makes a fun evening out. The atmosphere is relaxed, and Pieter-Dirk Uys performs his highly acclaimed shows on the weekends, while the restaurant serves traditional South African cooking and features recipes from the Evita’s Kossie Sikelela cookbook.
For those interested in history, the Darling Museum is worth a stop. It was founded in 1978 by the Darling Women’s Agricultural Association originally as a Butter Museum. Today, a section of it still contains a collection of artefacts from the early days of Darling’s butter-making industry, and has grown to include Victorian clothing, furniture and homeware. There is also an agricultural hall that shows the history of farming in the area.
Darling and the surrounding area is perfect for those who love nature and the outdoors, as there are a number of easily accessible walking and mountain bike trails around. The Darling Stagger is a hike that winds from the hills of Darling, through wine and olive farms, to !Khwa ttu San Cultural Centre and down to the coast at Yzerfontein. It’s a 25 kilometre, two-day walk, which is fully guided and catered.
Mountain bikers will enjoy the trail at !Khwa ttu, which has two routes suitable for all levels of experience. The scenery is beautiful, and there’s even a chance of spotting wildlife in the reserve on the way. Other cycling routes include the Wheels of Time Cycling Trail, which is aimed at recreational cyclists who want to enjoy the back roads of the West Coast, and the Wolwefontein trail, which offers challenging rides on its 21km Red Route for moderate to experienced riders and 11km Green Route for beginners. Each trail incorporates steep climbs, fast descents, and ramp-bridges crossing farm fences, and rock gardens.
Groote Post country markets are back on the calendar and will be brimming with local country fare – food, arts and crafts, and loads more. Wine tasting and sales will be available too.
Dates: Sunday 24 September, Sunday 29 October, Sunday 26 November, Sunday 17 December 2017.