Set to encourage exploration beyond Cape Town’s main attractions is Darling in the Swartland. A quaint and progressive village found inland of Yzerfontein on the Cape’s West Coast that first came to history in 1854 when 18 of the farmers in the Groene Kloof area realised they needed a centre from which to enjoy basic services. They collectively bought the farm Langfontein and allocated the land for development.
The date happened to coincide with Governor Charles Henry Darling’s visit to the Cape to open the Colony’s first Parliament. Seeing this as fortuitous timing, he was invited by the Groene Kloof farmers to donate his name to the village and Darling was born. Much change and transformation have taken place since then and today the town may be most familiar to festival-goers attending Rocking the Daisies in the area. An annual event that sees thousands of music enthusiasts drive out for a long weekend of fun, dance and carefree revelry, with Darling the stock up a spot on the route.
Also bringing it to repute over recent years is Evita Se Perron where Pieter Dirk Uys aka Evita Bezuidenhout has set up a theatre and museum satirically depicting the country’s political history – and a slow Darling brew that carries the town’s name. But these are just a few of the reasons why Darling is a place with much to offer and should be viewed as a destination and not a drive-through.
On my visit, I parked at Evita Se Perron knowing I would return for a time in the Museum and gift shop later and walked from there. The distances within the villages are very manageable, especially when you’re stopping in at interesting places along the way. Just around the corner on Station or Stasie Street is where I think you should make your first stop.
The Book League book shop is where Wendy and Anne not only offer an excellent variety of good things to read, but having lived in the town for 20 years can also provide a map and recommendations to ensure you have the best of Darling. I bought a couple of books, was gifted one on the area and saw at least ten others I’m left coveting. Nothing like a good book shop brought to you by good people.
On the same premises is The Flying Pig Craft Fair deli which serves meals and great coffee, as well as Darling Sweet, where delicious toffees are hand manufactured. Each batch takes 1,5 hours of stirring to make, before being hand-cut and hand wrapped. The only tools of the trade I’m told are 2 wooden spoons and 4 knives.
Please ask questions at all three of these places, as they not only hand produce an array of fine goods but also work closely with the community creating employment, supporting the Darling Trust and Darling Music for All. A visit to Darling is not complete without a trip to the Darling Museum located in the old town hall on Pastori Street. Founded in 1978 by the Darling Women’s Agricultural Association as a Butter Museum. It now offers a rich collection of memorabilia with many items donated by residents of Darling, and an interesting look at the town’s history. There’s a gift shop here too with all proceeds going to the museum.
Evita se Perron, already mentioned, is located at the site of the former Darling Station and is a lively place where humour is the primary purpose. There are two cabaret venues, a restaurant, bar, arts and crafts market and you’d do well to get on their mailing list and attend one of the shows. For background, Evita Bezuidenhout, or ‘Tannie Evita’ as she is fondly known, is the ‘most famous white woman in South Africa’, a persona created to poke fun at South Africa’s most loved and loathed icons, with memorabilia from a dark era of Apartheid which is somehow displayed in an educational yet humorous way.
The Marmalade Cat serves wonderful meals, pizzas, tea and cakes daily and has an excellent gift store attached with a good selection of locally produced items for sale, as well as others selected from further away. We sat in the courtyard and enjoyed a tranquil break from our walk. Sam charmingly served a Prego Roll and vegetarian quiche with the most delicious potato wedges and salad.
The Darling Wine Shop on Main Road makes it easy for us to learn about all the wines from the area, even if you don’t have time to get to the estates. Inspired by Charles Withington’s desire to have a one-stop shop in the centre of Darling where you can buy virtually the entire range of any of the Darling wines, and at cellar door prices.
If you do have the time though, know that you can visit Withington Wines, Groote Post with their Restaurant and Country Market every last Sunday of the month, Darling Cellars, Cloof and Ormonde Wines, who I’m told serve excellent lunch platters. For lovers of olives, Darling Olives offer tasting and sales. Darling Brew has incredible facilities for tasting and tours. With cool labels such as Sun Gazer, Rogue Pony and Bone Crusher, this craft brewery is defining flavours and setting standards for the industry. Good to know all the restaurants stock the range.
The Khwattu San-guided Experience offers an in-depth look into the culture, heritage and modern-day life of the San people and you can take a guided tour with qualified San guides who demonstrate their skills, share their ancient knowledge about oral history, tracking animals, identifying edible and medicinal plants with you and even teach you words in their language.
For those who love to walk, take in the Darling Stagger or one of the other walking trails offered by the Cape West Coast Biosphere Trails. This 2.5 day, 20 km hike follows a route once walked by a short-necked giraffe, our common ancestor and the San, then came the early settlers and farmers we know today. Explore some of this history along the way but also enjoy a taste of contemporary culture, olive and wine tasting.
From the earliest years travellers through the Groenekloof were overwhelmed by the rich tapestry of flowers that cover the fields surrounding Darling during spring each year, stating ‘There are no Wild Flowers like those at Darling’. With that in mind as early as 1915, the Darling Wildflower Society was founded and the renowned annual Darling Wildflower Show has been held virtually every year since its inception in 1917.
The area maintains a strong focus on farming with the fertile lands playing host to sheep, cattle and dairy farms. Actually, Darling Butter is a sought after product for most who live in the Cape. Explore the town on foot. Browse through the antiques and collectables and visit the interesting craft and gift shops. Enjoy a cup of coffee on the stoep of a coffee shop or at a farm stall.
Whoever you talk to will offer endearing stories about how the community is working together to make a difference. Art and music lessons, a reading room dedicated for children, the annual Potjie Kos competition and their new public pool for all to enjoy. Also everywhere you go, affectionate cats of every colour and size seem to take ownership. It is easy to see why this is indeed the Darling of the Swartland.
Other places to enjoy a meal include Bistro 7, Ormonde Wine Farm and Brig’s Restaurant. I’m also told by Annie that the Chocolate and Vanilla Cheesecake from the Chicory Cheese Cafe is worth the drive from Cape Town.
There are numerous options for accommodation in Darling, be it a self-catering cottage, farm stay or guest house you prefer. I’d recommend staying over at The Granary, especially if you’re taking in a show at Evita’s Se Perron. For more information take a look at Hello Darling.