Location: Nuy Valley
The Nuy Vallei (not pronounced ‘nooi,’ nor like the one that rhymes with braai, but rather ‘nay’ as in rhymes with ‘hay’) is about 10km just past Worcester…and if you’ve never been there, or worse, never even heard of it, then shame on you! Just kidding - neither have we! Therefore more than enough justification to go and check out the scene. We often get requests for trips outside of Cape Town, which is the perfect opportunity to delve into the country’s history. But old need not be boring, as we soon discovered of this hidden gem…
Perfect Hideaways hooked us up with beautiful accommodation at Penhill Farm, which is only a 90 min drive from Cape Town. If you get a bit lost, never fear because Penhill has been working on a plan to avoid just that for the last 300 years. Clearly forward thinkers, they planted two little wee palm tree saplings back in the day…but they knew they would grow into Nuy Valley’s very own twin towers! This came in very handy in the days before GPS, you know, for when ox wagons and donkey carts had to drop off supplies.
Once you finally do arrive, whether by the GPS or the palm tree navigation system, you will be blown away by this beautiful country retreat. It’s as authentic as it comes. There is a beautiful Manor House (which was the scene of a very disturbing food experience, but more about that later) and four cottages which can be booked out separately or if you need to have a mother of a party, all together! At our age, mother of a party means yoga retreat, family reunion or perhaps if we really want to let our hair down, perhaps Suna’s 40th? (But maybe not wise to discuss her age here on this public forum… otherwise the party may have ‘consciously uncoupling’ as the main theme… )
Anyhooooo…moving swiftly along, we stayed in the Pepper Tree cottage, which is waaaay older than Suna - it was built in 1750 from mud bricks and poplar beams and has since been beautifully restored, and now boasts modern luxuries like a bathroom which is actually attached to the house, and not just any kind of bathroom, the en-suite kind. It also has air-con and its very own plunge pool, which I am sure the oxen and donkeys would’ve loved after a long day in front of the cart. Today, however, I am sure our guests will take full advantage of these new add-ons! (PS: remember to mind your head as you enter, this cottage may have been home to a family of hobbits or maybe humans were just way smaller back then ?!)
The Manor House is the cherry on top. It is a Cape Dutch architectural masterpiece which has been exquisitely restored…think old Africana furniture, fluffy duvets and beautiful books lining the shelves. The kitchen is also very well equipped, ready for that party I was eluding to earlier! As mentioned, something went down in the kitchen… but we figured, if we are channeling the authentic and the olden ways of living, then we must also eat that way! So enter Nola, chef extraordinaire, she brings a ‘smiley’ to everyone she meets…
A ‘smiley’ is a sheep’s head and many people, to this day, will tell you it’s the best part of the sheep, a delicatessen to be savoured. You could have fooled me… but according to Nola, brains on toast is quite lovely. TBH, the idea of eating a sheep head is actually not that far-fetched. To eat an animal from head to toe means less wastage and utilising every inch of the meat -it’s actually quite a noble thing to do. I just wouldn’t recommend making eye contact with the ’smiley’ once cooked… it quite resembles an orc straight out of Mordor!
Once cooked, Nola knows how to get inside the head of a sheep - all it takes is brute strength, a hammer and a screwdriver. With the brain drain complete, you can get cheeky with it, and there is also some tongue in that cheek. Nola being Nola, made all of this look very pretty and appetising - that’s a talent in itself! Poor Suna however, wasn’t convinced, and to make matters worse, she pulled the short straw and had to eat the eye and the brain. I got lucky, and had the cheek and the tongue - apparently the best parts. But you know how the saying goes..an eye for an eye, so there was no escaping my fate! Real chewy. Thankfully Nola is a travelling chef, so there are no excuses to dodge this experience. Our guests can run, but they cannot hide!
As for old and authentic, this area goes way back and is actually home to various ancient bushmen painting sites. Suna went to investigate and met up with Louise , who is a local expert on the subject. According to Suna it felt really sacred to visit one of these sites - to think that many many eons ago, those very sites were the gathering places of the Khoi and the San. Can you imagine the stories around the campfire, the shaman’s teachings and the dancing into the night. The transfer of knowledge and the wisdom over the years and over distances is mind boggling. I love the tiny detail that Louise pointed out with her years of experience, something that could easily be missed by an untrained eye. We are therefore really lucky that Louise has agreed to also show our potential clients these spots, which are actually top secret. These sites aren’t really as protected as they should be, and the fear of vandals or just plain ignorance could lead to these being lost forever…
As for me, well, I had a good ol’ time at TC Botha’s and son’s wine farm in the district! I don’t think I’ve ever had an experience quite like this one… and I don’t think our guests have either! I was waiting in the old rustic wine cellar filled with memorabilia, ranging from a vintage wine collection, rugby trophies and his insane collection of mini Mercedes Benz model cars. I was just about to open a bottle of TCB Red, when TC himself popped around the corner with a warm welcome and a firm handshake. I just knew this guy was a true legend! From that moment on it was non-stop stories and non-stop laughing, and the wine wasn’t even open yet! TC by the way, also has a collection of human size Mercedes Benzes (what on earth is the plural of Mercedes Benz?) which I got to see up close and personal.
Once we were done with the car tour, TC introduced me to his two sons. They gave me one look and said I need to look more like a ‘plaas seun’ and the next moment I was wearing PT shorts and ’n two-tone shirt - now I felt like I was ready for the farm life. I was then asked to join them on the open field next door for who knows what??! Well, little did I know… when I arrived there were three vehicles parked next to each other: a Mercedes tractor, a vintage Mercedes convertible (the sons cut off the roof themselves) and a vintage Mercedes truck. It was time to dice! The vintage truck was mine to drive and I received a quick crash course on how to ‘jippo’ the ignition and try and cross the finish line with only 2 gears in tow.
The official Nuy Valley Drift kicked off with revving engines, diesel and dust (for clarity, not Vin Diesel, just normal diesel). We set off and I was ahead for a few seconds but after second gear, there was no where to go and TC came charging past me in the tractor, taking the win! This was was so much fun and I realised how good the ‘plaas lewe’ is for the soul. I cannot wait to introduce our guests to TC and sons.
So that wraps up our experience delving back into the history of the area. We figured it’s never too late to discover a hidden gem like the Nuy Valley, and to be honest, there’s so much more! We would love to come back and work on experience 2.0 for our guests with Penhill as our starting point. Suna already suggested that her perfect day at Penhill consists of a champagne breakfast followed by a boozy lunch, shortly after that, an afternoon nap under a tree and then perhaps a little sundowner watching the sun set over the mountains. I was thinking more early morning hike, then an afternoon playing boules and perhaps a tennis match at dusk, but i’m not sure how many backhand returns I’m gonna get when madam finally awakens from her afternoon slumber…
Cheers for now, Henk
Recipe - Baked Sheep Head (Smiley) by Nola Neethling
Sheep head ingredients:
Salt and Pepper
1x Onion, chopped.
Preserved lemon, chopped in slices.
Chimichurri sauce ingredients:
Fresh parsley, oreganum, thyme and mint, chopped.
Garlic and geen chilli, chopped.
Red grape vinegar
Salt and pepper
Sweet Mustard sauce ingredients:
250 ml sugar
100ml white vinegar
25ml mustard powder
Add all together and simmer for a few minutes.
Mix often until thick
Jogurt en preserved lemon sauce ingredients:
Chopped preserved lemons
Salt & pepper
Garlic, finely chopped.
Preparing the Sheep Head:
Pre-heat oven to 180c
Rub cumin over the entire head.
Rub in the parsley.
Add some salt and pepper.
Squeeze fresh lemon and drip olive oil over.
In a baking tray, add the chopped onions, with thyme, oreganum and bayleaves.
Add preserved lemon slices with garlic pieces.
Place the sheep head inside and cover with foil.
Place in oven for 2 hours, remove the foil and keep in in the oven for another hour until soft and crispy skin.
Serving the Tongue:
Remove and cut in thin stripes.
Serve with the sweet mustard sauce.
Serving the Brain:
Once you have removed the brain, braai it in olive oil and lemon juice with little bit of salt and pepper.
Sauces to serve with all parts:
Jogurt & preserved lemons