The first time I drove the road to Nieu Bethesda it was still a dirt road winding it’s way off the small turn from the Graaff Reinet main highway ( R61/N9). This tiny hidden valley made famous by Athol Fugard’s stage play “The Road to Mecca” about eccentric artist Helen Martins was something of a mystery destination in the desert landscape of the Eastern Cape.
Helen Martins’ Owl House is the most famous of the delights of Nieu Bethesda, it’s haunting and inspiring sculptures stand in testimony to a life lived on one’s own terms.
With the tarring of the road in 2010, one had to wonder if the isolated mystery and unique beauty of this famous little town would be destroyed, but with a return visit in 2016, I was delighted to find the town pulsing with life, still on its own terms
In recent years this small enclave has attracted a truly charming mix of people adding their own character and industry to this once remote valley.
The owners of the Two Goats Deli and Sneeuberg Brewery are such gems of the town, a group of truly amazing artisanal masters making everything on the menu from beer, cheese, kudu salami, honey, fresh butter and rosemary baked bread and delicious roasted coffee.
Once I discovered this place, I forfeited hours to lapping up fine ales, grazing on the full board bliss of treats and indulging in coffee all in the open air, under the shady trees, surrounded by the beautiful Sneeuberg mountain’s and the peace of a still moment in time.
Once my glasses were clinked and my stomach rounded with fresh made flavours, I couldn’t resist but stock up at the deli with a goodie bag full of all the delights I had tasted.
Admittedly the kudu salami didn’t last long but the delicious hand roasted coffee fills my house with the aromas and memories of this culinary Karoo gem.
If you can make it out of the brewery, there are many more places to meander and explore.
The dusty unassuming exterior of Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre tells the story of life in South Africa 253 million years ago. I missed this little treasure on my first few visits to Nieu Bethesda but once I did finally take the tour, my inner paleontologist was blown away. I mean think about it for a moment…… 250 million years ago. It makes one take stock of just how much time life has been evolving.
Dust Covers is a little bookshop and true to its name book lovers will appreciate the hunt for the perfect road trip read.
Bethesda Art Centre is a working gallery of beautifully talented community artists, I scored a beautiful print for my art collection. The work is definitely worth viewing and supporting.
Jakob’s donkey cart and the local crafters are both set up just opposite the Owl House, trust me you will want to partake, as they are quintessentially Nieu Bethesda. My Nieu Bethesda owl sits on my garden wall and continually makes me smile as a reminder of my time spent here.
If by the end of your day in Nieu Bethesda you can’t bear to leave… don’t.
There are a wide selection of quirky accommodation options from B&B’s in town, self-catering cottages and some elegant farm stay experiences on the outskirts of the valley.
Accommodation help can be found by asking any local, that’s the beauty of a small town, but if you’re still holding on to your modern ways after your day in town check out, http://www.nieu-bethesda.com or http://www.nieubethesda.info
Just be sure to remember that true to its timeless charm, Nieu Bethesda has no bank, no credit card facilities and no petrol station. I love that about this place and hope it never changes, because really who wants to be like everywhere else when you can dare to be just the way you are.