Stanford’s Sweet Nothings

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The Western Cape serves a rich platter of geographies and experiences. It’s a rationale often repeated by the locals affirming why they choose to stay in South Africa. Mountains and trails, beaches and surf, vineyards and world-class eateries, breathtaking views and value for money. But rarely do they talk of the diversity of river experiences found along the Duiwenhoks River (Vermaaklikheid), Berg River, or The Breede River, among others. 

While Hermanus, a 75-minute drive from the city, has long assumed the spotlight over the last few decades, just 25 minutes further on, the tiny village of Stanford offers all of the features Capetonians proudly rave about, and hides one of the province’s most sublime secrets, the Klein River. 

Riverfront properties here are “hens’ teeth”, according to the local real estate agent. To find one perched along the banks is essentially a privilege. It’s a predicament where you selfishly wish you didn’t have to tell anyone, unless it was your job to do so. I find myself reluctantly in this category. 

Akkerbos River House offers something I haven’t seen too often, a triple veranda across the entire frontage. That’s three outdoor seating areas at different vantage points. The 180-degree vista is not just ‘a view’, it’s a naturally-evolving, perpetually-moving canvas, birds soaring or darting, the stippled ripple of the rivers current, the swish of the towering reeds that line the banks, and the clouds that wrap the mountains’ tops. Its appeal is markedly different to an ocean view – everything in front of you goes about its daily business, lowering you carefully down to its gentle pace. 

Well, some of the time. It depends who you go with. 

If you bring your kids, you can also experience something else. Two couples and six children ultimately beg for fishing, or multiple trips upriver in the two-man canoe, or standup paddleboarding – barely another watercraft to be seen, just the daily river cruises every few hours, which you can book here. Also, a useful tip: bring your rock shoes, it just makes life easier. And mountain bikes will give you the opportunity to explore the area as the roads are quiet. 

As the evening closes in, we spark up the braai, pour the red wine, prepare the meat and vegetables. Akkerbos’ country kitchen is generously stocked with all ‘mod cons’ from microwave to air fryer, premium gas hob and oven, pantry and scullery, for the serious chefs among you. Off the side of the kitchen, there is a veggie garden – also unique in its grandeur – and fun to pick a few extras for supper. 

The teens and pre-teens play board games, card games and bead making, occasionally reaching for a smartphone to share a viral video or social feed, of course. But they’re notably distracted from their devices because nature has the alluring power to trump technology for most (but not all) kids. Interestingly, while the interior is cosy and there is Netflix and two TVs, not one of them was turned on throughout our trip. The design is such that you’re drawn to the vast shaded spaces outside – partly because of the view perhaps, but partly because there is variety. I taught my daughter how to drive our automatic 4×4, simply because she felt so at ease in the surroundings. 

Each of the bedrooms – there are three doubles and a four-bed bunkroom – face the river. The master en-suite is spacious, fresh and bright, with a modern oval bath, and a huge marble shower that looks out onto the river with its own private patio. 

On one of the days, we venture into the quaint village of Stanford, strolling the main Queen Victoria Street, also known as the Stanford Antique Route. Kids bought old coins and crystals, mesmerized by the sheer volume of collectables. We briefly stopped at The Stanford Kitchen for cold drinks but the menu looked delightfully simple, and outside there was a garden with pizza ovens and a jungle gym for kids. Other restaurants include Madre’s, Searle’s and a 2-star Michelin pop-up at Springfontein Wine farm one kilometre down the road.

Hermanus is around 25km away, so it’s less than a half-hour drive to the seaside village to enjoy a walk along the coast, beaches, markets, shops and restaurants. But there’s easily enough around Stanford, everything from beer tasting at Birkenhead Brewery, to Panthera Cat Sanctuary, to wine farms such as Raka or Stanford Hills, or Misty Mountains for gin or vodka tasting. 

However the reality is that even after venturing out, you are reminded of the privilege of being there – the understated rhythm of the riverfront delivers so much, so quietly and without even trying.  

For this reason, I decided to stay behind to write the story as everyone packed their bags to return to the city. A few hours of additional peace before I took a shuttle back home seemed like a perfect opportunity to capture the experience. All I need to do was sit still, and listen to the surroundings – a poetic narrator whispering the words into my ear.

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