The joys of pretty-as-a-picture Paternoster
Today we’re heading up South Africa’s West Coast to the seaside village of Paternoster. It’s about a two-hour drive from Cape Town to one of the oldest fishing villages in the country. Legend has it it’s called Paternoster (our father in latin) because of the prayers said by shipwrecked Portuguese sailors. Luckily for us there was no risk of shipwreck, just beautiful beaches, amazing food and chill time.
Paternoster is literally dazzling with its white-washed fisherman’s cottages, wide sandy beaches and sparkling azure seas – and that perfect light. Definitely a feel of the Greek islands here. It’s known for its crayfish and is a pillar in the South African commercial fishing industry. It’s also known for the Paternoster Hotel which was built in 1863, and its infamous Panty Bar.
Cheers from the Panty Bar
The Panty Bar once served as the town jail before becoming a bar. In 1974 Johan Carosini started his collection of ‘Honeymoon Panties’, suspending panties in all shapes and colours from the ceiling.
In 1983 the collection was taken down after a priest reported it to the police as an unholy practice. The unfortunate policeman responsible for confiscating the collection quickly became known as Panty Basson! I can almost hear the villagers chuckling!
Giorgelli Carosini (son of Johan), who now co-owns the hotel, started collecting again in the nineties. As you walk into the bar you can’t miss the impressive range of panties hanging from the ceiling. It’s slightly disconcerting and you don’t want your imagination to wander too much as to where those panties may have been! Rather order a glass of Castle Light draught and head outside to get in a Paternoster state of mind. Well, that’s what we did.
It doesn’t take long to ease into that Paternoster pace. Or long to find your way to our next stop – Gaaitjie. Just head for the sea and you’ll see the signs and find a gorgeous, rustic white-washed restaurant on the edge of the beach. Gaaitjie is a heavenly place for lunch – you can read more about the delicious seafood we enjoyed by clicking here.
Home from home at Smuggler’s Cottage
Replete after our beachside repast we headed to our home for the weekend – the delightful Smuggler’s Cottage. (Smuggies as we now affectionately call it). The attractive guesthouse is set a couple of minutes walk from a beautiful beach. It has a lovely pool area where we soon settled in with a bottle of chilled Rose for some sunshine hours. And I posted this picture on instagram posing the question ‘Where in the world am I?’. I got wide range of suggestions. Greece, Spain, Cape Town (close – though I suspect that was from someone who knew I was in Cape Town), Portugal, the Med, somewhere in the Aegean – even Cornwall(!). My favourite response, however was: ‘I don’t know where you are but I wish I was there!’ Yeah, get that.
Smuggies has comfortable ensuite rooms with tea and coffee making facilities, hairdryer (and hair straighteners, too – a first for me) and lovely large bathrooms. There’s a wonderful warm welcome and friendly efficient service. And we enjoyed a fabulous breakfast on the terrace framed by the beautiful bougainvillea.
Creative dining at Wolfgat
The main reason for this foray westwards was to eat at Wolfgat restaurant. It’s ranked 13th in South Africa on the 2017 Eat Out Mercedes Benz Restaurant Awards. A huge achievement considering it’s not in a major city and South Africa’s restaurantland is incredibly competitive.
The restaurant is in a 130-year old building with fabulous views across the sea. The seven-course menu is inspired by the weather and the surrounding landscape. Dishes include local seaweed, seasonal veldkos (basically food growing wild that’s been foraged locally) and plants from the garden. Chef Kobus van de Merwe is keen to showcase ingredients gathered from around Wolfgat’s beachside location.
All this certainly makes for an intriguing dining experience. The restaurant seats a maximum of 20 diners (it’s the size of a small house) so there’s an intimate atmosphere and you can easily watch the intricate dishes being prepared.
What’s on the menu
There’s a lot to take in and I was certainly challenged with flavours and textures I’d never encountered before. Not all of them were good and I balked at the sight of succulents growing beside the beach the next morning, fearing I may have to eat them for breakfast. Dishes were heavy on the succulent/seaweed front which is certainly novel, if more disconcerting than pleasurable. And some of the flavour combinations tasted decidedly weird to me, like the mussel dish served with a seaweed broth and papaya.
I did really love the bread course which consisted of home-made breadsticks (in a sack) served with a pan of bubbling butter infused with bokkoms and seaweed. Bokkoms are a type of salted and dried local mullet (know as harders). So this was like the best anchovy butter you’ll ever taste – and I love anchovy butter.
The final course was a wild sage ice-cream with sage ash and nectarines. The nectarines were suspended from a foraged bush which was set on fire at the table. A great piece of theatre unfortunately not backed up with great flavours – it just tasted very ashy. As a result we left with a bad taste in our mouths. Not a good way to end dinner.
Eating at Wolfgat is undeniably a memorable experience. The menu changes frequently – obviously I guess as they are dependent on what they find around them to some extent. Perhaps we visited on one of the stranger days. Because let’s be frank, it was all a bit weird – though certainly an entertaining and educational experience. One we are still talking about.
Go and try it for yourself if you dare!
Wolfgat only seats 20 guests – as a result you need to book and pay in advance. Dinner costs R750 (around £44 at today’s exchange rate).
Take me to the beach
There’s no shortage of sandy shores in Paternoster. You can walk to a selection of them from anywhere in the town. We couldn’t resist driving to the more remote Tietiesbaai (for obvious reasons, who can resist such a name). Along a dusty road over the hill you get to this beautifully unspoilt beach which is a favourite camping spot.
Feet in the sand at Seekombuis
On the way back from Tieitiesbaai to Paternoster town you pass Seekombuis (it means sea kitchen in Afrikaans), a ramshackle building on the beach – another place that seemed to be calling our names. Whatever you do, don’t pass it, you simply have to stop for a while and chill at this beautifully basic beach bar.
We sipped chilled beers in the sunshine with our feet in the sand, wishing we had time to stay for lunch and didn’t have to head back home so soon. A blackboard advertised Kreef (crayfish) salad for R65 (£3.80) and Peri Peri kreef starter for R70 (£4.00). I’m still regretting missing out on such a bargain kreef experience.
They’ve converted little row boats into seats and it looks so pretty and everything’s so peaceful with its beautiful sea views and not a building in sight. Seriously hard to tear ourselves away.
We found it so hard to leave Paternoster – it just felt like we hadn’t spent enough time. Luckily there were several shops on the way out so we had an excuse to stop and prolong our stay, even if only for a little longer.
Die Winkel Op Paternoster (a winkel is a shop in case you hadn’t gathered) has a quaint collection of souvenirs, clothes and random stuff and is great to browse in. All the shops have a certain charm, so I’d pop into them all. I guarantee you’ll find something that you didn’t know you needed and just have to take it home.
I bought some beautiful shell hearts which I’m looking forward to hanging in my garden in London. Because I know every time I look at them I will be transported back to happy days in Paternoster. And reminded that I need to organise my next trip there – and this time it will be for longer, that’s for sure.
Have you been to Paternoster or somewhere similar? Did you discover some magical place that brought you such happiness and made you promise to return? I’d love to hear about it.