Small Town Joy, Tulbagh I: Exploring in a Wheelchair

As I’ve said a gazillionty times, I’m a small town girl. Free State-born-and-initially-bred, North West-bred-through-my-teens, Grahamstown-bred-into-the-freedom-of-adulthood. Well, if you consider 21 as adult. When one is truly ‘An Adult’, though, is not what I’m here to talk about today. The point I’m making, is that for the first 22 years of my life, I lived in small, mostly dusty, towns. Towns where a quick trip to buy bread and milk inevitably meant bumping into at least one friend, and where going to play at somebody’s house usually didn’t require any mode of transport more complicated than my lace-up roller skates or rickety blue bike, because everyone lived within a 1 km radius.

And I loved it.

This could be part of why I loved Tulbagh so much. It is a proper small town, with friendly people and a bustling, vaguely dusty (that may be due to the new pharmacy currently under construction) main road, parallel to the gorgeously kept historic Church Street. It’s small enough to walk around, between historic buildings, museums, art galleries, restaurants and pubs. This, for a small town girl, and someone in a wheelchair, is a win.

Tulbagh Wine & Tourism invited us to visit this beautiful old town and check out its accessibility. The town, ringed by majestic mountains, under a fabulous early-Summer’s blue sky, dotted with kid’s drawing fluffy clouds, was looking majestic as we arrived, late Friday morning. I wrote about the 21 things I learnt in our treat-filled weekend in my last blog and this one’s on some of the universal accessibility aspects of the town.

As I said above, the central area of town is small, meaning that you can visit many of Tulbagh’s attractions without having to get in and out of the car. Church Street, with its perfectly restored Cape Dutch houses – many containing shops and restaurants – is flat and broad. Perfect for a stroll, perfect for wheelchairs. The houses date back a couple of hundred years, and many have three to five stone steps up to their porches, so some of the shops and restaurants may be challenging in a wheelchair. Heavy electric wheelchairs may struggle with these stairs, but manual wheelchairs (with relatively light occupants) … well, this is small town, offers of help at any barriers we came to were prolific.

On Tulbagh’s ‘main modern drag’, Van der Stel Street, accessibility is far easier, with most places on street level. Getting from Church Street to Van der Stel Street – parallel to each other, a block apart – is easiest at either end of the street as the slope is slightly less steep than the road in the middle of the street that joins up. At the southern end is the Oude Kerk (old church) Volksmuseum (accessible, if over some rough stone pathway, first pic), which is well worth a visit.

I could have stayed a month exploring the streets and eateries (and all the surrounding wine farms, olive farms, and a chocolatier!) but we were there only for a weekend, so could only fit so much in. And, let me tell you, we managed to fit in the most extraordinary amount of delectable food and delicious wine over a 48 hour period! Its hard not to, in a town that prides itself on its culinary talents. Beside that, it wouldn’t surprise me if Bacchus himself had retired from the Greek Isles into this fertile valley!

The Tulbagh Hotel, plum in the middle of Van der Stel Street, has a ramp up to a gorgeously shady veranda, The Olive Terrace, which serves drinks and food. The perfect spot for an icy glass of a local Sauvignon Blanc in the late afternoon heat. Across the road, we ate at 1699, on street level (one step in, if you want to eat inside). Outside they have those fixed-bench-tables that are the bane of any non-transferring person in a wheelchair’s life. They saw me arrive though and whipped out an accessible table and set it up for me, so that we could enjoy their fabulous food while watching the sky turn pink. Small town hospitality at its best and bobotie like ouma made it. Delicious.

Our lodgings just out of town at Manley Wine Lodge, too, were relatively accessible, with a ramp leading up to the vine-covered shared stoep. The room, the corner one, was huge, with plenty of space to manoeuvre and an accessible desk/dresser. The bathroom was big, but not universally accessible (shower has step, no grab bars). I could get to the basin, and front access to the toilet is possible.

From the L-shaped building where the ultra-comfortable rooms are, it’s a slightly-sloped grassy walk up to the restaurant which serves a fantastic breakfast. The pool has a lapa, too, which I’d imagine, is a wonderful place to chill out on summer evenings.

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On Saturday morning we popped in to Twee Jonge Gezellen and met up with the lovely Patty, of Tulbagh Tourism, to enjoy a Krone tasting under the enormous trees in their beautiful garden. Here, too, they made the effort to bring it all to us, as the tasting room is upstairs. Their bubbles are fabulous, so phone ahead and arrange for an outside tasting. As an aside … buy a bottle(s) to take home. The bag they come in feels like velvet.

We left Krone late – the company was too good, as were the bubbles! – and rushed off to Waverly for lunch, a pretty drive out the other side of Tulbagh toward Wolseley. Waverley Hills is wonderfully accessible. My initial panic, on seeing the flights of stairs up to the tasting room and restaurant were quickly allayed when I saw the ramp to the side. It’s beautifully spacious, has an accessible bathroom, and is entirely flat throughout. add to that, exquisite views across the valley and even more exquisite food, and I almost asked if I could move in.

Part two will come next week, this is getting too long because I have too much to gush about when it comes to Tulbagh.

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One Response to Small Town Joy, Tulbagh I: Exploring in a Wheelchair

  1. Pingback: Small Town Joy, Tulbagh (Part 2): Eating like Royalty at Rijk’s | Navel-Gazing 101

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