Having grown up hiking the streams and hills of California, I never thought of myself as some sunshine-deprived “city girl”. Surely not, as a card-carrying REI member! Never mind that survival gear shopped for include the thickest possible sleeping mats and Packtowl travel bathrobes – which happen to also double as essentials of the X-Ordinary Vagabond lifestyle. I considered myself well equipped for living in rustic wilderness, just roll me and my Tumi suitcase towards the rugged path of nature.
Little was I prepared, when suddenly whisked away from Beulah Lodge and my daily scrumptious English breakfasts (X-Ordinary Vagabond-in-style), to visit Rep’s next South Africa Venture location: Beloftebos, a Garden of Eden nestled within the rambling countryside of Stanford. Just a two hour journey along stunning coastline away from the bustling neighborhoods of Cape Town. After the half hour drive down gravelly country roads, the insubstantial of city life passes away and one encounters an evocative land so robust in its nature, the difference can be tasted.
To my chagrin, I discovered that urban dwelling with its efficient distribution of produced goods has deprived me of delectable delights that simply had never tasted so… real before. Upon arrival at our cottage, a lavishly furnished 4-bedroom house dressed in farmland shabby chic, we sat down to an unexpected gifting: A cream-topped carafe glistening chilled. “Freshly squeezed”, I came to one of those existential ponderings – Can one have truly lived life without ever having tasted real milk before?
With acres and acres of wheatfields, grazing cows and napping sheep as far as the eye can see, Beloftebos is a working farm that also shelters an exquisite fairytale woodland for weddings that only nature and imagination can conceive. Only after talking with the understated owners, Andries and Coias de Villiers does one uncover the loving hands and romance that created a venue that is now renown as one of the top wedding locations in South Africa.
Beloftebos, which means “Vows in the Forest,” was inspired long before Andries and Coia’s own matrimonial exchange beneath the ancient oak trees on the property. Originally planted 130 years ago by an ancestral uncle in remembrance of his farm-founder parents, Andries and Coia are but the newest addition to a long heritage of love and family that has cultivated this wilderness into pasturelands for five generations of de Villiers. Andries traces his faith heritage as far back as the French Huguenots, who, as refugees from religious persecution, arrived on South African soil to start a new life.
We took a drive through winding hills to search out individual cottage gems hiding at the end of rustic dirt paths. It was here I realized that a common misperception by those of us less bucolicly-oriented, is that simple farm life is a form of rudimentary suffering. Instead, in each cottage we visited, I found depth and meaning behind every handmade piece of furniture. From carefully crafted architecture of naturally exposed woodbeams to feather-fluffy duvets covering kid-dream attic loftbeds, the touches of comfort and simple luxuries of rich butter and country bread and anachronistic iron stoves made me second-guess every Pottery Barn purchase I’d ever made.
I cannot put it into words, the magic of Beloftebos. Perhaps the fellowship of farmers here, in their silent, serious ways attest to a distinct awareness and respect for something primally spiritual in the environment. Life is simply, more Real here. The raw beauty of the lands, the friendly warmth of a tottering red calf sucking on your fingers, the disturbingly layered aromas of fragrant fresh butter, the husky branches of heather gathered in bouquets still shimmering with morning dew – Beloftebos evokes in your heart a deep communion with land, love and covenant. One understands instinctually, that the sacred Presence of God rests here and blesses Beloftebos, the forest where eternal vows are made.