Traditionally the heart of any small town is its church. The heart of Hopefield however, seems to be in Church Street.
Nestled behind the town’s historic church and almost hidden by plants, The Merry Widow Country Retreat is the picture of tranquillity.
Behind its sky blue walls lies a beautiful garden, gorgeous bedrooms and your charming host, Ulrich Donaggi.
To understand what makes this little piece of heaven so special though, one needs to understand the kind of love that went into creating this space.
Ulrich had been building his perfect home in his mind for many years. He knew it would have wooden floors, bougainvillea trees and nice thick walls. He also wanted a home that would generate its own income with guest rooms separate from the main building.
When he sold his home in Saldanha and was looking for a new home, his estate agent asked him a few questions before suggesting he follow her to Hopefield to look at a house.
He wasn’t keen on the idea at first, as the town was half an hour’s drive from his current job, but:
As I stopped outside I looked and I saw, it’s my porch. He walked through the gate and saw the thick walls, the guest bedrooms outside, the “lick of red” inside and fell in love. “Every single box was ticked.”
The Merry Widow doesn’t do any advertising; the people who arrive at the guest house are drawn to it, like Ulrich was.
Spending a morning at the coffee bar, enjoying a scrumptious breakfast in the sun with great company, it’s easy to see why. The retreat is a proper home away from home.
Ulrich’s philosophy is that he wants guests to feel more comfortable at The Merry Widow than in their own homes. From the comfortable beds, luxurious linens and perfect water pressure in the shower to the homely atmosphere, I found myself wishing I could stay forever.
There’s also a serene calmness to the guest house, making it a perfect unpretentious escape from fast-paced city life.
The Merry Widow comes alive on Saturday mornings when local crafters and small-scale farmers come to sell their wares at the Mill Country Fair Market.
The fair was born out of Ulrich’s love of markets and has operated on a couple of different models before taking its current form.
The market runs from 10:00 to 14:00 every Saturday were visitors can also enjoy a range of sweet treats and a full coffee menu in The Merry Widow’s outside coffee bar.
A few doors down, also in Church Street, Helena van der Westhuizen invites visitors to explore the world of bees at the Simply Bee observation Centre.
While Simply Bee is primarily a bee’s wax and honey business, Helena started the observation centre with its glass bee- observation hive to share her love of these amazing little creatures and educate people about their importance.
The observation centre often hosts school groups to teach them about how a hive “society” works and the roles of different types of bees, instilling a respect for bees from an early age.
Helena’s father started bee-keeping, as a hobby, after being given a hive from his father-in-law. He retired to Hopefield as a full-time beekeeper and even helped with research for the University of Stellenbosch before Helena and her husband started taking over a few years ago.
By 2010 Helena started brewing her cosmetics which has now grown to a range of more than 50 products. Her heel balm, propolis serum and anti-aging creams all won awards in England last year in a natural product competition.
Simply Bee’s hives are all on local nature reserves or private land, surrounded by fynbos, ensuring that their bees are kept away from crop spraying. Helena explains that they are also very focused on responsible bee keeping and will never harvest from the “brood box” where you find the larvae. Their stands are badger-friendly, aiding to the survival of the endangered African honey badger.
After watching the busy bees at work, visitors can also learn more about the farms in the area at the centre’s mini-museum. Many of Simply Bee’s bees come from local farms and in order to give back to their community, the centre runs different exhibitions every three months, displaying the history of some of these farms.
Visitors can see old photos, documents, clothes, household equipment and farming tools from years gone by.
The centre is open Mondays to Fridays from 09:00 to 17:00 and on Saturdays from 09:00 to 16:00 and entrance is free for walk-ins. Special rates apply for specially designed group tours which can be booked specifically with the observation centre.
The Simply Bee Observation Centre
This educational, interactive experience teaches everything you ever wanted to know about bees.
Packages are available for schools, study groups or tourists and picnic snacks and drinks are included.
Part of the Foodie Route
Open: (Booking is essential) Open Mon – Fri 9:00 to 17:00 and on Saturday’s until 16:00.
Where: Hopefield 31 Church Street
Contact: +27 (0)22 723 0569 | [email protected] | www.simplybee.co.za
Whether you’re looking for a fun day outing or a tranquil weekend escape, Hopefield will steal your heart and call you back for more.