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Cullinan - A Hidden Gem

The difference between ‘hamlet and ‘village’, that legendary raconteur Bill Bryson once pointed out, is that one is a place where people live and the other is a play by Shakespeare. I ruminate over this as I steer my car down Cullinan’s Lilliputian high street. Littered with antique shops, bistros and stone cladded Herbert Baker-style homes, the place really is pretty as an oil painting. A handsome scene such as this, I muse, won’t be sullied with posturing language. “I decree Cullinan a village,” I announce to no one in particular, “not a hamlet”.

So here we are in the village of Cullinan, made famous for its astounding diamond yields. Most famous of all, the Cullinan Diamond, discovered in 1905, and now encrusting the British Crown Jewels, which is a bit cheeky, I think, even more so when you consider that us Commonwealth Saffas now have to cough up visas when visiting that damp squib of an island. But that’s quite enough fist shaking from me, back to the mammoth rock. Weighing in at a hefty and as yet unmatched 3 106 carats (about the size of a man’s fist, if you’re taking notes), the Cullinan Diamond was cut into 11 neat, manageable segments. It took three craftsmen eight months, and 14-hour shifts to cut and polish the sparkly stones. And big finds continue in Cullinan to this day. In January of this year, a rare £10 million blue diamond, thought to be the clearest ever found, was discovered at the Cullinan mine, and just four years ago, a rare vivid-blue diamond boasting a flawless clarity was unearthed there – a truly astonishing find. The mine itself is nearly four times the size of the man-mined Big Hole of Kimberley. And now on to a ‘gat’ of another kind… Gastehys JanHarmsgat, to be precise, and where I happen to be sleeping tonight.

It’s a bit like falling down the Rabbit Hole; such is JanHarm Vorster’s ability to create fantasy with plants, space and food. Jan’s extraordinary garden and fairytale décor inspirations suffuse every detail of the four guestrooms, from the zany door in the roof of Leka Room’s bathroom, to the suspended
chairs that double as bedside lamps in Fansy Suite, it’s all bewildering, but in the best way possible. Lush art punctuates the walls and I am thrilled to have a Walter Battiss silkscreen in my room. Bags deposited in my appointed ‘Leka’ room, it’s Beer O’Clock time.

“Do you know how many people ask if I’ve changed my surname to match my passion?” chuckles brewmaster, André de Beer. The Cockpit Brewhouse is a rollicking place to siphon off a few hours, while getting mildly addled on craft beer. Which is exactly what I embark on and with my empties, laced with beer suds, stacking up, André needs no encouragement to talk me through the tasting notes of his tipples. My personal favourite? André’s Black Widow Stout, with its creamy texture and roasted flavours of coffee and dark chocolate.

Hiccupping, I wobble my way to Jan Harmsgat se Agterplaas, owned by the same JanHarm aforementioned, here we have a zany theatre-cum-antique shop-cum venue space, replete with said Jan’s extraordinary upcycled garden and fairytale decor inspirations. Imagine an Owl House vibe with a lather of bunting. Incidentally, if you’re looking for a wedding space, and your style veers towards unconventional, the cavernous and colourful indoor theatre at Jan’s could just fit the bill.

Suppertime, and I’ve been looking forward to excavating the menu at As Greek as it Gets all day. A popular evergreen with locals and visitors alike, remember to book ahead. Risk winging it and you might find yourself on the pavement eyeballing diners enviously. I start with saganaki – that’s crumbed feta topped with piquant sour cherries, and then I move on to kleftiko, slow roasted lamb. The food is astonishingly good, and the owner, a Rubenesque figure, is quite comfortably out to lunch in an extravagant way that only larger-than-life restaurant patriarchs can be. Having extricated myself from the vice-like grip of patron-chef Stavros, I stroll back to Gastehys JanHarmsgat, guzzle the contents of the sherry tincture bottle that thoughtfully greets me at my turndown (I’m an animal, what can I say) and promptly fall into a coma ensconced in a dream of downy linen.

I awaken to birdsong and cherry blossoms outside my pretty sash window, filigreed.



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