Trendy Mo & Rose is taking the Breede River Valley by storm.
Words: Diana Wemyss
Pictures: Anthony Johnson
“The place is called Soekershof (Searchers Court) after the old lady with Alzheimer’s who lived here in the 1950s,” explains Monika Schmatzl, who partners Axel Daniel in the Cape’s trendiest, new, country food destination, Mo & Rose. “She was always looking for things, because she could never remember where she’d put them.”
The nine-hectare property off the R60 between Robertson and Ashton, is a collection of gravel, stones, cacti and succulents that looks out almost longingly towards the lush, velvety folds of the Langeberg mountains.
All credit then to this young couple, Axel from Germany and Monika from Northern Italy, who integrated a disparate selection of buildings – from a 1798 barn (one of the oldest buildings between Tulbach and Swellendam) to a rather unattractive 1960s portholed ranch house – into a bright, whitewashed settlement that looks coolly Karoo and yet has an edgy European style.
When the couple renovated the buildings, turning them into a restaurant and three contemporary guest suites, it was Monika, pretty with swinging hair and a tiny, energetic build inherited from generations of internationally competitive skiers (her dad is a ski instructor), who insisted that the bizarre and random collection of spiny plants be organised into a proper garden with beds now belted with vivid green kikuyu and inviting walkways.
The restaurant at Mo & Rose is housed in an old cowshed built over a huge brandy cellar. “Every farm around here had a brandy cellar,” says Axel. “The opening to this cellar was just 600 x 600mm. Very secretive. When we opened it up we discovered no less than five concrete brandy tanks under the floor. We have turned three into a wine cellar and will eventually open up into the others.”
Axel was born in Germany and earned his hotel diploma in Cologne. He arrived in Africa for the first time in 2001 to work at the Grande Roche in Paarl. Some years later he opened and ran his own guest house, Stables Lodge, in Stellenbosch but sold it in 2008 and took off on his motorbike, travelling all the way up to Khartoum in the Sudan. He joined his parents at the Canyon Lodge in Namibia where they were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary, and met Monika.
After studying international business and economics in Europe, Monika wrote her thesis in China and ended up running her own advertising agency in Italy, with top clients that included the Munich Olympic Park. After seven years she finally took a three-week holiday in Namibia, which is where she met Axel.
After a spell living together in Italy, Monika gave up her ad agency and the couple came back to the Cape, where they bought Soekershof and opened their restaurant just over a year ago – to instant full houses. The restaurant can accommodate 40 on the shady terrace and 30 inside, and with 48 wineries in the Robertson Wine Valley it is now in the hub of wine tourist excursions.
Even better is it to enjoy a dinner on the terrace and then head for bed through the cacti – carefully – and be lulled to sleep in their guest house by the call of owls, and the laid-back ambience of the countryside that has been so carefully nurtured at Mo & Rose.
www.moandrose.co.za, 023 626 4134