houses

paternoster beach cottage

Text Leigh Robertson Styling Greg Mellor Production Kathy Mellor Photographs Micky Hoyle West Coast summers are not exactly tranquil affairs, as anyone who’s travelled up this wild Western Cape stretch in the hopes of a balmy beach holiday will tell you. It’s often windy and swimming in the Atlantic Ocean is reserved for the brave hearted. This desolately beautiful coastline might not be everyone’s idea of fun – the little coastal fishing villages don’t boast much of a nightlife, unless you count the odd locals-populated hotel bar, and there’s a dearth of things to do if your restless urges aren’t quelled by a walk along the water’s edge or flipping through a book between bouts of gazing out to sea. But for many people that’s a big part of its allure. There are those for whom getting away from it all – in absolutely every sense – and immersing themselves in nature and the simple joys of life is as good as it gets. And no less so than for Richard Butt, the Cape Town- based owner of a modest stone cottage near Paternoster, which he’d fortuitously been shown during a visit to the area some eight years ago. Built in the typical West Coast vernacular, it’s one of just 10 set on a private nature reserve overlooking several kilometres of undisturbed beach. Of significance was the emphasis placed by all the reserve’s stakeholders on restoring and preserving this highly sensitive tract of coast, which had become ‘a four-wheel drive playground’, almost destroying the dunes. Now that the vehicles are no longer allowed, however, the rock pools and natural mussel and anemone banks have recovered and, says the owner, ‘there are few signs of man’s destruction, with the dunes now covered in natural vegetation’. Even the once dangerously dwindling oystercatcher population is now growing notably. ‘The birdlife here is incredible,’ he adds. Built from local stone and designed specifically to blend into the surrounding indigenous countryside, you can hardly see the cottages when looking from a distance. What does pop out rather pleasingly is the pale aqua of the shutters and gates; the same colour the sea turns when wind and light conspire just so. (It’s also echoed in subtle touches throughout the house, from an old wooden kist to piles of collected crockery on a floating shelf in the kitchen.) With three bedrooms (one of which is in the attic) and two bathrooms, the cottage sleeps six comfortably. ‘Six is an easy crowd,’ he says, ‘and everyone tends to do their own thing’. It could mean taking the footpath down to the beach and gathering mussels off the rocks for dinner, or finding a quiet corner to read. For him, it’s ‘a real barefoot cottage, where people can just completely relax’. The cottage needed little work done and the owner was emphatic in keeping things as ‘uncomplicated, basic and uncluttered’ as possible. ‘I wanted the interiors to reflect Greek simplicity,’ he says. And indeed the whitewashed walls within instil a sense of calm, while the views are masterfully framed by small windows set at regular intervals. There’s a soothing feeling of containment here. The only major change was converting the formerly unutilised backyard into a ‘taverna’, equipped with a discreet, stone-clad pizza oven where all the cooking now happens. The fire also lends generous warmth to the cheerful space, where everyone congregates for meals and which, come evening, is cosily illuminated by oil lamps and hurricane lanterns. In keeping with the desire for simplicity, there’s no electricity – water is gas heated, while humble candles and lanterns lend ‘a fabulous personality’ to the cottage at night. Borrowed from the Italians, ‘the table is life’ is a favourite expression of the owner’s and which aptly describes holidays at the cottage. ‘There’s a lot of time spent eating and drinking and chatting and chilling,’ he smiles.

The Owner's Home Truths

Holidays here are all about kicking off your shoes and renewing your energy. It really is a place of escape as there’s absolutely nothing that interferes: cellphone contact is difficult, and there aren’t even any electrical points. One of the things I love most about living here is that, as a private nature reserve, this stretch of coastline can never be spoilt. The preservation of such pristine natural places for future generations is key. The word that best describes time spent here is simplicity, in keeping with the undisturbed surrounds and the ever-present sound of the sea. We collect our own crayfish in season and collect sufficient mussels off the rocks for the evening table. The focus of all our eating here is the pizza oven in the taverna: we use it for everything from baking bread to grilling crayfish or slow- roasting a leg of lamb. The essence of pizza-oven cooking is getting the temperature right. My favourite local spot is The Noisy Oyster (022-752-2196) for lunch. Closer to the beach, Gaaitjie (022-752-2242) also has good food, while Die Voorstrand (022-752-2038) has an amazing location. For the best pizza in Paternoster, we go to Blikkie’s Pizzeria (blikkie.co.za) housed in a delightful old corrugated-iron fisherman’s cottage towards Tietiesbaai. This article was originally featured in the December 2011 issue of House and Leisure.