I’ve long written about the comfort that spending time back home in Africa gives me. It is what inspired the creation of ROAR AFRICA to start with. The generosity of space, colors, smells and the clarity of light – all a collective balm that I crave when I'm away and actively seek out when I'm there. And, of course, the silence that is always felt most keenly in the bush.
Which is how I found myself at Sterrekopje a month ago, an intimate new sanctuary at the foothills of the Franschhoek Mountains just outside Cape Town in South Africa. One of the oldest farms in Franschhoek, Sterrekopje encompasses 50 hectares of land dedicated to regenerative farming with ancient olive groves, grapevines and some 60 varietals of indigenous and heritage plants, in addition to two dams and various eco-friendly swimming pools scattered in and amongst a collection of old, rare trees.
It’s a magical, therapeutic place where time seems to stand still and where the landscape and the rhythms of farm life conspire to connect you to the earth and yourself. But the quiet, oh the quiet, is what struck me most when I arrived. Birdsong, the sway of the trees in the breeze, the soft crush of gravel underfoot and the meditative hum of a dragonfly hovering over the water – to hear all this is to understand what American acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton meant when he said: “quiet is the think tank of the soul”.
A peaceful sanctuary
The original farm buildings date back as far as 1694. Now the color of pale pink clay, they work in harmony with the landscape. Transformed into 11 private sanctuaries, each a unique retreat, they are carefully curated to inspire gentle contemplation, creativity and restorative sleep. As do the communal areas which encompass numerous intimate indoor and outdoor lounge and dining spaces in a palette of earthy colors, tactile textures and handcrafted furniture that made me want to touch, sit on and experience everything.
For Sterrekopje owners and partners in life, Nicole Boekhoorn and Fleur Huijskens, although they only bought the farm three years ago, they came to it with a deep sense of destiny.
A deeper connection to self
“As a child, I traveled a lot with my family who were always searching for hidden, off-the-beaten-track retreats,” says Nicole. “Even then, South Africa and Franschhoek were favorite destinations and that feeling has grown even stronger as an adult.” Although Nicole was drawn to midwifery and alternative medicine, she ended up studying hotel management and pursuing an MBA, all the while racking up an impressive knowledge across the spectrum of wellness – from yoga to regenerative farming, ancestral consciousness and breathing meditations.
“About eight years ago, I started thinking about opening a sanctuary and initially looked in Europe until I got an invitation to a wedding in South Africa and I realized that this was where it needed to be,” she says. A month later, Nicole saw a photograph of the farm and her entire body went into freefall.
“I was filled with a deep sense that this was where we could provide experiences that foster deeper connections with our true female selves,” says Nicole. “For Fleur and I, Sterrekopje is a deeply feminine space and consequently a place that we hope will allow women and men to connect again with themselves, nature and others and experience transformative rest,” explains Nicole. “We hope to invoke a time when we lived in harmony with nature, where qualities such as nurturing, intuition and matriarchal wisdom were not only celebrated but prized.”
An intuitive journey
A choice of journeys – three, five or seven days – is on offer at Sterrekopje and each one is best described as a slow unfolding of your unconscious mind as you move from your head into your body. A multi-faceted approach incorporating touch, breath, sound, meditation, reiki and other intuitive therapies take place in the most beautiful treatment spaces defined by color, handmade tiles, frescoed walls and ceilings adorned with floral sculptures. I had to cast aside any preconceptions I may have had, for here rest is an essential daily practice – not an accumulation of treatments. I must confess it took a while for me to adapt, having arrived armed with reading material, podcasts and a mountain of work to plough through. But between the therapies, yoga, qigong, wild water swimming, baking and clay experiences on offer, I found myself mostly sitting and staring off into the distance without glancing at any of it. And to my amazement, I even succumbed to a mid-morning nap one day too – a first!
Nicole and Fleur’s belief that farms and gardens can teach you much about yourself, your place in the world and the interconnectedness of everything is most tangibly felt here too. Future plans to include equestrian therapy as an offering mean that Leon and Kana, the farm’s two Appaloosa horses, and miniature donkeys Alberto and Rosa-Maria, are part of the experience. Along with Croissant and Frangipane, a pair of potbelly pigs, and chickens Mary, Martha and Maxine. And not forgetting the latest recruits – Jersey cows Georgette and Frances. Beehives are coming soon too.
And then there’s the food. Reason enough to visit. In addition to the best lemon risotto I’ve tasted in my life, I devoured a largely plant-based menu that was varied, delicious, wholesome and wholly organic. Fresh whole juices and excellent coffee to start the day and meals when and where you want to enjoy them were right up my alley. Nicole and Fleur’s belief that conscious consumption and joyful indulgence can coexist in the same kitchen, at the same table, and on the same plate, is perfectly espoused by chef Carine, whose menus are underpinned by a philosophy of eating seasonally, respectfully, and with as little waste as possible. “We grow, harvest, and raise many of our own ingredients, and we support a collective of local biodynamic farms beyond our 50 hectares,” she explains.
Fleur’s background in politics and her interest in how humans come to collaborate add necessary gravitas to the offering at Sterrekopje. “Everything we do at the front of house happens at the back of house too,” says Fleur. “We aim to create a family and a culture of trust, where we can speak our truth. It’s not so much about skills or work performance but about creating empowerment within each member of the team through practicing respectful, honest communication.” In our profoundly uncertain world, this is pioneering and ambitious. But having just returned from our Women’s Empowerment Trip in Rwanda, where trust was an essential learning in every one of our speakers’ journeys, it’s a critical insight.
“It all started in Africa and it will all end in Africa,” Nicole said to me over lunch on my last day. I couldn’t agree more. In the confusion of modern life, Sterrekopje feels like a homecoming.