‘Once upon a time, in a land far far away’ feels like the only appropriate opening line for an article about the little village of Hogsback in the Eastern Cape.
Why? Well, simply because it is so very, very, unimaginably magical and fairy-tale-like.
While we can’t guarantee the presence of a Prince Charming or any damsels in distress (in fact, you may want to bring your own), we can confirm that there is a lush forest, quaint little houses, plenty of horses, rolling hills, waterfalls a-plenty and an undeniable sprinkling of fairy dust that settles over the dew-drenched earth every sunrise.
Even when dealing with disaster the residents fall back on folklore, holding Inkanyamba (the snake in the sky) responsible for a tornado that wreaked havoc and claimed a number of lives in the town in December 1995.
For lack of a better word, Hogsback is a ‘thin place,’ a place where the division between heaven and earth, myth and reality collapses. A place where there’s a flow between the earthly and the divine, the mundane and the mysterious.
There is, in fact, a wild rumour that this hamlet huddled in a fold of the Amathole mountain range, was in fact the inspiration for JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Completely unconfirmed, the tenuousness of this connection just adds to the myth and mystery that seems to be the kindling which fuels the homely hearthfire that is Hogsback.
Things to do:
Camelot Fairy Meander
Feel like you've stepped into a parallel universe when taking a stroll through the fairy meander at Camelot Cottages. Winding about 500m around the perimeter of the property, the meander takes you through a lush garden with a gorgeous pond and an abundance of bird life. Throughout the walk, cute and quaint fairy statues will keep you company and guide your way.
For more info, check out the Camelot Cottages website
If a taste of the truly mystical is what you're after, then artist Diana Graham's stunning Eco Shrine is an absolute must-visit. In 1995 Graham first felt inspired to create a space where art and nature, science and the sacred come together and has since had an overwhelming response of gratitude and awe from visitors.
The shrine is not dedicated to any specific religion or creed, and welcomes anyone (groups or individuals) in search of enlightenment. It is also used as a wedding, concert and exhibition venue. What makes it even more special is the fact that Graham has a very hands-on approach, taking each and every guest on a personal tour where she explains the process and motivation behind it.
For more info, check out The Eco-Shrine website
Feel like true elvien royalty when you explore the hills and valleys surrounding Hogsback on horse back. Located at the legendary Terra-Khaya backpackers, Amathole Horse Trails offers an incredible, tailor-made experience for all experience levels - from short strolls into the village for lunch to overnight rides up into the surrounding mountains.
For more info, check out Terra-Khaya's website
To experience the true charm of Hogsback, you simply have to head out on one of the many, many hiking trails surrounding the village. Picturesque pathways meander among indigenous trees, taking you past tranquil streams and spritely waterfalls. The forest is also abuzz with bird life year-round, so be sure to take a pair of binoculars and an identification book. Also, keep your eyes peeled for the mischievous samango monkeys playing about in the branches above.
For more info, check out Hogsback hiking routes
Of course the forest surrounding the town is also prime terrain for mountain biking. According to mtbroutes.co.za there are at least three main trails to try out. The Blue Cypress Loop is 8km long, the Red Deodar Loop is slightly more taxing at 14km and then there is the Green Madonna Loop which is 22km long. There is also the option to combine all three loops to boost your distance to 30km.
For more info, check out mtbroutes.co.za
Have a massage
Chances are, if you're heading to Hogsback, you're craving some good old R&R away from all the craziness and buzz of daily life. Apart from spending time in nature, getting in touch with your soulful side and meeting fairy folk, there are also a number of places offering wonderful holistic therapies. One of these is Angie's Massage Therapy, based at Away with the Fairies backpackers. Her menu includes a variety of massages, hot stone therapy and even fairy card reading.
For more info, check out Angie's Massage Therapy Facebook page
Play in the snow
Each winter, Hogsback becomes even more charming as it receives a dusting of snow. According to Hogsback's tourism office, the surrounding mountains receive snowfall a number of times during the cold months, while the town itself also gets some snow appeal at least twice a year. The most likely months for snowfall are June, July and August.
Greenpop Reforest Fest
Greenpop is a social enterprise on a mission to (re)connect people with the planet. They plant trees and have fun doing it! Greenpop has planted nearly 50 000 trees across Sub-Saharan Africa so far, be sure not to miss the Treevolution in Hogsback. Join Greenpop for some serious fun at the annual Reforestation Fest.
Set to take place in September, the festival's main objective is to plant A LOT of indigenous trees in the forests surrounding Hogsback, while enjoying simple pleasures, such as outdoor yoga, good food, good music and making new friends.
Keep an eye on Greenpop's website and Facebook page for further details closer to September
Every spring, the residents of Hogsback open up their gorgeous gardens to visitors. Hosted by the Hogsback Garden Club, visitors are invited to join guided tours of listed private gardens as well as a few carefully maintained public areas, such as the Arboretum and the Village Green.
Dates have not yet been confirmed for 2015, but the spring festivities normally take place late in September and early October.
Keep an eye on the Hogsback Garden Club blog for details.
Although it's not an official event, Autumn in Hogsback is something everyone with a love for nature and an eye for a pretty picture should experience. From the middle of April to the end of May every year, the town undergoes a dramatic change in colour from cool green, to warm red, orange, yellow and brown.
Where to eat:
A cute, red, A-frame building surrounded by a tranquil garden is what you will find when visiting Butterfly's Bistro. There is seating inside as well as outside on the veranda and under a massive oak tree. Pretty bunting flags flutter in the wind and kids are welcome to enjoy the large lawn, while parents sit back and relax with a cold drink and pizza, or coffee and cake. Open from Tuesday to Sunday every week, they offer a variety of meals, from breakfast to burgers to vegan and vegetarian.
For more information, check out the Butterfly's Bistro Facebook page
If you're looking for a touch of elegance, Nutwoods Park guesthouse offers an amazing dining experience. Over the years they have managed to secure a reputation for delectable cuisine in a romantic setting. They have a set breakfast and dinner menu, which changes on a regular basis and offer a great vegetarian option. Booking is absolutely essential!
For more information, check out the Nutwoods Park website
Restaurant at the Edge
The Edge Mountain Retreat is home to a sublime little restaurant that serves breakfast, tea, lunch and dinner. They make most of their dishes using only fresh, organic products and bake their own breads. It is highly recommended that you go during winter, to snuggle up on a freezing day while enjoying hot chocolate and/or gluhwein.
Things to buy:
For a small town, Hogsback has a wealth of crafters who walk around selling their wares in the street. Since hiking is a pretty big deal, many have taken to creating unique walking sticks and it has become something of a custom for travellers to purchase one while visiting.
Along with walking sticks, cute clay sculptures of animals and the mythical 'snake in the sky' are also very popular mementos for travellers to take home.
Things to know:
There are no ATMs!
So, be sure to draw cash beforehand.
Where to stay:
Away with the Fairies (backpackers)
Back o’ the Moon (self-catering cottage)
Bubuhle self catering
Melody Cottage at Swallowtail (self-catering cabin)