WE HEAD OUT TO THE HIDDEN GEM OF MATJIESVLEI IN THE LITTLE KAROO TO MEET UP WITH JAN BRAAI

Experience the charm of Matjiesvlei with founder of the braai day movement, Jan Scannell, aka ‘Jan Braai’.

As the founder of national braai day, Jan Braai has become a symbol of South African heritage, growing his passion for braaing into a range of shows, bestselling books and experiences. We spent a day with him at his family retreat in Matjiesvlei, a small, hidden valley in the Swartberg mountains of the Klein Karoo.

“My father’s grandparents were from the area so he’s always loved the Klein Karoo, and 20 years ago we bought this piece of land in this beautiful valley, and started restoring the old houses that used to be part of a little town. This is where we come to relax, and where I develop all my braai thoughts and recipes. And now with COVID-19 changing the way that the world functions, I decided to essentially relocate for a while and just enjoy the Platteland.”

The Chartered Accountant turned Braai Master shares, “What I like most about Matjiesvlei, apart from how relaxing it is here, is just how incredibly beautiful it is.” 

He then commenced his tour of the farm which started with his impressive selection of braais, that includes a Fire Pit aka “the main braai”, his “Smoker”, his “Half Oil Barrel Braai” where Jan shares that he prepares steak and drinks brandy and coke, a “Souvla Braai” which he uses for greek style rotisserie braaing that’s for him usually accompanied by a crisp white wine, and his “Truck Wheel Braai” that he uses more for d’oeuvres style prep at sunset while enjoying a bit of gin and tonic – and those were only the options on his front garden! 

Tucked between the Outeniqua, Swartberg and Rooiberg mountains, the nearby village of Calitzdorp has plenty to offer. This central hub is known as the fruit basket of the Karoo and has become world famous for its production of fortified wine known as port. 

We accompanied Jan on the 10 minute drive to South Africa’s Port Capital for a tasting at Boplaas Family Vineyards.

Boplaas Marketing Manager, Rozanne Nel shares where it all started. “Calitzdorp became famous for port by accident. My grandfather orders Shiraz vines from a nursery in the Cape but got Tinta Barocca grapes instead, made wine for 10 years with Shiraz on the label and didn’t know it. My dad Karel Nel realised it definitely was not Shiraz, but actually the Portuguese grape popular for making port.” 

Rozanne tells us that her dad then went to Portugal to visit all the producers and learnt how to make port the traditional way, which ultimately led to Calitzdorp becoming so well known for the fortified wine. We also learned that that award-winning port can also be distinguished by its beautiful, rich red colour.

In true South African fashion we then headed back to Matjiesvlei to light a fire, and enjoy some port with a fantastic meal prepared by Jan Braai himself, consisting of a delicious relish on boerewors rolls. 

He there shares that “The idea with National Braai day was never for it to change my life the way it did. Did I ever intend to be a media personality – absolutely not. Did I intend for National Braai day to be the most famous movement in South Africa – absolutely. It’s all about uniting all South African’s around the fire one day a year.” 

Reinventing the business of braa’ing and relocating his family to the Karoo seems to have brought a sense of freedom to Jan’s life. We sure are blessed with the beauty and richness that our country has to offer and Matjiesvlei is just one of those many hidden gems.    

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