For a small farming town about an hour’s drive from Cape Town, South Africa, Darling has quite a reputation. Do you know anywhere else that is simultaneously associated with craft beer, an eco-friendly music festival, a wildflower show and a social activist who is best known for his performances as an old lady named Evita?
Yep, Darling has quirks and charm from the outset. The closest I’ve come to this little town to date was the annual Rocking the Daisies festival, which is hosted on a wine farm nearby (this is where I somehow managed to underestimate the length of the drive there and ended up pitching my tent in the dark. Twice).
This time, I made it into the town of Darling itself (and in daylight hours too) to discover more. As I was visiting in the midst of summer and a drought, the drive through was more hay bales and sleepy cows than green rolling hills, but it was beautiful all the same, with the distant mountains on the horizon making the sky seem so much bigger than in the city.
While I was expecting something the size of Sutherland, this is not a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town you’d accidentally drive straight through (unless you blink a lot).
From coffee shops to relaxed craft beer taprooms, here are some of my suggestions on what to do in Darling, should you ever find yourself there.
If you’re even vaguely aware of South Africa’s craft beer scene (yes, it’s a thing), you’ve probably seen one of Darling Brew‘s edgy labels before.
With names that sound like heavy metal bands but are actually inspired by local wildlife (“Bonecrusher” for the spotted hyaena, “Rogue Pony” for the plains zebra, “Black Mist” for the Verreaux’s Eagle), the bottles definitely make a statement about what to expect inside.
Even if you’re not a beer aficionado, Darling Brew’s Taproom is still a casual and cool spot to visit on a trip through town.
With a viewing deck and tables overlooking the factory floor, your conversations will be occasionally punctuated by background noises and gently wafting barley smells arising from the nearby vats.
The walls are painted minimalist black and adorned with giant renditions of the artwork on the company’s beer bottles. They also have a small collection of merch for the beer fan in your life (mine got a t-shirt).
The food menu is quite small, carnivorous and designed to accompany the brews, but I was very happy with the only vegetarian option (a ridiculously epic local cheese-bread-fruit-awesomeness platter) and a glass of cloudy apple juice.
Of course, it is forbidden (kinda) to leave Darling without visiting the haunt of its most famous resident.
Evita se Perron is a restaurant/cabaret venue/theatre in the refurbished old Darling train station which hosts performances by satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys and his alter ego, Evita Bezuidenhout. It also serves some of South Africa’s favourite traditional foods, from milk tarts and koeksisters to bobotie.
The pink and blue block of buildings around the theatre has expanded to include a mini museum (‘nauseum’) with Apartheid-era artifacts, an art gallery, a “Boerassic Park” sculpture garden, and a gift shop selling local souvenirs and a real-life recipe book with the funniest name (“Evita’s Kossie Sikelela”).
It’s as eccentric and funny as the Tannie herself, with letters to Uys from former presidents sitting alongside posters for theatre shows with titles comprised of puns.
Still looking for ideas on what to do in Darling? Fear not – if slow brewed beer and traditional Afrikaans desserts aren’t your thing (seriously? Not even milk tart?), Darling has other options. The area is home to a few farms which offer wine tastings and meals with locally sourced and produced ingredients, including Darling Cellars and Cloof Wine Estate (just remember to book in advance to secure your spot).
I am also making a point of visiting The Marmalade Cat on my next visit, due to the wealth of complementary reviews about the place and the fact that anything named after a cat must be innately awesome.
The West Coast area is also known for fields upon fields of wildflowers, which bloom in the early spring. Darling hosts an annual wildflower show, which has been running since 1917.
Yep, Darling has a lot of character for a town so small.