PERUSING PIGGLY WIGGLY
This wonderful gathering spot for Midlands travellers has become as much of a destination as a stopover during the past 21 years. O&A visited for some hard earned retail therapy in the country.
This is a must stop-off and meeting spot for all of those doing the Midlands Meander or even travelling between Durban and Johannesburg.
A turn off the N3 after you pass Mooi River (or just before if you are heading inland from Durban) at the Howick / Tweedie off ramp, a right turn on to the R103 towards Tweedie and it is hard to miss. Surrounded by vineyards, Piggly Wiggly has a huge parking area up front and is a cluster of little shops that make for hours of fun exploring for shopaholics like me.
But it didn’t start out that way. During a visit to the Dargle Valley a few years ago, I was told that the Piggly Wiggly story was one of humble beginnings, beginning with a simple farm stall that stocked locally grown produce.
Framer Rudi Kassier had apparently bought Highgate Farm in 1996 to bring up his children in the beautiful Midlands with its great schools and to do a bit of farming himself. The farm stall became a regular stop off for both locals and visitors simply because of its perfect location. In response to requests for coffee and snacks, the now very busy thatched Piggly Wiggly coffee shop was born and the farm stall upgraded to a deli that would showcase local produce and brands as part of the increasingly popular Midlands Meander.
Since then, things have, quite literally, snowballed. When wine arrived in the Midlands, a well-stocked wine shop sprung up followed by five hectares of vineyards and a cellar which produces up to 18 000 bottles per year, depending on which vines the weather favours during one particular year.
I’m told that the first vine planted at Piggly Wiggly in 2004 still resides outside the coffee shop which now also boasts a sign informing people that Piggly Wiggly has its own coffee roastery and a small adventure park complete with climbing wall and zip line, making this ideal for kids who have been cooped up in the car to blow off some steam.
Talking of steam, there’s also a mini replica steam train, known as the Lions River Railway, that does its rounds in the centre of what has since morphed into a village of small retailers to entertain the littles. The entertainment offering also includes mini golf, Dingo’s Farm and reptile park which allows youngsters to meet not only farm animals but a few less benign critters, including snakes and reptiles. For crafty kiddos, there’s dipping and even decorating pottery at the Clay Bar at the ZULU LULU Art House and gallery.
I like to park the family at the coffee shop – or any of the other four eateries that have since sprung up at Piggly Wiggly over the years – and then set out on my own shopping expedition. Over weekends and public holidays, Piggle Wiggly does get super busy, so you might need to patiently queue for a table as, to the best of my knowledge, they do not take bookings. However, you can put your name on a waiting list and take a stroll around what is now known as Piggly Wiggly Country Village.
Alternatively, you can find a spot at the pizzeria or head to the Pantry where I have always bought goodies (crusty bread or preserves) to take home. It now has its own space so you can eat them on site.
A SHOPPERS GUIDE TO PIGGLY WIGGLY
There are two important things to say here – the first is that there’s something for everyone and the second that this is not about bargain items but quality, hand crafted collectibles with prices to match.
If mountain biking – which has become extremely popular in the Midlands over the last decade or so – is your thing, then there’s a great biking shop as you drive in. If you’re looking for outdoor gear, there’s Dirt Road Traders.
I always lose my bookworm hubby to the tomes in Huddy’s Bookshop and then head off to my favourites, taking in the beautiful roses in the surrounding gardens (if it is the right season, of course).
Top of my list will always be Homewood which is a treasure trove of handcrafted furniture which is made from 100% sustainable and locally sourced hardwoods including cottonwood, sugar gum, camphor and river red gum. The wood is sourced from the Working for Water Programme which is tackling the problem of alien invasive trees in the Midlands.
If, like me, you enjoy the magical colours of different woods and the differing textures and grains, then you will find yourself in a wonderland. Design is more contemporary than classic with detailing like woven seating making for signature pieces that will find a home in your house forever. If you don’t have a vehicle to transport big ticket items like head boards or dining room tables, there are also beautifully formed smaller items like turned wooden bowls, lamps and chopping boards.
As I am drawn to basketry, I always head to Zende Handmade Creations and then to a favourite haunt, the ZULU LULU Art House. Owner-managed by Charles and Vanessa Cadman, this is an ever-changing space populated with pieces by well-known as well as up-and-coming South African painters, sculptors, ceramic artists and even glassmakers. I am drawn to it mainly because the prices are less daunting than the fine art collection at the nearby Platform Gallery and because there is always a wonderful selection of wildlife art which is a personal passion.
As already mentioned, there’s also plenty to do for those exploring their inner artist. Select a blank pottery piece and dip your brush in to some paint to create a unique piece that can be glazed and fired in the on-site kiln for later collection by those staying over. Alternatively, you can arrange for your master piece to be couriered directly to your door when you get home.
If you are passing by or planning to spend a few days in the Midlands, check with the gallery as there is often a range of art activities happening, including dot art, acrylic pouring kiddies canvas work and even mandala canvas art.
Another favourite on the art front has to be Glass Cuttings where I have purchased a number of special gifts over the years. Favourites of mine have always been the small candle boxes and the wide selection of sun catches that include everything from kingfishers and other indigenous birds to frogs and butterflies – all made from tiny slivers of brightly coloured glass. There’s also a selection of stained glass lampshades (and the shop is happy to make and courier bespoke items that suit your colour palette at home) as well as clear plant holders that are a great way to hang and display house plants plus a wide range of jewellery made from glass beads that are created using a flame torch.
This is also a great place to source some very special Christmas decoration during the festive season.
If I want to add a little charm reminiscent of a high end boutique culinary outlet in the likes of London’s Covent Garden, I always visit the sophisticated Wedgewood store where you can gather everything from hand crafted confectionery that includes the brand’s signature a handmade nougat and nougat inspired biscuits to other gifts and wrapping paper. The beautiful displays and elegant chandeliers always linger long after I have moved on.
Other shops that I enjoy trawling at Piggly Wiggly include the Linen Loft with its offering of luxury homeware, the Eclectic Magpie (for gifts and odds and ends) and clothing stores Franke and Delilah and Freerange Clothing and Interiors where the beautiful fashion items and home accessories that effortlessly combine classic African design with timeless elegance. Another must visit is Emily Louise for a range of handmade leather goods that include exquisite bags.
Of course, there is still more at Piggly Wiggly but I need to stop there.
Over the past 21 years (Piggly Wiggly celebrated that important date in August this year), this retail cluster and good food stop-over has become ever more popular and will probably continue to grow further.
I love the fact that Piggly Wiggly has always remained true to supporting local producers, artisans and designers. Call me selfish, but I must admit that I hope that it doesn’t spread too far afield as people latch on to what has become a truly special space. The lesson to be learnt here is that there is a very fine line between country charm and exclusivity and gimmickry and greed. Fingers crossed!