Paternoster is the first place I ever saw where trees grew arms as well as branches. Sitting on the verandah of the Paternoster Hotel over 20 years ago — my back resolutely to the notorious Panty Bar — I watched these arms waving like the appendages of crayfish. Not surprising, since each arm ended in a hand that was clutching a squirming West Coast rock lobster.
This was because the lobster-fishing season was over and some of the children of local poachers hid behind trees touting their wares to travellers who, perhaps fuelled by drink, overcame their respect for legal niceties pertaining to carapace size and time of year.
The Panty Bar is still there — with much more lingerie — and I’m sure local youngsters still shill undersize and out-of-season kreef. However, it would be wrong to say that lawless rough-and-readiness completely epitomises this West Coast village.
For one thing, Paternoster has developed style over the years.
White lock-up-and-go cottages with bright shutters still proliferate (giving the village a decidedly Mediterranean appearance) but now there are also a great many high-end guesthouses. Most of these are self-catering but, given the abundance of quality restaurants, those who want to get away from the kitchen as well as the city for a few days will not be limited for choice.
A more recent appearance has been the odd boutique hotel.
The really odd boutique hotel is five-star Abalone House. Johan Jansen van Vuuren and Stef Venter bought the house in 2003 because, says the former, “it was the only one in that part of Paternoster big enough to accommodate all our stuff”.
The couple brought truckloads of furniture and bric-a-brac from Bela-Bela and grew the dwelling around their lifetimes’ possessions, calling in renowned Cape Town interior designer-decorator David Strauss to assist in a “labour of love, passion and fun”.
Though they stayed in the house till 2010, their intention was always to convert it into a guesthouse by building additional bedrooms around and above the large courtyard.
Jansen van Vuuren describes the collection of décor items a regte mengelmoes (a real jumble). Abalone House approaches kitsch so far from the opposite side it comes across as wonderfully eccentric.
Huge, brightly lit Tretchikoff prints dominate the reception area and each of the dozen or so guest bedrooms, little white ducks waddle and quack in the garden or roost under geranium bushes — think Andy Warhol meets Beatrix Potter.
It all emphasises the quirky style of the place. They are vital ingredients in helping visitors to enjoy their stay because, pretty as Paternoster can be during summer, it can be rather bleak in winter.
But I like Paternoster in winter. You have the place almost to yourself. Because summer and the recreational lobster-fishing season (mid-November to end-March) largely coincide, the village becomes an over-crowded holiday town and loses almost all its West Coast charm.
In winter you can truly enjoy the solitude of windswept beaches and rocks. The indigenous birdlife returns as scavenging gulls, redwing starlings and pigeons go in search of better pickings. You can get a seat at the Panty Bar or at the restaurants.
Or you can return to Abalone House for a confection-rich high tea while the enormous rooikrans-stoked fire thaws the chill from your suburban bones.
The journalist was hosted by Abalone House.
Perfect weekend getaway: Paternoster is great for couples and those needing a break from city life. A new Healing Earth spa with five treatment rooms opens in September, so it’s the perfect destination for those seeking some serious pampering.
Accessibility: Paternoster is about 145km (an hour and 40 minute drive) from Cape Town on the coastal West Coast Road (R27 through to Vredenburg).
Contact: Phone 021 022 752 2044 or visit abalonehouse.co.za. There are regular winter specials on offer: call 087 820 5999 for details.
Rates: From R995 per person sharing per night and includes breakfast and afternoon tea.