The potters and carvers of Venda have such a high standard that many senior members on the Ribolla Art Route are exporting their work and teaching a new generation how to tease magic from wood and clay. This has led to an explosion of talent in the area.

Did you know?

The floods of 2000 had one positive spin-off: a treasure of wood for carvers.

The artists of Venda are always producing new work. Their inspiration comes from a dream in the night, a sudden flash in the mind – or a morning of contemplation under a paw-paw tree. They scour their neighbourhoods for materials, scavenging shattered trees brought by the floods that have swept through these villages in past decades or working with richly coloured clay to make the pots for which the region is so well-known.

This is Ribolla art in action and these artists are the living heart of the Ribolla Open Africa Route.

Developed to support the area's artists, this route through a number of villages in northern Limpopo helps to put artists on the map, making it easier for visitors and art lovers to find them – and their work. Officially, the route stretches from northern Polokwane (formerly Pietersburg) towards Musina, before joining the R524 and R523 to the Punda Maria Gate at Kruger National Park, where it joins the Hlanganani Route in the eastern part of the province.

Venda art is renowned all over the world. It's a safe bet that somewhere in New York today, a well-travelled Manhattan account executive will rest his eyes lovingly on the contours of a headless clay maiden, fashioned by Noria Mabasa or one of the artists who is following in her footsteps. In Hong Kong, a shipping mogul may lightly tap his manicured fingers on the stretched cowhide of a Phineas Masuvhelele drum, so large it dominates his Victoria Peak patio. And on a rainy morning in London, a young stockbroker may think back fondly on the time Ribolla art master Jackson Hlungwane gave him a lesson in life, and then sold him a superb piece of Venda impressionism.

Completing the route will not only put you in touch with Venda's artists. You will also be able to explore the area's cultural richness, experience its warm hospitality and be amazed by its beautiful landscapes. And if you're lucky enough to find one of the master artists hard at work, you can watch as they chisel away at a hardwood stump, charming art from ironwood until a figure begins to emerge...

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

Ribolla Tourism Association
Tel: +27 (0)15 556 4262

How to get here

The Ribolla Open Africa Route is best accessed from Elim, not far from the town of Makhado.

Around the area

This is a delightfully scenic land. Take time to gaze at the mountains and Albasini Dam.

Get around

This is a self-drive route.

Length of stay

The tour takes a day, so you'll probably want to stay at least two nights.

Where to stay

There are a number of local options, the best of which is the Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge, which has done much to cultivate many of the artists in the area and helped set up the Ribolla Art Route.

Best buys

Any of the art, especially the wood carvings, found along the route.

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