When I lived in the UK, an hour drive was a pretty long way. When I worked on yachts, my opinion on travel length times changed dramatically, when you sail across an ocean for 2 weeks without seeing another boat let alone land. But now that I’ve settled back in Cape Town, driving for 2 hours is neither here nor there. It’s such a vast and diverse place that if you place a circle around Cape Town with a two hour drive distance you could be in hugely different places, on long white sand beaches or in the middle of a mountain range with nothing but a sea of green.
So driving two hours for a weekend break or exploring a new area isn’t a very daunting idea at all. Sarah and I were only too happy to discover some new places, with the help of Mira, the local wisdom keeper of the Langeberg area.
Often, there’s a road that you drive past, you notice it and wonder what might be down there if you follow its twists and turns, but you never do. Well, this trip was our version of going down the rabbit hole, whilst being guided in the best direction.
Maybe you’ve been to Cape Town before, maybe not. Perhaps you want a change from the bustling city and want to experience a slower pace of life. In this farming area, you’ll get just that, and more. With such friendly and welcoming people, stunning scenery and of course some great tasting wine, I can’t see a downside, even if you are a city person.
We first drove out to Excelsior, watching the landscape change and breathing the fresh country air. Meeting our group at Graze Deli we all met, and of course as you do, discover that it’s an extremely small world and you have many mutual connections. We indulged in a morning coffee to disperse the last of the cob webs and advanced to our first stop of the day.
Weltevrede Estate lies next to the R317 in Bonnievale, backing onto the Breerivier. Handed down from generation to generation, the estate now belongs to Philip, the 3rd generation owner at the moment, a well-established history then. But, recently they made an incredible discovery. Underneath their current cellar, they found giant underground concrete wine vats. Instead of the beautifully crafted oak barrels we are used to today, these bees waxed containers is where the wine would ferment back in the day. They first found the ‘lid’ of one of these concrete boxes, and on in, they’ve now hand excavated a large number of vats, none with wine in unfortunately, but they estimate that there could be an area as large as 2 rugby fields of hidden underground wine cellars. What’s great is that you can go underground and experience a unique wine tasting inside a wine vat that’s over 100 years old, a new twist on a barrel tasting perhaps.
Making a change and building for the future is always important, Weltevrede are doing just that and are fully investing in the local farm working community. Providing not only care and jobs but, there is even a fund for education, and for the first time are funding a son of a worker at Stellenbosch University to become a viticulturist.
As is always the case, Sarah and I just can’t help purchasing great wine. So we got a couple of bottles of their delicious Cabernet Sauvignon, we’ll have to give an update on whether it tastes different when not underground.
Retracing our steps back along the R317 we were headed back to Excelsior, for a brief off-road excursion through the vineyards and citrus orchards, breathing in the amazing smell of the Fynbos, to the top of a hill on the Excelsior Estate. You step out of the car, and walk to the edge of a ‘hill’, which you definitely wouldn’t want to roll down. But the view is undeniably breath taking. A full panorama of the valley below, displaying its best vineyards, orchards and olive groves, combined with the natural beauty of the mountains. It almost epitomises the laid-back, slower pace of this entire area.
Excelsior has a unique offering, that I haven’t yet seen anywhere else. You can blend your own wine! Ok, it’s not super scientific, working out pH levels, sulphur contents and alcohol levels like a pro, but it’s still great fun. We tasted 3 of their red wines, and depending on taste buds (we’re all different) we chose our favourite wine to use as a base, and blend a selection of the three until you have a taste profile that you’re happy with. But that’s not all; once I’d finished creating my masterpiece, I got to bottle it too.
All of the excitement, and wine testing had made me hungry, it was time for lunch at Graze Deli at Excelsior. Lunch on a wine farm is always one of my favourite things to do, whether it’s just a snack, or a fine dining experience, every time there is just a special atmosphere for me. My hearty, flavourful burger with ‘famous homemade BBQ sauce’ was definitely a winner!
It’s always great when you find a hidden gem, and we were so very pleasantly surprised when we got to our next and final destination for the day. Jan Harmsgat is also a working farm; they produce walnuts, citrus, olives and wine, quite the collection. They even take you on a guided farm drive so that you can see the scale of the farm, and what they’re also trying to do for conservation, but more on that later. They also have wonderful accommodation in an old farmhouse, that’s been modernised and I felt warm and cosy as soon as I stepped inside. Maybe it’s just my love of a thatched roof, but there’s no denying these rooms are just beautiful, a huge super comfortable bed, massive bathtub and stunning views from the windows.
The farm is split in two by a road running between Ashton and Swellendam, so the accommodation is situated on one side of the road, whilst most of the farmland is across the road opposite. We walked to the central courtyard in the farm, and were met with an open ‘game reserve’ style vehicle, and the beaming smile of Jonty our guide for the drive. We drove along the farm paths, kicking up dust behind us and taking in the incredible scenery and the Langeberg mountain range. Whilst descending down a steep hill, a clearing was visible, and here we made an unexpected stop. Jonty set up two great platters with such delicious looking figs, walnuts, preserves, crackers, it makes me hungry now thinking about it. He then proceeded with a wine tasting, telling us about Jan Harmsgat’s wines and farming community. It is the most remote wine tasting that I’ve ever done.
Later back at the hotel, it was a crisp night, and the draw of sitting around a fire with a great glass of wine before dinner was undeniable. There’s not much light pollution in this area, so the stars are brilliant, they shone above whilst we chatted keeping warm around the fire, with some more wine of course. With sufficiently whetted appetites we made our way to the table inside for our ‘wine & dine dinner’.
The General Managers wife is the Head Chef at Jan Harmsgat, which creates a friendly atmosphere at the hotel, which reflects perfectly the warm and genuine hospitality. And boy oh boy, did she treat us to divine cuisine.
A crisp morning greeted us the next day. And after a wonderful sleep we filled our tanks with a mammoth breakfast. From here it was onwards and upwards to Swellendam. The landscape is truly phenomenal and it’s a great drive through the country. Our first stop was Wildebraam Berry Estate, for a liqueur and preserve tasting, the hazelnut is a must try, and goes great with an evening hot chocolate! We unfortunately mistimed the berry but they have a public pick your own harvest in December, so we’ll have to head back!
We took a drive around Swellendam, and took in the sights and stopping to do a touch of shopping. And after we’d had our liqueurs the appetites had a chance to kick in, well mine at least. So we headed to Tredici, an Italian restaurant serving wholesome, hearty food, but they also offer great gifts from cookware to home decorations, plus they make great Gelato!
I had to roll back to the car, and then we rolled through to Montagu and checked in to the art deco Montagu Country Hotel. If you’re looking for a throwback to 70’s Miami but in a small countryside town then you’re in the right place. Montagu once found worldwide fame, when the who’s who would travel to experience the natural hot springs.
We cruised past the hot springs as if we really were in 70’s Miami, riding in a classic Cadillac. This is an exceptional offering from Montagu Country Hotel, you can take a tour of the town, go wine tasting, even arrive at your wedding in one of their two American classic cars. We took a tour of this sleepy, countryside town, where professional cycling teams come to train and saw some unbelievable views from a hilltop lookout.
Sadly, the next morning, our short trip had come to an end, and we needed to return to the Mother City to carry on with some work. But our trip to the Langeberg had revitalised us, even after just this short time. So why not check it out, I’m sure it will surprise you!
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