Text Catherine Born Production Retha Erichsen Photographs Donna Lewis
Over the crest of Sir Lowry’s Pass, just an hour’s drive from Cape Town, the Elgin Valley is a patchwork of orchards, vineyards and forests, bracketed by the Peregrine Farm Stall in the west and the Houw Hoek Farm Stall in the east. While it is easy to speed past without giving the area a second thought, you’d be missing out if you didn’t take a detour and do some exploring.
Peregrine Farm Stall marks the start of the Elgin Valley, and has been a landmark padkos-stop since 1964. Famous for fresh koeksisters and Josy the resident pot- bellied pig, the Elgin Valley Market (021-848-9011, elginvalleymarket.co.za) on the same grounds is open every Saturday between 9am and 2pm. Justin Burls of Peregrine describes it as ‘a communal effort to offer food lovers a unique country shopping experience surrounded by the beauty of the Elgin Valley’. Food enthusiasts will enjoy tasting and stocking up on locally produced artisan products such as Elgin free-range chicken roasted in garlic, sage, coriander or Thai ginger; oak-smoked olive oil from Aphrodisiac Shack; Feast-de-Renaissance preserved fruits (think pears in red wine or oranges conserved in brandy); and Elizabeth Wood’s spiced nuts and rusks that will fortify you as you stroll between the stalls. Also at the market, The Red Tractor Café’s mini spinach-and-feta quiches and pecan-nut shortbread are delicious take-home fare, and it would be wrong to leave apple country without trying a glass of the Café’s freshly pressed, unfiltered apple juice. Hang around for the cooking demonstrations by chefs who prepare dishes using locally sourced ingredients. After all the inspiration at the farmers’ market, you’ll be in the mood to head to Gordon Manuel @ The Venue at South Hill (021-844-0033, southhill.co.za) for lunch. It’s built to resemble a barn, with enormous wooden doors opening onto views of vines and mountains, while the walls inside are decorated with local artworks on loan from Red! The Gallery in Cape Town. ‘Not a bad place to come to work every day,’ says chef Gordon Manuel who’s ‘on a mission to put Elgin on the gourmet food map.’ He cooks according to traditional French methods and creates menus that change on a weekly basis. (His wild-mushroom-and-truffle risotto was the best risotto we’ve ever eaten.) If you’re looking for a more laid-back lunch option, make like the locals and head to the Houw Hoek Farm Stall (028-284-9015, houwhoekfarmstall.co.za). The eggs Benedict and Caesar salad come highly recommended and here you’ll find the best cup of coffee in the valley – in true country style portions are generous. Grab a seat at one of the sun-dappled tables under the vines but be warned … this is the type of spot where afternoons disappear inside animated conversations.
While Elgin is known for its apples and pears (65 per cent of South Africa’s apples are grown here), the sea breezes that cool the area have helped mark the Overberg as premium wine country: the tasting panel for Platter’s SA Wines reserved their top ratings for the Riesling, Noble Late Harvest and Gewürztraminer grown in this valley, so stopping to taste wine should be a priority. We rate the Weisser Riesling Noble Late Harvest and Seven Flags Pinot Noir from Paul Cluver Wines (021-844-0605, cluver.com), while Oak Valley (oakvalley.co.za) also makes superb wines (try the OV Sauvignon Blanc Semillon and the Chardonnay). Highlands Road Estate (highlandsroadestate.co.za, Wednesday to Sunday from 8.30am to 3pm) is a great place to take the kids – they can fish in the dam, play boules or climb the jungle gym made from old wine staves while Mum and Dad taste wine maker Justin Hoy’s offerings. There’s a deli near the tasting room where you can enjoy a blissful lunch of local and imported cheeses, cured meats, quiches and salads, often served by Justin and his team when they aren’t busy making wine. If you’d prefer to sit at the water’s edge, they also prepare family-sized picnic baskets.
After a relaxing day spent wandering between markets, restaurants and wine farms, you won’t be in a hurry to return home. Luckily, the area has plenty of sleepover spots that will lure you into staying longer. If you fancy the close- to-nature aspect of camping but aren’t willing to swap your bed for the floor, then Elgin Hills Luxury Tented Camp (021-846-8119, elginhills.co.za, from R790 per tent, B&B), with its comfy beds and en-suite bathrooms is for you. Spread out in indigenous forest, the tents each have a private deck, while the communal lapa is the perfect gathering spot to share a bottle of wine in front of a log fire on chilly evenings. Ideal for a group of friends looking to get away for a weekend are the four en-suite bedrooms at The Guesthouse (021-844-0033, southhill.co.za, from R610 per person sharing, B&B), situated on South Hill Estate, with one of the region’s top restaurants, Gordon Manuel @ The Venue, within walking distance. If you’d like a more private spot for a romantic break, The Pumphouse Suite (R1 575 per night, B&B), also on South Hill Estate, with its spa bath cleverly positioned in a stone-walled courtyard, is a dream spot to book. Set above a dam on an apple orchard, Rockhaven Farm (021-849-8518, rockhavenfarm.co.za, from R986 per room per night) is a luxury B&B guesthouse and home to Elizabeth Wood (who makes the spiced nuts, rusks and toasted muesli sold at Peregrine). With a dam full of spring water to swim in and views across the valley to savour, you may want to move permanently into the self- catering cottage (R986 per night) below the guesthouse. If, like us, you have a weakness for South African art, then you should book a stay at Wildekrans Country House (028-284-9827, wildekrans.co.za, from R395 per person per night, B&B; and self-catering cottages from R275 per person per night). Works by Hanneke Benade, Deborah Bell and D Siphiso line the walls of The Art Room, while you can enjoy William Kentridge’s ‘I lead’ and a view of the sculpture-scattered garden from The Garden Room.
Going Nowhere Slowly
The most feel-good way to explore the Elgin Valley is by following the Green Mountain Eco Route (021-844-0975, greenmountain.co.za) – the world’s first biodiversity wine-and-eco circuit. It was established to protect the area’s fragile ecosystem, which supports an important part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, and member farms are committed to conservation, sustainability and social upliftment. So you can enjoy fantastic wine and food or outdoor activities, knowing that the environment has been placed first in every instance. Try the four-day Green Mountain Eco Trail (R3 920 per person sharing, 021-844-0975) and enjoy a fynbos-covered landscape during the day on a guided hiking trail with complimentary wine tastings at Paul Cluver, Oak Valley and Beaumont Wines, and four-star accommodation at Porcupine Hills and Wildekrans in the evenings. Peter Visser, wine maker at Oak Valley and avid mountain biker in his spare time, has established the 21-kilometre Oak Valley Mountain Biking Experience (021-859-2510, oakvalley.co.za/tourism, R30 per rider), which forms part of the Absa Cape Epic mountain-biking race. While Peter insists the route is suitable for young and old, it is rated as red, and those who have done it say ‘one or two hills are definitely “mountain-goat” territory’. The UNESCO-protected Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve (028-271- 4792, kogelbergbiospherereserve.co.za) is the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom. Regarded as impossible to farm by early settlers, it has been left relatively unspoilt. It is an excellent spot to go hiking, mountain biking and kayaking.
This article was originally featured in April 2009 in the issue of House and Leisure