Experiencing wonderful #ElginMagic

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The picturesque Green Mountains in the Elgin Valley © Tessa Buhrmann

The Elgin Valley, located in the picturesque Overberg region, is an easy drive from the city centre via Sir Lowry’s Pass, making it ideal for a day trip or weekend away. We spent the weekend at the wonderful Wildekrans Country House, a historic homestead situated in the village of Houw Hoek that dates back to 1811.

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The historic Wildekrans Country House © Tessa Buhrmann

Our room, furnished with antiques and contemporary South African art, overlooked the rambling garden and had expansive views of the Groenland Mountain. Heading out for an early morning hike along a short section of the Green Mountain Trail we had our first opportunity to spot some the intriguing art that lives comfortably in the garden.

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One of the sculptures to be found in the expensive garden © Tessa Buhrmann

It is a place where life becomes art and art mirrors life, a place where sculptural forms become functional and where every surface is a potential canvas and every material a possible medium… even the mountains are an art-form as the fynbos changes with the seasons as different species come in to flower. Our hike took us along a meandering trail up the mountain, our young local guide happy to impart his knowledge of the fauna and flora of the region- we saw white proteas, ericas, Cape sugarbirds and even leopard spoor! This had most certainly whet our appetite not just for an opportunity to do the four day trail, but also for the hearty breakfast that was awaiting us on our return.

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A few of the fynbos species seen flowering on the Green Mountain Trail

Any escape to the countryside deserves to be accompanied by fabulously fine food… farm-to-table of course, expertly crafted wines and artisanal ciders… and the Elgin Valley most definitely obliges. We dined at The Pool Room on the Oak Valley Estate where we were hosted by Chef Gordon Manuel and his lovely wife Emma. It was evening and the lights reflected in the inky darkness of the pool, a bespoke oak leaf chandelier graced the ceiling above us and the embers in the wood fired oven were glowing. We enjoyed beautiful country inspired cuisine, the ingredients- free range grass-fed beef, acorn-fed pork as well as much of the greenery (salads, vegetables & herbs), sourced from the farm, the presentation an art-form and the wine, Oak Valley.

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Dining at The Pool Room

Slow food is another trend gaining momentum, and the Hickory Shack does slow, and artisanal, really well. Y’all be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled upon a little Texan smokehouse, complete with old shed, apple red Chevy and the obligatory set of horns! Out of the BBQ smoke pit, using mostly apple wood in the smoking process, come smoked ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken- all lightly smoked and wonderfully tender, and served with slaw, mash, fries or melt-in-the-mouth tender homemade beans. Add to that a locally brewed cider on the side, and nougat or salted caramel ice-cream and you could stay forever.

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Smoked goodness washed down with a local cider

In keeping with slow… the vineyards of the Elgin Valley, with it’s higher altitude and cooler climate, allows for a slower ripening harvest which results in wines with a broad spectrum of flavours, character, complexity and elegance. We sipped a gently wooded Chardonnay whilst overlooking the lush vineyards and orchards of the Almenkerk Wine Estate, we toasted a family birthday with the tropical tones of a Sauvignon Blanc and savoured the warm spicy notes of the Syrah while listening to the story of how Joris and Natalie van
Almenkerk bought an… apple farm!

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Wine tasting at the lovely Almenkerk Wine Estate

The story of how Brian and Marion Smith, of Elgin Ridge, chose to follow their dream is just as interesting. Having sold their successful IT business in London they were looking for a wine farm, the search led them to a run down apple farm in the Elgin Valley. What they loved was the fact the land had been fallow for many years and thereby ideal for their dream of producing certified organic wine. Fast forward nine years and we’re sitting in a modern tasting room sipping bubbly with Brian- the story goes that Marion said ‘what’s the point of having a wine farm if a girl cannot have her own bubbly?’ So taking up the challenge, Brian set about creating the wonderfully fruity, golden apricot coloured MCC 2011… fondly referred to as ‘Marion’s bubbly’. In addition to the beautiful bubbly, we taste the 282 Sauvignon Blanc (that’s the height above sea level) and the rich garnet coloured Pinot Noir (the only certified organic Pinot Noir in South Africa).

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The organic vines at Elgin Ridge

Vineyards and orchards abound in this valley and we couldn’t leave without visiting a local apple farm, but not just any apple farm- this one produces beautifully crisp export quality apples and wonderfully ‘real’ craft cider. We were at Windermere Farm and Tamsin and Walter Mullins were showing us the ropes of both apple farming and cider crafting. We walked beneath apple trees laden with ‘pink ladies’, watched as ‘green grannies’ were picked and sorted and even rode along for the ride as they made their way to the shed. But the highlight was sitting in the living room sipping chilled rooibos wooded cider out of thin stemmed wine glasses- a sophisticated experience, even with young Charlotte clambering around the table and their beloved canines happily snoozing nearby.

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From tree to table… enjoying Windermere cider

Another popular activity in the valley is the Cape Canopy Tour – an adrenalin adventure through the breath taking fynbos and rugged landscapes of the Hottentots Holland mountains.

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Taking the plunge… on the Cape Canopy Tour © Tessa Buhrmann

I have to say I was somewhat nervous, it wasn’t my first Canopy Tour experience, (read about my Drakensberg & Karkloof Canopy Tour adventures) but was the first without the comfort of a canopy of trees! We were a diverse group (and pretty representative of the demographics of South Africa), some confident and others quietly contemplative… but each rejoicing in the others triumphs. Such is the nature of this experience- adrenalin junkies love it, photographers are inspired, engineers enthralled and conservationists delight in the pristine surroundings and community upliftment.

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Cape Canopy Tour action…

The Elgin Valley is an easy weekend option from Cape Town and offers a wonderful few days on any road trip… highly recommended!

www.elginvalley.co.za

Check out part 1 of our #GreatCapeEscape roadtrip HERE

Thank you to all who wined, dined and hosted us on our #GreatCapeEscape roadtrip… 🙂 

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