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Trip Report Trip Report Western Cape - November 2011

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Trip through Western Cape – November 2011

My husband and I toured the Western Cape on a self-planned and self-drive trip. We rented a Honda Jazz via Avis and drove 3000 kms.

If you like to stay in small scale guesthouses we can recommend The Greenwood Guide to South Africa and Namibia as a source of information. We found the best places to stay via this guide.

Our first stop from our “home base” Stellenbosch was St. Helena Bay on the West Coast. We drove via Riebeeck Kasteel and had lunch in the garden of the Royal Hotel, one of the relics of the colonial days.

In St. Helena Bay we stayed at the Oystercatcher lodge on Shelley Point.

The lodge is located on the very point overlooking the bay. From the terrace you can see both the sunrise and sunset across the water.
Swiss Luc and South African Sue are clearly professionals in the hotel business and this made for a most comfortable and enjoyable stay. The only minus is that there are no good restaurants in the immediate vicinity which can present a problem, especially at night. We solved this “problem” by going out to nearby Paternoster and have a wonderful lunch at Die Voorstrand restaurant.

There is a hospitality bar at the lodge with very good wines so in the evening we enjoyed sundowners on the terrace with cheese and crackers. The hospitality is such that guests are given the freedom to prepare their own snacks. This worked very well for us.

From St. Helena Bay we continued our trip in an Easterly direction. We stayed overnight in Citrusdal but the accommodation there was a bit disappointing so we decided to move on. We hope to come back some day to explore the Cederberg area in greater detail. We learned that it is important to stay not too far from the entrance to the area which turned out to be closer to Clanwilliam than to Citrusdal where we stayed. We obviously didn’t do our homework well when it came to this subject.

The distances in South Africa can be very deceiving we learned. It is advisable to always check locally before departing on a road trip. We found out (sometimes the hard way) that Summertime spells road works and there were many going on when we travelled. Seek advice on alternative routes locally beforehand.

The road from Citrusdal to Ceres, one of the fruit area’s of South Africa, is beautiful. We stopped in Ceres for coffee and in Laingsburg for lunch.

Via the Rooinek pass and spectacular Seweweekspoort we drove to Calitzdorp and from there, across 14 km. dirt road, to The Retreat at Groenfontein.

The Retreat is a Victorian farmhouse overlooking the majestic Swartberg mountains. Hosts Marie and Grant have perfected the art of hospitality. We enjoyed a tasty home cooked meal of Karoo lamb. Later that night we walked back to our cabin and we slept with the windows open, eagerly awaiting the next morning’s sunrise over the mountains. What a great place!

The next day we were actually sad to leave but we did have the Swartbergpass to look forward to. We were lucky that we left when we did because the weather was sunny and clear as opposed to the following day when we had rain in…… the Karoo of all places.
The Swartbergpass is very different from the previously mentioned passes. We were advised to travel through it from South to North and can indeed recommend to do just that.
if you have enough time go back and travel the pass at another time of the day in the reverse direction. The change in light gives it a completely different dimension.

Our next stop was Prince Albert, where we stayed in the Prince Albert Garden Guest House. Hosts Michael and Tim were charming and very welcoming. It was odd to be in the desert and experience rain but everyone was so happy about it that we didn’t dare to complain. Dinner was enjoyed at African Relish,
which doubles as a recreational cooking school. The food is simple but of great quality: real Karoo cuisine with an international flavor.

We said goodbye to Prince Albert in the rain but not before we enjoyed a very nice coffee and apple pie at the Prince Albert country store. We found some lovely old, brass pudding molds so our day was made!

From Prince Albert we drove via Meiringspoort (unfortunately it was still raining) to Thabile Lodge: Place of happiness.

Proud owner Len, his German assistant Gertrud and his menagerie, consisting of a number of dogs and of course ginger cat Garfield, really make the guests feel at home. Although we originally only booked for bed and breakfast the atmosphere was such that we decided to stay for dinner as well. We were not disappointed!

From Oudshoorn we drove to McGregor, near Robertson where we stayed with friends. The countryside is –again- spectacular. Every corner brings a new vista. We had lunch at the Blue Cow in Barrydale. This casual country restaurant overlooks a lovely pond. Food is home made and wonderful. Visit the small second hand bookshop which is located just next to the restaurant. We found three treasures there: books by Sir Laurens van der Post, who is one of our favorite South African authors. It was our lucky day again!

The village of McGregor looks like it comes straight out of a Victorian story book. It is probably the best preserved and most complete example of mid-nineteenth century townscape in the Cape Province. With its traditional, whitewashed, thatched cottages set in quiet streets, surrounded by mountains, wildlife, and wine estates, McGregor really is one of the jewels of South Africa. Temenos garden retreat is an oasis rest for body and soul:

Evidently we are genuine “rainmakers” because low and behold, it rained again during our visit to the Klein Karoo. We visited the beautiful historic winefarm Fraai Uitzicht in Robertson. The rain was pelting against the windows so we decided to go all out and have a scrumptious lunch in the Fraai Uitzicht restaurant, followed by an amazing chocolate pudding. So much for dieting!Later that evening we had a wonderful Malay shrimp curry dinner in the Green Gables Country Inn

From McGregor we travelled back to our home base Stellenbosch and the next day we decided to give it a go and see if the whales in Walker Bay were still there. Around this time of year the whale cows and calves leave the shelter of Walker Bay and go south to Antarctica to spend the Summer there. We were lucky to be able to book a room in de Kelders at Marebella Seafront Guesthouse, which overlooks Walker Bay.

From the terrace outside our very comfortable room we watched a mother whale and her calf graciously swim by. Our hosts, South African Shalene and Austrian born Gerhard couldn’t have been more helpful in every conceivable way. Gerhard is a very enthusiastic and knowledgeable when it comes to South African wines. We had a lovely dinner at Thyme and Rosemary on Main Road in nearby Gansbaai. Must not forget to write to Rosemary to ask her the recipe for that wonderful “death by chocolate” dessert. As you already gathered we are chocoholics.

The next day we splurged and booked to go whale watching from a boat on Walker bay. The weather was sunny but with blustery winds. The first half hour we were able to watch some whales from close by. After a while though the wind increased and it became impossible to stay longer. Given the relatively high cost of a trip such as this we recommend that you only go out when the sea is calm as this will make for much better whale watching. The experience itself was awesome though and I’m so glad we did it.

Our next stay was in Pringle Bay in the Wild Olive Guest House and boy were we spoilt in this one! The owners are South African Gloria and Austrian born Peter who are also professionals in the (culinary) hospitality business. Even though the weather was (again!!!) inclement we could envision ourselves sitting in the deckchairs on the comfortable private terrace. The bedroom was very comfortable as well and so was the sitting room with fireplace which is exclusively for use by the guests. Dinner was an absolute dream: Cape mussels followed by not one but 1 ½ rocklobsters, fragrant rice and a nice salad. Dessert consisted of grilled fresh fruit.

We made our way back to Stellenbosch, where we stayed with family. We can recommend a few places to visit in that area: the historic winefarms De Morgenzon (Stellenbosch) and Vergelegen (Somerset West).

The winemakers at De Morgenzon firmly believe that the power of music has a positive influence on the growth of the grapes. Hence Baroque music is played throughout the entire vineyard 24/7.

Waterkloof Winery by contrast is a stark modern building with a stunning view over Somerset West and False Bay.

Another modern winery to visit is: Hidden Valley

Stellenbosch has many, well known award winning restaurants. If you are looking for a small place for just a glass of wine and a light meal or cheese platter we can recommend: De stomme jonge on Ryneveldtstreet:

Last but not least we highly recommend Stellenbosch based taxi company Bettina Shuttle service. Very good and reliable service. Cost for two from Capetown airport to Stellenbosch: R400.

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