JUST outside Hermanus there is a valley with one road running through it; they call it Hemel-en-Aarde and the reasons are obvious.
In a country full of gorgeous scenery ranging from forests to deserts, this slice of paradise is breathtaking. The road rises and falls and winds and undulates from Hermanus to Caledon – a scenic drive of 35km from one end to the other if you have the time – and along the route you’ll find 13 wine establishments, including the very fine Wine Village where you can browse a magnificent selection.
Sadly, there was a self-imposed ban on me getting any more wine on this trip (something to do with buying faster than I can drink it), a responsibility I bestowed on my teetotaler friend to enforce and one which she took very seriously. Luckily – and perhaps kindly on her part – a loophole was discovered while we were at La Vierge.
The region is famous for its Pinot Noir, that finicky Goldilocks of wines (not too hot, not too cold, the climate has to be just right), and I had vowed to drink nothing else while I was there. Two bottles of Bouchard Finlayson had been brought with as an homage, but when I tasted The Affair at La Vierge I turned the big Puss In Boots eyes on my friend. “Please,” I begged shamelessly.
“All right,” she said. “You can get one bottle – one! – but you have to drink it before we go home.” Surely she knew this is not impossible; not even difficult?
Full disclosure: I was back in the area last weekend, and I bought some more.
We also stopped in at Sumaridge Estate (below), and although we didn’t go as far as Creation Wines I can highly recommend it. Pretty much all of them, really.
The serious wine consumption took place at our self-catering cottage at High Season. The working farm has Nguni cattle wandering around right outside your window, and it never ceases to surprise me how early the cows go home – well before sunset. They retired on the Friday afternoon and we never saw them again.
The definition of a cottage is very vague and subjective: a “small” house. I’m sure the Queen of England would consider a three-bedroomed dwelling to be small, but for me – who lives in a city apartment – it’s huge, as is any place where I can’t see all the doorways from wherever I’m standing. So I consider the cottages at High Season – there are six of them, all prettily named, plus one that calls itself quite simply The Lodge – to be very spacious. I’ve stayed twice, both times in three-bedroomed ones but there are one and two bedrooms as well. Some of them are pet-friendly but do make sure you read all the terms and conditions about that; no one wants a standoff between the cows and Coco (name has not been changed).
In this hurly burly world in which we live, it can be difficult to switch off or even unplug; at High Season you have little choice. There is no cellphone reception. However, there is good wifi so if you find it impossible to take your nose out of your phone, there is that at least. Personally, I am delighted to be out of contact for a while, and to enjoy the beauty of my surroundings.
On this occasion, we stayed in Lemon Tree Cottage. Unsurprisingly, there were several such trees on our doorstep, heavy with fruit. There is something so pleasing and soothing about the fragrance and colour of lemons. In negotiations before our arrival, I’d expressed concern about how much wood there would be for our braai and indoor fires. I was assured there would be plenty, but I remained unconvinced.
They totally called my bluff. It was humiliating to leave on the Sunday without having managed to get through it all, and I don’t know how I will ever show my face there again.
The cottage has a stoep where we drank our morning coffee with chocolate brownies while watching the sun rise. It overlooks fields which dip down into mirror-like dams reflecting the clouds and trees. After dark, when the sky was glittering with stars and space dust, we retired indoors to make that all-important fire which warmed the entire open plan living/dining room and kitchen (well-equipped with everything you need).
We braaied excessively (and deliberately, for leftovers) and packed our own breakfast goodies, but High Season can cater for you on request, in the form of breakfast and braai baskets, for which 24 hours’ notice is required. Alternatively, you’re very close to plenty of those wine farms, many of which have restaurants, as well as a nearby farm stall. Hermanus itself is a short drive away.
Being whale season and all, we went into town to have lunch at Bientang’s Cave; shamefully I had never been there before. You cannot get closer to the crashing waves without actually being in them. Carved into the cliff face, this is a must-visit, and the calamari is excellent.
Hermanus is famous for being one of the best land-based whale watching locations in the world, and you can see the Southern Rights frolicking there with their calves from now until late November, or December. Numbers peak during September, and the annual Whale Festival takes place from 28 till 30 of next month.
Sadly, I have the worst luck in this regard; just last weekend, it was reported that more than 1300 were spotted in these waters…probably because I wasn’t there.
Address: Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Road, Hermanus
Telephone: 021 200 2514 | 074 603 9101
- This story first appeared in Independent Traveller on August 25, 2018