LIFE – or happiness – is, to paraphrase a quote credited to various sources including Buddha and Ralph Waldo Emerson, not about the destination, but the journey.
Without getting too bogged down with the origins of the sentiment, both are applicable to Orchard Stay in Wolseley. The small town in the upper Breede River valley of the Western Cape is between Ceres and Tulbagh and there are two ways to get there.
Coming from Cape Town, you can drive around the outskirts of Wellington; a slightly longer way would be to continue along the N1, go through the tunnel, and hang a left towards Ceres. From there you’d take Bain’s Kloof Pass (R301), which is quite spectacular. Terrifying, but definitely spectacular, and definitely not to be done in a rush. You’d probably come this way if you’re approaching from the north.
Scottish-born Andrew Geddes Bain was involved in the building of many roads and passes around South Africa, and Bain’s Cape Mountain whisky (award-winning I might add) which is distilled at James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington, is named after him in honour of the pass which connected that town to the interior back in the mid-1800s.
That’s enough of a history lesson. The drive is going to be gorgeous either way, and if you do it soon, you’ll also be blessed with the startling yellow fields of canola, which cut through the blues and greens of the sky and mountains.
The beautiful journey delivered us to an equally splendid destination. Well, two actually – first lunch at Waverley Hills, and then overnight at Orchard Stay.
Waverley Hills Organic Wine & Olive Estate is not only a pioneer of environmentally-friendly agriculture which produces excellent wines, but its restaurant helmed by chef Francois du Toit dishes up wonderfully hearty winter fare (calm down, it’s not quite spring yet…) in chic country style. It was our first stop in the area, for lunch in front of a welcome log fire, from a menu which features some of my favourite things, like bacon and truffle.
“Being out in the country is about hitting the pause button and I’ve made that my starting point for every new dish,” says Du Toit. “It employs seasonal ingredients as well as organic or biodynamically farmed produce where possible.”
I began with springbok carpaccio with delicious smoked truffle cream cheese, cucumber noodles, and melba toast, while my friend had wild mushrooms in parmesan custard cream with truffle. Our main courses were, respectively, the wagyu beef burger with slow roasted tomatoes, aged cheddar and roast mushrooms (all arranged artfully under the bun), with chipotle mayonnaise and fries; and pork belly and twice cooked pork neck with honeycomb, bacon jus, lemon pickled apple, and pearl couscous.
Each course includes a recommended wine pairing, and there are blackboard specials to complement the main menu. When the weather warms up, there is outside seating on the raised deck which overlooks the farm and the surrounding mountains, now dusted with snow.
Orchard Stay is on Platvlei Farm on the other side of Wolseley, which sounds far but it’s only a 10-minute drive. The self-catering house has two en-suite bedrooms, a large open-plan living area, a wrap-around veranda, an eco pool and hot tub which is heated by a wood-burning stove. It’s on the banks of a small human-made dam and surrounded by the farm’s fruit orchards. When we were there, the trees were bare-naked but still utterly stunning. The evergreens framed our view and cast impressive reflections on the water, crowned with clouds.
The décor is minimalist and colours are soft, earthy and muted, which are perhaps some of the reasons why we felt so calm here, along with the sliding and folding door which open almost the whole place up to the outside. There is no unnecessary clutter yet you’ll find everything you need. I loved the kitchen, with its drawers filled with every possible utensil neatly laid out, all the right bowls and plates we required, and what initially seemed to be a disproportionate number of mugs and glasses (we eventually used all the former before loading the dishwasher). On the marble counter-top there was a giant king Protea – majestic in its simplicity as a flower arrangement – and a thoughtful bottle of wine with a handwritten personal note tied around its neck with a ribbon.
Of course, there had to be a braai, as well as an indoor fire. My eyes widened in delight when I saw all the wood against the lounge wall but our host Tammy Nieuwoudt said it was for decoration, please not for burning. One has to respect this, obviously; it’s widely considered poor form to set fire to the décor unless you’re at a hippy festival purely for that purpose. There was plenty of properly designated wood anyway, and an honesty jar for excessive pyromaniacs such as ourselves.
The dam is home to apparently thousands of frogs, who chirped and sang all day and all night, and our weather ranged delightfully from balmy and sunny on the afternoon of our arrival to bucketing-down rain the next morning. We took walks of discovery in those acid-yellow gum boots, and we basked in the sun with our books while sipping Earl Gray tea from polka-dot mugs. Later, we devoured our flame-grilled steaks and sausages on the veranda and curled up on the couch with Waverley Hills red wine bought earlier, before retiring to our bedrooms.
Not that I ever watch it when I am travelling, but there is no television at Orchard Stay – another unfettered reason to relax and unwind. There is wifi if you need it, which I did; even though I had to do some work in the morning before we left, it was a most acceptable “office”. I can’t wait to get back there.
Address: Platvlei Farm, Wolseley
Telephone: 071 105 3121
Address: Off the R46 near Wolseley, between Tulbagh and Ceres
Telephone: 023 231 0002
- An edited version of this story first appeared in Independent Traveller on September 1, 2018