A weekend of peace at Elgin Vintners Country House


AS I was standing at the kitchen sink of Elgin Vintners Country House, doing the last bit of washing up – because I don’t know how to work a dishwasher – and gazing out the window overlooking a corner of the garden and just the tip of the new wine tasting room, it occurred to me that it was probably the last time I would enjoy such a peaceful, quiet weekend in blissful solitude. Away from home, that is.

Obviously I’m thrilled and delighted the lockdown levels have dropped to the point where leisure travel is allowed throughout South Africa (although there are so many wonderful places to visit right here in my own province), and all the beautiful hotels, guesthouses and B&Bs can open their doors to visitors again. It’s been a hell of a five months.

Being an introvert, at ease with my own company and apparently immune to boredom, staying at home – where I work anyway – hasn’t been as hard on me as for many others, for which I am grateful. I’m also well accustomed to travelling solo, from driving without anyone else fiddling with the volume of the music, to being free to roam where and when I feel like it, without discussion. This applies to any trip, here or abroad, and I’ve found it wonderfully liberating. Last minute change of plans? No problem, no grumpy fellow traveller.

Elgin Vintners Country House has four luxurious suites. It was built in 1927 based on a Sir Herbert Baker design. The older part of the building is where the kitchen is, spacious and high-ceilinged. You can also tell which of the windows are original by the “wavy” glass. The boutique guest house can be booked for bed and breakfast, or self-catering, in which case you’ll have access to this lovely vintage kitchen with a six-seater yellowwood table, the original old range, and a seven-plate SMEG gas stove, which will make anyone who likes cooking even a little bit, weak at the knees. Appliance porn, if you will.

Your basics – tea, coffee, milk, sugar, oil (they didn’t specify olive, which it isn’t), butter, salt and pepper – are provided. As a special treat, a welcome platter had been set out for me, with bread, dips, olives, cheese and salami sticks, as well as two bottles of Elgin Vintners wine.

There’s a small braai outside on the lawn below the deep sandstone stoep but it’s not going to cope with large groups. And by large I mean more than two.

There is, however, plenty of wood for that as well as the inside fireplace (I put on my gum boots and walked to the woodpile a couple of times, like a real farm person; we all have our fantasies, okay?). It’s one of those built-in ones with a glass door so once you’ve got it going, feeding it all afternoon and night warms up the wide open space of the lounge (and former/current tasting room) to a comfortable level of toastiness. If that’s not enough, there’s a gas heater too. DStv is available, and the wifi is good – it streamed the President’s speech just fine on my phone.

The suites are named in honour of the former owners of the pear and apple orchards where the guesthouse is located; mine was the Syfret master suite. It’s vast, and I easily clocked up the recommended number of daily steps purely by walking back and forth through the house. I could lie in any direction on the bed and my feet would not hang over the edge. The suite is decorated in a pale grown-up palette, and the heater and wall panels had been switched on ahead of my arrival to take off the chill.

The en-suite bathroom is all white as well, and has a chandelier. I love a chandelier in the bathroom, it’s so incongruously grand. The triptych of photographs above the claw-foot tub of elephants splish splash taking a bath made me smile. There is hand sanitiser among all the normal toiletries, and although the towels were a bit small for a fuller figured woman such as myself, they were soft and fluffy, like clouds. Next to the bed there were candles, and a posy of fresh flowers was in a vase on the tray with the kettle, as well as some rusks for early morning nibbles.

That’s the inside. Now what to do? Braai, of course. Drink wine, definitely. Come summer, there’s the swimming pool, and a tennis court (ask for racquets and balls). The garden is beautiful, with ponds and water features, and secluded stone benches, and there’s a little hidden fairyland for you to find. I’ve deliberately not included any pics of that, so as not to spoil your surprise. Beyond the garden is a paddock with three horses; they are tame and love attention I was told, but they simply stared at me from a stand-offish social distance. Be like a horse.

From the stoep there is a view of the valley, and you can make out the tiny cars on the N2 in the far distance. Twice I saw a mysterious little creature; the first time it ran across the lawn, and the second it came right up the steps but fled when I said hello (assuming it was the same one). I messaged Marinda Kruger-Claasen, who is the winemaker and business manager, and from my description she identified it as a mongoose. It was not much bigger than a squirrel so I’m going to venture a guess it was a dwarf mongoose (pic from Google images).

I was very lucky, Marinda said. They spot them in the vineyards and orchards but never so close to the house. Because there haven’t been guests for a while, the critter(s) had grown bold. I did indeed feel very fortunate to have seen it/them, even briefly.

Guests are welcome to walk through the orchards, and it couldn’t have been more perfect for me. I’m crazy about winter trees without leaves, and the rainy weather meant dramatic skies and puddles to jump in. When they burst into pink blossom soon, it’s going to be spectacular. I glimpsed one human through the trees, and learned the Elgin country dogs are super-vigilant; they spot you in the distance, identify you as a stranger, and bark like hell until you are well out of sight.

If you’re planning a longer stay, and all this tranquility is too much to contemplate, the zipline people are operating again. I’ve done this a couple of times and confidently recommend it. I’m reliably informed the Railway Market is open again too, and if you don’t stop at Peregrine and get a quiche and a few books from the red bus, did you even go to Elgin?

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