22 June 2012

Worcester and Surrounds

A small-holding in the fresh country air sounded like a great idea so off we set on a week-end meander to Worcester and surrounds, about 2 hours from Cape Town. Firstly, take the old road over Du Toits Kloof Pass - it's a very scenic road over the mountains and does not add more than about 12 km to your journey plus you save on the Toll Fee for the tunnel. My love for mountains is inspired by growing up in the Oudtshoorn valley where my eyes rested on the magnificent Swartberg Mountain range every time I walked onto our large veranda or into the garden.

Our stay was on a small holding, which bordered on a wine farm, so we took long walks down the farm road, followed by a friendly black Scottie dog. We saw many ground squirrel holes but no signs of life although our little friend certainly did loads of sniffing and most probably drove them further away down the hole for safety!

 Our first outing was to the Karoo Desert National Botanical Gardens. This garden is at it's best during springtime when all the vygies and fynbos flower and create a stunning display. There are lovely views over towards Worcester, picnic areas on the lawns and a hiking trail around the "koppie"  Unfortunately, the folk of Worcester are not the "eating out" types and the restaurant at the entrance to the gardens has closed down. So we would not recommend a visit to these gardens unless it is springtime with all the lovely flowers blooming. The gardens  are also quite difficult to find - it seems the Worcester residents are not too keen on tourism and are quite happy with their status quo.

The Quiver Trees are large Aloes which flower during the winter months. These trees are normally found in very arid regions such as Namibia, and the Northern Cape, often in rocky habitats. The flowers attract nectar seeking birds such as sun-birds and mouse birds. It's a succulent plant which can store water in it's trunk and leaves for those harsh periods when little or no rain falls in the desert.
The San people used to hollow out the branches to use them as quivers, hence the English name for the "Kokerboom" tree.

The wild grape is another interesting plant found in the gardens - these are about 25 years old and were grown from seed gathered in Namibia.

Our next trip was via a dirt road through Eilandia region in the direction of  Robertson.  A very scenic drive through farmlands.

Robertson was very busy and will be another visit (it seems to have more going for it than Worcester!)

We had to find the Conradie Family Cellar before close as we had orders from Cape Town folk! This family vineyard is situated in the Nuy Valley, at the foot of the Langeberg Mountains, and the farm has been in the family since 1871. It is currently run by a fifth generation winemaker who took over wine making again in 2004 after his grand-father last produced in 1964. A proud tradition and award winning wines are now currently on sale.  The Nuy Restaurant and Guest House is situated just across the road and we were after a light lunch. Although there were many cars parked in the parking area, nobody was around to assist us and the restaurant was all beautifully set with nobody in sight!! Another disappointment! But at least we had the wines safely in the boot! By now we were starving after just muesli for breakfast so we headed off towards the Willow Creek Olive Estate and Deli. Guess what? The restaurant was securely locked and barred and even the lady in the next door Deli said " Gosh, they did not even say good-bye!!!"

So off we set again with stomachs rumbling and getting grumpier by the minute. With all the wine farms around but no food? One cannot live on wine alone. Although some make argue with me on that point. The charming lady in the Deli recommended Overhex Wine Cellar for lunch so off we set once again.

Over-Hex was OPEN - HURRAY - FOOD IN WORCESTER!! We managed to secure a table outside in the brilliant sunshine and enjoyed their home-made burgers. For the beer lovers - they don't have any so be warned - only wine. The burgers were very filling, tasty and the service was excellent so this restaurant certainly gets my vote. The menu is very limited but, hey, they serve food and they were OPEN!!! Apparently, their Sunday lunches are very popular and the inside seating looks welcoming and cosy. 

Tummies filled, we set off to see if there were still autumn leaves in the wonderful Hex River Valley. It's not very far from Worcester on the N1 and the valley is simply incredible.

Hex River Valley is world-renowned as the biggest producer of table grapes in South Africa. It also hosts the biggest pre-cooler in the Southern Hemisphere. Grapes need to be transported to their markets so, in order to do this with minimum damage, the grapes need to be pre-cooled before being packed and delivered/shipped etc. The De Doorns Cellar also has the longest harvest season in the world. The Matroosberg Mountain is the highest mountain peak in the Western Cape.
Originally, there were 6 farmers granted land in the Hex River Valley. Today this has been sub-divided into nearly 150. The valley is just row upon row of vines with the staff housing dotted on the edge of the fields. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and we saw loads of children happily playing, women and young girls chatting whilst walking between various farm housing, the elderly sitting in the sun  - the sad part was also many drunken men staggering around. We spotted a "Temporary Shelter for Abused Children" - no doubt caused by drunken parents. It's such a shame to see this in a valley which is appears so scenic, tranquil and calm.on the outside. Many of the farm workers houses boasted spanking brand new solar panels for their hot water and, with the mountains surrounding them and the amazing autumn colours on the vines, one would think it was a little slice of heaven. Maybe not for those who dream of escaping the confines of the valley.

For hikers and bikers, there are numerous trails in this part of the world - for photographers, the Hex River Valley is a dream. For those looking to eat out at funky restaurants all week-end, as an escape from the home kitchen, forget!! You will have to travel to Robertson, McGregor or Franschoek.

© Judelle Drake

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