Cape Town - My butt is aching, my belly bulging and my eyes brimming with the beauty of the Devon Valley.
It’s the inaugural ride of the Clos Malverne Mountain Bike Experience – a new, painful and delicious way to immerse yourself in the Stellenbosch winelands.
First you sweat, then you indulge.
Bike and Saddle provide the bicycles if you’re not wheeled up yourself – and they provide a push too when your legs fail you. Back at Clos Malverne wine estate, a lunch awaits that will wipe out any memory of hobbling up the vineyard hills.
The first uphill demands a rest at the top, to take in the magnificent valley view. Bevan Hope-Bailie, a guide for Bike and Saddle, draws a shape against the mountain with his finger. With a little leap of the imagination, the distant peaks become Simon van de Stel, reclining peacefully (or perhaps passed out?) among the winelands. “If you can’t see it now,” Bevan says, “then look again after some wine-tasting.”
No wine necessary to spot the next attraction. It’s a mansion set up to house the Italian football team before the 2010 World Cup, complete with a spa and football field. But the Italians failed to arrive: three weeks before the cup began, they decided to ditch their specially renovated mansion to train at higher altitude in Joburg.
The guides can also point out the newly planted rows of pinotage grapes and a vineyard of cabernet. A lesson in viticulture has never been so crucial to my survival. One guide notices my panting. “Feel the burn,” he says. Believe me, I’m feeling it.
When we wheel our bikes into the five-star Devon Valley Hotel after 10km of hills, manager and mountain biking enthusiast Andrew Dietrich announces we’ve climbed a mean 225m. A cold glass of Cap Classique has not been better.
Over scones and coffee, we learn how Cap Classique is made – in the traditional French style, of course. It is is the most common way of making sparkling wine in South Africa, and involves two stages of fermentation. The bottles must be extra thick to withstand the pressure of yeast fermenting and creating bubbles inside.
Just when I think I’d like another glass, it’s time to helmet up and head out. The guides mercifully shorten the route from 10km to five.
Manager Andrew says this is one of the best things about the Devon Valley – routes can so easily be shortened or lengthened, or adjusted for wine tasting at any one of the estates in the area, including JC le Roux.
We’re deep in the back roads of wine country, on private property for much of the tour. It’s secluded, exclusive and peaceful. When JP Quickelberge, public relations manager for Clos Malverne, began creating the route, it was his familiarity with the residents that secured this intimate pathway.
“I know everyone in the area, so I approached them and got permission,” JP says. “It’s for Clos Malverne guests only.”
At the end of the trail, we traipse into the Clos Malverne restaurant to rest our trembling legs.
In the Devon Valley, you work for your lunch – and our reward for a morning’s pedalling is a sumptuous three-course meal prepared by executive chef Nadia Louw.
Each course is paired with a glass of Clos Malverne wine and with vegetables plucked fresh from the restaurant’s garden. On the deck of the restaurant, the sweaty cyclists clink glasses and gaze out at the vineyards, littered with the chew-toys of the friendly farm dog, Roxy.
The Clos Malverne crowd is local.
“We focus our wine exports on foreigners,” says JP. “The restaurant is for us.” That’s why the food plating may look gourmet, but portions are hearty and incorporate South African foods like biltong and pap. My rump steak is so tender I forget all about my own aching hindquarters.
The Clos Malverne Mountain Bike Experience is no pedal in the park. I would advise any newbie bikers to swallow their pride like a glass of Devon Valley’s best, and opt for the electric bicycle. But if you’re fit, you’ll be fine, and the dark stamp of bike chain grease on your calf will feel like a mark of accomplishment.
This is the way to view the winelands. It’s sweat and luxury – an escape from the city into the sights and smells of nature. And if the steep uphill climbs don’t take your breath away, the view certainly will.