By Vivian Warby
Cape Town - It was on a heat-wave winter’s day, fresh out of Cape Town and suffering bright-light desk fatigue, that we found ourselves after a short 45-minute drive down the N1 in Paarl.
My partner and I spent almost every spare moment exploring “untouristy” places off the beaten track. Admittedly Paarl is not quite undiscovered; yet it still has the smell of the unknown to it. This is thanks in part to the overwhelming tourist trade that sidesteps it in their rush to nearby Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
But this “pearl” of the Boland is so beautiful in its unpretentious smouldering shell, a lovely perfect find for weary city folk to unwind.
WHERE WE STAYED
Cascade Country Manor
A winding gravel road snaking alongside the Klein Drakenstein mountain range took us deep into the valley, and our weekend abode.
Ed and I kept looking at each other without saying anything, but both thinking: “This has the makings of another gem unearthed.”
The dramatic grounds, green as far as you can see, and two swimming pools (outside and a warmer one inside) plus a majestic “White House” homestead belie the fact that this is a boutique hotel and spa with only 15 rooms.
The smell of royalty that abounds is not accidental – the manor was owned by the duke of Bedford. It passed hands through the decades until Maika and Volker Goetze, the present owners, bought it on auction over ten years ago.
It’s the spa and wellness aspect that attracted me, for Ed it wasthe opportunity to take great photos and we both were set on doing the many scenic hiking routes on offer at the manor. Mountain bikers with adventurous hearts will also love the trails here. An 100-year-old olive grove rustled close to our bedroom, hinting at something else going on at the site. It was not long before we were introduced to the liquid gold and green of the 23ha estate’s extra virgin olive oil that Volker cultivates seasonally. Olive oil tasting with him is a must-do, if only to know what not to buy at your next supermarket visit.
In fact Paarl is fast gaining a reputation as the country’s leading and largest olive and olive oil-producing valley. So do stock up.
If you’re up before sunrise, like we were, then a barefoot forest walk, or taking one of the many hikes, is entirely in order.
It’s reflexology in nature and will take you past a cascading waterfall – the perfect place for a sunrise meditation or a wedding. At the waterfall, with the forest beckoning, it was easy to see how love could be sealed.
The Goetzes had their wedding here more than 10 years ago, starting the manor’s trend as a well sought-after wedding venue.
The hike in the forest is fantastic fuel for body and soul. Afterwards I made my way to the spa for a tension-relieving early morning massage by Edwina Suse, who is becoming legendary in the valley for giving “the best massage in the Western Cape”. There is a full spa menu and an infrared steam room next to the indoor pool.
Dinner is a different set menu nightly, but if you are on the wellness package (see www.cascademanor.co.za) expect a specific menu by a dietician.
Sitting on the terrace overlooking the grounds for an al fresco breakfast is a must. We were glad to hear that the manor will begin brunches on Sundays, which will be open to the public. Also, for their 10th anniversary specials: www.cascademanor.co.za.
WHERE WE PLAYED
The outside of a horse, said owner of Wine Valley Horse Trails Michelle Mazurkiewicz, is a cure for all that ails the inside of a human.
We humans were ailing from too-long stretches in air-conditioned, fluorescent lit offices.
Michelle has seen many arrive with “city sickness” and leave feeling quite alive. With a passion for horses, owning 200 famous for roles on the big screen, she declines the label “Horse Whisperer”.
“Ai, that’s not me. The real horse whisperers are the horses. They are the healers,” she told us during a mid-morning horse trail.
Through the mountainous trail, past a dam – “you can come swim with us and the horses here later” she generously offers – I felt my city suit slipping off. The big lady bearing me on my adventure breathed, twitched and glided me past vineyards and scenery.
I could feel her heart beat and touching her velvety coat I exhaled. Nature in all its coats is a healer.
While there, do take a peek at the century-old stables which add to the rustic charm of Michelle’s set-up, as do the farm dogs, cats and chickens.
Michelle said they do trails for all levels. They offer sunset wine tastings higher up on the trails and a good party with Wellies Wagons (a minimum of 10 people with wine tasting on board) and she didn’t mind that the only horse I’d ever ridden was a steel one at a merry-go-round as a kid.
The place is privately owned, but situated adjacent to the Rhebokskloof wine estate, a good place to go do a winetasting after the horse ride.
WHERE WE GRAZED
We’d heard of this southern Californian mother and son duo (they hail from San Diego) who were doing outstanding things alongside the Simonsberg Mountains at Noble Hill. And what a find. No heavy Winelands fare at their restaurant, Cosecha. No,we were fed (and fed) dish after tasty dish of southern Californian (with its Mexican twist) food.
We loved the smashed guacamole made at the side of our table; my partner was bowled over by the bacon-wrapped medjool dates and I the beer-battered kingklip tacos. But what really stole our hearts among the many tasty dishes, was the slow-cooked lamb barbacoa served with give-me-the-recipe-please green rice.
The restaurant lies at the foot of the mountain next to the wine-farm’s harvesting area (hence the name Cosecha – meaning Harvest in Spanish). The deck is built above the barrel maturation cellar where you can enjoy these Latin-inspired al fresco lunches while overlooking the lawn and reservoir area. Families love the dam picnic area.
Here you can “kuier” all afternoon, enjoy a wine tasting and even get to talk to affable Kathleen Tillerey and her humble wine-making son and businessman, Kristopher.
The two have such warmth and hospitality it is hard not to want to stay all day – and Kathleen will ensure you don’t leave hungry. And do a winetasting and stock up on great wines.