Paradise at your fingertips
Let the gorgeous scenery, delicious food and superb wines of the Hemel en Aarde valley restore your soul countrybreaks
IN FRONT of the moisture-smeared plate-glass window is a steel sculpture that artist Jaco Sieberhagen calls Bits and Pieces Man. It’s a backlit silhouette of a fellow with jigsawpuzzle pieces in his hands and similarly shaped holes in his torso… one distressingly close to his heart.
Looking at the photograph even now, I think of how I came to the Hemel en Aarde valley as a bits-andpieces man and found one huge unfitted part of my soul.
I cannot be objective about the first 7km of the R320 as it leaves the outskirts of Hermanus and winds uphill to Caledon. To me it is simply one of the most stunning pieces of South Africa – gorgeous scenery, superb wines, lovely eating spots – replete with happy memories. Top that off with wonderful people and you’ve got paradise at your fingertips.
The Sieberhagen piece is one of several in the tasting room/restaurant of Creation, not the best-known wine estate on the “glamorous” part of the Walker Bay wine tourism route, but fast becoming its worstkept secret.
The room is full and fires are lit throughout the place, causing the picture windows overlooking the vineyards to fog up while steady rains – after all, it’s been the wettest Western Cape winter in decades – persistently wash down the outside of the glass. The dam – reflecting the not-too-distant BabylonsToren Mountains on wind-still days – is shrouded in mist.
It’s a perfect day for wine, good food and exuberant conversation. Coowner Carolyn Martin places a long wooden two-person platter bearing a dozen canapé-sized offerings (six for each of us) from the newly opened kitchen on the table before sitting down with a bottle of the Creation sauvignon blanc.
“This has been a fantastic year for our wines,” she enthuses.
Carolyn’s earliest memories of wine are from Hartenberg estate outside Stellenbosch. “I did my first wine-tasting when I was five years old. Guests arrived and my grandmother, who did the cellar tours and tastings, was nowhere to be found.”
Her father went on to Blaauwklippen and Glen Carlou, but her family’s wine pedigree extends into the Hemel en Aarde; her uncle Peter Finlayson owns Bouchard Finlayson.
Carolyn decided to study brand design. “I was living and working in London when my mom called me, raving about this brilliant, cute winemaker who was working with my dad at Glen Carlou.
“I told her there was no way I was getting involved with a winemaker but, four years later, I met him in Switzerland where he was furthering his studies.”
The winemaker was Jean-Claude (“JC”) Martin, her husband and partner at Creation.
“We came out to visit Uncle Peter in 2002 and were having a fish braai at his home in Voelklip. JC said he could easily live and make wine in a place like this: all he needed was a cool climate and decent soils.
“My uncle said he had a fantastic place to show him and the two of them jumped into the Land Rover and drove off.
“They came back an hour and a half later and JC told me he’d just bought a farm.”
Cool climate and good soils are what make Hemel en Aarde wines so special. There are 15 estates in the valley, starting with Hermanuspietersfontein at the bottom (Hermanus Pieters is credited as being the town’s founding father) and up to Domaine Des Dieux at the top. In between you’ll find well-known estates such as Hamilton Russell, Bouchard Finlayson, Ataraxia, Newton Johnson, Spookfontein, Mount Babylon, Southern Right, Whalehaven, Sumaridge and La Vierge.
Creation is not the only worthwhile dining experience in the valley. Further down the slope – driving from Caledon through blooming canola fields on a fine late-winter day – are Moggs Country Cookhouse and La Vierge.
Both offer spectacular views. My favourite is La Vierge simply because, as outlined at the beginning of this story, that’s where my love affair with the Hemel en Aarde began.
It was during a more recent visit to the restaurant that I met the delightful Geoff and Charlise Elske, owneroperators of the small Mountain View Manor guest house in Sandbaai, which is reached by going right down the R320 towards the sea and crossing over the main road from Cape Town to Hermanus. It has four suites – one suitable for family use – and prices are exceptionally reasonable.
Charlise is an executive chef by trade so breakfasts, light meals and dinners (by request) at her bistro are an added attraction.
If I had to be curmudgeonly about any aspect of Hemel en Aarde, it would be about accommodation in the valley itself being extremely limited, but, what the hell, it’s a farming area anyway.
If you’re happy with the self-catering option, however, you can stay in the valley at one of the High Season luxury farm cottages.
Also, make an effort to turn off to the left, halfway up the valley, on to the dirt road to De Bos and Karwyderskraal. The first part of the road is rather potholed, but it’s worth the effort because the route is particularly scenic.
Oh, and another madly romantic thing about the valley? Cellphone reception is very, very limited.
Useful contacts ● Creation: 028 212 1107, www.crea tionwines.com ● Jaco Sieberhagen art: www.jacosie berhagen.com ● Hamilton Russell Vineyards: 028 312 3595, www. hamiltonrussell vineyards.co.za ● Bouchard Finlayson: 028 312 3515, www.bouchardfinlayson.co.za ● La Vierge: 028 313 0130, www.lavier ge.co.za ● Moggs Country Cookhouse: 076 3140671, www. moggscookhouse. com ● Mountain View Manor: 083 386 6948, www.mountainviewmanor.co.za
HAVEN: Ataraxia, nestled beneath the BabylonsToren range, is one of several spectacular estates in the valley.
APPETISER: Drive from Caledon on a late winter’s day through blooming canola fields to sample the region’s restaurants.
PAIRING: Jean-Claude and Carolyn Martin, co-owners of Creation.
SPECIALITY: Duck is served as a main course at Creation’s restaurant.