Saturday, October 03, 2009

Return to the Cape, Day 4, Elgin Valley

Our hosts prepared a nice breakfast for us with eggs taken from their chickens moments before being cooked, and gave us some recommendations for places to stay in Cape Town on our last night in the area. Eventually Nicole showed up to take us around to see five more farms, with some other stops along the way. All the farms she showed us were smaller than Porcupine Hills, more expensive than Porcupine Hills, and not nearly as beautiful as Porcupine Hills, so everything just made us more and more sure that Porcupine Hills was the place for us. We also stopped at the Iona winery, the second highest in South Africa at 420m above sea level, where the wines were truly delicious, and where she gave us a bottle of their Noble Late Harvest dessert wine, since she knows we’re big fans of that sort of wine. We also made a stop at her own farm where we met her parents, who are visiting from Joburg, and had a piece of milk tart (a South African specialty) and some tea.

On the way back to our inn we stopped at two little shopping centers in Elgin, one of which has the local tourist office (where we picked up all the brochures we could) and the office of a local architect who had done the design work for Nicole’s house, and the other of which is a converted jailhouse where there was a space for rent that we could use to set up a gym if we decide to do such a business here. Along the way we met several people, all of whom were extremely nice and welcoming, and one of whom runs the local newspaper. I asked him if he needs any editors, thinking of a possible opportunity for myself, and sure enough he does....

We were originally going to have lunch with her at the South Hills wine estate, but we decided to put that off until Sunday, preferring to use our time to check out the driving time between town and the Porcupine Hills and from there to Franschhoek. Also, Nicole had a closing to get ready for, and we thought it would be better for her not to have to be stuck eating lunch with us. So after getting our car we returned to the shopping center with the information office for a bite at a little restaurant where we had very tasty burgers with monkey gland sauce and then headed on our way.

By our reckoning, it would be a 20 minute drive from the town to Porcupine Hills, and about 30 minutes from there to Franschhoek, all very reasonable distances, we think, especially if a guest were to stay with us to visit the wineries and other sites in both towns. Also the drive to Franschhoek, which goes over a mountain pass, is stunningly beautiful, with incredible views over the valley.

Once in Franschhoek we walked around a bit to check out the shops and the whole “vibe”. It’s a very nice little town, with loads of upscale shops and eateries, though apparently ten years ago it looked much like Elgin does now, a bit run down and in need of a little TLC, which Elgin is only now starting to receive. We also made a stop at the Boekenhoutskloof winery, which we visited last time we were here in May, to pick up two bottles of their Syrah, which they did not have in stock back then. By the time we were done there it was nearly time to meet some friends of friends for drinks and dinner.

The friends of friends are a gay German couple who have been living in South Africa for around 20 years, initially coming here for their jobs but eventually giving that up to open a restaurant and inn in the town of Robertson, in the Klein Karoo, which they ran for 11 years before moving to Franschhoek. Their house is stunning, with beautiful decor and fittings, and a wonderful back area that is open to the back garden where they have a plunge pool and a big fireplace. Like everyone else we have met they were very encouraging of the idea of moving here, sharing their experiences and thoughts on the whole plan. Coincidentally a friend of theirs had just recently been describing Porcupine Hills to them, saying that he considered it an undiscovered gem in the area, so they were particularly excited by the idea that we might buy it.

After having some wine with them we walked over the Le Bon Vivant restaurant for an exceptional dinner, prepared by a Dutch chef who has run it for around 10 years. My gruyere and chevre starter was wonderful, as was my main course of roast duck with duck confit, and the presentation was beautiful. We had two bottles of wine with our meal, and still the bill per couple was only around $75--very reasonable in my opinion.

The drive back along the mountain pass from Franschhoek to Elgin was a bit slower than the drive over, since some low clouds were obscuring the road and my unfamiliarity with the road made me take the trip a lot slower than I felt comfortable doing in the light. But it still only took a total of 50 minutes to get to our inn, and once we got back we immediately fell into a deep sleep.