Nestled in a lush valley just beyond the Hottentots Holland mountain range, with apple and pear orchards as far as the eye can see, Elgin is one of the most underrated areas of the Western Cape. Most of us rush through the valley on our way to a weekend in Hermanus, or a holiday somewhere on the Garden Route. We may stop for coffee and a bite at one of the farm stalls, but that’s about it. A recent weekend visit to Elgin opened my eyes to just how much there is to do in this beautiful region, especially if you crave the outdoors after a long working week.
Whether it is for a weekend away or just a day-trip to Elgin, here are a few must-visit places to include on your trip.
Old Mac Daddy’s
A wholesome spot for the entire family to relax into the weekend, Old Mac Daddy’s is a collection of vintage Airstream trailer suites. Each suite is individually decorated, with a large en-suite bathroom, lounge and deck overlooking endless views of the valley.
For the energetic ones there is quad biking, hiking and mountain biking; whilst the rest of us have the choice of relaxing spa treatments, lounging in a hammock at the dam or enjoying a scrumptious meal at the restaurant.
Book early as this spot is very popular over weekends.
For more, visit oldmacdaddy.co.za
Paul Cluver Wines
A true gem, Paul Cluver Wines has something for everyone, from wine tasting and lunch, to mountain biking and bird watching. You may even catch a glimpse of the graceful Blue Crane, and if you are lucky, the majestic African Fish Eagle. For the biking enthusiasts there are a number of scenic trails through the valley, over a suspension bridge and along a number of terraced cycling tracks. With names like Raka, the Swing, the Mamba and Pofadder, you know you are in for a treat.
Come December, Paul Cluver also host their annual Summer Concert Series at the open-air amphitheatre, which is a fantastic opportunity to pack a picnic spread and enjoy a long, lazy summer night under the stars.
For more, visit cluver.com
Elgin Railway Market
Housed in a old apple warehouse next to a railway line, the owner clearly spared no expense in converting this venue into an Art Deco steampunk-themed expansive indoor market, that opened in June this year. The interior design of the Elgin Railway Market is really something special with its detailed staircases, metal archways, light fittings and wall sconces, all custom made for the station.
We visited on a Sunday afternoon and enjoyed the live entertainment and great food on offer. It was the perfect spot for a mellow weekend outing, without thronging crowds. Come the holiday season and with more people becoming aware of the market, this is sure to change though. Food on offer includes excellent pizzas, ribs and burgers, fragrant curries, some mexican dishes and a few health conscious treats.
The market is family friendly with a kids play area and childminders in attendance who will keep them entertained, leaving you free to explore the market at your leisure.
There is also a steam train journey from Cape Town to the Market a few times each month, in association with the Ceres Rail Company.
For more, visit elginrailwaymarket.co.za
Once you have worked up an appetite cycling, hiking and exploring the great outdoors, it will be time to head to Hickory Shack. This rustic country restaurant, located on the Thandi farm just off the N2, offers authentic Texas-style BBQ meat dishes. The ribs, brisket, pulled pork and chicken wings are all prepared low and slow to ensure the most flavourful meal. All meals are served with a selection of homemade sauces, including one called ‘the hot bastard.’
The expansive wooden deck is the place to be, with a view of the surrounding mountains. With a kiddies menu and a jungle gym on the expansive lawn, the younger ones are well taken care of too.
For more, visit hickoryshack.co.za
Peregrine Farm Stall
No visit to Elgin is ever complete without a visit to Peregrine Farm stall. If you are staying in self-catering accommodation, stock up here on breads, pastries, fresh pressed fruit juices, wines of the regions as well as fruit and veggies and deli meats. The restaurants serves lovely meals and the service is quick and friendly, even when busy. And of course, you simply have to indulge in their pies, especially my personal favourite Springbok pie. The outside seating and safe play area for kids accommodates families and quick visitors, which makes it the perfect stop-off place.
For more, visit peregrinefarmstall.co.za
Almenkerk Wine Estate
After moving from Belgium and purchasing Almenkerk in 2002, the new owners began the process of transforming the 32 hectares of apple trees into a wine farm. They now have 15 hectares of vines in production, that are already bringing home the awards!
The entire family is involved in the running of the farm, wine cellar and tasting room. Constructed against the mountain-side, the tasting room has spectacular views over the Elgin Valley and Kogelberg Mountains and is well-worth a visit. Arrange in advance and they will add in a cellar tour as part of the experience.
Almenkerk also welcomes visitors to picnic on the landscaped lawns and enjoy the fresh cool-climate air and beautiful surroundings. Bring your own eats, as long as you buy some of the estate wine to enjoy it with. And, with a purpose-built court, you can even enjoy a game of boule while the jungle gym keeps the littlies active.
For more, visit almenkerk.co.za
Elgin Valley Zipline
For the adrenaline junkies there is the Cape Canopy Tour’s Elgin Valley Zipline, located in the Elgin Valley near Grabouw. Situated in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, the company has partnered with CapeNature to take you into a previously inaccessible and pristine part of this amazing World Heritage Site.
First off there is a safety briefing, followed by a 30-minute steep and breathtaking beautiful drive (in a Jeep) leading to the starting point. The guides are well-trained and put safety first. Once you are kitted out, you are ready for the ultimate adrenaline rush, zipping down the multiple ziplines, past waterfalls and mountainscapes! I must admit that I did give this one a miss, but those who have done it, say it’s the best fun you can have in nature.
For more, visit capecanopytour.co.za
Elgin Open Gardens
This year’s Elgin Open Gardens will take place the weekends of 27 & 28 October, as well as 3 & 4 November, with 19 gardens from Elgin, Bot River and Vyeboom opening up to the public. If you have never been to one of these, trust me, it’s worth making a day, or weekend, of it! Because the area is wetter and cooler than elsewhere in the Western Cape, visitors can expect to see a wide range of interesting and unusual plants, such as rhododendrons, Japanese maples and flowering cherries. The area is also famous for its roses. Many of the gardens offer teas or light snacks and some have plant sales, often with rare or unusual plants; so take some cash.
My absolute favourite garden where you could easily spend an entire day, is Freshwoods, Peter and Barbara Knox-Shaw’s exquisite Elgin garden. Peter and Barbara gardened alongside his mother for many years, planting a number of indigenous trees and shrubs. Later they switched their focus to an international garden, bringing home exotic plants, seeds and saplings from their extensive travels around the world. Their well-established garden is now home to a major collection of heritage and species roses as well as many rare trees and shrubs. The 70-odd Japanese maple trees are quite something to behold, as are the collections of cyclamen, lilies and the exquisite woodland garden and Bamboo walk. Whatever you do, don’t miss this one!
For more, visit elginopengardens.co.za
Any other recommendations for the Elgin valley? Pop them in the comments section below!