I'm in the mood to encounter beauty and land softly everywhere I go this week-end and our route - the sublime Overberg region in South Africa's Western Cape Province - promises just such pleasures.
The Overberg, which is an Afrikaans term meaning "over the mountain", is Africa's southern most region, with L'Agulhas its southern tip.
Unfortunately we couldn't get away early enough to visit Stoney Point - an unusual and worthwhile deviation. One of only four mainland colonies in south Africa, about a hundred breeding pairs of African Penguin co-exist with large numbers of Cape Cormorant, White-breasted Cormorant, Bank Cormorant and even a few Crowned Cormorant.
But back to our road trip. We finally emerge from an hour long dense fog of undulating week-end exit traffic and arrive at the five-star Arabella Western Cape Hotel & Spa late afternoon. Situated in the heart of the Kogelberg Biosphere and overlooking the largest natural lagoon in South Africa, the Arabella Western Cape Hotel and Spa
is one of South Africa's premier golf and spa resort. Conde Nast Traveller called it "A deceptively low key architectural masterpiece of sandstone, timber, glass and steel with an impressive range of services and state of the art show kitchen."
The only thing you're encouraged to work really hard at is the art of slow at this sublime place. The rooms are something to behold. Well, "rooms' might be understating it a tad - gargantuan suites dripping in every luxury
more like - there is a TV above the bath for instance. The hotel comprises 145 rooms, ranging from deluxe to luxury suites.
Two presidential suites offer a butler service, private sauna and Jacuzzi. Our suites overlook the lagoon, golf course and beautiful mountains, with slowly fading hues of pink dancing off the surface in the emerging dusk. At dinner we are joined by our charming and witty host John Bumsteed, the director of golf. The following morning we are treated to what is known as the "rainforest experience" at the hotel's world famous spa.
For more than two hours you are subjected to steams and waters in varying heat degrees either being cascaded down on you or enveloping you in one or another way. The treatment is rather radical and certainly attains the objective which is to detox, steam clean, wash, purify, pummel and petrify the client. But I have to say, we emerge from this excursion feeling miraculously, um, "new".
We wave our good byes and its back on the road again. We are now in the heart of the Whale Route: the bustling town of Hermanus which according to leading authorities offers the world's best land-based whale watching. Be on the look out for Zolile the only Whale Crier in the world that alerts you to the presence of the Southern Right whales in the Bay.
We overnight at the Abalone Guest Lodge in Hermanus, an unusually artistic and unique location with gorgeous views and a tranquil ambience. The Lodge is situated on Sievers Point, a landmark beach front position midway between the town center and beautiful white beaches of Hermanus. We find ourselves rather exhausted from all the unusual spa excitement earlier and we turn in early under what feels like a 100 thread count cotton duvet, lulled to sleep by a softly whispering ocean.
After a stunning continental breakfast the following morning, we find our way to Napier via Caledon, following the R316 via Napier to the southern most region of Africa. The weather is sunny and the mountains and blue sky look unreal, like something conjured up by the animators of Ratatouille. Poplar trees run along the road like grey cotton candy under a forlorn wisp of a cloud in the sky. We take a detour on the advice of the friendly and well-informed Lizl from Abalone and drive to Baardskeerdersbos, a community of that seems to comprise of about 117 people, still almost completely cut off from the world.
We pass a horse drawn cart and Michelle makes the driver stop for a photo op. We meet and chat to one of the occupants, the delightful Oom Snoekie (Uncle Snoek) who could be 60 or 106 years old. After passing through the hamlet of Napier - where buying real estate for week-end and holiday purpose has become very popular - we arrive in Bredasdorp at the quaint Shipwreck Museum. The town is quiet and a bit ghostly, what with it being out of season - the perfect time to travel in this region. We get back on the road and travel to the picturesque coastal town of Arniston with its rustic and beautiful "slaves" cottages.
The wind furiously tugs at the waves, creating a million white foamy horses in full gallop on the surface of the sea. The colours created by the to-ing and fro-ing of the currents range from deep azure to day-glow green - a breathtaking sight.
We arrive at our next stop, the Agulhas Country Lodge in L'Agulhas at about 13.30. The little town is located at the southern most tip of Africa, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans ACTUALLY meet. The popular - but completely false -notion is that the oceans meet at Cape Point, about an hour's drive outside Cape Town. Built from natural stone, set against the hill, Agulhas Country Lodge has spectacular sea view from nearly every vantage point. En suite bedrooms each have private balconies and sea views.
Phil and his daughter Chelsea are the perfect hosts and long after dinner that night we're still chatting and laughing by the massive yet intimate fire in the gorgeously rustic lounge. We make our way to Swellendam the following morning, our last stop. The weather has cleared up completely and metal gray mists envelop the dark purple velvety mountains where they meet the endless bright blue sky. The scenery makes me feel like a location scout for a movie in which the name Heathclif might appear once or twice.
We have a divine lunch at a little restaurant under towering trees by a stream in the town before making our way to the five star De Kloof Guest House. Our wonderful host Marjolein tells us that her and her husband follow a philosophy of hospitality that is truly different in all aspects at this boutique establishment - the unique location, the homestead, the well designed rooms and the way guests are spoiled with passion.
This Cape Dutch homestead (1801) and national monument is truly a hidden treasure. It is situated in a secluded valley on large grounds with fantastic panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. The stylish elegant interior merges a modern classic European style and the rooms and house are adorned with Marjolein's chic collection of African & Asian Chinese art, fabrics and artifacts. After dinner Marjolein joins us back at the hotel. She is one of the most fascinating people I have come across in a while having lived and worked at the top of her industry in Europe, China and Nigeria in Africa.
We reluctantly say our farewells early the next morning as we head off to Wildebraam Estate private cellar for last hurrah if you will. The cellar produces a range of delicious liqueurs including Youngberry, Honey, Aniseed, Rooibos, Peppermint, Lemon and Hazelnut. In addition, the farm kitchen produces a tempting array of liqueured fruits, jams, dessert syrups, chutneys, relishes, pickles and gifts which can all be sampled and purchased in the infamous "tasting room".
Back on the road to Cape Town we prepare ourselves for the biting onset of reality. But my memories of the Overberg are infused with images of hazy splendour, fuzzy at the edges despite the bold contrasts of primary colours; of people and practises as gentle as the chocolate box landscapes they inhabit; and of long-forgotten soul regeneration. Just a warning if you plan to go to the Overberg - leaving is not easy....Review by Jo Kromberg