Michel Roux

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

48 hours in Wellington

48 Hours in Wellington

Plan your next weekend getaway with this guide to the Cape Winelands’ best kept secret

Capetonians and visitors to the Mother City are absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to options for quick weekend getaways in the Western Cape, and many often opt to flock to fabulous Franschhoek or sweet little Stellenbosch for their mini escapes. Where they should be headed though, if they’re looking for a unique break and a somewhat old-school Cape Winelands experience, is Wellington, a dorpie at the foot of the Groenberg Mountain and just about an hour from the big city.
No longer worthy of its former reputation as “Wellington Smellington” (because of the odour from the town’s old leather tannery), the vineyard village is truly at the heart of South Africa’s wine industry, not just geographically, but also because most of the country’s rootstock material for vines comes from the local farms. As one local says, “it all starts in Wellington.” 
You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find more things to see, taste, smell and experience than you could actually fit into 48 hours, and best of all, Wellington still has that undiscovered, undisturbed charm forever gone from its commercially popular Winelands counterparts, so this is where you go when you’re looking for something a little left of centre (this one’s for you Hipsters). 
And to make (re)discovering Wellington a little bit easier, we’ve put together a guide to how best to spend your weekend away. Get reading and then get packing, because as any experienced holidaymaker knows, hidden gems don’t stay hidden for very long.
...A decent dose of culture and history
Wellington, which is named after the British duke who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, developed through the ages from being a border town for the Cape Colony to a hub for academia, a centre for the leather and piano-making industries and then eventually to the destination for wine connoisseurs and casual weekenders that it is today.
Start your visit with a glimpse of this history at the Wellington Museum on Church Street, which houses a small collection of local artefacts from the bygone era. Here you can learn the importance of the town’s train station or browse the titles of books written by and about Andrew Murray, the man whose likeness is captured in a statue sitting at the front of the town’s big, holy centrepiece. Considered to be the father of education in Wellington, this Scotsman is also recognised as a spiritual leader whose teachings attract disciples from as far as China. The museum also has surprising, unexpected (for this neck of the woods anyway) exhibits, like one of the largest Egyptology collections in Southern Africa and relics from the ancient lives of Sotho and Tswana tribal folk.
For a taste of Wellington’s modern heritage, there’s the Breytenbach Centre. The building, which was the former home of writer and painter Breyten Breytenbach, was bought by the town for the princely sum of R10 so it could be turned into a haven for local and visiting arty types. Drop in on the right Saturday and you might happen on an exhibit opening in the upstairs gallery featuring work by a local painter, or pop into the gift shop for beautiful, quirky Wellington-made ceramics and glassware. The multi-purpose centre also has a little restaurant theatre in the back called Die Bordienghuis where jazz and blues musicians entertain and brave open-micers serenade audiences on Tuesdays.
If you’re a bit of a shopper, it’s also worth checking out Redemption Leather, a reminder of the town’s tannery past where you can find one-of-a-kind, handmade shoes and bags.
...Good Shiraz...  
Wellington is wine country after all, so it would be practically indecent not to go for a tasting or two. The difference here is that you’re more likely to encounter boutique estates and family-owned farms, which means that you won’t be sampling run-of-the-mill reds and whites. Take for exampleAndreas Boutique Wine Estate: they only produce a Shiraz that has quite a cult following among local connoisseurs and therefore sells out each year (bookings for a tasting have to be made by appointment, and the farm isn’t open on weekends).
A more accessible option is the family-friendly Dunstone Winery, which sits pretty along Bovlei Road together with several more Wellington estates. The Shiraz, Merlot and special Rosé (it’s made with 100% Shiraz grapes) are tenderly crafted by hand, and behind the farm’s tasting room and its Stone Kitchen restaurant is a mini fairy-tale world with a jungle gym, sandpits, giant pillows and blankets on the green grass and the scent of ripe guavas wafting gently in the air. Needless to say, it’s perfect for little ones, and a little exploration will reveal a hidden pond with white, orange-billed ducks preening themselves near the reeds.
While you’re on a serious tasting mission, be sure to call ahead and make an appointment for some sipping and sampling at Bosman Family Vineyards. The eighth-generation farming clan are known for their highly ethical, fair-trade productions, and that genuine goodness comes through in their signature vinos.
...and an old-fashioned dop
If you don’t have a taste for wine (and even if you do), an absolute must-try while you’re in Wellington is a sampling of the gins, vodkas, brandies and absinthe at Jorgensen’s Distillery. Also by appointment only, a visit to Roger and Dawn Jorgenson’s home and magic potion workshop will leave you with a new appreciation for the production of liquor. The master distiller is ultra passionate about the fragrant plants that go into the old-school-made alcohol (there are several vintage copper potstills on the property, one of which is still in use), and he’ll give you a history lesson, a botany lesson and a lesson in distillation all in one. You’ll be surprised to find that gin can actually taste good.
...Long, lazy lunches, brunches and dinners
Wellington’s slow country life lends itself to lavish lunching on a stoep out in the sun or cosying up with a bowl of something warm next to a fireplace, and fortunately, you won’t be too hard pressed to find a spot to do both. The recently opened (2012) Twist Some More restaurant comes recommended by pretty much any local you care to ask, probably because its blackboard menu concept is a novel idea in Wellington and the food is simply drool-worthy. The offerings change daily based on what fresh ingredients the chef has in the pantry, but a much-loved constant is the Wild Boar, Apple and Sage Burger, which was voted among the Top 20 Burgers in the Western Cape. The kids will love the tree house jungle gym, and moms and dads can watch them while sipping on local wines that go rather well with the sumptuous eats.
To go along with the wine and dine theme, you can also head to Kleinevalleij Estate’s Festa restaurant for some hearty “boerekos (farm food) with a twist”, as Chef Tina Maritz describes the fare. The scenic property has chairs on the edge of its vineyard, where you can simply sit and soak in a stunning sunset while sipping on something grapey.
And where to for dinner? Well, Oude Wellington is a bit of an institution and beyond just serving up homey food inspired by classic French cooking (apparently the pork belly is to die for), the restaurant dishes up a generous dose of good old-fashioned country hospitality. The eatery is housed in a 200-year-old converted chicken barn and run by husband and wife team John and Susanna Tecklenburg. She is the resident hug-giver, with an ever ready shoulder for the teary, while he may join you with a brandy at the stammtisch, a small, round table where strangers ring the bell, share a round of shots and become friends.
...Outdoor adventures and MTB
Once you’re away from the centre of town and Wellington’s farming industria, the valley rises and falls with rows of grapevines and pristine green hills that roll out to reveal a stunning landscape all the way to the mountains. A drive up the Bainskloof Pass will give the most spectacular vantage point, and the summit makes for one helluva sunset spot.
If you’re more content doing rather than just watching, bring along your mountain bike and explore the scenic trails. Permits (they’re R40) for each of the four routes are available from Welvanpas’s cute coffee shop, called Die Ou Meul ,and you can pick up a map as well as homemade preserves and chutney or olive oil and peppadews for the road. 
...Fun campouts
True outdoor enthusiasts can camp out at the site at the bottom of the Bainskloof Pass or just make home at Bainskloof corner, an all-in-one resort and a great springboard from which to do some hiking or appreciate Wellington’s natural surroundings. And for folks who want to have a quintessentially African experience, Bontebok Ridge showcases the local wildlife living amongst the fynbos on morning and evening game drives. 
 ...Good old-fashioned country living
Just so you know, if you stay at Grand Dédale Country House during your visit to Wellington, you might find yourself forgoing all of the above plans and choosing to unplug and indulge in luxury at the beautiful manor for the entire time instead.
The five-star, seven-room house is situated at Doolhof Wine Estate, which means ‘labyrinth’ in Afrikaans, and with a horse paddock, a little field of grazing cattle and an actual labyrinth on site, the entire scene is so pastoral William Wordsworth could write volumes of sonnets about it. Visitors will get a floating-on-feathers feeling from the second they step into the immaculate front room, though a friendly purr from the resident cats should help bring them back down to earth and make it feel a little more like home (if home is an opulent Old Cape Dutch-style house straight out of a story book fantasy).
A stay here includes lavish breakfasts, a full high tea spread in the afternoons and sumptuously satisfying three-course dinners served either on the manor’s front porch in the summer time, or in cosy spots around the house in winter. Picture days spent lounging under the sun next to the gorgeous pool area and nights cuddling up in one of the soft, plush beds or soaking in a footed bathtub. Not to mention, since guests can help themselves to cool drinks and refreshing wines from the perpetually stocked communal fridges on both floors of the house, there truly isn’t a reason to ever leave.
This is where loved up honeymooners go to revel in the glow of their new nuptials, where long term couples come to celebrate another year together, and where luxury-loving holiday-makers know they have absolutely nothing to worry about.  
If you’re looking for a more affordable alternative but with the same kind of country hospitality,Bakkies B&B will hit the spot, and many agree that the breakfast is more than marvellous.
Visit Wellington.co.za for more accommodation options.
Extra top tips: Wellington’s equivalent to Cape Town’s Mzoli’sChippa’s Place, is where those looking for roads less travelled and authentic township jams can go for a shisa nyama jol. You get to choose the meat, which will braaied with secret signature spices and brought to your table.
If you’re into design, fabrics and finding out how things work, visit Quenti Alpaca Farm for a look at what it takes to go from cute sheep-like creatures to even cuter socks, sweaters and hats. Do note that you’ll have to call ahead if you want to drop by.
  • The Wellington Museum: Cnr College and Church Streets | +27 (0) 21 873 4710 | Monday – Friday: 8am – 4pm; Saturday – Sunday: By appointment only
  • Breytenbach Centre: 14 Burger Street | +27 (0) 21 873 2786 | Monday – Friday: 9am – 5pm/ 10am – 5pm (gallery and gift shop)
  • Redemption Leather: Bainskloof Road | +27 (0) 21 873 3197 | Monday – Friday: 8am – 5:30pm; Saturday: 8am – 1pm
  • Andreas Boutique Wine Estate: Bovlei Road | +27 (0) 21 873 2286 | Monday – Friday: By appointment only
  • Dunstone Winery: Bovlei Road | +27 (0) 21 873 6770 | Monday – Tuesday: By appointment; Wednesday – Sunday: 8am – 5pm
  • Bosman Family Vineyards: Bovlei Road | +27 (0) 21 873 3170 | Monday – Friday: By appointment
  • Jorgensen’s Distillery: Versailles Farm, Regent Road | +27 (0) 21 864 1777 or +27 (0) 82 564 2512 | Monday – Saturday: By appointment
  • Twist Some More: Hexberg Road | +27 (0) 21 864 1467 | Wednesday – Friday: 12pm – 3pm & 6pm – 8pm; Saturday: 8:30am – 3pm & 6pm – 8pm; Sunday: 8:30am – 3pm
  • Festa Restaurant: Bainskloof Road| +27 (0) 21 873 0075 | Wednesday: 9am – 4pm; Saturday and Sunday: 9am – 3pm;  Thursday – Friday: 9am – 10pm
  • Oude Wellington Restaurant: Bainskloof Road | +27 (0) 21 873 2009 | Monday – Sunday: 12pm – 3pm & 6pm – 9pm
  • Welvenpas: Bovlei Road | +27 (0) 21 864 1239 | Tuesday – Friday: 8am – 5pm; Saturday – Sunday: 8am – 3pm
  • Grand Dédale Country House on Doolhof Wine Estate: Bovlei Road | +27 (0) 21 873 4089 | Check-in is from 2pm
  • Chippa’s Place: 4895 Mahojane Street | +27 (0) 82 454 0585 | Monday – Thursday: 8am – 11pm; Friday – Sunday: 8am – late