There are few towns in South Africa that have what Wellington has got. Being at the center of the broader Western Cape wineland region, and just a 45-minute drive north out of Cape Town, the picturesque town is at the base of one of the oldest mountain passes in the country – the famed Baines Kloof Pass.
Today I’m heading up the N1, with the intent to linger around Wellington and discover the places that really epitomise local hospitality.
Linton Park Wines is my first stop. The road meanders through an attractive landscape filled with vineyards and oak trees sporting their red and brown autumnal hues, and as I approach the brooding Groenberg mountain range, the whitewashed, Cape Dutch-style buildings eventually come into view – this estate’s history is as rich as the soil its grapes are grown from. Once a farm dating back to the days of a certain Cape Governer named Simon van der Stel, the site of the modern-day Linton Park can be traced back to 1690, and it is here where some of the first settlers recognized the farming potential in this district.
The Slangrivier, with its source high up in the mountains, runs through the estate and is quite aptly named after the abundance of snakes to be found in the area. In fact, a large Cape Cobra was spotted upon my visit to the estate, but visitors need not worry about an encounter of their own as I had ventured up through the vineyards, at the top of the valley, to a place where few people except for farm employees tread. Management of Linton Park is passionate about creating a balance between their own farming operation and restoring the indigenous renosterbos veld on this fertile land. The ongoing operation to bring back the naturally-occurring fynbos is seeing large stands of eucalypt being removed, water-thirsty invasive alien species which really should have no place here. There is still plenty of work to be done, but signs of hard-work are definitely showing.
Within Linton Park’s central courtyard you’ll find a tasting room, where several exquisite ranges produced here can be quaffed. Choose from the Reserve Range, the Rhino Range, Estate Range to compliment your charcuterie platter that is best enjoyed under the vine-laden terrace, overlooking the lawns of this historic complex.
Not too far away lies Au de Hex, a renowned wedding venue and the destination for my lunch visit. Exquisite, well-kept gardens prevail here, a labyrinth of scented herbs such as lavender lead the way to the restaurant, function and accommodation facilities. A large dam forms the picture at Au de Hex, with an iconic, raised platform above it to host weddings and other events. Surrounding this feature are the white-washed buildings of the complex, a common characteristic at historic farms throughout this region as we discovered previously at Linton Park.
Being the ever-curious type, I had to investigate what spending a night at Au de Hex would be like. Stepping inside the double-storey chalet, one can see why this could be a wise option to consider for an intimate, country-feel wedding. Gorgeous interior finishings come complete with sweeping views of the mountains on the outside. It’s peaceful, and the kind of setting you can see yourself spending a few days in. For lunch, I dined under the wooden, vine-clad ceiling over the terrace – another familiar trait of local wineland hospitality and one that I’m rapidly growing to enjoy. The salmon trout was served, excellently plated in a modern fashion with a view overlooking the dam to boot. The lunch menu features familiar favourites complimented with flavours and flair – Au de Hex is in good hands from the work a skilled Executive Chef.
What is a big lunch without something sweet to follow? It’s not often I can afford the luxury of spending a day in a charming town to discover its secrets, so today I’m taking advantage to indulge. The next stop is at Oude Wellington Wine & Brandy Estate, and in the restaurant, I am greeted with a cellar that you can tell is a few hundred years old. Dark yet characterful, and restored yet retaining its original feel, to the left of the room is a great big potstill used for the distillation of brandy making, but it’s the desserts I’m after today. I visit the sweets table where an array of fine dishes have been prepared by owner and chef John – who I’m told is a great culinary talent in the Wellington region. Chef John’s famous white chocolate cheesecake was paired with a 5-year old Oude Wellington brandy tipple, as was the 10-year old with a ‘pancake cake’ – a multi-layered affair complete with fresh berries and a hot sauce to smother over.
The sun is dropping further over the direction of Malmesbury and the valley is beginning to be cast in shadows. A surprisingly hot winter’s day has finally been broken by a cool, gentle breeze coming in from the same direction. My final port-of-call is Val du Charron, a luxury accommodation venue and spa found high up in the hills, under the Hawequa mountains. Awash now in golden light, I’m treated to a marvellous view from above Wellington, from the forested mountain slopes on my left to the sprawling farmland giving way to the right.
Wellington was once a hub of the local wagon-making industry. Blessed with an abundance of indigenous wood and skilled craftsmen, the charron, or wagons, coming out of this district were world-famous, and the upscale retreat draws its name as a nod to this historical facet of the town. I begin my tour of the estate by peering inside both the 5-star and 4-star suites – full luxury, with the former having its own private infinity pool. Immaculate views come standard at Val du Charron (Valley of the Wagon) and it’s yet another place where one could easily spend a few days.
Cheese and wine tasting on the terrace is my send-off before heading back to the city. The estate produces a selection of lovely boutique wines, which can be paired beautifully with prime cuts of meat at Val du Charron’s restaurant – The Local Grill – which some readers may be familiar with as it’s a reputable, upscale grill with a few locations around the city & surrounds.
Leaving Wellington, my lone, parting thought is that I’ll be back. One day is simply not enough to experience everything this charming town presents. What other secrets does it hold, tucked away beyond those hills? Winter shall see my return when the peaks are snow-capped and the familiar smell of a burning log-fire is wafting through the farmlands.