I woke up to the sound of rain drenching the top of my tent. If this were a regular tent, pouring rain and muddied roads would be my worst nightmare. Luckily this is no ordinary accommodation, this is Africamps at Doolhof and exactly the way I want to camp, with a hot shower all to myself and a fully functional kitchen. Oh, and did I mention the hot tub on the porch?
Scratch the word camp, replace it with glamp. I am unashamedly a glamper.
Let’s rewind to the beginning. I have 24-hours to enjoy the Drakenstein area – Paarl and Wellington to be more specific. It’s two of my favourite dorpies in the Western Cape, and only when you drive through the uncluttered streets of these little towns do you appreciate their authenticity.
Steeped in history, the town was founded in 1687 making it the third oldest settlement in the country. Decades later, former president Nelson Mandela would be held at Drakenstein Prison during his last years of imprisonment.
It is from this prison that Mandela completed his long walk to freedom. And while the history of the town is intriguing enough, it truly is the people and the warm welcome all outsiders receive that keeps me coming back for more.
Standing in front of the Drakenstein Correctional Centre, looking up at the statue of Mandela with his infamous fist in the air pose, you can’t help being overwhelmed. Imagine the thoughts running through his mind as he stepped out of the only life he knew for 27 years, onto the streets of a country he barely knew.
I can’t help but wonder what he thought as he took those first few steps. In many ways, this very spot in Paarl is where all of our freedom began.
The Taal Monument is the next stop. Another poignant reminder of the history of the country. It was erected in 1975 when Afrikaans was tabled as an official language in South Africa. The views from the top of the mountain where the monument stands are breathtaking. Pause in the shadow of the towering monument and take a minute to walk through the gardens dotted with poems and blooming Cape flowers. It’s educational and entertaining, with picnic spots all along the lush, manicured gardens.
Time to give your sugar levels a boost. Roses Artisanal Confectionary is housed in a small shopping complex on the main road in Paarl. More interestingly is that the building was the old town prison and has the original exteriors stone walls, bars on the windows and alles. A few of the gates have been retained too, a little lock-up chic if you can call it that.
Roses epitomise Paarl. It is small town ingenuity. All the confectionery are handmade and many of the designer chocolate blocks taste unlike anything you’ve ever tried. A splash of unusual and a dash of the usual favourites, at prices far cheaper than you would expect, will ensure you leave with far more than you should have.
What would a trip to Paarl be without a wine-tasting? If you are looking for crisp and refreshing white wines – or full-bodied and succulent red wines – then this is the wine route for you. KWV Wine Emporium is the first commercial wine cellar dating all the way back to 1918. Renowned for their spicy red wines, KWV offers wine-tastings so the customer gets to experience a few varietals before their purchase. They have an impressive cellar which is every wine-enthusiasts dream come true. Their MCC is the one to take home.
There are countless places where you can sit down to a leisurely lunch. Between the wine farms with rolling green lawns or quaint cafes that line the main street, you’re spoilt for choice. Time is limited so a quick burger at Backsberg Restaurant will guarantee a delicious, well-prepared, juicy beef burger. Switch up your chips for polenta fries, you can thank me later.
A stopover at Eve Art Studio turned out to be the highlight of my 24-hours. I’m pretty sure Madeleine Eve’s very welcoming and accommodating nature had everything to do with my rating. It could also be the hours of fun I had painting a self-portrait. Talk about being self-conscious, there wasn’t a single person in the class who didn’t try to alter their most disliked feature. Unfortunately for me, no angle can make my nose smaller and I have learned to live with it, in my painting and my reality.
Eve hosts various classes from painting and pottery to art and decor – she is an artist from her heart to her tippy- toes and it so obviously spills out in her studio. I left feeling like I had made a friend, and I would be back to say hi for sure. The charm of Paarl strikes again.
A roaring fireplace greets our icy cold fingers and the smell of a hearty meal fills the warmly lit dining room. We are visiting Zomerlust Restaurant in Wellington for dinner. I say visiting because the dining room is actually someone’s home. Dinner and lunch are hosted weekly, depending on bookings. The meals are homely, prepared with the freshest local produce and delicious. As the wine flows so does the conversation. The intimate setting is a perfect space to unwind after a long day of Drakenstein-hopping.
As night approaches it is time to rest my wary head. There is no better place to do this than Africamps at Doolhof Wine Estate. A night surrounded by an award-winning vineyard would be a dream come true for many wine-lovers. With the Groenberg Mountain Range as your view at every sunset and sunrise, and the relaxing sound of a gurgling river that runs past the site – it is pure bliss.
The camps are fully serviced and air-conditioned with a fitted kitchen, kids room with bunk beds, a main bedroom and a lounge area. Best of all, you get your very own bathroom with a relaxing rain shower. There is also a fireplace inside for those extra cold evenings. The wooden deck has a braai, loungers, and my very best – a hot tub to soak up the view, quite literally.
The rain pounds the tent in the early hours of the morning and instead of panicking about wet beds and drenched gear, I simply smile and let the sound lull me back to my slumber. I wake up to the river gushing louder, the birds in full melody and the sun struggling to fight the cloud-cover. I sip my coffee on the deck and get lost in the pure sound of peacefulness.
A hop and a skip down the road is where breakfast is hosted. The Stone Kitchen at Dunestone Wine Estate is one of my favourite restaurants in the area. I have never had a bad meal here to date. The food is consistently excellent and if you have kids there is a huge play area to keep your little ones entertained while you enjoy a meal at your leisure.
French toast with a side of stewed dried fruit and delicious crispy bacon is how you should start every day. Other breakfast items include the big stone – includes bacon, sausages, eggs, roasted tomatoes and mushrooms – or the vegetarian option.
This meals concludes 24-hours in Paarl and Wellington. While it seems like this is not doable in one day, there was absolutely no rush and it helps that the distances travelled were short because of the close proximity. I love this piece of the Western Cape, it has a little something for everyone and is stuck in old town charm, and heaped with old-fashion manners and hospitality. All this with a modern look and a fashionable sense of style.
If you want to know more about this area you can download a new App created by the Winelands District Municipality. The App gives you an insight into the places to visit, activities to enjoy and restaurants to eat at.
Pictures: Nidha Narrandes