… And Then We Drank Wine

The best way to travel is to embrace the little deviations in plans as happy accidents that will enrich your trip. Easier said than done from someone like myself who loves to plan. But, I’ve learned that when you want the flexibility of making plans as you go, it’s going to happen; and you gotta just learn to roll with it. Perhaps you wait until the day of to hire a car, and the only car available is a manual. Or you weren’t sure how far you would drive for the day, and by the time you book your accommodations for the night, you find yourself dining in a seedy hot springs resort with 38 Norwegians over the age of 75. And my favorite, when your boyfriend thought he was booking a bike wine tour and ends up booking the mini van tour Easy Rider on the opposite page of our travel guide. All of these things really happened during our eight-day road trip across South Africa and yet we were able to truly make the best of them. I call that road trip success!

We started our road trip in wine country, a little over an hour outside of Cape Town in the quaint little town of Franschhoek. Jay booked us at the Chamonix, a wine estate/nature observatory that boasts several hectares (our life deals in the burdensome metric system nowJ) of vineyards, zebras, ostrich and impala. We are in the start of Fall here in South Africa, which means we are in the cusp of low season. When we arrived at the Chamonix, we were pleasantly surprised that we were the only guests on the property. We had the whole lodge to ourselves! We were upgraded to the nicest room, the Lion Suite, and given a bottle of their estate wine to split. Cheers to wine country, eh?

The lodge had a stately feel to it with rich, dark furniture that are finished with prints from about the whole of the animal kingdom. The owner is an avid wild game hunter, so the lodge was also in my opinion, overly adorned with stuffed lions, zebras, giraffes, elephants and warthogs. Hanging from the walls were pictures of every hunting kill the owner had notched on his belt. Not quite my taste, but a stunning setting to say the least. Jay would pace the empty halls of the lodge chatting up family as I found a quiet spot to write. At multiple times during our two-day stay, and especially late at night as the entire lodge seemed to sway with the wind, we felt we could have been in our own version of The Shining. Never to fear, luckily, I didn’t experience writer’s block nor did I turn into a homicidal maniac during the course of our stay.

A nearby town also known for it’s close proximity to some of South Africa’s prime wine estates is Stellenbosch. Jay found a bike wine tour highly rated by Lonely Planet, so we headed that way for a day of wine and biking through South African wine country. We arrived at the Stumble Inn and waited for fellow bikers to arrive. Jay handed me the itinerary for the day and as I began to scan the page, noticed at the bottom that we would be traveling by mini van. Oops! By accident, he’d mixed up one tour with the other. We were minutes away from the tour leaving and knew our options were limited. As we were discussing, a friendly voice entered the Stumble Inn. Petra? Sure enough, it was our Dutch friend whom we had met at our B&B in Cape Town. We all looked at each other and laughed – this had happened before in Cape Town where Petra had inadvertently booked the same bike tour with us – and we instantly knew we were meant to do this tour. The only three on the tour, we had a great time visiting four wineries for tastings, lunching at a gorgeous language monument and touring the cellars of KWV.

We had originally planned to spend only two days in wine country and the rest of our road trip exploring the garden route (please come back soon for a post on that portion of the trip!), but we enjoyed the area so much, we added two more days on to the end of our road trip back in Franschhoek. This time, Jay booked a room at La Cabriere Country House, a Provence-inspired guest house just minutes from main street. Here we were greeted with a bottle of brut by the pool before we walked to La Lude for a tasting of their sparkling wine and rose. After teatime back at the guest house, the manager kindly helped us set up dinner reservations for the evening at Roca on Dieu Donne wine estate. They first sat us on the patio for a glass of wine as we watched the sun set. We were then moved inside for arguably one of the best meals we’ve had in South Africa, which included a tomato basil soup, salmon and a sprinbok loin served with truffled exotic mushrooms and por jus.

The following day we spent the morning strolling the streets of downtown Franschhoek popping in and out of art galleries and snacking on chocolates. In the afternoon we headed over to Richard Branson’s wine estate, Mont Rochelle, where we tasted six of his wines paired with meats and cheeses. Both Jay and I loved his chardonnay the best, but agreed his packaging was far too parochial compared to the clean, breezy feel of his estate. We wrapped up our day with a swim by the pool prior to teatime and a light dinner at Dutch East. The next morning we were up early for the drive back to Cape Town to return the rental car.

We’ll be here for perhaps a week recharging, figuring out next steps and seeing the last few things on our list we weren’t able to fit in during our first week. I can’t wait to see what other happy little accidents come our way! “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”~Bob Ross

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