10 things to do in Bot River
By Rachel Robinson
Long before the wine, wheat, lavender and sheep farmers took up residence in Bot River the Khoisan were roaming the land with their livestock, enjoying the rich pastures along the river. They produced butter, or botter in Afrikaans, which the early settlers came to trade and which ultimately led to the name Bot River.
You can still get fresh farm butter in Bot River, but there’s a whole lot more going on in the valley today. Instead of just passing by on your next trip to Hermanus, pay this farming community a visit. Here are a few things you can do while you are there.
1. Have breakfast or lunch (or get married) at Gabrielskloof Wine Estate
Bernhard Heyns finally settled on his dream piece of land when he bought Avontuur farm in 2001. He changed the name to Gabrielskloof (after the original owner, Gabriel Le Roux) and planted his first vines in 2002. Today, with award-winning winemaker Kobie Viljoen, Gabrielskoof Wine Estate produce a range of blended wines using traditional wine-making methods.
They also produce delicious fare in their restaurant with most of the ingredients used being sourced locally from neighbouring towns. They serve breakfast (the French toast with bacon, banana and syrup was heavenly) and lunch and you get to savour a beautiful view while you are savouring the flavours of your meal. The deli has a wide range of farm produce from olive oil to cheese to lavender soap and you can also get platters, burgers and wraps. The restaurant is open every day, except Tuesdays, from 09h00 to 17h00.
Gabrielskloof Wine Estate also makes for beautiful wedding venue and they even have their own chapel.
2. Taste wines from the region’s oldest wine cellar at Beaumont Wines
Compagnes Drift Farm was once the 18th century outpost for the Dutch East India Company. It is now home Beaumont Wines, a family-run farm and winery where old-fashioned values remain in high regard. Vines were planted and the cellar with its antique machinery was revived in the 1970s and today Beaumont Wines produce a range of well-respected artisanal wines.
Pay them a visit on Monday to Friday from 09h30 to 16h30 and on Saturdays from 10h00 to 15h00. You will be greeted with friendliness and enthusiasm by the family (and their dogs). While you are in the tasting room look out for a framed Decanter World Wines Awards certificate – it has been scribbled on by their daughter. A sure sign that the whole family is involved in Beaumont Wines! In addition to creating fine wine (and artistic children) the farm produces jams and preserves, along with stone ground flour from their historic watermill. You can purchase these with your bottles of wine in the tasting room.
The Barrel Cellar, dating back to the early 1900s, has been refurbished and is perfect for a lunch or dinner party for a special occasion. You can also get married on the farm, have picnics by the dam or under the gum trees and there’s accommodation too. Home to Zest Catering, they even offer cooking classes!
3. Visit the historic watermill at Beaumont Wines
The watermill at Beaumont Wines is over 200 years old and thanks to a dedicated chap called Andy Selfe, the beautiful wooden water wheel has been restored to full working order for the first time in 80 years. This has resulted in limited quantities of stone ground flour being produced on the farm (available to buy in the tasting room) and the mill house is now a living museum that is worth a visit.
The mill is also a great spot to host a party or have a picnic. Do something different for your loved one and have an intimate dinner in the mill house itself (surrounded by ancient machinery and the smell of freshly ground flour). Or get a group of friends together and spend a night or two (accommodation at the mill house sleeps up to six people). You get a complimentary bottle of Beaumont wine too!
4. Have tea with Elrieda Pillman at Goedvertrouw Wine Estate
On the Van der Stel Pass you’ll find a beautifully thatched cottage, built in 1820 (one of the oldest houses in the area) with the most magnificent rose garden. You really can’t miss it and you’ll be sorry if you don’t stop in for a cup of tea and homemade treats with the owner Elrieda Pillman.
When we arrived I was dumbstruck by the pile of fresh vegetables sitting by the kitchen door, most of which came from the farm. Once inside, the smell of bread filled the air, thanks to Elrieda’s baking skills (she still uses her AGA stove for baking). It’s the sort of place where you get to sit and chat over a cuppa (and we all know that any troubles can be soothed with a good cup of tea!) As it was a chilly day we had our tea, served with home-made scones, fresh bread, and butter and jam from the farm at the cosy kitchen table. You could find yourself in the tasting room or the lounge, or on fair weather days on the stoep overlooking the roses, a duck pond and grazing livestock.
Turns out pretty much everything on this farm is done by hand, from churning butter to hand-raising piglets and lambs to hand-bottling the wine. Four cultivars are handcrafted on Goedvertrouw Wine Estate, including a blend of Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinotage called Pardoemps. Oh, the the wine cellar still has shooting holes in it from World War II!
Elrieda is an fascinating, hard-working woman and possibly one of the most inspiring characters I met in Bot River. She loves visitors and also serves breakfasts, lunches and dinners, but you need to phone ahead and make arrangements (please don’t just pitch up expecting a 3-course meal). Once you are there you may not want to leave this homely little spot so I suggest you book a night or two in one of the three en-suite bedrooms. I wouldn’t put it past Elrieda to milk the cows first thing in the morning to go with your coffee and homemade rusks!
Tel 028-284-9769 or email [email protected].
5. Sleep in a log cabin at KolKol Mountain Lodge
Surrounded by mountains, fynbos and flowers, the Canadian-style log cabins at KolKol Mountain Lodge on the Van der Stel Pass make for a perfect romantic hideaway or a weekend away with friends and family. The cabins have a unique plunge pool that is heated up using a wood-fired stove. They also have indoor fireplaces, braai areas, games, CD players and are kitted out with all the crockery and utensils you could need. Some also have an outside shower. Supplies include tea, coffee, milk, rusks and butter. Depending on which cabin you book you could get free range eggs or fresh farm herbs too.
While you are there don your hiking shoes, pack a picnic and head outdoors for a day in the mountains. You can also swim in the dam and cycle to down the Van der Stel Pass to Goedvertrouw Wine Farm for tea or to the Bot River Hotel for a beer. There’s plenty of birdlife, so take along some binoculars if you are an avid birdwatcher.
6. See Bot River on horseback with Klein Paradys Equestrian Centre
I am not a terribly experienced horse-rider (anything more than a trot makes me nervous), but my friends were eager to jump into the saddle for a ride through the valley. When we arrived at Klein Paradys Equestrian Centre, my friends’ trusty steeds were saddled up and waiting patiently. After a few laps around the training ring to get used to each other (and adjust stirrups etc) they trotted off out the gate, across the road and into the fields. The remaining two of us went to the Bot River Hotel for a cup of coffee, so I can’t tell you first-hand what the ride was like, but two hours later my equestrian-loving friends returned with beaming smiles. Apparently it was a great ride, with the two of them gushing about beautiful views, vineyards and well-behaved horses.
The owners of Klein Paradys Equestrian Centre, Sue and Manfred, have 17 years of riding experience in the area and have put together various trails suitable for riders of all levels. Some of the rides are one or two hours long, with others being a few hours (with lunch at Hoew Hoek Inn or Dassiesfontein). They also do beach rides where you may get to see the resident wild horses of Bot River Lagoon and wine tasting routes. Those keen to really play at being a cowboy can book a 5-day riding package, taking you from beaches to mountains and through orchards and vineyards.
7. Have a beer and pub grub with the locals at the Botrivier Hotel
If you are keen on mingling with the locals over a cold one, then the bar at the Botrivier Hotel is the place to go. Built in the 1920s it has as much character and charm as the people who use it as their favourite watering hole. The pub is filled with memorabilia and you can choose to sit inside or outside on the stoep under an umbrella (and watch the local farmers come into town for supplies). Bellows Restaurant at the hotel serves up breakfasts, lunches and dinners as well as catering for special events. You’ll find steak, burgers, ribs and light meals on the menu, along with local wines. They also serve Sunday lunch.
The hotel itself was built over 100 years ago (I saw entries in the guest book dating back to 1929) and the rooms have undergone a complete revamp. I had a peek into some of them and was impressed with how neat and clean they were. There are 11 rooms, all with en-suite bathrooms and their own balcony. For R320 a person a night (or R290 a night, Monday to Thursday) with breakfast, I think the Botrivier Hotel would make for a fun time away with a group of friends. If you are lucky there may be a band playing too (check their website for details of upcoming events).
8. Enjoy a Sunday roast, pizza and local music at The Shuntin’ Shed
I have visited The Shuntin’ Shed before and was so impressed that I vowed to return for their Sunday roast (which is cooked overnight in their pizza oven). I got my chance and wasn’t disappointed. When I returned for Sunday lunch, the roast of the day was pork and came served with crispy roast potatoes and vegetables. It was also the first time I had ever had mushy peas! The owners, Gustav and Christine, are also part of a local cover band called Chattanooga and Friends, so we had live music with our meal. After a few beers everyone was singing along merrily to well-known songs.
The Shuntin’ Shed is in a real train shed (freight trains still pass by) that was built in 1909. A lot of effort has gone into keeping things as authentic as possible and the result is a vibey spot that serves tasty food made from locally sourced ingredients, with wines from local wineries and beer on tap. They support local bands and their website lists any upcoming events. I recommend you pay a visit and join in the fun.
9. Live like a movie star at Barton Luxury Villas
While exploring Bot River I was hosted by Barton Luxury Villas on the Barton Wine Estate, with a few lucky friends being invited to join me. When I stepped through the doors after a drive through a tree-lined avenue and vineyards, I put my bag down, glanced around and thought “Wow, so this is what it must be like to be rich and famous!”
The Tuscan-style villas (there are three) have been designed to maximize the view (think floor to ceiling windows) over the vineyards, valley and mountains. Sliding doors from the kitchen lead out to a braai area with an outdoor jacuzzi nestled between the rocks. Talk about braai and bubbles with a view! The lounge area had a fireplace and we ate our meals around a 10-seater dining room table. If an outdoor swimming pool and jacuzzi are not enough for you, Heron Villa has a massive indoor pool as well, complete with a changing room with towels and loungers. All four bedrooms had en-suite bathrooms and every morning we each awoke to our own magnificent mountain vista. There’s also a dishwasher, DSTV and Wi-Fi. For two days we lived like rock stars (sans trashing the place and throwing the TV out of the window).
While you are Barton Villas you can enjoy birdwatching (the endangered Blue Crane can often be spotted in the vineyards), go for a hike in the Kogeberg Mountains behind the villas, play a game of tennis or taste Barton’s wines at their tasting room. A little further down the road you can play a game of golf at Arabella, go whale watching or diving in Hermanus and hike through the Kogelberg National Eco Park. Or just pour yourself a glass of wine, put a few logs on the braai and take in the valley vistas from the jacuzzi.
10. Bearded winemakers, spring weekends and barrel rolling
Bot River is worthy of a visit any time of year, but there are times when the valley really buzzes. Watch out for their Bot River “drink yourself pink” Spring Weekend, the Bot River Barrel Fest and their increasingly popular Barrels & Beards Harvest Celebration. Best to book early as these fun-filled events sell out fast.