Nature lovers who are keen to discover more of South Africa’s natural beauty this Heritage Month should be delighted by a newly-launched environmental tour at Vergelegen wine estate in Somerset West.
The tour reveals tracts of the vast 3 000 ha estate that were previously closed to the public. Visitors can now view rare bontebok, indigenous Nguni cattle, swathes of endangered fynbos and, if they’re lucky, eland that were recently introduced to the 320-year-old estate. The drive also includes an overview of the site of a planned arboretum that will incorporate extensive plantings of trees and three kilometres of walkways.
Says Vergelegen MD Wayne Coetzer: “Vergelegen formally undertook South Africa’s largest privately funded alien vegetation clearing project from 2004, finally clearing 2200 hectares of dense alien vegetation and completing the project in 2018. As a result, numerous birds and mammals such as Cape leopard, caracal, grey rhebok and spotted genet have returned, while rare and endangered plants, grasslands and wetlands have reappeared. With 1900 hectares of the estate promulgated as a private nature reserve with the same protection status as the Kruger National Park, we are now ready to share this environmental success story with our guests.”
Environmental Tour highlights include:
- The Vergelegen Nguni Stud, established in 2010 and numbering over 400 indigenous cattle renowned for their multi-coloured hides;
- Sightings of groups of bontebok (the full herd numbers over 50 animals) once considered the rarest antelope in the world, recognisable by their purplish-red bodies and a white facial blaze;
- Possible sightings of five eland, which were recently introduced to Vergelegen as part of the Gantouw Project, a veld management and research programme;
- Indigenous plants and vegetation, and extensive water resources; and
- Spectacular scenery ranging from the Hottentots Holland Mountains to views of False Bay.
“Vergelegen was also declared a Western Cape provincial heritage site last year and there are numerous other attractions that will ensure an interesting day out for the whole family,” says Coetzer. “Our 18 gardens include five enormous camphor trees that were proclaimed national monuments in 1942. A hollow old English oak, about 300 years old, is believed to be the oldest living oak in Africa, while the Lourens River is the only local river that’s a Protected Natural Environment.”
The meticulously restored homestead is furnished with beautiful antiques, porcelain and objets d’art. It also houses an interpretive centre with information on the estate’s inhabitants over the centuries, plus prominent guests. A wine cellar built in 1816 has been converted into a library housing over 4500 books that belonged to mining magnate and philanthropist Sir Lionel Phillips, a previous owner of Vergelegen.
Food and drink
When all the sight-seeing and strolling has built up your appetite, there’s plenty to choose from, whether you fancy a simple sandwich enjoyed at a bench under an oak tree, or a dish prepared by one of the country’s foremost chefs, Michael Cooke.
The estate houses a popular family restaurant, Stables, open daily; and elegant yet relaxed lunches Wednesday to Sunday at Camphors, frequently listed in the Eat Out top ten restaurant awards, and double winner of the Eat Out Woolworths Sustainability Award. Guests can buy sweet or savoury goodies, coffee and cooldrinks from the Rose Garden Gazebo, and enjoy these at outdoor tables. (Open Saturday to Sunday, weather permitting.)
“We’ve also introduced an exciting new food and wine pairing at the Wine Tasting Centre ‒ charcuterie and wine. Our Reserve Chardonnay, Reserve Shiraz and Reserve DNA are each paired with a different style of cured meat for R120 pp,” says Coetzer.
“We’re also currently offering Vergelegen MMV Brut with strawberries and whipped cream. This can be enjoyed on the veranda of the Wine Tasting Centre, or as an aperitif at Stables, for R65 pp.”
“Our team looks forward to welcoming you at Vergelegen. The estate was purchased in 1987 with the specific purpose of restoring it as a national treasure for all South Africans to enjoy, so it’s a fitting destination for Heritage Month.”