Road-tripping the Overberg

Road-tripping the Overberg

I blame it all on a little cottage on the shores of Soetendalsvlei. With no electricity, but buckets of charm, Langrug Lodge has become my family’s favoured bolthole whenever spring rolls around. When the wildflowers are out and the rains begin to clear, I pack the family into the X-Trail and off we go for a week of falling further in love with the Overberg.

Which is how I find myself cruising towards the coast in the cool of a late-Spring morning. The mist is lying low in the valleys, as cheerful canola fields give way to wheat fields galloping to the horizon. A startled steenbok goes bounding away as I pass, and a pair of spur-wing geese flap heavily across the crisp blue sky.

An early start brings with it the perfect excuse to find breakfast on the road, and there are few better options than the Napier Farm Stall & Restaurant. While the lunchtime menu ranges from lentil bake to eisbein, for breakfast there’s only one choice worth your time: the famous black pan breakfasts. Beloved of bikers and road-trippers, the skillets dish up an Overberg take on shakshuka: sweet tomato and onion relish hiding generous slices of sausage and slivers of mushroom, topped off with a soft-cooked egg. Baskets of farm bread help to mop up all the delicious juices at the end.

On the way out, chunks of decadent Rocky Road and packets of granadilla cookies will call your name. And you should listen, for what's a good road trip without padkos?

From Napier to the farming town of Bredasdorp, and always worth a stop is the charming Shipwreck Museum, where an array of nautical paraphernalia, rusty anchors and carved figureheads tell the captivating tale of vessels that have met their fate on the rocky shores to the south.

By the time I get to the holiday village of Arniston it’s not hard to see why those ships foundered here. With the wind screaming onshore and the seas rough from a passing cold front, the village fishing boats are pulled up on the hard. Metal rulers are screwed into the benches, lines etched with the legal limits for poenskop, kabeljou and geelbek. In better weather they tell of death by a thousand cuts for the silver darlings of these seas.

The cleaning tables may be bare this morning, but visitors certainly won’t go hungry. The Arniston Hotel is known for its menu of seafood-friendly bistro-fare, while the road through the heritage village of Kassiesbaai leads right to the door of Willeen’s Arts & Crafts. Which is also a restaurant, I discover.

“Ja, but there’s no fish at the moment because of the wind. The boats can't go out,” explains the young waiter behind the bar. I settle for a plate of piquant pickled fish and homemade bread, and enjoy it to a soundtrack of wind whistling against the window.

Across town is another restaurant that’s become a firm favourite for locals and holidaymakers.

“I used to work at Bob’s Waenhuis here in Arniston. Now this is Wanda’s Waenhuis!” laughs Wanda Europa, the charming owner-chef who opened her restaurant in 2013.

With her husband a fisherman, the compact chalkboard menu is focused firmly on line fish from local boats. While winter sees plenty of red roman, shad and musselcracker on the menu, summer is best says Europa: “From November there’s lots of yellowtail, Cape salmon and kob. That’s the time for nice fish.”

Whatever comes in fresh that morning, Europa keeps things simple on the plate: line fish grilled simply with lemon butter, veggies and chips on the side.

Honest, no frills cooking is commonplace in this part of the world. On our family breaks we’ve often stopped in for low-key lunches at Pelican’s Harbour Café in Struisbaai, and never miss out on a box of vis-en-tjips from L’Agulhas Seafoods.

After a quick bite I hit the road north; I have a wine tasting to get to.

The wind-whipped hills around the Moravian mission village of Elim may seem an unlikely place to find fine wine, but in the past 20 years a handful of pioneering farmers have carved out a reputation for producing superb cool-climate wines.

“We have more wind than other winegrowing areas, and our wind is colder,” explains Conrad Vlok, winemaker at Strandveld Wines, as we shelter from the breeze outside the revamped tasting room. “From the east, south and west, the wind comes straight from the sea.”

Those cooling winds and a range of specific soils gift the wines from Elim a characteristic minerality. Perhaps the finest example here is Strandveld’s Pofadderbos Sauvignon Blanc, sourced from a single hillside vineyard.

“You can absolutely taste a Sauvignon Blanc from Elim,” says Vlok, whose Syrah and Pinot Noir have also bagged their share of awards. Those may be the signatures, but the limited-release Viognier and Skaamgesiggie, a Rosé-style Cap Classique from Pinot Noir, are also delicious.

Only available from the estate, “that’s my little reward for the people who hit the gravel and come out here to visit us,” smiles Vlok.

The same goes down the road at Black Oystercatcher, where Dirk Human’s family has farmed for five generations.

Human planted his first vines in 1998, and is today well known for producing a superb range of (mostly) white wines. While his Sauvignon Blanc and White Pearl blend are particularly good, perhaps the standout is the Semillon fermented with wild yeasts. Just a handful of barrels are made in a vintage, and it’s sold only direct from the farm.

Human is also one of the most pro-active farmers in the area, and last year expanded the tasting room to include an airy new restaurant space. Generous cheese and charcuterie platters are ideal companions for a leisurely wine tasting, but the menu also stretches to inventive salads, hearty pan-fried steaks and fragrant Thai curries. My regular order? The succulent gourmet burger with a patty of ground beef and venison; a steal at R110.

The next morning the mission village of Elim offers little beyond its austere church and historic mill, so I keep driving; opting for the gravel roads that meander north towards Stanford.

While retaining its easy rural charm, Stanford has become something of a gourmet hotspot over the past few years. Mariana Esterhuizen has long drawn foodie travellers to her charming country restaurant, but there’s no shortage of options if you can’t get a table. Havercroft’s is famous for its generosity on the plate and The Tasting Room at Stanford Hills is a wonderfully family-friendly space, while Springfontein Eats is known for fine dining fare from chef-patron Jürgen Schneider.

But beyond the restaurant floor there’s also plenty to discover. I time my arrival to coincide with the weekly Saturday morning market on Queen Victoria Street. On offer are heirloom vegetables from local gardens and wood-fired ciabatta from a nearby baker. There’s free-range goat’s milk feta off Little Brownstone Farm, and Austrian cured meats from Erwin the local charcutier. Tragically, I’m too late for chef Bryden Havercroft’s legendary chocolate éclairs.

In the small industrial area on the outskirts of town is another worthy stop that many visitors miss. Danie and Nadia Vorster’s Overberg Honey Co. looks after 3000 hives across the Overberg, producing a range of multi-hued honeys. Complimentary tastings allow you to discover the full spectrum, from fragrant golden honeys from raspberry fields and apple orchards through to the dark and earthy strandveld and fynbos honeys. Tours in the factory and the fields are offered for honey fanatics.

Me? I’m more into cheese, so I cruise on up the R326. Over the Akkedisberg Pass, Andrew and Anneke Fraser Jones have poured decades of dairy farming experience into the wonderful cheeses of Stone House Estate. Their Camembert and Brie are certainly delicious, but I fill my padkos basket with the delicious ash-dusted Lavan Borad.

Closer to Stanford, Klein River Farmstead continues to make some of the most delicious hard cheeses in the Cape. Processing 70 000 litres of free-range Jersey and Holstein milk, Klein River turns out seven tons of cheese each month. That includes their Danish Havarti, the Gouda-style Overberg and their signature offering, the brushed-rind ‘Gruberg’. It’s a delicious Gruyère-style cheese, but it’s their Oak-smoked Stanford that steals the show: cold-smoked for 18-hours, it won a Gold medal at the 2016 World Cheese Awards.

Informal cheese tastings are offered Monday to Saturday, but the real charm here is the option to build your own picnic. Grab a wicker basket, fill it with the farm cheeses and local produce on offer, throw in a bread or two, and help yourself to a picnic spot. There are tables on the lawns, with a kids’ play area nearby, or find a more secluded spot down by the river. This summer, that’s where you’ll find my family and I.

Who is OnAnotherPlane...

RIchard Holmes headshot web smallRichard Holmes is a freelance travel, food and lifestyle writer based in Cape Town, South Africa. His work on African and international destinations has appeared in a wide range of consumer publications both in South Africa and abroad.