A sweeping view of the landscape at Lord’s Guest Lodge near McGregor. Picture: INFINITY STUDIOS/DOMENIC GORIN
A sweeping view of the landscape at Lord’s Guest Lodge near McGregor. Picture: INFINITY STUDIOS/DOMENIC GORIN

The sweep is breathtaking. I’m standing in the gardens of Lord’s Guest Lodge near McGregor, 180km from Cape Town. For kilometres to the right, in the direction of Robertson, lies a quilted patchwork of cultivated farmland, vineyards and sparse scrubland. Pan left and there’s a more mountainous panorama: hills heading towards Greyton and sneaking seawards to Africa’s southernmost tip, Cape Agulhas, 130km distant. The countryside colours and textures bring to mind Van Gogh’s Arle works, or Cezanne’s impressionist Aix-en-Provence masterpieces.

Lord’s is an eclectic gem, stumbled upon by chance when hunger bit after a Father’s Day outing to visit rescued donkeys at their restful sanctuary, Eseltjiesrus, in McGregor. The architecture and décor are Braveheart Scottish — kilts and swords hanging from stone-and-mortar walls — but they serve pizzas proclaimed by seven staunch pizza-loving family members as the best they’ve ever eaten.

That’s the thing about this region: it’s full of surprises. McGregor itself is a tiny microcosm of the wider Robertson-Montagu-Bonnievale triangle which offers much to experience and discover. Or, for those needing to escape to-do lists, the option of just being; a Zen-on-the-Breede, the river the waters of which occasionally flood the valley’s plains, but that nurtures the fertile farms and makes the Langeberg one of SA’s most productive agricultural areas.

That’s the thing about this region: it’s full of surprises. McGregor itself is a tiny microcosm of the wider Robertson-Montagu-Bonnievale triangle which offers much to experience and discover.

Turns out, there is a place of Zen in MacGregor: the Temenos retreat offers a beautiful garden setting for meditation, pause and refuge, or simply a base from which to explore.

Above all, this is food and wine territory. The bend around every meandering country road reveals a signboard to an estate, cellar or co-op, with fine-dining, bistro or picnic venue to match. They celebrate all things vinous with a frenetic, zesty and youthful annual Whacky Wine Weekend, then counterbalance that with a Robertson Slow Food Festival, where the indulgence appeals to slightly older attendees. Everything seems slower here — so this festival must be seriously sedate.

Among locals, the Van Loveren estate is legendary, always open for a welcoming wine-tasting experience, and offering generous country-style food at its Christina’s bistro. It also boasts expansive mountain-biking trails that scale the farm’s peaks to offer vistas of the Langeberg mountain range.

On leaving, we notice half-hidden, a 450-year-old chest on top of which sits a giant Bible which a small, unboastful placard reads has been in the family for 14 generations. The display is entirely unlocked; the proud unpretentiousness marks a true, respectful sense of history and place.

Weltevrede is a wine-lover’s paradise. Picture: INFINITY STUDIOS/DOMENIC GORIN
Weltevrede is a wine-lover’s paradise. Picture: INFINITY STUDIOS/DOMENIC GORIN

The charms of the area ring in other tones. Horse-riding at the Nerina farm in the Goree vicinity is a moderately challenging excursion, well worth the extra distance off the main R60 road through Robertson. A cold one is always welcome after even light exertions, and the Saggy Stone craft brewery isn’t too far away.

Actually, it feels as though everything is close by, even though you clock up the distances exploring these varied attractions. About 30km east of Robertson is the tiny, characterful town of Montagu. Here, many of the roads are dead-ends, and mountain-biking or hiking is the only way forward. The isolated tranquillity is, however, being disturbed: roadworks have been carrying on for more than two years, and the locals are getting fed up with the stop-go delays.

Wining and dining at Christina's bistro on the Van Loveren wine farm. Picture: INFINITY STUDIOS/DOMENIC GORIN
Wining and dining at Christina's bistro on the Van Loveren wine farm. Picture: INFINITY STUDIOS/DOMENIC GORIN

To be honest, this trip isn’t about maintaining temperance. De Wetshof make some of the country’s best chardonnays, but we found the tasting experience aloof, and the prices touching extravagant. In contrast, Weltevrede is a wine-lover’s paradise: step into the cold, crypt-like cellar; take a short hike through the vineyards to the riverbank; inspect the tractors and totems of a working farm. The friendly staff will chat to you about the entire district — where to buy the best meat, or freshest koeksisters — or focus eloquently on the wines, depending on your perspective and mood. Here, you’ll blink at the near-bargain prices for what may be close to the best shiraz and chardonnay you’ll ever drink.

Boutique estate Esona offers vertical tastings in Riedel glasses, soaking up vistas from a Swiss chalet-like deck. Down the road, at Excelsior, you can make your own blend while quaffing at a cosy tasting centre perched on the farm’s lake.

Vineyards are sporadically interspersed with olive groves, and Marbrin Olive Farm is pure rustic charm, the cheerful tasting accompanied by interesting facts (all olives are green — it’s the harvesting delay or curing that turns some black). Generously, we are offered a shot of the farm patriarch’s pride, a limoncello to match any I’ve tasted in Italy. Just drive very carefully up the estate’s crater-like entrance road.

I go for an early-evening run through the vineyards, and when I turn for home the sun is starting to set, an indigo-violet haze shimmering as it catches the few laggard strips of cloud. Later, the moon rises, full, bigger than I’ve ever seen in the city, reflecting its fat creaminess onto the surface of the Breede River.

On the journey back to Cape Town we stop at a coffee shop in Robertson town centre. I chat to a Dutch tourist who’s smitten by the area, and has changed his itinerary to spend less time in touristy hotspots and more in this valley.

“It’s like parts of Provence here,” he says, echoing my thoughts from five days ago at Lord’s. “But you South Africans don’t seem to know about it.”

Now I do, and I’ll be back, soon.