Can’t pronounce it? Never mind. Just come and see!
Vergelegen has been loved as an iconic Cape winelands estate since Willem van der Stel claimed the 30,000-hectare piece of land for himself in the early 1700s (as his father – first Governor of the Cape – had done with Groot Constantia). It took three days by ox wagon from Cape Town to this farm, now a mere 40 minutes by car. But only about 4% of Vergelegen is known to visitors; it’s historic buildings, formal gardens, the row of 320-year-old camphor trees and two restaurants. Until now!
Vergelegen is offering an environmental tour giving access to 2,200 hectares of farmland and indigenous fynbos, as yet unseen to visitors. It will include seeking out the five eland, who have been introduced in a project to determine if their grazing habits can be beneficial to a rare patch of renosterveld – a plant biome considered critically endangered and irreplaceable.
You’ll also pass roaming indigenous bontebok and Nguni cattle, here for nothing more than their beauty. And will stop at the 360° viewpoint, to survey an estate that belonged to a succession of families for over three centuries, until Anglo American bought it in 1987. Well-funded from their mining activities (think iron ore, coal, metals, platinum and diamonds), their impact at Vergelegen can be seen in its outstanding viticulture (seriously good wines), restored historic buildings and an environmental policy that saw the largest privately funded alien vegetation clearing in South Africa.
Quite frankly, if you are a visitor to Cape Town you must visit Vergelegen. If you are a local, you can take advantage of ridiculously low prices for sublime food at one of South Africa’s top restaurants – Camphors, or the casual Stables bistro. Chef Michael Cooke has high culinary credentials from such restaurants as Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck (UK) and frequent No.1 in South Africa, La Colombe. You heard it here…. the spiv New York style shiny black decor of Camphors, will undergo a radical change to something more in keeping with Cape country. The more comfortable, traditional decor will compliment the locally and environmentally sourced food and estate-made wines. I noticed Chef Michael eyeing up the mulberty tree right ouside the restaurant, bulging with just-ripened berries, which he will serve as mousse, sorbet, jams and puree. He’s a natural forager; mushrooms, elderberries, and anything growing in Vergelegen’s vegetable and herb gardens.
The grounds around the historic heart of the estate are gorgeous at any time of year. The nominal R10 to enter the estate, gives you access to wander freely, hug a three-hundred year old oak or camphor tree, discover 17 different gardens, wine, dine and picnic. But if you are the kind of person who wants to see what’s over the next horizon, the environmental tour shows you parts of the estate never usually seen by visitors.