A Weekend in Elgin
Where to Eat, Where to Stay and What to Do...
A mere 45 minutes' drive from Cape Town, the Elgin Valley serves up the perfect slice of country living: rolling farmlands speckled with great restaurants, superb wine farms and a plethora of outdoor activities - all managed by generous, kind-hearted individuals...People with passion and gusto who genuinely care. Perhaps working in such an idyllic setting is the key to their happiness - whatever it is, it's infectious.
I stopped at four incredible foodie spots and chatted to the locals about where to stay and what to do whilst on a budget weekend away:
THE PEREGINE FARM STALL
After more than 50 years in the business The Peregrine Farm Stall has become a roadside institution, offering passers-by a welcome pit-stop with everything artisanal and delicious at the snap of a finger.
They're best-known for their pies (the venison in particular), as well as their great milk tarts, quiches, mossbolletjies, koeksisters, brownies and old-fashioned Chelsea buns.
But it’s not just the baked goods that keep people coming back:
Their juices are preservative-free and made fresh daily. They've also jumped on the sustainability bandwagon, doing away with single-use plastic, using compostable paper packaging and coffee cups, glass straws, and are now specialising in plant-based pies (vegan croissants and vegan sausage rolls will soon be available.)
You can also buy all the best Elgin valley wines and ciders, organic fruit and veg, dried fruit and nuts as well as locally-produced honeys and jams.
But what's slipped under the radar is their incredible fish and chips (line-caught by Gordon's Bay Fisheries) - it’s an absolute must: soft and flaky fish in light and crispy batter served alongside great mushy peas and chips. (And it will only set you back R70.) Plus there's an outdoor 'grab and go' section where you can buy coffees, juices and pies if you're in a hurry, and a play area for the kiddies with a magical book bus where they can sit and read or buy second hand books on weekends.
THE HICKORY SHACK
You'll spot the Hickory Shack on your right as you enter Thandi Wine Estate. Owner Jay Haupt leased the shed about about 2 ½ years ago and has since been working his magic on this wonderfully unique Texan-BBQ 'shack'.
Jay takes me across to the smokehouse to see their cold-smoking cabinet and their mammoth brick smoking-pit. He explains that the pit smoker is a direct-smoker, using soft heat along with natural smoke from the burning fire (rather than adding wood chips to impart flavour). "It's all about cooking the meat nice and slow at a low temperature, around 110°C - it's similar to a sous vide-style of cooking, ensuring the fat doesn't render out completely".
Texas barbeque uses dry rubs for a savoury rather than sweet smoke experience, "I haven't been to Texas myself but I've had quite a few Texans come through here and they've all given me the thumbs up."
The menu is concise and to the point: beautiful, quality cuts of local, pasture-reared beef and pork and free-range chickens that are fall-off-the-bone tender, plus an array of simple and delicious sides. Absolute musts are the beef brisket coated in a simple salt and pepper rub and slow-cooked for 12 hours and the pork belly ribs coated in a dry Southern rub and spritzed in cider. Order their citrusy slaw, corn salad and cowboy beans (cooked in the leftover juices from the brisket) to accompany your mains. The lack of synthetic sugary bastings is wonderfully refreshing, but they do serve everything with their homemade BBQ and chilli sauces so you can add as much sweet and spicy as your heart desires.
The 'shack' opens out onto views of the farm and adjoining pine forest, it's rustic, but beautifully so: wooden tables and benches, hanging plants, lanterns, fire places and soft country blues playing in the background. They're also putting the finishing touches to their beer shack, where they'll brew an ever-changing selection of seasonal lagers and ales.
It's decadently over-the-top Afrikaaner goodness. A place where they're all about making you feel at home and giving you a taste of country life.
Apple Farmer Arno Reuvers transformed an old flower shed on his property into a cosy and eclectic restaurant with gorgeously kitsch and quirky decor. Part sumptuous lounge with snug nooks, part laidback restaurant and part picturesque garden dotted with 70's garden furniture.
They're all about rich, generously-portioned and beautifully-presented food. For breakfast the famed Rojaal breakfast (eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes, an apple pork banger and roosterkoek with jam and cheese), the eggs benedict, and blueberry French toast-style roosterbrood are the main attractions. Lunches and dinners involve seriously stacked burgers served with life-changing onion rings and potato wedges as well as caramelised pork belly and succulent chicken sosaties. And then of course there's the cake selection. (The carrot cake and chocolate brownies - wow!)
Manager Charmaine Du Toit-Valentine tickles me with an account of one customer asking her if she could juice some vegetables as a healthy breakfast option - "My dear" she replied sweetly, "This is a place where we celebrate spoiling yourself, so spoil yourself." And I think that sums it up perfectly.
For more information on Rojaal Teekamer go here.
THE ELGIN RAILWAY MARKET
In owner Roger Orpen's words, "Elgin needs a tourist-hub and hopefully I've made it".
What was once a pack shed built in the 1940's by Italian prisoners of war is now an exquisite and colossal Art Deco/Art Nouveau-inspired marvel of a structure. It's an industrial-sized, double-story space that's going to be a hub of food, wine, fashion, leisure and entertainment. Every weekend (from 16th June) will see a flourishing market welcoming an abundance of food stalls and a large bar stocked with local wines as well as beer on tap. Monday - Thursday will see the more permanent fixtures remaining open: a wine shop, flower shop, coffee shop, hot desk area with free wi-fi and an outside kids play area with a maze and climbing walls.
There's also a train service offered from Cape Town on certain days. 180 passengers can depart from the Royal Cape Yacht Club on a 3 ½ hour journey to Elgin in a vintage steam train. On arrival they'll have the option of hanging out at the market or going on wine tasting tours before reembarking for the return journey a few hours later.
For more information on The Elgin Railway Market go here.
As mentioned I had some great chats to the locals about what they recommend doing and where they recommend staying, so here are some of the best suggestions:
A ROMANTIC WEEKEND AWAY:
AFFORDABLE PLACES TO STAY
- Cheverelle's Farm
- Galileo Farm
- The Orchard Cottage at Rockhaven
- Paul Wallace
- Cherry Glamping
SUGGESTIONS FOR ROMANTIC PICNICS
Grab some delicious nibbles from Peregrine and visit the Grabouw Country Club - enjoy a picnic next to the dam or buy a permit for the 4X4 trail and go on an adventure.
Or you can go Wine tasting at Almenkerk and experience the most beautiful views over the Elgin Valley and Kogelberg Mountains, plus they're happy to let you picnic on their lawns as long as you buy some of their wines to accompany your feast.
Or opt for a trip to Oak Valley where they offer a gourmet picnic at a reasonable price (R180 per person). Plus they'll provide you with a picnic blanket, drinks table and quality glassware to enjoy their estate wines. (You need to book these 24 hours in advance.)
FOR A FAMILY WEEKEND AWAY:
AFFORDABLE PLACES TO STAY
- The Orchard Cottage at Rockhaven
- The Inn on Highlands
- Sutherland Cottage
- Klip River Cabin
- Afsaal Cabin
THINGS TO DO: FAMILY TIME
Pizzas and playtime at Old Mac Daddy's: Old Mac Daddy is a menagerie of open spaces, mountain paths, a lakeside beach and kid's play areas, so the outdoor activities on offer are abundant: archery, nature walks, mountain biking, paddle boarding and kayaking to name a few.
Elgin River Lodge is another great place to spend the afternoon: There's a beautiful river with amazing views, you can rent canoes or paddle boats by the hour and the river barge goes out twice a day at 12pm and 5pm, costing R80 per person (booking is essential). Plus they have some great hiking trails. (They don't charge day visitors provided they make use of their restaurant and bar.)
The Railway Market: there's something for everyone.
Lunch at Hickory Shack - they also make amazing ice creams!
Burger Friday's at Rojaal Teekamer - every Friday night is burger night.