This piece of ‘Heaven on Earth’ has something for everyone: below are 11 places to visit and things to do in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – whether you’re a fan of mountain biking or gourmet meals (or both!) you’ll be sure to have a wonderful time.
In 1815, Hermanus Pieters journeyed from Holland to a farm in Caledon where he taught children in the local area. He was paid in sheep, and legend has it that during his holidays he would trek over an ancient elephant trail through the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley to a spring that provided excellent grazing and where he could also fish from the rocks. Today, you can take a drive through this lush valley, now with the addition of vineyards, enjoying all that the wine farms, forests and restaurants have to offer. You can also take a walk, go for a horse ride or try out a mountain bike trail.
1. Breakfast bunny chow at Plaaskombuis
When I mentioned I was going to visit the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, I was told by everyone who had been there that a visit to the Plaaskombuis was a must. They were quite right and I now recommend everyone makes a turn at this quirky spot. They serve breakfasts, light lunches, traditional meals (think bobotie, oxtail and tripe) and serve a Sunday lunch. Their Breakfast Bunny (homemade bread filled with scrambled egg, bacon and tomato) is a novel and delicious take on a South African favourite. There’s a shop selling all manner of farm stall goodies and the restaurant areas are dotted with interesting items from yesteryear. Little ones will be happy here too, as there is a kids menu and a lovely play area to keep them occupied.
Contact: find them on Facebook.
2. Pretty in pink at La Vierge
You cannot miss this massive building, with bright pink doors and pink umbrellas looming over the vineyards as you drive along the R320. The whole experience at La Vierge is over the top and quite fabulous, from the view (even from the loo) to the bold and flamboyant décor. The names of their wines are slightly wicked too – Original Sin, Jezebel, Last Temptation, Seduction, Anthelia, Satyricon, Nymphomane – and make for a fun addition to your wine collection. Share a cheese platter or tuck into a hearty meal in the restaurant or on the deck, while quaffing their delicious wine and having a giggle at the label on the Satyricon bottle.
3. Creative pairings at Creation
If you love a good food and wine pairing, Creation is the place to go. It’s quite a lavish affair and the pairings are as delicious to look at as they are to eat. Various budgets and appetites are catered for, from wine and chocolate pairing (R95) to cheese and wine pairing (R115), an eight-course tapas pairing (R240) to a three-course meal with paired wine (R335). You can also do a non-alcoholic tea and canapé pairing while the kids join you in a special young adults pairing menu. Foodies and wine lovers will feel completely indulged while enjoying beautiful views over the valley. If you have the time, take a look at their book on the farm – the story behind Creation is an inspiring tale involving dreams and determination.
Note: Creation gets extremely busy, so it’s best to book in advance.
4. Smell the roses at Sumaridge
The exquisite gardens and lake at Sumaridge make for a spectacular setting in which to enjoy a wine tasting (R25 for seven wines) while looking out over the view of mountains and sea. If you are feeling hungry they offer various platters that can be paired with their wines. Expect to find work from a featured local artist on the walls and while you are there keep a look out for mischievous Baxter, their Jack Russell (who was just a small puppy when I visited), and George the cat who likes to join you on the couch in the foyer.
5. Art, wine and pizza at Spookfontein
The signage for Spookfontein (found between Newton Johnson and Ataraxia) is not very clear, so you are likely to have to make a sudden turn when you do spot it. It’s well worth looking out for it though, as it was one of my favourite (and most surprising) finds. After you rattle along the dirt road, you get to a face brick building with large wooden doors and you wonder if you’ve arrived at the right place. But when you step through the doors, you know that you are at a rather special location. The views are out of this world, accompanied by beautiful artworks and elaborate chandeliers. You can taste three wines free of charge and ELL restaurant serves pizzas and various platters. Someone wrote the following in their guestbook, “Julle kos is fokken lekker”, which I think says it all!
6. Wine in a chapel at Ataraxia
Chapel wine, as a rule, is never that good, but that’s not the case at Ataraxia! A wine lounge that’s in a chapel at the foot of the Babylonstoren mountains where the wine is good and the view is heavenly. Relax in the lounge with its comfy couches and plump cushions while admiring the interesting artworks, or on the balcony where you can really savor the view.
Note: The dirt road to the Ataraxia Wine Lounge is a bit rough for sedan cars, but take it slow and enjoy the view and the vineyards and you should be okay.
7. Bubbly at Domaine Des Dieux
Another wonderful surprise was this small boutique winery at the end of the Hemel-en-Aarde wine route. After driving up a hill and along a dirt road flanked with vineyards you’ll arrive at a tin-roofed shed. The décor is simple, but stylish, which goes with their bubbly. Domaine Des Dieux are the first producers of MCC in the valley and you can enjoy tastings of their Claudia Brut MCC and their Rose of Sharon Brut MCC. They have other wines that they produce for tasting, but you really can’t go wrong with sipping bubbly in a stylish shed while taking in another fantastic view. Picnic baskets are now available (R300 – they feed two people as a full meal or four as a lighter snack), but must be pre-ordered 36 hours before your visit.
8. Saddle up with Heaven on Earth Horse Trails
Whether you prefer a slow trot, an adventurous out-ride or wine-tasting on horseback, the instructors at Karweyderskraal Farm in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley will make sure you have a good time while taking in the fynbos and mountain scenery. You can also arrange to have a braai or picnic as part of the experience.
9. Get on your bike with Hermanus Adventures
Starting at the Hemel-en-Aarde Village, four different routes (ranging from five to 35km) will take you into the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley where you’ll cycle past rivers and vineyards while enjoying the beautiful views. The tracks cater for every style and level of mountain biker. Permits are available from the Wine Village.
Also read: How to spend the perfect weekend in Hermanus
10. Gin-tasting at the Wine Village
The Wine Village is the gateway stop as you turn off the R43 to head along the winding road into the Hemel-en-Aaarde Valley. As the name implies, it has a massive amount of wine available (they represent over 700 South African wine producers!), but you’ll also find homemade rusks, jams and other fare from the valley. Wine tastings are available, but if you feel like something different you can do a gin tasting, brandy tasting or whisky tasting. Tastings are free and owner, Paul du Toit, has a good sense of humour while divulging secrets about gin, wine and more. He and his wife, Cathy, are also very knowledgeable about the area.
11. Go on a Wine Hopper wine safari
Launched in November 2015, this is definitely a safari worth taking! Hermanus Wine Hoppers have a fleet of safari-style vehicles that can take you to all the wineries in the valley, which means you don’t have to drink and drive (they also give you a bottle of water to take with you to ensure you keep hydrated). Tickets cost R200 per person and are valid all day. You can take as long as you want at each venue and if you buy wine, they’ll look after it for you.
Note: There are plenty of places to visit in the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley – these are just a few that I have personally visited and can recommend. If you’ve been somewhere special, then let us know in the comments below.