The alternative route back to Cape Town from our sojourn in the (almost) Klein Karoo rather than the N1 is via the marvellously scenic Koo valley, Montagu, Robertson, Villiersdorp and on to the N2, where the pace is slightly less frenetic and the behemoths are scarcer. It is never a hardship to do the extra kilometres along the back roads, where a glimpse of life on the ‘platteland’ serves to bring city slickers back to reality and appreciate the conveniences of the cityscape while hankering after a simpler life, perhaps.
The picturesque Burgers Pass winding steeply down towards the Koo valley allows opportunities to stop and survey the scene – endless orchards of olives, vines, peaches, apricots – an agricultural gem wedged between two mountain ranges that are themselves spectacular in their geology, twisted and folded by the forces exerted when the continents were forming eons ago. The Cape fold mountains are among the oldest in the world, and are thus not in the lofty realms of the Himalayas or even the Alps, but who needs to crane their necks to enjoy these weathered wonders? Not I. Having travelled this area for the last 60 years, I have still not lost my awe of the convolutions and even have my favourite rocks that I look out for, particularly in the newly ‘renovated’ Cogman’s Kloof, where the new road has thoughtfully included a number of view sites which were impossible before.
Entering the Robertson valley is another experience as you sweep into what I consider the prettiest valley in the Breede River winelands along an excellent road, which on a Sunday is practically devoid of trucks. With only a few stop streets before you leave the town, it helps to have prior knowledge of a destination that is not to be missed on the right-hand side – Four Cousins restaurant and tasting rooms (including their craft beer). This new building, architecturally pleasing and set in lush gardens, has seating areas to suit all requirements, and we were very happy to take our seats in the shade of an umbrella in said gardens. The menu caters for most tastes, from burgers to eye-watering, but I am confident that the offerings were well worth it. I settled for the burger which was definitely the best I have ever eaten, with perfectly cooked vegetables and the crispiest onion rings. A shared, very substantial pizza kept everyone else happy, followed by the most decadent triple chocolate dessert as an ‘end of trip’ treat! I would recommend this venue to every passer by.
We whizzed past the iconic Pumpkin Farmstall, time not really on our side for too many deviations, and were aghast to see a pumpkin about the size of a Pilates exercise ball – keeping up with the traffic prevented a U-turn which would in any case have been rather dangerous, so I was unable to take a photo, but I’m sure it will still be there next time. Who could cut up and cook a pumpkin that size? The turn-off to Aan-de-Doorns loomed, and we cut across the valley to join the minor road that winds through another gem of the Western Cape – the way to Villiersdorp and Theewaterskloof dam. Ample water supply ensures that agriculture is intense, being at the foot of our catchment area and close to all the major dams. Who remembers High Noon, the big game park in the mountains that was so popular for weekend day trips in the 70s?
After a brief look at Theewaterskloof to make sure it was still full, we turned off onto the spectacular Franschhoek Pass, a route I have not taken for probably 40 years. There are so many places where you can be a tourist in your own town and this surely heads the list. A large construction vehicle with a bulldozer on board unfortunately pulled out in front of us and we crawled for kilometres behind this smelly outfit that we could neither overtake nor fall far enough back from, but it was one way to enjoy the views on either side of this verdant valley that is so hot in summer and so cold in winter. This has not put anyone off living there, nor it becoming a major part of the Cape wine route and the centre of the Cape’s finest restaurants. Again, no time to pause and will have to return for a day trip soon.
Another lovely route is via Pniel to Stellenbosch, making almost every kilometre of the home straight a scenic delight, with marvellous roads from start to finish. Definitely day trips are in the offing. They should be on everyone’s bucket list with international travel quite prohibitive and not always necessary when there is so much left to explore right here.