Johannesburg

Weekend Getaway – Wildekrans, Western Cape

more than a year ago

In the shadow of the impressive Houw Hoek mountain range that borders Elgin (about an hour’s drive from Cape Town) in the Western Cape is a refuge from city life called Wildekrans.

The farm owned by Alison Green and Barry Gould has a Joburg tie, as it was this couple who first spotted the potential of turning a cane furniture showroom at the bottom end of Melville (overlooking the Melville Koppies) into Joburg’s first boutique centre. Today Bamboo is a Melville institution, housing the popular Service Station café, excellent book store Love Books, Great Eastern Food Bar restaurant, a gallery space and other attractions. While Green and Gould recently (after 16 years) sold the centre, a slice of the city resides in their farmhouse at Wildekrans, first built in 1811, filled as it is with the cream of the crop of South African artists and works inspired by Joburg.

Wildekrans is a four-star country guesthouse with five-star attention to detail. The tastefully furnished rooms exude comfort and the food is wholesome and nourishing, featuring lots of homemade and home-grown ingredients. Dinner is served in the barn with its stock of Barry Gould Family Wine boxes, atop which a painting by South African master Robert Hodgins balances. Everything about the place is tasteful, not in a showpiece kind of way, rather it's relaxed and casually comfortable.

The five hectares of garden surrounding the guesthouse are a spectacular wild tangle of forest vegetation and careful planting, housing a number of distinct spaces demarcated by their foliage, including a formal rose garden and a pear orchard. Each year Wildekrans invites an artist to create a site-specific installation that joins the many permanent artworks scattered across the property.

HIKING IN THE KOGELBERG
If spending just a night at the guesthouse or a few days, there is much to enjoy and explore in the surrounding area, including canopy tours and wine farm visits, or just find your balance by staying in the same spot, enjoying the garden and relaxing by the pool. Because they are natural innovators, Green and Gould were not content to simply retire to country life, instead they have worked to create the Green Mountain Trail, a hiking trail that takes you around the Green Mountain (Groenlandberg) in the Western Cape’s Overberg region on a route through glorious indigenous flora, the Cape’s fynbos, and fruit farms (this is wine country, and Elgin where Wildekrans is based is famous for its production of splendid apples).

The trail takes you through the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve that has been recognised as the world’s greatest biodiversity hotspot, a 100,000 hectare UNESCO designated area of incredible natural beauty and immense floral diversity (more than 1,880 different plant species have been recorded here, making it richer that South America’s rainforests). Biosphere reserves are protected by their recognition by local communities, farmers and conservation agencies rather than by fences.

It takes four days to complete The Green Mountain trail led by an experienced guide with a depth of knowledge about the fynbos and surrounding area, with a range of difficulty from moderate to strenuous, and daily walking distances varying between 11kms and 18kms. A slackpacker's delight, the trail involves sleeping at different guesthouses along the way, your single piece of luggage awaiting you at each stop, and sampling wines and food from farms along the biodiversity wine route. A programme fuelled by social responsibility, enjoying the Green Mountain Trail offers an utterly satisfying way of reducing your carbon footprint. The trail incorporates ‘Walk with an Alien’, a project in which a personalised walking stick is carved from alien vegetation by carvers from local communities.

Essential info:
Wilderkrans Country House is located approximately one hour's drive from Cape Town in Houw Hoek, Elgin (off the N2), Western Cape, tel. +27 28 284 9827, wildekrans.co.za. Rates from R865 per person per night sharing.

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