Whitewashed cottages with thatched roofs, roses curling around broekie lace, quiet country roads, views of mountains and vineyards. It’s as peaceful a village scene in South Africa as you could hope for. But don’t be fooled into thinking there’s nothing to do. Here are 20 things to do in McGregor in Route62’s Robertson valley.
That it's off the beaten track and there’s no through-road to anywhere has helped McGregor to preserve its village atmosphere, its 19th century architecture.
1. Pop into the Visitor Info Centre
There’s a tiny museum at the back of the info centre – worth a look-in when you’re there though perhaps not a dedicated visit. You can see some aerial surveys from the 1940s, 1960s, 1980s and 2000s to get an idea of how much more built up McGregor has become. There’s also info about what life was like on the farms and in the vineyards in the early 1900s (like bickering over water rights), some old woodworking tools and flat irons, as well as the silver trowel that was used to lay the foundation stone of the Dutch Reformed church in 1904. Old photos tell fascinating stories too. For instance, you’ll see a photo of the church with a much higher steeple than it has today and learn that the original blew down in a strong wind so it was rebuilt lower for safety.
2. Go on a self-guided heritage walk
3. Saturday Morning Market
4. Enjoy wine tasting at Lord’s Wines
You may be on Route62 in the Robertson valley, but you're still very much in the Cape Winelands. Take a drive along the Road to Nowhere to Lord’s Wines, which cricket-crazy owner and viticulturist Jacie Oosthuizen named after Lord’s cricket ground in London. ‘He wanted a name that English people could say,’ son-in-law Louwrens Rademeyer explained when he orchestrated our tasting. Both Jacie and Louwrens’ wife Melané were also around the Sunday we visited, so it’s very much a family affair.
We enjoyed the dry and sophisticated Pinot Noir Rosé and a Pinot Noir that’s fruity and less composty than your average South African Pinot. Lord’s is the highest vineyard in the Robertson Valley, making it 4-5 degrees cooler than the rest of the valley. ‘It’s not hot enough here to grow cabernet sauvignon,’ he explained. ‘We barely get the shiraz to ripen.’ The shiraz is cold-fermented at 21 degrees, which takes about two weeks, giving it a light and delicious flavour.
You can enjoy lunch at Lord’s after your cellar tour and tasting, with a wonderful view of vineyards and mountains. The menu includes toasted sarmies, burgers, cheese platters, platters of cured meats and cheeses, also a special of the day. Good stuff to enjoy with a bottle of good wine.
5. Go wine and spirit tasting at Tanagra
On the lookout for a change of lifestyle, Germans Robert and Anette Rosenbach bought a farm in McGregor in 2009 and Tanagra Private Winery & Distillery was born. The name was inspired by a shady wild fig tree next to the homestead and cellar; it comes from a Khoi word meaning ‘main shade’. The sign next to the road declared it open so we pulled in and got a tasting of some McGregor wines with Robert himself.
They also produce marc (they’re not allowed to use the Italian word grappa) and eau de vie using a 200-litre pot still the Rosenbachs imported from Germany. ‘This style of spirit is very popular in Europe,’ he said. You’ll find single cultivar marcs made from cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, hanepoot and sauvignon blanc. The marc is distilled from the pulp, pips and skins of grapes. The eau de vie range uses the lees (what settles to the bottom of the wine tank during fermentation) plus fruits like apricot, lemon and quince for products with a kick (they have 43% alcohol). I particularly liked the quince eau de vie and thought it would be superb on crushed ice. For something a little different, there’s a sweet orange liqueur with 25% alcohol.
6. Visit McGregor Wines
7. Explore wineries further afield in the Robertson valley
If you’re really nuts about wine and wine tasting, visit some of the wineries in the Robertson area nearby. Some favourites include Springfield (their Life from Stone sauvignon blanc is one of my all-time darlings and the tasting terrace at the edge of a dam is fabulous), Esona Boutique Wines (vertical tasting paired with Lindt chocolate in the underground cellar), Van Loveren (food and wine pairings, mountain bike trails and hikes) and Viljoensdrift (wine tasting, picnics and river boat cruises).
8. Explore the Vrolikheid Nature Reserve
9. Hike the Boesmanskloof Trail to Greyton
10. Do the Kleinberg Trail on foot or mountain bike
Go walking, running or mountain biking along the Kleinberg Trail that goes out along the old Robertson road towards where you can see the McGregor crest painted on a hill. From the sign-posted start of the trail it should take about two hours to walk to the top and back again, but allow more time if you walk from your McGregor accommodation in the village. On your mountain bike the round trip would obviously be much faster.
11. Go for a walk at Krans Nature Reserve
12. Drink whisky in the post office
13. Explore the McGregor Art Route
14. Stroll around the gardens at Temenos
15. Visit an olive farm
16. Visit the donkey sanctuary, McGregor
17. Eat out at some McGregor restaurants
There’s a surprising number of McGregor restaurants and coffee shops for such a small village, though some only open in the evenings and at weekends. The Fat Lady’s Arms serves wood-fired, thin-based pizzas from simple tomato, mozzarella and basil ones to more exotic variants like green bacon, blue cheese and fig. The place was hopping on a Friday night when we visited, so I’d recommend you book ahead, cell 082 7864888.
Tebaldi’s at Temenos has two shady verandahs that make a pleasant stop. Their flat whites, using beans from Beans about Coffee in Robertson, and the peaceful gardens (see point 14) were the best part of our visit. Or, for coffee and pastries, pop in to a place called 51 on the main road.
A note of caution: if you arrive in McGregor midweek and are hoping for a late lunch, your options will be very limited. If you arrive after 14:00 it would be better to stop in Robertson on your way in, for instance at the Four Cousins restaurant and wine tasting centre shortly before the turnoff to McGregor.
18. Poetry in McGregor Festival
Each year in August, poets and poetry lovers gather in a cozy atmosphere to enjoy the Poetry in McGregor Festival. There’s a theme for the year, published and unpublished poets are invited to read their poetry, and there are some workshops, music and art as well. Winners of the Adult or Junior categories may have their poems published in a small booklet after the festival.
19. McGregor Open Gardens
McGregor residents showcase their beautiful gardens during an Open Gardens weekend in September or October each year. Entrance is free and the participating gardens are open daily from 10:00 till 16:00. You can get a list of the gardens and a map from McGregor Tourism, email email@example.com, tel 023-6251954. If you want to stay over during this weekend, remember to book your McGregor accommodation early to avoid disappointment.
20. Stay over for a few nights
The large living room has a six-seater dining table with bright-cushioned chairs, and a wood burning ceramic stove in the sitting area for cold winters. I loved the quirkiness of a coffee table shaped and painted to look like a huge stack of books, a colourful wall hanging that brought cheer even after daylight had dimmed.
I enjoyed my coffee and rusks on the stoep on those spring mornings, engulfed by the smell of jasmine, the sound of an African hoopoe, a cock crowing, and bees buzzing in the Indian hawthorn flowers. Evening found me back in the same place with a glass of wine in hand, fairy lights switched on for a magical atmosphere as the sun set behind me and painted the Langeberg mountains in the distance with a rosy light.
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