Let’s play word association. You hear the word Fancourt, what’s the next word that pops into your head? Golf? Yet despite three top-rated golf courses, there’s a lot more to this hotel and a ton of cool things to do in George nearby.
I’ll admit that when I was invited to visit the Fancourt Hotel, I wondered why. I’m not a golfer. I’ve edited books about golf so I know the lingo – driving and chipping and putting, doglegs and par fours, birdies and bogeys. But I’ve never held a golf club, nor am I likely to. But I discovered there’s so much else to do on the estate and in the area that you don’t even need to set foot on the fairway to have a cracking good time.
With rain pelting all around, it was a pleasure to spend time in our suite, its lounge with desk and balcony, its roomy bedroom, its views of the drenched gardens.
If you stay at The Manor House, ask to see the infamous large table that was the scene of a tragedy here in 1916 when Henry White’s son Ernest Montagu White and two guests ate mushrooms that turned out to be poisonous. All three of them died.
Here are some ideas to help you plan your activities during your stay at Fancourt – that is, if you don’t plan to spend your days on the golf courses.
Things to do at Fancourt
- Play golf. This is a no brainer at Fancourt, which has three of South Africa’s top-rated golf courses, all of them chockfull of gorgeous views (though golfers probably won’t notice those).
- In summer when the rose garden is in full bloom and wafting its scent across the warm air, order a picnic lunch to enjoy on the lawns nearby.
- Take a walk or cycle along one of the routes laid out around this 248ha property. Distances vary from a gentle 2.5km to a more invigorating 20km. Enjoy the gardens with their clivias, camellias, azaleas, petunias and mature trees, as well as the views along the way. You can hire a bike from the leisure centre if you didn’t bring your own.
- Channel your inner Nero or Julius Caesar with a visit to the heated Roman baths near the spa to soothe tired muscles, refresh and relax.
- Indulge yourself with a treatment at the spa. Choose from a menu that includes relaxing massages, body wraps and facials as well as hand and foot treatments.
- There’s a leisure centre and full-on gym for those determined to stay at peak fitness while on holiday.
- In good weather, cool down with a swim in the outdoor pool. If the weather is chilly or rainy, do some laps in the indoor pool instead.
- Eat! Choose from one of Fancourt’s four restaurants, including the Club Lounge and La Cantina for a Mediterranean-inspired menu. We enjoyed a sophisticated classical menu with a twist at the more formal Henry White’s at the Manor House. For instance, there were starters of Japanese-style beef with pickled mushrooms and ginger, or a duo of Karoo venison. Venison and beef also appeared on the main menu together with delicious fish in a creamy balsamic and garlic sauce. For me the highlight was the passion fruit and boerpampoen dessert.
Things to do in George
There's lots to do in George and the surrounding area. Here are some of my picks.
1. If you enjoy historic passes, drive the old Montagu Pass that used to be the only way to get from George to Oudtshoorn between 1848 and the mid 20th century when the Outeniqua Pass was built. There’s an association with Fancourt too, because the engineer who built the pass was Henry Fancourt White, who also built the Manor House at Fancourt. The pass from George to the small settlement of Herold at the top is about 17km long, including more than 120 twists and turns, and some steep gradients. Keep your eyes peeled for oncoming traffic, especially on the single-width parts and remember that climbing vehicles have right of way.
2. If driving the pass sounds too challenging, hop on board the Outeniqua Power Van at the George Transport Museum and ride up the pass in old-fashioned railway style while a guide tells you about the area's history.
3. Pop in at Herold Wines near the top of the Montagu Pass for a wine tasting, cellar tour or light meal. When we visited, we learnt the story of a lovely wine called Schaam Schaap (blushing sheep) sold only on the estate. It was a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, but the winemaker had left it on the pinot skins a bit too long and it turned pink.
5. If hiking and the outdoors is your thing, you’ll enjoy the forest walks in the area, such as the Groeneweide trail through forest and fynbos between the Kaaimans and Silver rivers on the Seven Passes road (9-13km long) or the Pass-to-Pass hiking trail from the top of the Outeniqua Pass to Montagu Pass with good views out over George (7.5km long).
6. Visit the George Museum at 9 Courtenay Street in George. The building was originally the Drostdy back in 1813 and later the Victoria Hotel. It became the museum in 1976. There’s a mini-museum of the personal collection of Charles Sayers who founded the museum, old printing presses that used to print the local newspapers, a Victorian room, collections of record players, music boxes and toys, and posters about the forced removals of Lawaaikamp in 1988. Don’t miss the cross-section of an 800-year-old yellowwood with various global and local historical events marked on its annual rings.
7. Just down York Street and in walking distance from the museum is the Ground Control Espresso Bar. Their flat whites, carrot cake and cheese cake are superb. There’s a sign saying Ground Control on the window, but it’s not very visible, so just look for Van Kervel Huis at 117 York Street.
9. If you’re looking to spend some time on the beach, a 15-20min drive will take you to the creamy sand and surf of Wilderness. Or visit Victoria Bay just 12km away; it’s a small but immensely popular beach, especially with surfers.
10. Spend a morning at the Outeniqua Family Market, which is open on Saturdays from 8:00 till 14:00. Browse and buy at some 150 food and craft stalls and listen to the live entertainment. Your kids will love the train ride, pedal cars, face painting, bunnies, and play park. Find the market opposite the Garden Route Mall on the Wilderness side of George.
Things to do on a day trip further afield
- Take an hour’s drive to Knysna during whale season (June to November) for a whale-watching boat trip to see magnificent migratory humpback and southern right whales.
- Visit the Cango Caves a 90-min drive away to learn about the formation of the caves and its stalactites and stalagmites.
- Explore the Karoo town of Oudtshoorn about an hour’s drive away to see lovely old buildings dating back to the ostrich feather boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It’s also worth visiting the CP Nel Museum to get a feeling for what life was like back then.
- Take a 90-min drive to Calitzdorp, the port capital of South Africa. Enjoy wine and port tastings at estates like Boplaas and De Krans.
- If you don’t mind driving two hours to get there, visit Birds of Eden and the Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary at The Crags, Plettenberg Bay. They’re Fair Trade accredited and embrace ethical principles that include sustainability and respect for animals and their environment.
- Not far away from Birds of Eden (so just over a two-hour drive from George) is the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour if you want to spend a few hours playing Tarzan on a zipline in the treetops of an indigenous forest.
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