Western Cape’s Sweet and succulent Calitzdorp

Calitzdorp is the “Port capital of South Africa” straddles the R62 and reputed to be the longest wine route in the world.

Tunnel vision. All holiday travellers suffer from it to some extent as they focus on their destinations and, while this might not be a bad thing when stuck on a flight, succumbing to it while on a road trip can mean missing out on a lot.

In this sense, they are largely depriving themselves of the joy of the journey itself.

It’s understandable, most people have only one or two holidays a year and, in most cases, these are planned with destinations in mind.

However, how many times do they drive long distances only to arrive at Point B exhausted and wiped out for the next few days?

I appreciate the desire to get home as quickly as possible when you’ve been away a week or so (you can always be pooped when you get back to the office) but I believe the outbound leg of any road trip of 700km or more should be broken around halfway.

 Not only do you get to your destination fresh, you’re also more likely to take greater stock of your surroundings and discover interesting new places to stop and stay.

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Stress and fatigue are reduction

For the driver, especially, stress and fatigue are greatly reduced. I can think of many dorpies I would otherwise have passed through and been the poorer for doing so.

 Dullstroom, Steytlerville, Richmond, Dundee, Van Reenen, Calvinia, Keimoes and Sedgefield among them.

 A fortnight ago, I added Calitzdorp to the list. The “Port capital of South Africa” straddles the R62 (reputed to be the longest wine route in the world) and is 370km from Cape Town.

From there to Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) is another 415km and the entire road is top notch with incredible scenery.

I had you at “Port”, right. European Union regulations prohibit wineries other than those in Portugal’s Douro Valley from calling it Port on their labels and in advertising, but South African producers got subtle when slapped with the ban.

They called the product by its style (Cape Tawny, Cape Ruby or Cape Vintage), and let buyers fill the blank in their minds.

There are two main cellars in Calitzdorp, De Krans and Boplaas, but it’s impossible to tell the story of one, and the impact they have had in putting the town on international wine and spirits maps  without telling that of the other.

So, I got Boets Nel, co-owner of De Krans, with his brother Stroebel, to do just that. The important thing to remember, he says, is that De Krans and Boplaas were a single entity for nearly a century until an amicable split four decades ago when Boets’ older brother Karel decided to take his part of the family business in a different direction.

Wines from Calitzdorp

“My great-great grandfather bought this place in 1890 as a ‘mixed use’ farm; livestock and fruit that included table grapes.”

A sideline of sweet-wine production for private consumption was soon established.

“In 1964, my father and his brother began producing wine under their own label after having provided grapes to the local co-op for the previous eight years.

“They decided to plant red wine grape vineyards in 1973, thinking they’d go for cultivars that flourished in the Swartland. However, the ‘Syrah’ cuttings they bought turned out to be Tinta Barroca… something they only found out only three years later.

“Tinta Barroca is a Portuguese cultivar that’s mainly used for making Port, so that’s what they made for the first time in 1977.”

Twenty-two years later, two wines from Calitzdorp (one from Boplaas, the other a 1997 De Krans Vintage Reserve) caused a furore when three bottles of South African Port were smuggled into a blind-tasting competition in Portugal as a joke.

They were among only five gold medals awarded. The joke in Calitzdorp goes that the town started establishing its tourism infrastructure after visitors to the various cellars discovered they could drive no further after tastings and a sudden demand for guesthouses and B&Bs arose.

I stayed at the quaint Welgevonden Guesthouse , the oldest in the town, opened by Reenen and Briette Barry in 1989.

“Actually, we could be said to the oldest in the Klein Karoo but another guesthouse opened in Oudtshoorn at exactly the same time.”

Oudtshoorn is 50km away. The Tourism Grading Council’s rating of three stars belies the charm of the place.

There are four warm and comfortable double ensuite rooms –and this is enhanced by a convivial communal lounge with fireplace, TV, coffee station and kitchenette.

The piece de resistance was the farmhouse breakfast served up by Briette.

“We get a lot of repeat guests, especially South Africans who are rediscovering their country,” she says.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the seven wineries dotted around the town make it a one trick tourism pony.

Calitzdorp Tourism manager for the past 17 years, Erina Meir[1]ing, says that “because we are a small town, we have to attract people from elsewhere in South Africa and the world to sustain the economy. That’s why we stage events throughout the year”.

The annual Port festival (rebranded as Calitzdorp Expressed for obvious reasons) is held over a weekend in June and is the flagship event.

“There were 35 venues participating and the town was over[1]flowing. People had to stay over in Oudtshoorn and drive through each day.”

 The second-most popular event is the Calitzdorp Vetplantfees, which celebrates the area’s floral diversity, especially that of its succulents.

The festival is organised by an American botanist who visited Calitzdorp before moving permanently.

The variety of popular interests is revealed in the Calitzdorp events calendar: they range from grape, apricot and peach-picking to mountain biking, trail running and art.

Good winter rains also mean the spring flower season should be a belter. If you’re an adventure-biker, load up your BMW, KTM, Honda or Suzuki for some wonderful on and off-road riding.

There are 21 mountain passes and ports within a 130km radius… all of which are stunning. Difficulty goes from easy (Robinson, Outeniqua, Meiringspoort and Huisrivier Passes) to moderate (Seweweekspoort and Montagu Pass) and extremely challenging (Bosluiskloof, Gamkakloof/ Die Hel and the Swartberg Pass in winter).

 I didn’t get to visit many restaurants during my stay but I’d recommend Die Bakhuis.

Convivial drinky-poos can be enjoyed at the pub adjoining Porto restaurant, a place where I had a superb Portuguese meal several years ago but which closed during the Covid pandemic.

The new owners promise to revive the business to its former glory.

Boets was returning from a wine-tasting in Oudtshoorn and noticed my car outside the place and lights still burning at 2.45am.

Oh the joys of a lock-in! It’s worth spending a few hours at the Calitzdorp Museum to get the feel of life in a platteland town before the arrival of the Digital Age.

My favourite display was the manual “Nommer asseblief ” telephone exchange that was in use till 1984.

Boplaas has made a name for itself as distillers since 1989 of award-winning potstill brandies and single-grain whiskies

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