All posts by Craig Lotter

About Craig Lotter

Software developer, husband and dad to two little girls. Writer behind An Exploring South African. I don't have time for myself any more.

Walking along the Lourens River in Radloff Park, Somerset West (2017-04-17) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 23 APR 2017

The Gordon’s Bay Lötters had a pretty relaxed Easter this year. Friday afternoon was spent with my half of the family, enjoying Mom’s homemade pickled fish and dad’s roast leg of lamb for lunch, while the evening was spent with Chantelle’s half of the family, enjoying Robert and Monty’s fine work behind the braai and treating the girls to a glow in the dark easter egg hunt.

Saturday was a rare pyjamas day of being at home and doing pretty much nothing, while Sunday we hosted my folks over for a braai back at our place.

Monday, or Family Day if you look at the calendar, kicked off with a morning out at Mondeor Garden Restaurant in Somerset West, where we partook in their super popular, annual easter egg hunt day. (The girls had loads of fun as you might imagine!)

However, with Chantelle then returning to work once all the fun was done and dusted, it was up to the girls and myself to entertain ourselves for the rest of the day, and we did just that by heading out for an early evening walk along the Lourens River at Radloff Park in Somerset West.

It’s only the second time that I’ve visited this super popular park in Somerset West, and as always it is difficult to come away not loving pretty much everything aspect of it!

The river is flowing well, the shady paths well looked after, the rolling fields of grass all trim and tidy, with the entire area perfectly framed by the beautiful mountainscapes that seem to be visible all around you!

The girls and I strolled along the entire length of the river section available to us, i.e. from the car park at the edge of Radloff Park all the way through past the houses and onto the start of the Morgenster Estate, though naturally by the time we reached the end, both girls were starting to moan about having to walk so far!

As expected, plenty of people were out and about on either their bikes or with their dogs, but pleasingly the experience seemed a lot less traumatic for my two ‘timid around animals’ girls.

Naturally, I did have my phone on hand to pick up a couple of snaps as per usual:

Unless you absolutely hate dogs, it is almost impossible not to like Radloff Park.

Related Link: Facebook

Brisket at The Hickory Shack in Grabouw (2017-03-26) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 23 APR 2017

Last year December, right before our big Christmas family lunch, we ate for the very first time at the Hickory Shack in Grabouw, a Texan style smokehouse famed for both its brisket and use of a proper, Southern-style fire pit to prepare it in.

Now purely because Chantelle had already settled on making brisket for aforementioned Christmas lunch, neither of us ate Hickory Shack’s signature dish on that particular day, meaning that a return visit to give the famous brisket a go was very much in order then.

(For reference, first time around, I tucked into their delicious pulled pork, while Chantelle got dirty with some baby ribs).

So come late March this year, as is our usual style, we rocked up on a Sunday afternoon at lunchtime with no reservation whatsoever (we never actually plan on going out to lunch – it is almost always a last second decision), something that immediately bit us in the bum because the main restaurant area (the covered deck) was already all taken – resulting in the girls and myself taking a small round table right next to the smokehouse itself.

(Pleasingly, they were plenty busy, meaning that we weren’t the only table out in the sun!)

As I mentioned at the start of this post, brisket was very much on the menu for both Chantelle and myself, and while I was more than pleased when the flavourful cut of meat was placed down in front of me after a lengthy wait, sadly for Chantelle, she found herself less than enamored with a meal that had just too much fat in it for her liking.

True, she had a point, but I found myself enjoying it regardless. The flavour was all there, the chunky, handcut chips were great, the mix of sauces on the table sublime – all of which was nicely complemented by some good craft beer.

In other words, nothing for me to really complain about then!

Seeing as I took more than enough photos on our first trip to the Hickory Shack (which are already sitting quite happily at home on this blog), I was much more refrained with the phone camera this time around…

So in summary then: Coming across this style of food is still reasonably uncommon here in the area, thus making the Hickory Shack well worth a stop if you happen to find yourself driving through Elgin with a hungry belly and a taste for meat!

Related Link: Hickory Shack | Facebook

Indian Runner Ducks and a Market at Vergenoegd in Stellenbosch (2016-10-15) Markets | Photo Gallery 22 APR 2017

Following some delightful deli delicacies from the upmarket Asara boutique hotel outside Stellenbosch one early Saturday morning in October last year (the original plan had been to pick strawberries at Polkadraai Farm down the road in case you are wondering), we next popped our heads in at nearby Vredenheim – where we promptly decided to much rather head further down the road to visit the newly revamped Vergenoegd Wine Estate for the first time – and man are we glad that we did!

Despite being the third oldest wine farm in the Cape (having been established way, way back in 1773), Vergenoegd has never really been a part of Stellenbosch’s famed (and super lucrative) wine route tourism market – a fact that has only now recently been rectified, following a change of ownership in 2015.

The new owners have done an amazing job of renovating and breathing new life into this grand old dame of a wine farm, allowing for Vergenoegd to very much become the new Stellenbosch destination darling that everyone seems to currently be talking about!

(Seriously, whomever is handling their marketing needs a massive raise. That team is doing a brilliant job of putting Vergenoegd very firmly on Stellenbosch’s tourism map!)

Front and center in terms of popular attractions is of course their amazingly well trained herd of Indian Runner ducks, tasked with keeping the vineyards snail and bug free.

The famous duck parade (the girls LOVED it!) is of course a massive hit with the kids, and in fact, has done so well for Vergenoegd that they now even host full on, informative duck tours!

In terms of dining offerings, they have a lovely restaurant area in front of the manor house, as well as a range of artisan picnic options to choose from.

Then of course there is the wine tasting covering their various well made wines, and even more interestingly, a range of interactive wine, olive oil, tea and coffee blending experiences that teaches you about the source and technique behind some of the Cape’s best food and drink products.

Naturally, as just about every other place in the winelands is doing these days, Vergenoegd is also home to its very own Saturday farmer’s market, with both adults and kids well catered for.

Given the market’s runaway success, the team has now further expanded on the this experience by hosting live music events, bringing in some surprisingly popular local musicians in the process!

(Oh, and they also have a weekly, family friendly fun run/walk through the vineyards.)

In other words, it is really, really hard not to like this place.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, we kind of just wandered onto the estate without knowing anything about it other than there was a pretty cool duck parade to be seen. The market was certainly a pleasant (and welcome!) surprise, and we ended up having a great afternoon out there on the day, soaking up the vibe and enjoying the live music.

As always, I snapped a few pictures which does nothing to do the place any sort of real justice, but serves well enough to give a decent idea of what you can expect to find any given Saturday afternoon at Vergenoegd:

In summary: The little ones are of course guaranteed to get a kick out of the ducks, but that said, the restaurant location is fantastic, not to mention the new market. Well worth a weekend outing then.

Related Link: Vergenoegd Wine Estate

Wine Tasting at La Bourgogne in Franschhoek (2016-10-01) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 22 APR 2017

Having tasted wine at both Rickety Bridge and Grande Provence, and lunched at Le Petite Dauphine’s Cafe BonBon, next on our wine tram experience was a wine tasting at La Bourgogne wine farm, itself a subdivision of the farm Bourgogne which was among the first Huguenot farms, proclaimed way back in 1694!

Shaded by 150 year old oaks, the farm house at La Bourgogne is the heart of this working farm which today produces quality wines, export quality plums and pears, and some rather good olive oils to boot.

It also boasts a couple of rather fine, secluded riverside cottages.

We were there of course to taste some wine, but to be honest, most of us were already pretty much done with wine for the day, which is probably why Chantelle immediately settled for a dessert, while Monty opted to try some olives.

So we sat and enjoyed some wine, olives and cake, overlooking the lush green, rolling lawns behind the tasting room, surrounded by vineyards, accompanied by the local St. Bernard dog, observed by passing horse riders, and completely satisfied in the tranquility of the surroundings.

So yes, it was rather nice.

At this point then, everyone pretty much agreed that the day had now drawn to a close. The wine had been good, the company great, and besides, it was still a long drive back home for everyone involved!

Related Link: La Bourgogne Wine Farm | Franschhoek Wine Tram

Cafe BonBon Lunch at La Petite Dauphine in Franschhoek (2016-10-01) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 21 APR 2017

The third stop on October last year’s fabulous Franschhoek Wine Tram excursion (having had already tasted plenty of wine at both Rickety Bridge and Grande Provence) was La Petite Dauphine, an estate that bills itself as a guest farm – which translates then essentially to superb accommodation nestled on a historic working fruit farm, with a particularly good wine collection and some fine dining options to boot.

After hopping off the Wine Tram bus, we made a beeline straight to Café BonBon, the main restaurant at La Petite Dauphine to make good on the lunch reservation that Chantelle had earlier organized for our group.

Although you can dine in the 200 years old, restored wine cellar, we instead opted to take full advantage of the amazing weather and sat at a large table outside, where we set about investigating the mouthwatering lunch options on the menu.

Naturally, wine was ordered, conversation flowed, and mouths salivated at the food eventually placed down before us.

Surrounded by large oak trees all around, the setting is one of serenity and tranquility, and once combined with the excellent food on offer, the experience is definitely one to savour!

So yes, definitely a contender if you are looking to stop for lunch whilst on the wine tram route then.

Next stop for us on the day though? A final tasting at La Bourgogne!

Related Link: Cafe BonBon Country Restaurant | La Petite Dauphine Guest Farm | Franschhoek Wine Tram

Picking Strawberries at Polkadraai Farm in Stellenbosch (2016-10-20) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 21 APR 2017

When September rolls around this year, the super popular Polkadraai Farm will once again throw open its doors – and if you have kids then you pretty much automatically have a new excursion option added to the always burgeoning Cape Town weekend to-do list.

Chantelle and I took the girls to the famous Stellenbosch based Polkadraai strawberry farm last year October, though we abandoned our first attempt at a visit thanks to the flood of people picking strawberries on a Saturday afternoon, turning around and settling for snacking at nearby Asara’s fabulous deli instead. (We also then stopped in at the excellent Vergenoed market to watch the now famous duck parade! More on that later.)

Anyway, a couple of days later, we tried again, this time heading out to farmland Stellenbosch mid-week, a ploy that worked perfectly as there was almost no one else in the strawberry field when we arrived!

The process is simple. Enter the wonderfully colourful and inviting little shop at the start, purchase some buckets, listen to the handful of picking guidelines, and then head out into the field and pick some strawberries.

(Tip: This is one of those more unusual instances where you pay for the container and not by weight of fruit picked, meaning that your picking is dictated entirely by how many containers you choose to buy up front. Or rather, on how many containers your kids force you to take!)

The fields are dotted with loads of funky (or as I would put it, disheveled) scarecrows, and with the strawberries being grown on straight, elevated strips, strawberry picking is pretty easy going – though I must say that I was rather surprised at just how much and how quickly both Emily and Jessica seemed to get into it.

The strawberries themselves are of course delicious and, important to note, the filling of the buckets happens rather quickly if you don’t make a concerted effort to take more… leisurely strolls down the picking line.

Pleasingly, Polkadraai Farm seems to have recognised its role as such a popular family friendly excursion destination, and as such has made quite a nice effort to try and expand on the outing experience by building a putt putt (mini golf) course (love the tongue in cheek name – The Polkadraai Country Club!), a food court, installing a big playground area, and offering the always popular pony and tractor rides.

In other words, it really is a family outing that is hard to knock. No wonder it is such a popular attraction come season then!

So yes, the girls thoroughly enjoyed themselves – as did we – which I guess then means that this season we had better make another stop (or two) there.

And yes. As you may have suspected, I took plenty of pictures on the day!

In summary: If you can get there at a time during season when the place isn’t overrun, then your kids are probably going to have a ball.

Related Link: Polkadraai Strawberry Farm

Scones, Cream and Jam at Hillcrest Berry Orchards in Stellenbosch (2017-03-05) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 09 APR 2017

As you drive through the Banhoek Valley on your way to Franschhoek, just before Pniel you’ll encounter an insignificant little entrance marked with a small signboard for Hillcrest Berry Orchards.

This so happens to be an old favourite of Chantelle’s, and we are almost always guaranteed to pull over for a quick coffee stop every time we find ourselves driving along this particular route!

Hillcrest Berry Orchards is as the name suggests, a farm known for growing a lot of varied, good quality berries. They are perhaps even more known for the wonderful jams that they produce from all these berries, though we know them almost exclusively for their wonderful little restaurant and tea garden setup – with the tables along the porch giving one an absolutely stunning view across the beautiful Banhoek Valley landscape.

The scones there are particular favourites of ours, though you must be sure to select the option with the Devonshire clotted cream! It is always great fun selecting something new to try among their large selection of jams, and from the look of things, our girls might be growing up to appreciate the scones too!

This particular outing happened as part of a fairly lengthy early March Sunday afternoon drive for the four of us  – first lunch at Eaglevlei outside Stellenbosch, then play time at The Carnival on the Weltevreden Estate, followed by a drive through Franschhoek, over the pass and on to Theewaterskloof Dam, before heading through the picturesque Viljoen’s pass to reach Grabouw, before finally shooting back home via Sir Lowry’s Pass!

(No sir, no messing about for us when it comes to lazy Sunday afternoon drives! :P)

Anyway, it really is a lovely little late afternoon spot to stop for coffee, well made scones and some particularly delicious jams.

Related Link: Hillcrest Berry Orchards | Facebook

Wine Tasting at Grande Provence in Franschhoek (2016-10-01) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 09 APR 2017

Last year saw Chantelle and myself tackle the fantastic Franschhoek Wine Tram experience once more, and following our first tasting over at the Rickety Bridge Winery, our next stop came in the form of the grand, art rich and 300 year old Franschhoek institution, the Grande Provence estate.

We were very excitedly telling our companions all about the fantastic massive elephant and horse rider statues guarding over the entrance at Grande Provence, which I guess then is precisely why when we did finally pull up via our tractor drawn carriage, neither of those two statues were anywhere in sight!

(Turns out, as we found out later following some inquiries, some wealthy American took a liking to the statues and had them shipped out back to the States. Which makes complete sense when all the beautiful pieces on display are actually there for sale purposes in the first place!)

Not that it matters in the slightest though. We were after all there to taste some wine, and indeed, the wine that we got to taste was very good indeed!

Grande Provence was slightly on the busy side when we arrived, so Chantelle and I opted to do our tasting inside the tasting room while the others waited to be helped outside. We got talking to the gentleman helping us with our tasting, and he surprised us by letting us taste some of the more expensive wines which weren’t even on our tasting list for the day!

Following our tasting, Chantelle and I headed outside to explore a little more. The estate’s classic Cape Dutch architecture is enhanced by the beautifully manicured and maintained gardens, which are of course studded with clever and thought provoking sculpture pieces wherever you look.

So pro tip: keep this in mind if you are there for only a short amount of time – be sure to set aside a good couple of minutes for yourself to be able to amble around the gardens and take in all the artistic sights.

Unless of course you really are there only for the wine! ;)

As for us on the day? Next up, lunch at Café BonBon on the La Petite Dauphine guest farm!

Related Link: Grande Provence Wine Estate | Franschhoek Wine Tram

Wine Tasting at Rickety Bridge Winery in Franschhoek (2016-10-01) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 08 APR 2017

Chantelle and I did the Franschhoek Wine Tram experience again last year October, and as for most people who undertake this brilliant day out and about sipping wine, our first wine tasting for the day was scheduled at the fabulous little winery known as Rickety Bridge.

Arriving via the titular wine tram (always a lovely experience in itself), we were picked up by a bright red tractor (the usual truck was apparently in the shop for repairs), and we slowly wound our way through the vineyards (and across the titular bridge) over to Rickety Bridge’s dedicated Wine Tram tasting area.

If you are not familiar with it, nestled against the slopes of the Franschhoek Mountains overlooking the majestic Wemmershoek Mountain range, the Rickety Bridge estate has a lot of history in the wine making business, having originally been part of the land that made up the original La Provence farm granted to the French Huguenots who first settled in Oliphantshoek (which they very quickly renamed to Franschhoek).

The estate itself is not particularly large, clocking in at about 50 ha in terms of size, of which only around 15 ha or so actually have planted vineyards growing on it.

Apart from its wine producing operation, Rickety Bridge does also have its hand in a couple other ventures, namely accommodation (the Basse Provence Guest House and the Rickety Bridge Manor House), hosting weddings, feeding people via its newly renamed restaurant Paulina’s, and of course tourist wine tasting – for which it operates a very nice, dedicated tasting room.

On our first ever visit to Rickety Bridge (back in 2015), we had lucked out by a) not having a lot of other people on the tour with us for the first stop, and b) getting served by a very knowledgeable lady who had no problem in staying and chatting to us about the winery, the wine and the process (as newbies we had quite a lot of questions!).

This time around though we weren’t quite as fortunate, though in the bigger scheme of things that didn’t nearly matter all that much seeing as we actually had some of our own company around the table for change!

Pleasingly, the wine list allowed for quite a bit of tasting across various varietals and, as expected, the wine proved to be really good – so a really decent start to the day’s wine drinking outing then!

Also, a map:

Related Link: Rickety Bridge Winery | Franschhoek Wine Tram