I’m really fond of the Spice Route as an idea. Take a whole heap of talented artisan producers, house them all in one gorgeous old Cape Dutch farmstead, and then open the doors to the public. With so much refined deliciousness (and one Craft Brew operation at the top of its game), it is no wonder then that The Spice Route is as big a tourist attraction in Paarl as what it is.
I’ve written about the Spice Route before, and last year in May Chantelle and I got to visit without the distraction of having the kids with us. After having started out by browsing at the delightful Brenda’s Deli, we next moved up to the main complex and started exploring the rest of the producers. Wine, cured meats, glass, decor, craft beer, ice cream, chocolate, gin – what more could you ask for?
Chocolate tasting at De Villiers, lunch at Bertus Basson’s Barley & Beer Emporium, and a long stroll around grounds that were so much quieter thanks to it not being a weekend day. Perfect.
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(And because if was my birthday, a special Helderberg Cake Company rainbow cake back home!)
A visit to Babylonstoren is always a treat for the senses. Tucked away in Simondium (on your way to Paarl), this historic homestead is home to one of the best food gardens that you’ll ever come across.
Babylonstoren is a hive of commercial activity, hosting a hotel, spa, wine tasting centre, two restaurants, a deli, decor and scent shops, and even a butcher – but it is of course the magnificent garden which is the focal point for any visitor to the farm.
I have written about this enchanting Cape Dutch farm before, and just like our previous visit, this stroll around the grounds a) took forever and b) yielded an absolute bucket load of photos for me to sort through.
Plus, I finally learned how pineapples are grown.
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The place is like heaven for foodies – no wonder then that Chantelle always lights up whenever I mention that we should pay a visit.
Related Link: Babylonstoren
The Cape Winelands is home to a surprisingly large number of animal-based attractions, in other words great news for tourists and dads with kids to entertain like myself. Situated on Babylonstoren Road in Simondium, an area centrally situated between Paarl, Franschoek and Stellenbosch is Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm, a CITES registered breeder and tanner of the African Nile crocodile.
Basically, if you want a close up view of teeth on legs all wrapped up in a thick leather hide, Le Bonheur is the place to go.
So, obviously the main crocodile pond tour takes front and center in terms of activities for any day visitor, with eleven such tours taking place on a daily basis.
The tour starts off with a brief introduction to the species in the briefing room, before you are led out onto the ramps that walk you above the open dams and Le Bonheur’s approximately 300 crocodiles who are mostly lazing about beneath you. You will learn more about these animals from an experienced guide, maybe witness a feeding session (primarily during the Summer months), and definitely get to touch/hold a baby croc.
While not particularly exciting as such (crocodiles tend not to move very much unless they really have to), the tour is very informative and certainly worth it if you have never seen a crocodile in real life before.
Then there is the crocodile cage dive, a close encounter experience offered by African Croc Dive that sees you dipping into a pool full of crocodiles with only a steel cage between you and their rather plentiful teeth. (For those of you who don’t relish the prospect of getting wet, an underwater, dry viewing box experience is also on offer).
That said, it isn’t all crocodile on the menu at Le Bonheur. In the main building the team have setup an interesting little self-guided snake centre exhibit filled with both indigenous and exotic snakes, and also on offer is an interactive snake show that includes both an informative talk and touch session with some of their slithery stars.
Then there is the small onsite restaurant/pizzeria that produces a selection of good pizzas, pies, and other light lunch options (like their famous crocodile meat pies). Well priced and a good way to round off a croc viewing experience on a hot summer’s day. You can also pre-book a picnic basket to be enjoyed on their luscious lawn out by the dam, or book the braai facilities if you want to take charge of your own menu for the day.
The dam behind the main building is open for catch and release fishing (you can hire fishing rods from Le Bonheur if needed), and the small kids play area around the back is great for the little ones to run out any left over energy while you laze on the grass under the shade of their big trees.
Finally there is the small gift shop full of Nile Crocodile leather products, and just in case you didn’t feel like making the drive home, Le Bonheur also has self catering/bed and breakfast facilities available.
Oh, and they host kids parties, cater to weddings (their hall can accommodate anything from 160 to 200 guests), and offer conference facilities.
So pretty much everything then.
Anyway, the girls and I found ourselves spending a Saturday there back in December last year (the second time that we had paid Le Bonheur a visit), and as you might imagine, crocodiles were observed, croc skin touching was had, pizzas devoured, and lots of photos taken. So a good day out then.
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(Footnote: Obviously the horrible accident at the start of the year was an absolute tragedy for all involved, but given all the employment that this attraction provides in what is a relatively economically depressed area, I’m really pleased to see the Le Bonheur Crocodile Farm still operating and attracting as many visitors as what it does. Tourism still remains the best key to unlocking the biggest opportunities in rural communities at this stage.)
Kids’ birthday party venues are always an exciting find when you are a parent who a) doesn’t have access to a big house, b) don’t want to spend an entire day cleaning up the mess created by hosting such a party in their own space, or c) don’t feel like the effort of setting one up in the first place!
Based in Rosendal (a suburb of Bellville), and operating since November 2016, BASH had been an exciting addition to the Northern Suburbs’ childrens party scene for a while now, so much so that business boomed and the need for a second venue quickly became a reality – and so in October of last year their new baby BASH Paarl was born.
Situated on the Dvine Events’ grounds and primarily a birthday party venue, BASH hosts all manner of kids birthday parties, with the focus being mainly on activity based parties. Thanks to their signature Master Mini Chef Cooking Kitchen there are the super popular Baking and Cooking party options available, and thanks to the Private Craft Room, Wooden Craft parties, Canvas Painting parties, Flower Arrangement parties, and even Beading Parties are also all on the cards. Oh, and then there are the actual Pamper party sessions – seriously, which little girl is not going to love any one of these ideas!
Plus, BASH has filled their 200m2 hall, with a host of wooden play structures and toys, from a giant jungle gym right through to a pretend party bus. This, combined with the massive lawn and outside play area means that they are just perfectly suited for more action packed activity play parties as well. (Thank goodness, something for the boys!)
In addition to all the birthday party stuff, BASH is also open to the general public (you pay to play), and thanks to their small deli and restaurant option, the adults stay fed and able to enjoy the gorgeous views of the Paarl mountains while the little ones run themselves ragged.
Basically, what’s not to love about that?
Now Chantelle had been following BASH via Facebook for quite some time, eagerly following their setup progress – meaning that by the time they finally launched in October last year, I simply had no other choice but to bundle everyone in the car and make the long drive through to Paarl. Not that I minded though – the girls had an absolute blast and I thought the location was stunning.
In other words, hard not to admit defeat and pat my wife on the back for discovering such a fun venue.
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NOTE: Of course, visiting a venue on their day of opening is almost also never a great idea because the chance to first get processes, procedures and numbers in place (and running smoothly) is obviously not yet there, so naturally our visit did come with a few of those very challenges attached (for example, the restaurant was to busy in order to serve us). That said, it has been a good few months since our visit and quite frankly, both Chantelle and the girls are rather itching for a return trip.
I guess we’re heading back to Paarl sooner than later then! ;)
Located on what was previously known as the Seidelberg wine estate, the Spice Route is a fantastic tourist destination out here in Paarl, speaking loudly to those who truly enjoy their artisan food experiences.
However, with all the action happening around the grounds of the main manor house, it is quite easy to visit Spice Route and come away having completely missed an utter gem that is tucked away in its own little lavender-fronted dwelling at the foot of the estate – Brenda’s deli.
Started by well-travelled Brenda de Jager around 2007, Brenda’s specializes in spices and preserves, with the business going to great lengths to celebrate and respect their ingredients by avoiding artificial preservatives and additives, championing flavour, and producing fresh, natural products using local sources.
As a foodie, Chantelle was instantly mesmerized by the interesting array of spices (of which there are plenty!) and food products on display, while even I walked away impressed with the very clever, very satisfying, simple but elegant shop layout.
The smells, the colours, the textures, the selection – in other words, an absolute treat for anyone who enjoys cooking their own exotic dishes, and a shop that will definitely encourage you to part with at least some money on the day! ;)
(For reference, Brenda’s products are also available at selected stockists nationwide, as well as online via their e-store).
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It’s rather a pity then that I almost immediately managed to ruin the granadilla and lemon curd that Chantelle picked up by unwittingly allowing it to curdle. At least her spices are a bit tougher and should be safe from my ham-fisted ways…
It hard not to like the beauty of Paarl, thanks to all its surrounding mountain views. Last year May saw the four of us spend a bit of time out that way, in the process paying a visit to the rather haphazard/dilapidated JanKan farm stall – which turns out to be an absolutely delightful little gem for those of us with little kids running about!
Situated just off the main road as you enter Paarl (on the grounds of the Picardie Guest House/Farm), JanKan is a little tented farmyard farm stall that has an amazing selection of local produce on offer, produces some delicous pizza combinations, hosts kids parties, maintains a little farm yard animal setup, and has a great outdoor kids play area.
Oh, and they offer pony/horse rides – what more could you ask for?
Given that we were visiting in winter, the skies were a little grey, but that didn’t stop us from tucking into a delicious biltong and avo pizza and (for Chantelle) some warm tea, while the girls managed to evade the clutches of the beautiful free roaming great dane long enough to help feed the lambs, tickle the pig, run around the play area, and of course, beg me for a ride on the horse.
Which naturally I had to give in for.
Talking about the horse ride, the guy giving it was absolutely excellent, teaching the kids how to sit in the saddle, make the horse go forward and stop, steer the horse with both the reins and their knees, and who somehow even managed to coax Jessica to ride without holding on using her hands!
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So, despite its first impressions, JanKan is a delight. Great if you have small kids running around, nice landscape views, and some pretty tasty food.
An all around win-win situation then!
It is impossible not to take notice of the strange, alien-like fingers jutting out from the side of a mountain as you drive towards Paarl, those concrete curves belonging of course to non other than the famous Afrikaans Taalmonument, or to us English-speaking folks, the Afrikaans Language Monument.
While I have mentioned the monument in these pages before, I hadn’t actually ever stopped to visit it as an adult, something that I finally got around to rectifying on a sunny Saturday morning back in April last year.
Seeing as it is a rather long drive from Gordon’s Bay to Paarl, the girls and I decided to first stop halfway in order to pick up on some snacks for the road – opting to drop in for a bit at the always super popular Stellenbosch Slow Market (held at the Oude Libertas amphitheatre).
As expected, it was bustling, but snacks on hand were aplenty.
Truthfully though, we didn’t hang around the busy market for all that long – I’m not overly fond of having to navigate two little girls through such a throng of people at the best of times!
Anyway, navigating our way to the Afrikaans Language Monument on the outskirts of Paarl didn’t prove to be a particularly tricky or perilous task, and after paying the small entrance fee, we drove into the grounds, found a shady parking space, and headed up the stairs towards the mouth of this very unusual structure.
Opened on 10 October 1975, Jan van Wijk’s monument commemorates the semi-centenary of Afrikaans being declared an official language of South Africa separate from Dutch, in the process also acknowledging the influence of a variety of languages such as Dutch, Malay, Malay-Portuguese, Arabic, French, German, English, and the indigenous Khoi and African languages, on the development of Afrikaans.
Symbolism is built into everything that stands before you, and knowing a little bit about the structure before you actually view it does come in quite handy in this particular case.
The monument itself is visually interesting, but of course doesn’t take particularly long to stroll through (perplexing the girls to no end), which is where the grounds and build location then neatly comes into play.
Apart from the interesting Visitor’s Centre (there is of course the actual Language Museum further down in town), and its restaurant with a view, the Volksmond, to enjoy, The Afrikaans Language Monument also features lovely patches of lawn to enjoy a picnic on, fantastic 360 degree views across the town of Paarl and its stunning surrounds, and a one or two perfect for ambling walkways that snake through its interesting garden.
The girls of course enjoyed clambering over everything and anything that blocked their path, but by far their favourite bit of our visit was of course the ice cream that they made me get them in order to beat the Paarl heat at the end of our walkabout.
Truthfully, I wasn’t really complaining. Ice cream was exactly what was needed for the day!
Also, plenty of photos were of course the order of the morning, much to the annoyance of my girls as per usual:
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The Afrikaans Language Monument is an unexpectedly beautiful stop, well worth visiting even if you don’t speak the language at all.
Having told Chantelle all about our visit with the Alpacas at Dietmar Keil and Kerstin Heisterkamp’s The Alpaca Loom Coffee Shop and Weaving Studio, she was pretty eager that the girls and I take her for a visit too – which is why just over a month after that first visit, we found ourselves once again petting and feeding the adorably fluffy alpacas of Paarl!
Jessica was of course super thrilled to be back (feed bucket firmly in hand), and now with her mommy at her side, Emily too was feeling a whole lot braver than what she did on our solo visit!
Naturally feeding and petting the alpacas down in the kids play area was attraction number one for the day, but the roaming llamas, dromedary camels, and alpaca herd were more than just a little eager in trying to grab our attention whenever they were given a chance.
Unfortunately there wasn’t much in terms of cakes and pies leftover in the little “log cabin coffee shop with a view”, so just juice for the girls and coffee for the adults it was.
As it was last time, watching the ladies weaving the alpaca wool was super interesting, the alpaca wool products intriguing, and the view itself over the Southern Paarl landscape spectacular.
Apart from the coffee shop, kids petting area, jungle gym, and weaving studio, the Alpaca Loom also offers short Alpaca Barn Tours, which take place on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 15:00.
(Also, the unexpected bonus of having little newborn alpacas running around the fields with their moms was pretty special too!)
Naturally, I grabbed far more pictures than what was necessary of Chantelle and the girls feeding Alpacas:
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In summary, it is really hard not to come and visit this place with kids and NOT leave with a broad smile on your face! :)
Bonus: Obviously the coffee shop and weaving studio is just a small part of The Alpaca Loom’s business. Basically, if you are in the market for it, you can purchase pet alpacas, alpaca wool, breeding stock and even guard alpacas from these guys!
It’s really hard to miss the Simonsvlei as you drive past Paarl on either the N1 or the Old Paarl Road, thanks in part to the gigantic oversized wine bottle statue that towers next to the winery’s main premises.
Anyway, with its name originating from the founder of the South African wine industry, Simon van der Stel, and the area’s vlei (wetlands) landscape, Simonsvlei was founded shortly after the second World War, its primary goal to give the area’s grape and wine farmers the facilities to produce quality wines on a larger and more sustainable scale.
(Today the winery is probably best known among locals for its penchant to produce decent wine that is sold at an affordable price.)
After spending a Sunday morning in Paarl with the kids (we were trying out the new BASH kids venue that had literally just opened on the nearby Dvine Estate), we were on the lookout for a place to grab a bite to eat and escape the fresh wind that was starting to pick up, when (as I pointed out might happen at the start of this piece) a giant wine bottle caught our eye and we headed off straight in its direction.
And that’s how we ended up at Simonsvlei.
This was the first ever visit to the Simonsvlei winery for me and as it turns out, in addition to its wine tasting room and conference facilities, the winery does in fact have a restaurant on the premises in the form of Eat@Simonsvlei – not to mention a separate beer brewing and machine letting outfit called Karoo Craft Breweries.
However, we were there for some lunch and given that the wind meant that the veranda wasn’t really a viable seating option for the day, we were instead shown to a big old table indoors where we quickly jumped into the job of selecting a wine, food for the kids, and of course something nibbly for ourselves.
In terms of architecture, finishing, decor and menu, it has to be said that the facilities here at Simonsvlei definitely come across as maybe being somewhat stuck in the 80’s (or at least that is how Chantelle and I perceived it), though that said, the atmosphere was nice enough and in the end we enjoyed our lunch visit.
(Of course, that might also have been entirely the fault of the excellent Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend that we were enjoying as well!)
There is actually a really nice, fenced off kids play area in the front of the estate, meaning that following the meal (and wine), the kids dragged Chantelle down for a spell of play (the wind was a lot more friendly by now), while I instead snatched up the opportunity to trudge about and take a few photos of the outside area (including of course the titular vlei).
So. I guess while there are a LOT other more pretty and interesting wine estates in the area to be experienced, Simonsvlei does stand out a little as one of those nice, more down to Earth establishments, so maybe worth a stop if you don’t particularly feel like its slightly more haughty Franschhoek and Stellenbosch compatriots on the day.
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Bonus: Just in case you have never spotted the giant wine bottle whilst hurtling down the N1 before, here’s a handy map (in the event that you want to check them out for yourself one day):