Tag Archives: somerset west

Exploring the Estate of Vergelegen in Somerset West (2017-07-01) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 30 MAY 2018

A visit to Somerset West’s historic Vergelegen estate is always a treat, thanks to its selection of stunning restaurants, the elegant wine tasting venue, the beautiful (and functional) gardens, its rolling lawns and tree rich grounds, the fascinating history on show in the preserved manor house and library, and of course, the 300 year old Camphor and other ‘Champion’ trees dotted about the estate.

I have of course written about Vergelegen and its long history before, but it is worth keeping in mind that this wine producing estate (now owned and maintained through the deep pockets of Anglo American) was founded all the way back in 1700 – and indeed a large part of the farm’s original grounds served as the base for the eventual 1822 founding of Somerset West itself.

In other words, Vergelegen is very much integral to the story of the Helderberg region.

Surprisingly, the estate is quite child friendly these days, with a great play area and of course the large open lawns all making for a very welcome kid distraction for those times when you just want to sit back with a glass of wine (or warm cup of coffee) in hand, take in a deep breathe of crisp outdoor air, and enjoy the spectacular landscape views on offer.

One such opportunity arose just before the holidays last year, when we met up with Miguel, Retha, and her folks for a cup of coffee and a stroll around the estate – something my two little girls very much enjoyed once I told them about the bridge that needed crossing and the magical tree cave that needed finding on the other side.

They were rather pleased then when this turned out to be entirely true for a change.

Vergelegen’s well maintained grounds are always such a pleasure to explore, and indeed, whether you are interested in wine, art, fine landscapes, or even historic buildings, there is pretty much always something for everyone at this very enchanting estate.

Related Link: Vergelegen Wine Estate | Wikipedia | Somerset West

Pizza at the Lake House in Somerset Lakes, Somerset West (2017-11-12) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 06 MAY 2018

Standing right next to the newly opened Reddam House Somerset West boarding school, Somerset Lakes is a pretty good looking gated residential estate that has sprouted up on the outskirts of Somerset West – mind you, as a LOT of others have also done over the last handful of years!

Anyway, the only reason that I’ve ever even been inside this nice estate is thanks to the fact that the Somerset Lakes clubhouse is home to a rather nice, open to the public, restaurant, trading under the name The Lake House at Somerset Lakes.

They serve a fantastic array of pizzas and other light meal options, are home to a brilliant Sunday roast lunch, and of course stock some fabulous wines (which makes sense if you consider that the owners also run the hugely popular Southey’s Family Bistro, also in Somerset West).

Combining all of the above with the estate’s design aesthetic and its picture perfect lake center piece, it then quickly becomes obvious why we rather enjoy paying a visit there every now and then!

One of our last visits to the Lake House Restaurant (November last year) saw us inviting Chantelle’s folks to join us for lunch, all of which went rather well (the food was a hit!) despite the girls for a change not being on their normal standard of best behaviour – plus a rather unexpected visit from an inquisitive but cool as a cucumber stray goose.

With lunch now concluded, the next logical step (as it should always be when you visit there) was to head out along the boardwalk for a stroll around the lake. Amazingly, given that we had experienced a shower or two in the days prior to our visit, the lake was looking in a lot better shape than the last time that we had encountered it, and it was great to see all the local bird populations (who call Somerset Lakes home) in such good form.

The landscaped gardens were in bloom, a short stop at the jungle gym and outdoor fitness gym was enjoyed, and of course the entire visit was capped off with some clamber and play session in the estate’s little pine forest plantation that hides a treasure trove of obstacle course equipment within.

Pretty impossible not to recommend this place to be honest!

(In all honesty though, I’m not sure how long a private residential estate will continue to host a public restaurant, but given how much I enjoy it, I’m holding thumbs that this place sticks around for as long as possible!)

Related Link: The Lake House Restaurant | Somerset Lakes | Somerset West

Bikes and Burgers at The Cafe Racer in Somerset West (2017-10-20) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 04 FEB 2018

The Beehive building in Somerset West is old, pretty rundown and has been home to a little family run shop for years. It now also happens to be home to a particularly interesting newcomer to the Somerset West restaurant/bar scene – The Cafe Racer.

As you might guess from either the name, the logo, or the shiny hunk of polished chrome standing on two wheels outside the front door, The Cafe Racer is a restaurant that marries biking culture with beer and gourmet burgers – and rather successfully at that mind you.

The staff (and chef) are all relaxed and super friendly, the atmosphere super chill, the balcony space surprisingly nice, and most important of all, the menu mind boggling interesting.

Apart from a seriously good selection of craft beers on offer, The Cafe Racer specializes in some rather unique (and well made) gourmet burgers.

For example, my Mikachu burger (named after one of the waitresses) consists of a beef brisket patty topped with grilled pineapple, bacon, sliced banana – and then drenched in condensed milk of all things!

Chantelle on the other hand had a burger which forgoes standard hamburger buns in favour of chocolate doughnuts. Chocolate doughnuts!?! Who even thought of that!

The place is quirky, the younger crowd seems to like it, and as you might imagine, guys into bikes get a kick out of it.

So certainly a very unusual, but pleasantly enjoyable, addition to the Somerset West food scene.

Related Link: The Cafe Racer | Somerset West

Poinsettia Dam and Park in Somerset West (2017-08-12) My Life | Travel Attractions 25 OCT 2017

There are not a lot of freshwater fishing spots in the strictly Somerset West/Strand area. However, out of those few that do exist, without a doubt Poinsettia Dam is by far the most popular one with the locals.

(Or at least, that’s what it looks like and that’s also what Google searches seem to corroborate).

To be honest, Jessica and I actually stumbled upon it by complete accident the other day. We had just finished buying a new, bright green lunchbox and bottle from Mambos for her, when, after purchasing a couple of snacks for us to enjoy, I punched in a search for the Dick Dent Bird Sanctuary (Strand) into Google Maps and off we went.

As it turns out though, the incorrect search result didn’t exactly take me where I wanted to go, and instead we ended up at Poinsettia park, where after devouring our snacks, we took a stroll, then a drive along the dirt path up the dam, and finally sat and watched the fishermen try their luck.

It seems a good park for stretching legs, walking dogs and catching a fish or two, so all in all, not a terrible little discovery then.

A map – primarily because Poinsettia Dam is easily spotted from the road when travelling between Somerset West and Stellenbosch, but not quite as easily reached. (Hint, access it via Poinsettia Street).

Related Link: Somerset West

Visiting Paardevlei following the Winter Rains in Somerset West (2017-07-16) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 16 OCT 2017

Gripped by this unusually long period of drought, I noted that Paardevlei was already bone dry back in April when the girls and I paid a visit to the nearby Cheetah Outreach wildlife sanctuary. (Not that this is all that unusual mind you. The very definition of vlei is that it is a shallow, minor lake, mostly of seasonal or intermittent nature.)

We have of course since then endured a relatively mild and not so wet winter period, and pleasingly the vlei of Paardevlei was back to its wet (and bird inhabited) self by July already.

(And, as you might be able to see if you squint into the background of some of the photos in the gallery below, we even had a couple of days of snow-capped mountains to enjoy!)

Seeing as I needed to stretch my legs for a bit, I bribed the girls to come with me and after stocking up on snacks and a new game for the house, we entered through Paardevlei’s entrance boom, parked by Cheetah Outreach and started our stroll along the nature walk along the vlei.

As always, there was plenty of grumbling from the little one for a lot of the walk, though thankfully the constant sight of the bag of snacks in my hand was more than enough motivation for her to continue walking and for me not to have to carry her on my shoulders!

(That said, pretty much the first bench that we encountered was thus designated snack bench by the two salivating girls at my side…)

Not that the girls wanted to hang out bird-watching by the vlei for too long mind you – they were way, WAY more excited at the prospect of returning home to try out the new game of Hungry Hippo that we had picked up from Toys R Us a little earlier on our drive!

(Hint: It was a very, very successful buy.)

So, a decent way to spend a Sunday afternoon in July then.

Related Link: Paardevlei | Paardevlei History

Eisbein and German Cuisine at Im Eimer in Somerset West (2017-06-13) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 23 AUG 2017

There is a very unusual pub/restaurant lurking on the outskirts of Somerset West, close to the border of Sir Lowry’s Pass Village. It’s a German pub (which in itself is not unusual given the high levels of German ancestry throughout Somerset West) called Im Eimer, and what I find strange about the whole setup is despite its rather unwelcoming, rundown exterior (and rust filled interior), the restaurant is MASSIVELY popular  with the locals.

The name “Im Eimer” translates directly into “in the bucket” a saying which refers to items that are ‘kaput’, i.e. have reached the end of their useful life and have been tossed aside.

With that in mind, the restaurant is itself home to many old, broken odds and ends, or as some people put it, antiques. Also, there is the literal bucket hanging on the wall, a 100 year old rusted relic that was used to dig a well on Auas Sued in South West Africa near Bethanien in 1894.

You get the idea then. Im Eimer is a name that suits the look and feel of this place rather well then.

The thing is, the restaurant is known for its excellent German menu, with many people praising its authentic German cuisine (and of course, beer), with the Eisbein in particular always getting a rousing mention.

Of course, with all that praise for their tasty pork knuckle,  it was therefore essential for Chantelle and myself to give it a go – which is then exactly what we did come one lunch time back in June of this year.

Pro tip: It is definitely a good idea to phone ahead if you are going to be ordering the Eisbein – preparing one as you might imagine does take a fair while!

We of course didn’t, giving us a good hour or so to first sit, drink and take in the unique… setting/decorations.

The good news is that, served with sauerkraut, mustard, and mash, the Eisbein is indeed well, WELL worth the wait.

So yeah, that was a surprise. Definitely one of those classic ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ cases!

Bonus: Im Eimer makes a quick little feature towards the end of Cape Town Tourism’s “Love Cape Town Neighbourhoods Series: Somerset West” YouTube video (around the 04:00 mark):

So, worth a visit, even if it is just for the Eisbein!

Related Link: Im Eimer | Somerset West

Chimpanzees at Monkey Town in Somerset West (2016-11-06) Animal Attractions | Photo Gallery 28 JUL 2017

Sometimes I don’t particularly feel like driving very far when it comes to my weekend outings with the girls, and so invariably we end up at Monkey Town, situated a ridiculously convenient ten minutes down the road from me.

Founded back in 2000 by animal lover and habitual monkey rescuer Roseline Grobler, the Monkey Town Primate Sanctuary is a Somerset West based wildlife center for monkeys and apes with more than 230 animals split among 28 different exotic species, including Tammy, Ruby, and Sunny, Monkey Town’s famous chimpanzee sisters.

The sanctuary has an interesting layout as you essentially walk for large swathes of the park in a fenced tunnel, with monkeys moving about in the open all around (and above) you.

Although you are more than welcome to browse and work your way through the sanctuary on your own and at your own pace (strolls through Monkey Town don’t normally take much longer than an hour), it is recommended to rather join in on the frequent guided tours, primarily because that way you will learn a lot more about the animals running around in front of you.

Feeding time is quite the fun spectacle (for that matter, the chimpanzees never cease to amaze with both their catching and bottle opening skills), and if you want an even closer look/interaction with some of the smaller, fluffier critters, then there are a couple of encounter options eagerly awaiting your purchase.

The girls rather enjoyed this particular outing last year, with Jessica, as she invariably does on these outings of ours, taking quite a shine to our guide and pretty much never leaving his side for the duration of the tour!

These guys do a lot of great work in terms of taking in, rearing and caring for abandoned, captive-bred monkeys and are definitely worth supporting, meaning that if you have kids, then undoubtedly this is one of those visits that you can safely leave on your To Do list.

(Also, if the kids get bored, there is the kids play paradise of Cheeky Monkey right next door. In all honesty, I can’t really recommend them as a restaurant of choice, but they do have all the necessary equipment if you have kids with lots of energy to get rid of!)

Related Link: Monkey Town | Facebook

Breakfast at Benedicts & Bagels in Somerset West (2017-04-21) Photo Gallery | Restaurants 15 MAY 2017

It is extremely hard to miss the vintage, bright yellow painted house on the corner of St. James and Andries Pretorius in Somerset West. (And if the bright yellow hue isn’t enough to pique your interest, then there is the large Charlie Chaplin piece of art hanging in the middle of the stoep that might do the trick).

This is the home of Benedicts and Bagels, a lovely artisan eatery that specializes in, you guessed it, bagels and eggs benedict.

Chantelle visited the chiropracter situated in the same little complex and that is how we came to discover this brilliant little spot. The eatery is a tiny little art covered space with the bulk of its tables and chairs outside in a peaceful little courtyard.

The menu is small, and according to the chef, most of the ingredients are all either made or sourced locally, the end result being some particularly delicious light dishes. The coffee is good, and yes, because this is a artisan eatery, they do have a couple of craft beers available on the menu.

I thoroughly enjoyed eating proper American bagels last year in San Diego, and pleasingly, these bagels taste just as great!

[ P.S. The last two photos of the beetles eating the fruit on my as of yet unidentified tree in the front (and there are loads of them in this tree) are included purely because I now finally know the proper English name for this noisy yellow and black beetles – the common South African garden fruit chafer beetle! ]

Anyway, back to Benedicts & Bagels.

It is a lovely, tucked away spot that serves particularly tasty food in a peaceful setting, away from the bustle of main road Somerset West – in other words, well worth the stop if you’ve never eaten a proper bagel before!

Related Link: Benedicts and Bagels

Cubs at Cheetah Outreach in Paardevlei, Somerset West (2017-04-23) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 13 MAY 2017

Twenty years strong now, Cheetah Outreach (now at Paardevlei as opposed to their original Spier stomping grounds) continues their mission to raise awareness around, and campaign for, the survival of the free ranging Southern African cheetah.

They do this through a broad range of projects, like funding and coordinating a South African Cheetah Anatolian Shepherd Guard dog project, delivering natural science and literacy resources embracing environmental education into less advantaged schools, sponsoring teacher training workshops, supporting range research of free-ranging cheetah, and finally financing curriculum-linked school outreach trips and Bus 2 Us on site education visits.

They have a large number of hand-reared, captive born cheetahs which they use as ambassadors – acting essentially as representatives of the endangered free-ranging cheetah, which then provides the public with the opportunity to see, learn about, and then meet this majestic and fascinating species face to face.

The girls and I ambled into Cheetah Outreach one late afternoon last month, and spent some time walking around all the enclosures to take in the collection of bat eared foxes, black backed jackals, servals, caracals, meerkats, and Anatolian shepherd dogs, before heading up the amusingly named Cat Scan viewing deck to watch a couple of tourists being guided through their animal encounter session with the cheetahs.

The girls were of course totally enamoured by the two furry cheetah cubs pacing around (as well as the feeding of the bat eared foxes), though as per usual, annoyingly they found the stuffed toys of the curio shop by far the most interesting bit of all!

I was surprised to encounter Cheetah Outreach’s very unusual stance of essentially allowing you into their grounds for basically free (I paid R15 for all three of us to walk around!), meaning that if you just want to show your kids what a cheetah looks like (and go on a quick guided tour), it’s not going to cost you any real money.

Animal encounters is of course where the the actual money making happens, and there are a number of different encounters, walks and runs available to choose from.

Animal sanctuaries/education centers that offer encounters are as always a contentious issue for a lot of people, but if you have kids like I do then undoubtedly you will appreciate the fact that they exist – teaching a child about something standing right in front of them is always going to be better than trying to explain off a printed page or some animated screen.

P.S. The lovely body of water that is the Paardevlei is currently completely dried up. So much so that there are now buck grazing where once there were flocks of flamingos!

Related Link: Cheetah Outreach