Living deliberately in the Overberg

2013-05-17 10:45
Sometimes one travels in search of solitude, to escape the incessant claims made on time and energy.

But sometimes one sets out on a journey hoping, beyond hope, for some unexpected human connection; A new perspective brought about only by eye-contact-conversation as you move dynamically beyond the usual boundaries of your daily life. 

If that's what your travel yearning has been for a while now, I have three words for you: Cape Country Meander

Exactly as the name suggests, this route meanders through the inland country towns of the southern Cape, including Elgin, Bot River, Villiersdorp, Greyton, Genadendal, Caledon, Riviersonderend and Tesselaarsdal. 

While none of these towns were altogether foreign to me to start off with, a recent adventure introduced me to a side I hadn't explored before: the incredible characters that call it home and make it what it is - truly inspiring.

So, while I will be telling you a bit more about the great places to visit along the route in follow-up articles, I'd first like to introduce you to a few people I met along the way. People who, in my mind, seem to have perfected the rare art of slow, purposeful and deliberate living (but would never admit such a pretentious-sounding thing themselves). 

Pilot-turned-bubbly-maker: Melissa Nelsen

As a teenager, there was one thing Melissa Nelsen knew for certain about her future career - it would NOT be office-based. So, she set her sights on the skies - first aiming to become and air hostess, but with encouragement from her mother, ending up as a commercial pilot in Johannesburg in 2000.

However, when her mother fell ill a couple of years later, Melissa decided that it was time to return to the Elgin Valley where she had grown up to help take care of her. During this time she got involved in the budding Bot River wine industry, initially on a part-time basis, but after her mother's passing, taking on more responsibility. 

As her involvement in the wine industry grew, a lifelong interest in and love for bubbly started escalating into something more substantial - she wanted to make her own! With the encouragement of her winemaker boyfriend, Leon, she eventually plucked up the courage to realise the dream in 2008. 

With the help of well-known Elgin viticulturist, the late Ross Gower, she released her very own Methode Cap Classique in 2010 and decided to name it Genevieve (her middle name, but also, quite suitably, the Patron Saint of Paris). 

Since then, her production has doubled from 5 000 bottles to 10 000 and Genevieve is now her full-time job - from picking the grapes to delivery and everything in between. While you may not find the beautiful black-and-teal label in your average bottle store, Genevieve can be found in smaller wine shops around Cape Town and the Overberg, and also on the wine list of hotels such as the Taj and Mount Nelson.

Melissa emphesises the fact that bubbly is no longer only a celebration drink, but can be enjoyed, like any other wine, with meals or as a fun after-work, sundown or evening-out refreshment. 

Want to keep up with Melissa? You can follow her on Twitter at: @Melissanelsen or check out the Genevieve MCC website.

Curer of meat ‘that could lift the libido': Sean Hornman

It's called the Aphrodisiac Shack and you will find it on the banks of the Theewaterskloof Dam just outside Villiersdorp. While the name may evoke images of smoky low-lit rooms and salacious peep shows, it's not quite the case. Well, at least not the salacious peep show bit. Smoky, however, is actually quite on target, as it is in fact a meat and cheese curing smokehouse! 

En route from Elgin to Villiersdorp, I suddenly realised that I was equal parts curious and apprehensive about meeting the person behind the strange name and idiosyncratic profession. There was no way they wouldn't be weird, right?

Well, when I finally met him, Sean Hornman didn't disappoint! Completely left of centre, but charming and charismatic, his light-hearted and easygoing approach to everything proved to be refreshing and rather quite infectious. 

So, what's the deal with the name?

"Well, the meaning is two-fold - firstly, my wife and I were unable to have kids, but she finally fell pregnant after IVF treatment a couple of years ago. Within two years' of our first daughter's birth, two more little girls followed... naturally. Secondly, there's so much hate and war in the world that I decided I'd like to help lift people's spirits instead."

With this in mind, Sean has decided to label all his natural, mostly organic and free-range products with the slogan "Likely to lift the libido." Quite expectedly, it's been met with some resistance from the food label regulators, but it seems like Sean really isn't too phased.

Between September and April, the Aphrodisiac Shack is open for picnics on the large dam-side lawns. They provide goody-filled basket, blankets, plates, cutlery, freshly baked bread as well as a complimentary bottle of local wine.

And when he's not busy cold smoking brie or hot smoking duck? He dons an apron and helps his wife, Jeanette, prepare, serve and clean at the Ou Meul Restaurant in Villiersdorp. In short, if you want a lesson in taking yourself lightly, Sean's your guru.

Contact information: Call Sean on 028 840 0313 or 083 682 5030. Visit the Aphrodisiac Shack website.

A passionate historian: Dr Isaac Balie

Sitting in the tea room/information centre, on the well-preserved and leafy historical church square of Genadendal, listening to Dr. Isaac Balie take a trip down memory lane, I was overcome by an uncanny melancholy and had to fight hard not to weep. 

Don't get me wrong. There's nothing sad about Dr Balie. Nothing pitiable or pathetic. Actually, quite the opposite. Sitting tall and straight, sharing his passion for Genadendal's unique history (it's the oldest Moravian Mission Village in South Africa) in calm and measured syllables, he was the absolute epitome of stateliness and grace. 

Perhaps it was this that moved me so deeply. We'd walked around the museum for a good 45-minutes before our chance meeting with him, admiring the massive amount of care that had been taken with each and every display, marveling at the perfectionist approach. 

On meeting Dr Balie, the museum's master mind and hand, it all made sense. Even more so after he told us how walking around the church square on a daily basis, searching for any signs of shabbiness or neglect with keen eyes, making notes, and ensuring that they got fixed up before dusk, had become one of his most important tasks. 

Thanks to this, Genadendal's historic centre practically glows. And, I suppose, this is my real reason for tears: After more than 50 years in service, 2013 is Dr. Balie's last year on the job. After his very last themed display goes up on Heritage Day this year, he will start preparing to hand over his duties to a new curator. I, however, have a funny feeling that he can't just be replaced... and so does he. 

"My wife said that when I retire, we'd better move away from Genadendal. She knows it would kill me to see it fall into neglect," he said.

These are just three of the fascinating people I met on my Cape Country Meander road trip, but there were many more who will feature in upcoming articles. All in all this trip reminded me once more of the incredible power personal connection holds and the inspiration it can spark. Why not try it on your next trip?

To end off my trip, I used the Europcar Roadtripper app to map out the route I took. It's a fun way of reminiscing about your favourite journeys or planning ones you've been dreaming about. Check out Europcar's Facebook page to find the app and read this article for more information on how it works. 

Thanks to Europcar for the trusty Kia Rio that took me all the way along the Cape Country Meander!
Read more on:    weekend escapes  |  travel south africa

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