Fine times at Val Du Charron Wine and Leisure Estate
I’ve visited in summer and winter, vastly different experiences in the Western Cape, although the constant is the stunning view across the Bovlei Valley with the Hawequa Mountains ahead, and Bainskloof Pass winding up from the small town of Wellington, 72km from Cape Town.
My fine times have had a lot to do with owners, Stuart and Catherine Entwistle. We discovered a connection going back almost 40 years. Visitors may not see either of the busy couple, but fear not. Excellent service from the staff provide much of the good vibes at this bustling destination. Check out TripAdvisor and you’ll see that others agree.
It wasn’t bustling when I first visited, unlike now, as Wellington becomes increasingly well known for its wine walks, with Val Du Charron the endpoint. Local guides take groups through indigenous fynbos, vineyards, orchards and olive groves over three or four days. If you love the outdoors, wine-tasting, and scenic walking/hiking trails; this is an ideal holiday where you stay at really nice spots, meet the wine-makers (and their wines), and the local characters of the valley.
Possibly the best part of a visit is experiencing the Val Du Charron wines. Winemaking is a serious, competitive business and tasting often a formal affair. The Black Countess regales visitors with stories from the Valley of the Wagonmakers (Val Du Charron), from whence early explorers set off into the hinterland. Such a fun way to learn about the wines and the area!
Red or white, Val Du Charron wines are characteristically smooth. The Pinot Gris is a fine, anytime sipper and I’m keeping the Chardonnay for a special occasion. In the Reserve range the Shiraz is the classiest, but the Malbec is my pick (Stuart’s too). Their estate wines, in demand as exports, are only now filling local shelves.
When it comes to food, carnivores will delight in the chic Grillroom, with fireplaces for winter warmth as you enjoy the view through glass or from the terrace in fine weather. Choose from grain or grass-fed organic cuts or let head waitron Chisomo guide you.
My Pavement Special pizza at Piza e Vino was delish, as was the blue cheese focaccia. Think sprawling terrace, stained-glass window, lawns and a splash pad to cool off as you admire the angels lining the walkways. Horse around with the metal steed on the lawn, or with the life-size elephant built from scrap.
There’s plenty to do off the property. Dramatic, twisty Bainskloof Pass, constructed circa 1849 and now a national monument, is a must. It’ll take you over the mountains into the Robertson valley ‒ well worth exploring for (even more) wine, or just the views.
The James Sedgwick Distillery in Wellington have opened their doors for tasting (booking only). Under master distiller Andy Watts, Three Ships whisky has gone from awful to award winning, along with Bains Mountain Whisky. The tour and tasting experience in the attractive, Gothic-inspired buildings is recommended. You are welcomed with a delicious drink, enjoy 4-5 whiskies with small food pairing bites, and you can blend your own whisky to take home.
Mountain biking, hiking and horse riding are popular. There’s a local museum and the local tourism office are on the ball.
Once you’re done with exploring, Val Du Charron has a pool and a spa above their cellar, for a fantastic massage. The five-star Coach House, separate from the main building, offers a private patio with plunge pool, or fireplace in winter. The three suites are spacious, tasteful and, in the case of the Presidential suite, opulent, with fine Terbodore coffee, and open doors framing the pool, vineyards and Hawequa Mountains.
It’s a pretty slick, commercial operation that conversely cocks a snoot at convention, dictated by the Entwistle’s sense of irreverence. I like that. It’s a fine place for a grand occasion, but also just to kick back and relax. If you’ve the time, you may hear how the cigarette vending machine found its way into Piza e Vino and turned a profit without selling any smokes. Then there are the angels. Hitch your wagon. Go with them.