This article first appeared in House & Leisure Online and is entitled “Wagging Tails and Wine Estates – Pet-friendly Getaways in the Robertson Valley”. Here I’ve adapted my original post slightly in order to make it blog-relevant.
Although I currently live a mere 30 minutes from the centre of Cape Town, I’m a country mouse at heart. There is nothing that makes me feel more alive than wide open spaces, fresh air and birdsong. Chilly nights under a sky spangled with stars and crisp mornings spent outdoors before sunrise are what I crave on a very regular basis. Since I’ve explored travel writing in greater depth, I’ve been fortunate enough to experience the above during weekends away – the most recent of which I spent in McGregor.
Located a few hour’s drive from Cape Town, McGregor lies just past the picturesque Robertson Valley and makes an ideal weekend destination. Affectionately known as the valley of wine and roses, Robertson is reason enough to visit this area as it is home to a collection of celebrated wine estates, charming towns and breathtaking scenery. McGregor caters to those looking for all the charm of a quaint English town – except with the addition of the beautiful Langeberg mountains surrounding you. Orientated towards family of all kinds, many guesthouses and self-catering accommodation cater to pets, as do many of the wine farms – providing your dog is on a leash and respectful of the estate’s resident pups. This meant that Oliver – my sweet rescue pup – joined me.
We stayed at Rose House; a solid Georgian-style build owned by a couple that travel between the little town and their home in Great Britain. Featuring 4 bedrooms, two bathrooms and a large country kitchen with pantry and scullery, Rose House is ideal for larger groups looking to escape with dogs in tow. A rambling garden is securely gated from the road, although pets would need to be aware of the pool as it isn’t fenced off. Best for evenings spent under McGregor’s star-strewn sky, the spacious verandah encompasses a long table – an essential for lengthy dinners spent sampling the area’s excellent wines. Indoors a slow combustion fireplace keeps things toasty in the colder season and a stylish lounge and dining space lends Rose house a contemporary ambiance. Early mornings make the best time to discover the charismatic town on foot – meeting the friendly horses on Darling Street and a rather vocal terrier standing guard over Millstone Pottery. Beautiful local ceramics can also be found at ceramicist Trish O’Keeffe’s studio – she sells her wares every Saturday morning at the small market held in front of the church.
For those looking to explore the valley, both Excelsior and Springfield Estates welcome pets, although it is stressed that dogs need to be well behaved and on a leash, as both farms have dogs of their own. Excelsior’s Weimaraner is friendly to kids and dogs and their wine bottling experience offers an afternoon of fun. Visitors get to blend and bottle their own red varietal, cork and label it then enjoy it either at home or over lunch on the rolling green lawns in front of the estate’s restaurant. Springfield is home to both an exceptional array of wines as well as Felix the aged Anatolian shepherd, who values his rest and so can be rather grumpy if faced with an overly excited child – furry or otherwise. Its best to let sleeping dogs lie and while away an afternoon over the estate’s celebrated “Life from Stone” Sauvignon Blanc or “Miss Lucy” blend and their house-made olives.
The beauty of Rose House is that it’s within walking distance of the centre of McGregor and yet is settled a block from the neighbouring nature reserve. This means convenience is coupled with quiet – something I value more often during weekends away. The house itself encourages guests to spend time reading, writing, cooking and playing with the pups on the lawn. A spacious kitchen with beautiful gas hob and large oven, pantry and dishwasher means that dinners on the verandah will become regular occurrence during one’s stay. A small wood-burning braai and a larger gas barbecue are also available for cooking outdoors. For those wanting to eat out, McGregor boasts an ice cream parlour and a few small restaurants – namely Karoux, a bistro style eatery that is famed for their warm hospitality and their chalkboard menu. Owners and chefs Ryan and Aimee Josten pride themselves on their seasonally-sourced fare and local appeal – although both of them have worked prolifically in the food and hospitality industry worldwide. Unfortunately I didn’t have a chance to eat at Karoux over this particular weekend, but I’ve been told by McGregor locals and visitors alike that dinner there is a real special occasion.
For me, the promise of wide open spaces, crisp winter mornings and silence broken only by birdsong is reason enough to return.