27 March 2002

South Africa: A New Take On 'One for the Road'

Johannesburg — Suzanne Joubert inhales fresh air, imbibes mountain views and adds a new word to the lexicon: horseache

THE idea of spending a Sunday morning on the back of a horse, gliding through olive groves, pristine fynbos and grape vines seemed like a good one. After all, it had only been 15 years since my last stint on a horse, winging my way through Tokai forest at great speed.

So it was with fair bravado and good cheer that I eyed the large, brown mare given to me at the starting point of picturesque Diemersfontein Wine and Country Estate in Wellington, certain that a four-hour meander into the blue would be no problem.

After half an hour of gradual ascent into the foothills of the Berg River mountains, we started to trot. Trotting, like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh might say, is what journalists who haven't ridden for more than a decade do best. It was torture.

I soon lost feeling in both legs and was greatly relieved to slip into a relaxed canter.

Our party of five made its way past the historic Huguenot Memorial School, built to commemorate the first Afrikaans newspaper, to Valencia Farm, where Marguerite Lombard gave an informative talk on the olive farm we were about to visit.

Next we rode up through pines to buchu plantations and fynbos, and on to a lookout point high above the valley, with a wonderful view of the Paarl granite outcrop, the Taalmonument and the vinelands of the Wamakers Valley. Much-needed liquid refreshment was handed out before we moved off again to newer and higher territory.

The trail took us over steep, fynbos-covered hills, where proteas were beginning to bloom, to a magnificent panoramic view of the mountain passes. Beginning the slow descent, secretly wishing I was on a motorbike and did not have to bounce back to the farm, I yearned for the tallest glass of ice water and a large bed.

Back at the guest house, the tranquil setting and beautifully laid out gardens served as a backdrop to lunch, which we ate out on the patio. A particularly pudgy American from Illinois, who had also been on the trail, talked nonstop throughout the delicious meal. Not being able to locate the on-off switch, I soon switched off, concentrating instead on the chicken dish in front of me, breathing in the calmness and serenity of the place.

Diemersfontein has recently launched its own wines, and offers the option of tasting them as well as going by horse or car to four old Huguenot wine farms.

Kontreikos (country food) in the fynbos sounds wonderful: it offers a short ride to a veld restaurant where Wellington wines and cuisine are served.

A three-day horse trail is also available. Scenic outrides cost R70 an hour; the Kontreikos trip is R100 a person including wine, plus R70 for the ride.

Winetasting costs R15 per farm visited, with an additional R70 should you go by horse.

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