It was a beautiful, sunny Cape Winter’s day with nary a cloud in the indigo blue sky when we visited the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, situated on the R320, on our way to the Harbour House Hotel in Hermanus. Experiencing the valley in all its splendour made it easy to understand why it is considered heaven on earth.
It must have been a day like the one we experienced on our way to Hermanus that inspired the name. Hemel-en-Aarde. Literally meaning heaven and earth, to drink in the dazzling scenery and glittering splendour of the valley on a leisurely, lazy Sunday afternoon was like heaven on earth…
However, while the locals back then enjoyed the views from their rickety ox-wagons and on horseback, while we could do the twisty, picturesque route in the comfort of the top-model seven-seat MU-X auto, the D-Max based Sports Utility from Isuzu.
Hermanus, named after Hermanus Pieters (ca.1778–1837), a teacher recruited by farmers in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley to teach Dutch to the farm children in a wide area around Caledon. Pieters often vacationed at the spring (fontein) in present-day Hermanus, where he fished and grazed his sheep, so that the place eventually became known as “Hermanus Pieters se Fonteyn”.
He died before the village Hermanuspietersfontein existed but in 1902, 65 years after his passing, the local postmaster decided to abbreviate the name of the village to Hermanus. Nowadays, it is a thriving coastal town and famous for Southern Right whale watching during the winter to spring seasons – especially from August to early December.
The town is also known for the annual Hermanus Whale Festival, a celebration to the return of the whales to the coastal waters of Southern Africa. All events and activities during the festival are focused to create awareness on how to protect the whales and all our marine wildlife who share the coastal waters.
This year the festival takes place from 27 to 29 September and over this period thousands of visitors descend upon the town to join in the festivities. Now in its 28th year the festival is the oldest and largest on the local whale coast calendar and while the whales are the star performers, the gentle giants will be joined on land by quality entertainers and musicians, an array of food stalls, kiddies activities and events suitable for both the young and old.
The heartbeat of the festival is the Eco-Marine Tent with its informative and entertaining range of eco and marine-related environmental exhibitions that appeal to children and adults alike. The programme this year will once again include land and boat-based whale watching, arts and crafts, a street parade, an orchid show, a live music marquee at the Old Harbour and the Whales and Wheels Classic Car Show, and the best whale watching experience in the world.
Wine from the valley…
Until quite recently the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley was not really regarded for its wineries and wine production. While it is said that the first vineyard in the valley was only planted in 1975 by Tim Hamilton Russel this is quite hard to believe. However, perhaps this was the first time that vines were planted solely for commercial purposes.
Anyway, since then the valley has carved out a reputation for prodcing some of the most recognisable Burgundy styles in the country, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Hamilton Russel, and top-quality Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Sauvignon Blancs from Bouchard Finlayson. Another vineyard that has built quite a reputation is Creation with their Viognier, ‘Reserve’ Pinot Noir and Merlot.
A new premium wine producer is Seven Springs Vineyard that nestles between Shaw’s Mountain to the north and the Teslaarsdal mountain range to the south, with Walker Bay and the ocean beyond these mountains. We visited The Onion Shed and enjoyed a great burger (with lots of onions, of course) while chatting to owner Ruan Ludick and his parents, Rennie and Hettie.
At the Seven Springs sales offices we appreciated a glass of their Sauvignon Blanc and it was clear from our impromptu tasting session that the oceanic influence, coupled with local Bokkeveld Shale, give its vines the potential to produce exceptional Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Pinot Noir.
After a couple of pleasant stops in the valley we made our way to Hermanus and parked our MU-X close to the Harbour House Hotel, situated on Grotto Beach and enjoying the most prominent of positions in the heart of Hermanus. The Manor House, built in 1920 with historical slate roof architecture, houses
Selkirk’s, the in-house restaurant of Harbour House Hotel and one of the best breakfast and lunch spots in town.
Here we enjoyed freshly baked scones sitting close to the infinity pool overlooking the ocean. Most of the produce used in the restaurant is sourced locally, and the Wine Bar offers a great selection of wines from the Overberg region, including wines from Seven Springs. The natural flow out of the bar to the stunning Lookout Terrace and pool ensures a sundowner experience second to none.
The hotel also has a contemporary new wing situated above reception and the Harbour Square Rooms and Suites are located within walking distance to reception with a rooftop pool. Our room featured light modern décor with luxurious furnishings and the service from the hotel staff was friendly and efficient.
Situated within walking distance from the top attractions in town, including sophisticated restaurants, markets, street cafés and whale watching sites, the Harbour Hotel provided a fantastic ending to our perfect day in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, and will for sure be the best venue for accommodation for the upcoming Whale Festival.