Although the fruit industry is the major Grabouw employer, two retirees who have changed focus to the hospitality industry believe that tourism will be the key force for good in the valley.
The N2 with its Tru-Cape Fruit marketing billboard may dissect the Elgin Grabouw Vyeboom Villiersdorp Valley as Sir Lowry’s Pass cuts a swathe through the mountains but the valley is far larger and more populous than people driving through it imagine. With the scent of apple blossom in the air between September and December and trucks transporting newly picked fruit from January through to March, it is an easy error to pigeon-hole the area as simply one of the fruit growing capitals of the Cape.
Xterra is the global off-road triathlon and trail running series and the Grabouw Xterra is the biggest in the world. The Groenland sandstone mountains act as the northern border of the Elgin Valley and Pieter Silberbauer points out the vertiginous single track mountain path that bike enthusiasts will enjoy. “I grew up on the mountain in Simon's Town and friends and I spent our childhood creating downhill routes for our bicycles.” That early bike bug has bitten Pieter hard, so hard, in fact, that after he sold his 30-year Rustic Homes timber construction business, he and his wife Brenda opened Trail’s End, a Grabouw guest lodge aimed at cyclists built in the former timber factory. With affordable overnight options like R1,250 for a family room, the attention to detail and high level of comfort are unexpected. When Pieter explains it was their daughter’s idea to create a ski-lodge for cyclists that the Scandinavian design vibe makes perfect sense.
Chiro and champ triathlete on-site
One of Pieter’s business partners is a champion triathlete and chiropractor - Dr Chad Gordon - who has a special interest in performance nutrition. As the team chiropractor for the Cape Epic Race, Gordon knows MTB and is an engaging addition to the team at Trail’s End. When we stayed, he was cooking dinner for hotel guests but we’d made prior arrangements to eat at The Hickory Shack near Paul Cluver Farm, a traditional smokehouse serving up craft beers, local Grabouw wines and a Saturday winter special of R150 for a kilogramme of ribs. Owner Jay Haupt told us he favours the dry rub and slow-cooking method. I will try the brisket on the next visit. The excellent Pool Room restaurant, at nearby Oak Valley Estate, is run by Gordon Manuel and wife Emma who are established Grabouw foodies. Both restaurants were fully-booked the weekend we visited most likely because of excellent value special offers.
The Handle Bar, the espresso bar and fully licensed beverage operation at Trail’s End, has the added benefit of having a Ninja blender to prepare power shots and smoothies. There are a two-lane 20-metre training pool and a host of running routes on nearby farms. Pieter took us on a ride to the dam on adjacent Applegarth Farm. He is involved in a number of community projects including Grabouw 2020 Vision, a plan to transform Grabouw with an Arts and Skills Development Centre as its first priority.
“This, coupled with our involvement in the Park for Unity Project, loosely based on the Eden Project in Cornwall in the UK, aims to position Grabouw as the gateway to the Unesco listed Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve and enable the sustainable use and preservation of the surrounding reserve and related buffer and agricultural zones in the process,” he explains. Silberbauer ends by talking about the number of new jobs that will be created when this project is complete which will include permanent positions in, amongst many others, fynbos harvesting, forestry and eco-tourism. At Trail’s End, there are facilities for spa treatments, chiropractic, physiotherapy and pilates as well as for conferencing and group activities.
Warm family hospitality with Stella and Andy
Stella and Andy Ceronio of Elgin Valley Inn built a 30-person conference centre at their country inn last year and made a special point of sound-proofing it from traffic noise on the N2. The night we spent in one of the rooms overlooking their charming garden and the mountains beyond, was incredibly peaceful despite proximity to the road. With 10 rooms, Elgin Valley Inn provides comfortable adult lodging with warm hospitality coupled with a sensational breakfast. Both Stella and Andy had other careers but after retiring to Grabouw they decided to open the guest lodge. Stella worked for haircare giant Redken, while Andy restored furniture, a passion he continues to express with their Art Deco-style pieces in the public areas. Elgin Valley Inn is located on one of the areas oldest fruit farms, Molteno the original Kathleen Murray farm. Stella and Andy are generous hosts and we had the feeling of staying with a favourite aunt who liked to do everything possible to make our stay comfortable including suggesting and booking places to eat at and things to do in the valley.
Hike the Boland Trail
As keen hikers, we explored the mountain that forms part of the original Boland Trail, which delivered sweeping views over the valley and down to the dams below. Also within proximity just down the Viljoen’s Pass, is Elgin Grabouw Zipline if you prefer the thrill of mountains hurtling past you as you gaze out over this World Heritage Site in the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve.
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