Western Cape Tourist AttractionsHemel-en-Aarde Valley
Where? Greater Hermanus, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Cape Overberg, Western, Cape
Directly translated from the Afrikaans Hemel-en-Aarde means 'heaven-and-earth' and, certainly for those who live there, the valley is often described as, literally, Heaven on Earth.
It is through this sumptuous valley that the Hermanus Wine Route winds. To reach it one takes a quick left at the Wine Village (which stocks 600 producers and 1600 labels of wine) on the R44, en route to Hermanus.
These fynbos-clad hills, overlooked by a series of towering Cape-fold mountains and swept by offshore winds from the Atlantic Ocean, are home to some fifteen wineries, each growing relatively small volumes of grapes to produce individual and excellent wines.
The valley stretches from just outside Onrus, on the coast, inland to Caledon, via Shaw's Pass. The scenery alone is worth the drive, so you may want to set aside the better part of a day for this adventure, particularly if adding wine tastings to the outing is high on your list.
The wineries are big on Pinot Noir. If praise and awards are anything to go by then this valley has had more than its fair share of this particular red wine grape variety. For some reason the Hemel-en-Aarde valley is one of the few areas outside of Burgundy where it grows so well. The quality of their Chardonnay, particularly in the upper-Hemel-en-Aarde valley, does not do so badly either.
Interestingly the valley, for wine fundis, is divided into three appellations – Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and Hemel-en-Aarde Ridge. Each appellation has a different character based on the different soils.
The valley is not all about wine. History also features on the route through the mountains. On the Hermanus side of the narrow entrance to the valley you will find a toll gate built in 1897. Interestingly a huge overhang of rock, known as the Preekstoel (pulpit) rock that once loomed over the toll, was destroyed in 1960 because of the danger it presented as a blind corner to traffic.
In the valley is the Camphill Community Farm, which provides a quality of life for adults with intellectual disabilities. From here they produce various farm products, like eggs, herbs and goods made on the farm, which one can buy from outlets, including the Wine Village where they sell their cheeses.
There are also a series of MTB trails through the valley – get a map from the Wine Village and follow farm roads, jeep and single-track.
To reach the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley take the N2 from Cape Town before joining the R44 at Gordon's Bay. This beautiful coastal route is easily one of the most beautiful in the world, meandering past coastal villages and hemmed in by the Hottentots-Holland mountains and protected fynbos.
The R44 joins the R43 briefly just south of Botrivier. Pass Fisherhaven, Hawston, Vermont and Onrus where you take a left onto the tarred R320 at the Wine Village (on Saturday mornings the Hermanuspietersfontein wine and food market is held here) for the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley.