Having boarded our plane in Cape Town both Paul and I expected to leave the sunshine behind us – but oh no – on arrival into George airport it appeared that the sun wanted to come too! Excellent. This was my first time to the Garden Route and I was very excited. Particularly as I was to be staying at The Manor House at Fancourt! How decadent. A short 10 minute drive from the airport, a quick trip down the sweeping driveway and there in front of us stood the majestic Manor House. Following in the foodie footsteps of Steenberg we started our trip with more Graham Beck bubbly plus some delectable canapes. Paul then took off to his suite for a well earned break whilst I donned a rather fetching bicycle helmet for a 5 km bike ride around the grounds at Fancourt. I was escorted by 2 charming members of the entertainment team who did however look rather concerned at the point when they realised that they would have to lead me through a rather fierce water sprinkler!!!! Head down, peddle fast and try not to get too drenched – I loved it! It was back to my suite for a long soak in the bath. How excited was I to see that Fancourt now have bathroom products from Rain – this was the one shop that I stopped off in at The Waterfront to buy some gifts for back home. If you don’t know them have a look at their website as they are divine! The suite itself really is the ultimate in luxury from the choice of complimentary spirits through to the use of an Ipad if required! My first night at Fancourt ended with dinner in La Cantina with our charming host Natalie.
The following morning Paul and I were to be taken by Mario, owner of Tours For South Africa, to Oudtshoorn, Ostrich Capital of the World. However as I was to find out, there is so much to do in and around Outshoorn, that we really only scratched the surface. One thing that I was not aware of was that this area has sunshine nearly year round. Always worth knowing. We started out at the Cango Caves which were simply awesome and considerably larger than Cheddar Gorge which were the last caves that I had ventured into! We had a very entertaining guide – my favourite story was that of a rather large lady who wanted to go on the adventure tour. She was advised not to but still insisted. She was then told she could only go so far however would not heed the advice of the staff and when their back was turned continued down the path and into the rather narrow “tunnel of Love”” where she promptly got stuck – for 11 hours!!!!
From there we travelled to Karusa Wine Farm for a wine tasting and ploughman’s lunch sitting overlooking the dam. So peaceful sitting amid such breathtaking scenery. After Both Paul and I had purchased our favourite bottles of wine we were off again for an impromtu visit to Buffelsdrift Game Lodge for the opportunity to interact with rescued elephants. It was here that our guide explained that the elephants that we would meet had been orphaned in the Kruger by poachers. One of the founders of The Knysna Elephant Park heard about this and arranged for them to be bought down to Buffelsdrift Lodge and the Elephant Park for rehabilitation. They were bottle reared by their handlers and now feel very comfortable around people. I have only seen elephants in the wild and as such was initially very nervous and in awe of these magnificent creatures. However within the half an hour that we spent with them I went from standing nervously between two elephants to actually sitting on one. It was amazing! This is not a contrived tourist experience but rather the opportunity to see and support a programme that is saving injured and orphaned elephants.
From elephants to feathers and the main reason that Oudtshoorn is so famous – the ostrich! In its heyday, Oudtshoorn was home to a number of Feather Barons who lived in Feather Palaces – the name given to the residences of the largest Ostrich Farms. The Ostrich feathers at their height were more valuable than gold and this was driven by the high society fashion that demanded feathers! With the onset of the opentop motorcar, the fashion changed and the feather market collapsed. This led the feather barons to seek other ways to use their ostriches which was when the meat and hide were put to use. Paul and I visited an ostrich farm and were lucky enough to have a private viewing of the inside of a feather palace which was still steeped in history. Our visit ended once again atop another typical African creature – this time the Ostrich – I did draw the line at racing with one though!
How would we end a fantastic day without disappointment? Well I need not have worried as I put on my dress and “glammed up” for dinner at Henry White’s, the fine dining restaurant at the Manor House. This was a meal to remember and a highlight of our stay at The Manor House. Each course was a delicate blend of fine local produce which the chef, Charles Hayward, came out to talk us through each time. A wonderful meal to end a wonderful day.
The following day and our last day in South Africa, we were taken to Sikelela, the name of the project that Fancourt are heavily involved in. Here we learnt how Mrs Plattner singlehandedly turned this project around and ensured that it continued to grow and help women and children in the local communities. Here ladies are taught crafts, the social workers go into the community to give help and advise to those most in need and most importantly they offer a secure environment. It was most humbling. Having bought a number of crafts, we felt that we had contributed in some small way to the project and we were then whisked back to Fancourt for some relaxation before a long flight back to London.
To me this is the perfect way to end a trip – a visit to the spa at Fancourt! If only we had more time. This is a spa that you could easily spend the day at as it has the most amazing indoor roman baths and a choice of treatments to rival any international spa! Dragging myself away it was time for a quick lunch at Morning Glory. Mozambiquan Prawns out on the terrace, in the African sunshine, overlooking the lush gardens and with the Outeniqua mountain range in the background. Is there any better lasting image of Fancourt and indeed South Africa than that!