Sunday, December 12, 2010

Timeless Welcome at the Knorhoek Country Guesthouse

It’s a perfect summer’s Sunday – the air is fresh and the morning sunlight tickles the landscape making everything feel warm and golden. Jagged peaks punctuate the sky, rising dramatically above us. Tidy farms dot the rolling hills in the distance, the crops laid out to form shapes of varying colour on the land. Neat vines zip past my window, row after row. The leaves form a blur of happy warmth, waving ‘hello’ as we bounce past farther into the wine lands with a growing sense of wonder at this peaceful place.

Getting closer to our destination the road narrows and a white-washed fence appears on either side, ushering us on. Flowers decorate the view in bursts of red, orange, purple and white. A canopy of tall oaks offers shady comfort for our arrival and I feel completely at home. This is nature’s reception to the van Niekerk’s fifth generation family farm in Stellenbosch, now a boutique wine estate, where we’re looking forward to a weekend retreat.

I step out of the car to survey the scene, reflecting on the name of the place, “Knorhoek.” Roughly translated, it means the place where the wild cats growl. Things sure were different for the first members of the van Niekerk family who travelled here – unloading the ox cart after an exhausting journey and being greeted by the sounds of ferocious mountain lions would be a bit unnerving, to say the least. I’m shaken out of my daydream by a sound, too – not a lion but the family dog, a white bull terrier named Merlot who greets me panting, his tail wagging in happy excitement. Lucky for me he’s just a friendly little clown and we quickly become friends.

We go inside and meet Samantha who is expecting us and greets us warmly. We put our names down in the oversized guest book, next to those of previous guests from all over the world. The reception area is placed in an open plan space with the feeling of a family home and connects to the breakfast room and kitchen on either side. It also includes an informal dining room, a bookshelf of travel literature in various languages, plus a lounge, complete with overstuffed couches, a fireplace and a television. Samantha encourages us to enjoy the space, even after hours, and gives us our own key. She shows us the honour bar, too – fully stocked with estate wine, and chilled beer and water. I love the simplicity and openness here, like I’m staying with family friends.

We walk with Samantha to our room just next door – and see that it has its own private entrance and stoep. Inside the antique cupboard, desk and wood-panelled ceiling create a homey feeling. Freshly picked flowers decorate the room – at the foot of the bed on our neatly folded towels, on the bedside tables and in the immaculate bathroom – a nice touch. The bed is inviting, with its plush pillows and crisp white linen, but we resist the temptation to nap for a vineyard walk instead.

We meander along the grounds, past the manor house and gardens. A peacock calls in the distance, ducks fly overhead, and the estate’s small stream babbles quietly. After just a few minutes we’re following the line of the vines down a gently sloping path. Now I hear a familiar sound – it’s Merlot – as happy as before. He canters up ahead, pretending not to pay too much attention to us even though his left ear is perked in our direction the whole time. The path rounds a corner and there they are – the majestic Simonsberg Mountains dominating the view, a giant wall of purple rising up, the kind you see in magazines and that make you want to go places. We stand still in the quiet and watch for a while.

Feeling inspired, we continue back through the vineyard and to the tasting room where we sit outside on the patio enjoying the view from under our sun-shade umbrella. We chat with our hosts and another guest, a French Canadian visiting from Montreal who entertains us with stories of travel to the wine lands of France and Italy. We enjoy a cheese platter while taking our time, sampling the range of boutique wines – white, sparkling and special reds – which have been recognized with multiple awards from Veritas, the Michelangelo International Wine Awards, and many more not to mention glowing reviews from the John Platter Guide. It’s no surprise that I have difficulty choosing my favourite one – a toss-up between the Pinotage (juicy with hints of ripe banana), the Cabernet Sauvignon (smooth, berry red, a hint of spice and oak) and the flagship, the Pantere (spicy, complex – a big wine that would go well with a special dinner). Luckily for me I don’t have to choose – I purchase one of each as lovely souvenirs.

After the tasting we wander towards the estate restaurant, just across the way. Aptly named “Towerbosch,” it is set under the cover of the trees, bordering a large garden. Merlot is still with us, going off this way and that, investigating sounds in the bush, inspecting rock piles or digging holes in the ground. I hear an owl hoot in the distance – and then, there she is, swooping high to low then up again, landing on the height of a young tree. She is a Cape Eagle Owl and we feel her presence as she watches us. I creep closer for a better look, slowly, slowly – until she turns and faces me square. She won’t allow me any closer. I stand – ever so still. Then, from the corner of my eye I see another owl. And then another. Perhaps the rest of her family has arrived. The moment feels important and special and the sound of their calls envelopes us.

We return to our little stoep and open a bottle of the Knorhoek Cabernet Sauvignon – my favourite at the moment – and it’s a real treat to sit and enjoy it in the place where it was crafted. We sit back and relax, sipping slowly, listening to dusk’s lullaby – crickets with their night song, the trees still rustling overhead, the muffled noise of peacocks and in the distance, the hooting of the owls. After a while we retire to the comfort of the lounge where we make ourselves at home to enjoy the last bits of our cheese platter – a few tastes of the day’s pleasure left. Time passes into evening as we talk about everything and nothing in particular. After a while the comfort of the bed is calling again. This time we retire, sinking into its fluffy layers. It’s been a good day, I think – I feel content, inspired and free. Perhaps this is the feeling the first members of the van Niekerk family had when they came here for the first time, too – perhaps this is the reason they decided to found Knorhoek and the reason why each generation has made the same decision to stay here and call this “home.” Perhaps things weren’t so different in those days after all – except for maybe the lions.


  • 8 rooms, en-suite (bath or shower) including a family and honeymoon suite, and two luxury self-catering cottages with braai facilities
  • The rates range from R420 per person per night for a room to R2 000 per night at one of the luxury self-catering cottages for four people sharing. All guest house rates include breakfast. Cosy lounge with fireplace and a dining room to use at leisure
  • Lunches at Towerbosch Wed-Fri during summer and at weekends year-round (booking essential); Dinner Mon-Fri by prior arrangement
  • Activities on the estate: Wine tasting, vineyard walks; tennis, landscaped rock pool (children welcome); fly-fishing; bird watching; Near the estate: Golf (ten of the top the Western Cape’s top courses within 30-minutes of travel), horse riding, hiking trails
  • Located 10 minutes from Stellenbosch, 40 minutes from Cape Town International Airport, and 50 minutes from the V & A Waterfront
  • For reservations, phone: (+27)21 865 2114/5; email:; or visit:


  1. It gives you such a good sense of place! Thanks for a good read...

  2. Hello, Anonymous. I always hope when I write I can make the reader feel as though they are there in their minds... so thank you very much.

  3. "Great picture. I love the writing too."