Plettenberg Bay, located between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth on the exquisitely scenic Garden route, is one of the most illustrious beach destinations in South Africa. It was originally named ‘Bahia das Alagoas’ (bay of the lagoons) and later ‘Bahia Formosa’ (beautiful bay) by 15th and 16th century Portuguese explorers before Baron Joachim van Plettenberg — the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope – christened it ‘Plettenberg Bay’ in 1778.
Though it’s primarily known as an iconic beach destination, the area is also recognized for its indigenous forests with sprawling trees, ferns, wild proteas and fynbos, its abundant bird and wildlife, and its national parks and nature reserves. Plett (as it’s commonly known) is indeed a nature-lover’s paradise.
I’ve been visiting Plettenberg Bay for much of my life and while I’ve hiked many of the trails, explored a great number of forests and adored all of the beaches and lagoons, I’ve never experienced the landscape on horseback.
Hog Hollow Horse Trails offers a range of delightful adventures through the mountains, forests and reserves to sanctuaries (including both the Tenikwa Cat and the Crags Elephant Sanctuaries), or to more daring abseiling and zip-lining settings complete with waterfalls and mountain pools. But, the trail that most tickled my fancy was the full-day Wine Route Trail. It involves a ride through the indigenous forest, fynbos, vineyards and farm land with Tsitsikama mountain views between three of Plett’s most prestigious wine estates: Bramon, Newstead and Redford Lane Wines. You get to enjoy tastings at all three wineries and may choose one of them as your lunch venue. (As we were a little tight on time, we opted to visit only two of the three estates.)
On arrival at Hog Hollow Stables you’re welcomed by either Deborah or Kim, as well as a pack of four gorgeous pooches, and ushered into their makeshift reception-cu- office. You’re offered tea or coffee and given an indemnity form on which you give your height, weight (lying is not encouraged here) and level of riding experience (lying is not encouraged here either), from which they’ll match you to a suitably fitting steed.
We were in a group of four ranging in experience from beginners to intermediates, but all with the same animated levels of enthusiasm that stem from the idea of pairing horse riding with wine tasting. Our guides, Bheki and Kim, took us through the dos and don’ts of basic horse riding as well as an introduction to the personalities and quirks of our new four-legged companions, all of whom are between four and 18 years old, and all of whom have been rehabilitated from neglected backgrounds. I was paired with Rio, a handsome chestnut, with looks to kill and a gentle but feisty demeanour.
Before long we set off into the green wilderness better known as the Tsitsikama Forest: the terrain is full of thick bush, tall trees, lush grass and winding forest paths, yet the horses, under the gentle escort of the guides, navigated their way up, over steep ridges and down rocky pathways with ease.
After about an hour of riding we entered the gate that led to Bramon Wine Estate; it’s quite something to enter a vineyard on horseback, to trot between the vines with blue skies above and the crisp smell of Sauvignon Blanc on the horizon. Each wine estate has made provisions for the horses so they’re happy chomping away at the plush grass surrounding the vines while you’re in the tasting room getting a fabulous education on the region’s terroir and savouring all the finery each vineyard has to offer.
Bramon is best known for their award-winning MCC’s (Methode Cap Classique) and have a fine selection of other whites and a rosé that’s magnificent. We were taken on a glorious tasting journey through their five wines, after which you could purchase what you’d liked and collect it en route home. (On special request they can deliver the wine for you.)
With a bit of wine education and a taste for the good life under our belts we hopped back into the saddle and ventured onwards towards Newstead Wines; we passed local farm lands, plodded through muddy crevices and cantered across open fields. It’s most certainly an adventure, but one that is tailored to your individual strengths – if they need to lead you by the hand, taking one step at a time the entire way, they will.
On arrival at Newstead we were led through the tasting room to their gorgeous outside veranda where homemade iced teas, cucumber water and wine in lavish ice buckets awaited us. The veranda is surrounded by shaded seating areas that extend towards the vines, a special sparkling wine tasting area and views that could make you weep.
The spread that Sue and Doug (the owners) had set out for us was just glorious; a whole side of salmon cooked to perfection alongside cream cheese, a minted pea dip and fresh blinis, figs wrapped in prosciutto, salad jars filled with leaves that Sue had picked from her garden, homemade honey dressing, cheese boards and cold meat platters, homemade pâtés, hummus and sumptuous breads…there was so much deliciousness to choose from that it felt a little like sitting at a mad hatters tea party — only better, because we were drinking wine. (Newstead makes one of the finest Sauvignon Blancs I’ve ever tasted and their new Brut Rosé MCC is phenomenal.)
After a long and languid lunch we made our way back to the horses, which by this time were also most of the way through generous bales of hay, and were looking as contented as us. We hopped back into the saddle (I’m sure Rio gave a little guffaw at my now at least 1kg heavier self), and slowly meandered our way back towards the stables through the fauna and flora, under bridges and between majestic trees.
I have to say that being immersed in nature whilst gently toing-and-froing atop a horse is an enchanting thing: it’s humbling and almost takes your breath away. I found myself not wanting to talk for the last hour, and instead just embraced the magic of the quiet in the forest and the beauty of the horse that had so kindly carried me safely throughout the day. The end of the journey found me giggling with glee as we cantered along the last open field towards the gate, the wind cooling the sun from my face and the feeling of sheer freedom embracing me as I gave into the galloping rhythm of wondrous Rio.
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