The long icy road and Swartberg mountains

Winter in the Karoo

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Unless you have the skin which craves days where the mercury can go beyond 40°C, winter is definitely the best time to visit the Karoo.

Fresh, sunny days, empty roads and few tourists are a small part of July in Calitzdorp. There are other benefits too such as accommodation available without notice and at a reasonable R160 per night for a two bedroom fully equipped cottage. Restaurants - of which there are almost more than there are shops - are empty and it’s nice to have a choice of seating, a chat with the owner/chef and a leisurely meal with no pressure to leave. And the meals are delicious and change is possible from R100 even after a fillet steak and wine.

Ah, the wine. This is not known as the South African Port capital for nothing. Touriga Nacional and Tinta Borocca are the stars here and they make a bold, leather and blackberry dry red guaranteed to send you to bed content at 15.5% alcohol or more (probably 16% in 2009 according to winemaker Ashley Mason at TTT Cellars) for those who must have a dry wine.

But why would you when there is four year old Cape Vintage (port) available at R30, yes R30 a bottle at Calitzdorp Cellars; or eight year old De Krans Cape Tawny rated at 5 stars by Platters or an almond and candied fruit White Port from Axe Hill? For those looking for something lighter, try the beautifully balanced, fragrant orange peel of the Muscadel from Fanie Geyser at Withoek Cellars, quite unlike the sticky, heavy monsters some Muscats have become.

And in winter, you can try these wines at the cellars often with the winemakers as they are less frantic and more available to share a glass with you. Tasting rooms were empty when I visited and I could linger over each glass of Ruby or Vintage Reserve whilst quizzing Carel Nel at Boplaas or Fanie at Withoek or enjoying the view with Ashley at TTT.

There is a special feel about winter in Calitzdorp. Perhaps it is the wonderful strains of Bach and Handel coming from the free nightly Organ concerts in the beautiful Dutch Reformed Church. Or the personal attention from unhurried staff serving you the end of meal free glass of port and chocolates at Die Dorpshuis, or the warm glow attained from sampling the outstanding Hanepoots, Muscadels and Ports of the region (at Kango, Boplaas and De Krans more than a dozen wines can be tried).

Or maybe it is the warm welcome given, summed up in my experience at one restaurant, nameless to protect the host, who seeing my disappointment on receiving the news that he had no liquor licence to provide wine with my meal, supplied me with a Calitzdorp 2010 Merlot ‘fermented grape juice’.

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