If you love tranquil surroundings and beautiful gardens, there’s no better destination than 318-year-old Vergelegen wine estate in Somerset West. About an hour’s drive from Cape Town, stretching over about 3000 hectares, it’s renowned for its award-winning wine, heritage, biodiversity and, last but not least, exquisite gardens.
On a visit in early April, I made a colourful discovery ‒ that the first early-flowering sasanqua camellias were already blooming at the bottom of the Great Lawn. This glorious estate holds an annual, much-anticipated Camellia Celebration Weekend mid-year, but it’s good to know that you can already view some exquisite pink, white and red blooms.
Vergelegen is home to an International Camellia Garden of Excellence ‒ the only camellia garden on the entire African continent to have received this rare accolade. The background is that the Camellia Society, founded in 1962, began a programme in the late 1990s to introduce people to fine gardens with beautiful camellias. Vergelegen was a prime candidate.
You can spot the estate’s oldest camellias, dating back to the 1920s, in the Octagonal Garden under huge camphor trees. When the estate was owned by the Barlow family, camellias were planted near a bell tower erected in 1958 and up to the building now housing the Camphors signature restaurant. Newer plants in the collection are planted at the bottom of the Great Lawn and among an expanse of yellowwood trees, accessed by a swing bridge over the Lourens River.
Whether you visit in autumn or winter, you’ll be spoilt for choice as there are about 550 camellia cultivars, from as far away as France and America, as well as South African varieties. By August, the later-flowering japonica camellias will be at their peak.
Vergelegen is such an all-round destination that you should iclude time for a wine-tasting, a casual meal at the Stables bistro, or treating yourself at the signature restaurant Camphors. The estate’s open Monday-Sunday 09h30-17h00, with the last entry 16h00. The entrance fee is R10/adults and R5/pensioners and scholars ‒ with the funds going to the upkeep of these gorgeous gardens. Pensioners free on Mondays. Find out more at www.vergelegen.co.za.