In the valley of wine and roses, the intrepid explorer can experience all kinds of adventures. A new offer by Robertson Tourism is hoping to pump some new blood through the heart of this Western Cape town.
For Renate le Roux, manager at Robertson Tourism, there’s no other place on earth like Robertson. She’s been the tourism manager for the past three years, but her love for the town reaches back much further.
“I’m originally from Durbanville, but I’ve been living in Robertson for 25 years. This place is perfect to raise children. The activities you do here you can probably do elsewhere, but you won’t have the same experience. You won’t feel the same spirit. There’s just nothing like it.”
Like most of the country, 2020 was a hard year for Robertson. Le Roux says that the town’s biggest employers are agriculture and tourism, with the former made up mostly of wine farms. Both industries suffered heavily under the hard lockdown, but while the wine industry is getting the chance to recover, tourism in the town is not at the same level as before.
However, the town is not taking the setback lying down. It is located in the heart of the Cape Winelands, and the members of its tourism bureau are taking a proactive interest in keeping that heart pumping.
“At the moment we are engaging with the biggest corporates and farmers [in the area] on how to save our town. We can’t wait for the municipality or government to do it.”
A novel experience
Le Roux’s answer to the town’s tourism woes seems like a chance occurrence. Generally, Robertson Tourism Bureau acts as an informal concierge, recommending accommodation, food and adventure to enquiring travellers.
One such enquiry from pilot Sean Murray led to an in-depth conversation around what the town has to offer. Le Roux says Murray’s queries centred around golf, which is how she ended up arranging the first ever customised agri-tour.
“For this tour, golf was the main objective. Robertson is the perfect golf destination because it has a beautiful 18-hole course.”
Le Roux set up a personalised itinerary for Murray and his friends and included wine tastings at two of the local wine farms, as well as supper at a local restaurant called The Lab. The farms, Arendsig and Silverthorn, have an air of exclusivity, which complemented the golf tour. Robertson also boasts an airstrip, which makes it an ideal destination for high-flying travellers.
“The golf event was in a different league, and I wanted to give it that personal touch. But Robertson has something for everyone.”
Create your own holiday
After the success of the first customised tour, Le Roux realised that a tailor-made approach to holiday packaging may be exactly what the town needs to attract more people.
“[As with the golf tour], people should contact us at Robertson Tourism Bureau so we can create a custom package for them. Depending on your budget, we can arrange a personal chef, spa visits, wine farm tours, boat rides on nearby farms, horse riding, olive farm tours and even rock climbing.”
As the tourism manager for the town, Le Roux has a close relationship with nearly all the business owners in the area. This is why the bureau is able to produce custom programmes for just about anyone. “We can do budget tours, high-end tours, tours for retired couples or for working parents. Whatever your interest, whatever your budget, we have something for you here.”
Wine farms and heritage sites
Robertson is home to many legendary wine brands, including Robertson Winery, Graham Beck Estate and Van Loveren Estate. Le Roux says the valley is particularly famous for its chardonnay because of the quality of the soil.
Lourens van der Westhuizen, a fifth-generation farmer and owner of Arendsig Wine Farm, explains that the lime-heavy soil has a lot of minerality. He adds that Robertson also has a “rooi vlak”, or clay belt, which aids the winemaking process and in many cases, makes oak maturation unnecessary. “We don’t have to put too much make up on our wines,” he says.
Fertile soil and beautiful agriculture are not the only parts of the Robertson Wine Valley charm. The town started developing in the 1700s, with interesting historical details embedded all over the town. There are many significant heritage sites, like the old orphanage house. Now a doctor’s office, the original Herberg Children’s Home was started by the Dutch Reformed Church to house orphans who lost their caregivers to the 1918 flu epidemic.
“The orphanage is still in existence, although it has moved since it was first established. The facility currently houses children from dysfunctional homes, and it even has a vineyard where a wine called Thunderchild is made.”
The vineyard is a gift from the community to the children’s home, and 100% of the Thunderchild wine profits go to the facility.
Le Roux says that one part of the town’s history that she hopes will make a comeback soon, is the old train station. The station was built sometime in the 1900s and is currently being refurbished in preparation for a steam train service. Le Roux is unsure when the new service will be rolled out, but hopes to include it in the custom agri-tours once it is up and running.
“Covid-19 has delayed the train service many times so there is really no saying when it will be up and running. But the train will bring more people through the town. The train will be a tasting train, with some of the farms providing tasting services in each carriage.”
More than just a wine town
Le Roux reiterates that, even though the primary business of Robertson is wine, the town has much more to offer. This was especially evident during lockdown. “When there was no wine, what else could we offer? It’s amazing how we were able to keep people busy for a week without a single tasting.
“Right now, we are very much a drive-through town. And we need that to stop. We want people to plan their stay with us. We want visitors to experience the vibe and the people because we are authentic. There isn’t any other place like Robertson.”