Fabulous Fancourt on the Garden Route.
The early morning dew cast a silver glow over the vast expanse of manicured lawns, as though a million snails had marched over them during the night. In the dark I paced around the bench, to cold to sit as I waited for dawn to reveal the colours of the day.
Slowly the imposing Outeniqua mountains emerged, buildings came into view as early risers put on lights and a few birds began their morning songs.
The clouds showed themselves, first tinged with the palest pink, a hint of the show to come.
I forgot the cold, the discomfort and reluctance to leave a warm bed, as the sky was saturated in pinks and blues, purples and orange and the first ray of sun lit up the tips of the majestic Outeniqua.
My eyes were drawn to the mountain that dominates this place of outstanding natural beauty and the words of the 14th century Italian philosopher and poet, Dante Alighieri, came to my mind.
In his poem the Divine Comedy he says, “Nature is the art of God”, a statement that makes perfect sense at Fancourt, where the harmony between man and the environment is evident throughout the estate.
Eco Friendly Fancourt
Fancourt is close to the rain catchment area in the Outeniqua mountains, and two rivers flow through the estate, the Malgas and Modder Rivers.
Chris Gommersal, the Grounds and Gardens Manager at Fancourt is justifiably proud of The Links at Fancourt being awarded Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary status.
He explained “Audubon is a total environmental management system with strict guidelines and a rigorous certification process to demonstrate a high degree of environmental quality. Key areas include environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, outreach and education, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation and water quality management. Audubon creates a natural habitat for plants and creatures.”
The spotted eagle owl, mongoose, caracul, bushbuck, barn owl, wood owl and long crested eagle are all found on the Links course thanks to the Audubon project.
The Links is one of only two courses in South Africa, and 905 in the world to achieve this status, cementing its world-class reputation for environmental excellence and sustainability.
Grommersal’s commitment and passion for conservation was evident as he spoke about the clearing of alien vegetation that eventually resulted in the restoration of the riverways to a pristine Cape Riverine System. Once this was done, he was able to create an irrigation dam on the Modder river which runs through the Montagu course.
Indigenous trees like the Cape Willow, Outeniqua Yellow Wood, Rooi Els, Forest Elder and Cape Ash are encouraged on the estate. Trees planted in the 1800’s like the Copper Beach, English Oaks, Magnolias and Captain Cook Pines can be seen around the Manor House. The landscaped gardens around the hotel and Manor House are glorious, aided by the bees from the Fancourt hives as part of their bee conservation project.
Paths meander all over the rolling hills of the estate, passing the fairways, rivers and stands of trees, where you can pause on a bench in the shade and take it all in. Enjoy the fresh air tinged with the peppery scent of fynbos or sit quietly and you just might be treated to a sighting of the birds, antelope or smaller creatures that have made their home here.
Staying at Fancourt
The Fancourt Hotel has 115 rooms that include 53 spacious and elegant one bedroomed suites.
Spacious and secure, Fancourt is a cocoon of luxury where you can relax and indulge yourself without leaving the property. The four restaurants cater to all your dining requirements, from casual pizzas at La Cantina, a perfect flat white at Monet’s, and elegant meal in the Club lounge and a fine dining experience at Henry Whites.
The Spa complex offers impressive Roman Baths, a steam room, jacuzzi, sauna, tepidarium, plunge pool, treatment rooms and a retail outlet. A hair salon and boutique shops complete the picture of everything you need for a pamper day.
The Leisure Centre has a fully equipped gym, a movie theatre, gym studio, bike hire and swimming pool.
Fancourt is not just kid tolerant it is kid friendly and actively seeks to welcome families. The Fancourt Kidz Club at the Leisure Centre offers fully supervised activities for children aged 3-10, managed by a trained and experienced team. The trendy Teen Lounge provides activities like foos ball, table tennis, gaming facilities, movies and entertainment.
First Aid trained babysitters provide dependable childcare.
Outdoor activities include 3 world class golf courses, a driving range, putting area and Pro Shop as well as walking and cycling trails around the estate.
Exploring from Fancourt.
Fancourt has a Tour Desk which provides a wealth of information about the area, and a few tailor made packages to show you the highlights of the region.
The “Gourmet Days” tour will thrill foodies with oysters and champagne, hand-made Belgian chocolates, a visit to a craft gin distillery or the Outeniqua Farmer’s Market.
Families are spoiled for choice with so many experiences on offer. A Garden Route safari, strawberry picking, a giant hedge maze or a train trip up a mountain in the Power Van. Entertaining, educational and ethical animal fun at the Penguin Rehabilitation Centre, Monkey Land, the Jukani Wildlife sanctuary and Birds of Eden, a unique two-hectare dome which spans over a gorge of indigenous forest.
Fancourt and feathers, a trip to Oudtshoorn.
We chose to tap in to the history and wilder side of the Garden Route with a trip to Oudtshoorn some 60 odd kilometers from George, accessed via the Outeniqua Pass.
From this pass we caught glimpses of the old Montagu Pass compleated in 1848 linking Oudtshoorn and George. It was built to replace the extremely difficult Cradock Pass, which still exists today, but as a tough hiking trail. The gravel Montagu Pass covers 17 kilometers of narrow, scenic track through the mountain and has 126 corners and bends. It can be driven in a sedan car but proceed with caution.
Oudtshoorn is best know for ostriches and their feathers as this town thrived during the two ostrich feather booms between 1865 – 18 70 and 1900 – 1914, giving rise to ornate homes dubbed Feather Palaces as the newly rich attempted to outdo one another in their flamboyant displays of wealth.
It is said that the motor car killed the feather boom, as open vehicles did not lend themselves to feather decorated fashion, and of course the First World War rendered fashion obsolete for its duration. There are many wide streets worthy of a stroll to admire the architecture, museums and shops that tell the stories and sell the feathers, decorated ostrich eggs, biltong and other products.
We continued a little way out of Oudtshoorn to the impressive Surval Olive Farm for lunch, enjoyed at a table outside with views of the snow tipped Outeniqua mountains in front of us.
After lunch, cameras ready we headed towards the Swartberg Pass. We had already received reports from our friends of building snowmen on top and could not wait to get going.
The Swartberg Pass is South Africa’s ultimate Pass. Twenty three kilometers of gravel road defy belief as it climbs to 1553 meters above sea level. Built by Thomas Bain between 1881 and 1888 using horse and cart and manual labour, it is said to be his greatest achievement and is now a national monument.
My previous attempts to drive the pass had been thwarted, first by an overturned truck, and a few moths later by a fire. This day proved to be no different. We wound our way along the twisting roads, marvelling at the amount of snow covering the peaks, and the wind got stronger and stronger, and our driver became more and more concerned. We finally stopped about a third of the way up at Skelmdraai and almost got blown off the mountain as we clung to rocky outcrops trying to take a few photos. Sanity prevailed and we heeded the call of our driver to get back into the car and head home, to the tranquil serenity of Fancourt.
Steeped in history.
Before I said my final goodbye to this fabulous estate, I took time to just sit and gaze at these mountains and let my mind roam to all who had gazed at this loveliness in the past.
I imagined the nomadic Khoi Khoi setting up camp here for the night, thousands of years ago. These sheep and cattle farmers gazed upon the same mountains, navigated using the stars we look up at in awe, and praised their ancestors and gods for this beautiful place.
I wondered about life in the late 1700’s when the Dutch East India Company established an outpost for the woodcutters who worked the nearby Outeniqua Forests. The men of nature surely appreciated this landscape and the Dutch settlers no doubt believed they had found paradise.
Stepping into the next century I could picture the lily white British Victorians admiring the views from the shade as they indulged in their pampered lives of flower arranging, tea parties and gentle strolls. The delight of Henry Fancourt White with his house Blanco, set in this paradise. On his death it was passed on to his son Ernest who had grand plans for the estate. What might have it become if he had not died of mushroom poisoning?
This very house, now beautifully restored and known as The Manor House, reflects the history of Fancourt through the art, the books, the stories and the classic elegance of a bygone era.
One last glance and it is time to leave the beauty, hospitality and sheer wonder that is Fancourt.
The Manor House Boutique Hotel on the Fancourt Estate was awarded the coveted Condé Nast Johannsen’s Best Newcomer in Africa 2018.
The Links at Fancourt is currently ranked as the No 1 golf course in South Africa by Golf Digest magazine and ranks 43 on Golf Digest US’s list of the world’s greatest golf courses.
The Garden Route of South Africa is a world class destination for travelers and Fancourt is the perfect place to explore it from in comfort and style.
Fancourt is a mere seven kilometers from George Airport.
Thanks to Fancourt for hosting me on the FanFam media trip.