A 'time honoured' valley...
Visitors to Hermanus should have noticed the turn-off to the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley before the entrance to the town; but... anyone with the vaguest interest in wine will know that this is where great wines are made.
It is a valley of almost indescribable beauty. Flanked by the Babilonstoringberge (Babylon's Tower Mountains) – higher than Table Mountain – to the north and the Hermanus mountains to the south, with the Onrust River down the middle, and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance.
Hemel-en-Aarde Village at the entrance is a great place to start – with the resourceful Wine Village, some of the region's best restaurants, great art, ceramics, jewellery and much more.
Leaving the Hermanus road, one moves up into the valley and there are views to the mountains, across vineyards, dams and forests, and down to the sea... as far as Hangklip at the entrance to False Bay. Since 1980, grazing and cash crops have given way to some of the finest vineyards in South Africa. Hamilton Russell Vineyards is listed in the top wine estates worldwide. Bouchard Finlayson has been winning accolades too.
It is a destination for serious winelovers and lovers of unspoilt countryside. There are places to eat – Moggs Country Cookhouse (Wed–Sun lunches) and Sumaridge Estate (daily lunches).
For a memorable country escape, close to all Hermanus has to offer, there's self-catering accommodation at Spookfontein, Coch-y-Bondhu Estate, Sumaridge and The Artist's House.
The Valley is very accessible now, unlike in the past. A new tar road extends through most of the Valley almost as far as Caledon.
The valley has not always been known for its picturesque and natural beauty. In the early 1800’s this marvellous corner of the world was a home for lepers.
Since early Biblical times leprosy was known by all as the most dreaded disease. There are references in 19 Chapters to lepers and leprosy in the Holy Bible.
Plans were drawn up for a hospital, and a residence for the then proposed medical officer. The tender to erect the buildings was awarded to Mr. George Nicol. Building commenced in 1820. The missionaries named the valley in their native Dutch: “Heaven in Earth”. Later the land was granted to J. F. Loubert and J.D. K. Reitz in 1847 by the Governor of the Cape Sir Henry Pottinger. It was however only in 1976 that the Hemel en Aarde Valley finally took a serious approach towards viticulture and serious wine making.
The famous Dr Barry
The first Medical Officer to take up residence at Hemel-en-Aarde was Dr. O’Flinn. Because of his neglect of the lepers, he was replaced by Dr James Barry. Barry was the principal medical officer of the Militia, and one of the most controversial figures in South African medical history. He performed the first Caesarean section at the Cape. After saving both mother and child, the only fee he requested was that the child be named after him.
Dr Barry recommended that lepers should bathe daily in sea water, hence the name “leper trail” over Fern Kloof. The Lepers had to cross this kloof in order for them to get from Hemel-en-Aarde to the sea.
On his death in London, on 25 July 1865, it was discovered that Dr Barry was in actual fact a woman.