Selecting an appropriate holiday read is perhaps one of the most important parts of my pre-trip preparation. Richard Dawkins' discussion on the hereafter made good reading in Hindu-heavy Bali, AA Gill kept me company on the Danube and Gregory David Roberts' 'Shantaram' (largely fictitious though it may be) is unbeatable on a long-haul flight.
But for a long weekend on the languid Breede River, glass of wine in hand and canoe tugging gently at the jetty? Well, it's hard to beat 'The Wind in the Willows': a classic celebration of life's simple joys; good food, friendship and the beauties of nature.
So with a well-thumbed early edition of Kenneth Grahame's 1908 classic tucked safely between the bottle opener and the braai-broodjies we tackled the road to Bonnievale on a busy Friday morning.
"After all," says Mole, "the best part of being on holiday is perhaps not so much to be resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working."
Bonnie-where I hear you ask? Well, that's exactly the point.
The Breede River valley has become a popular destination for Capetonians and up-country wanderers alike, thanks in no small part to the marketing of Route 62 through the winelands to Oudtshoorn. But while the wine-tasting day-trippers converge on Robertson to gorge themselves on the area's delicious reds, anyone with more time on their hands would do well to keep going for an extra 20 minutes to the 'dorpie' of Bonnievale.
Hang a right at Robertson and follow the Breede most of the way into town: a "sleek, sinuous full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh… all was a-shake and a-shiver – glints and gleams and sparkles."
Through the dusty main street, past the obligatory NG steeple and out the other side of town brings you, after a pasture and vineyard or two, to the wonderfully named Peet-se-Plek.
The 'peet-oom' (godfather) has since passed on down the river, but the cottages on Jan and Maretha van der Merwe's farm Merwespont are still very much a family affair.
Peet's is a simple place; comfortable enough for a country bolthole and with few frills to push up the price. Besides, you'll spend most of your time outdoors on the wooden deck overlooking the river. The deck faces west, the braai faces west, the view of the vineyards stretches to the horizon. Do you need any more reasons to be here at sunset?
It was so very beautiful that the Mole could only hold up both fore-paws and gasp, "O my! O my! O my!"
"But isn't it a bit dull at times?" the Mole ventured to ask. "Just you and the river, and no one else to pass a word with?"
Well, your days can be as half-empty or half-full as you like. If watching the river head seawards is a little sedate, the cottage has its own canoe for a leisurely paddle or you can cast a line for Black Bass, Eel and Carp. The river is teeming with them. Allegedly.
The valley is also home to 10 wine estates and two major cheese producers so it's no wonder the brochure proclaims it "the valley of cheese and wine."
It's typical of this laid-back corner of the winelands. Low on glitz and marketing-speak and big on the simple country way of life. It's an ideal getaway for anyone looking for a quiet escape that will, with any luck, remain unchanged forever; like the wind in the willows.
IF YOU GO…
Where it is: Outside Bonnievale, off the R317.
Why go there: Live out your Huckleberry Finn fantasies at this tucked away riverside escape. Just you, the braai tongs and Old Man Breede.
What it offers: Beds for six people in three bedrooms. Small kitchen and indoor braai for those occasional rainy days, but in summer you'll live out on the deck. There's a small patch of grass too, but keep an eye on small kids as there's a steep slope down to the river.
What it's like: More like Water Rat's comfy cottage than the palatial Toad Hall, but perfect for those who prefer character over mod-cons.
And the food: It's self-catering all the way, although Heidi at the Merwestein Farm Kitchen next door can whip up a no-nonsense dinner of old Cape favourites on request.
What there is to see on the way: The vineyards of R62 are your oyster. Take a slow (and sober, with a designated driver!) wander through the vinous delights of the Robertson wineries. For a round trip back to Cape Town head home on the N2.
Rates: A bargain at just R100 per person per night, with a minimum of R400 for the cottage. For long weekends the minimum tariff is R600/cottage/night.
Getting there: Follow the N1 and R60 to Robertson. Turn onto the R317 for 36 kilometres and follow the signs. Or call for directions.
Contact: Telephone 023 616 3151 or email
. Visit www.peet-se-plek.co.za for more information.
It may be overshadowed by the local NG Kerk, but the story behind the Norman-style Mary Myrtle Rigg Church makes it well-worth a visit. Her father, Christopher Forrest Rigg, was a successful businessman and landowner who laid the foundations for the present-day town of Bonnievale.
As Myrtle lay dying of meningitis in 1911 she asked her father to build her a church so that Bonnievale would be considered a 'proper' town. Her grief-stricken father kept his promise and in 1921 the small church was built of local sandstone in her favourite playground, a lucerne field near her home where she lay buried.
The modest church boasts stained glass windows from England, an Italian marble floor and a door shipped in from Zanzibar. Keep an eye out for the statue of Mary Myrtle at the entrance. In the background is a rose tree with seven roses, depicting the seven years of her life. Ask for keys and direction at the tourist information bureau (023 616 3563) in the Main Road.
» This article originally appeared in the Sunday Times, 9 November 2008.