There’s something marvelously European about quaffing fine wine on a sun-drenched terrace admiring views of towering mountain peaks and distant vineyards.
Indeed, if I were to half close my eyes I could easily be in the Loire Valley, but the truth is perhaps somewhat stranger than that fiction, because I am very much in Africa … In the heart of the Cape winelands, to be precise – at one of South Africa’s most awarded wine estates – Spier.
Yes. It’s not exactly a safari destination, I know, even though its much lauded cheetah and raptor outreach and education centres are doing sterling conservation work.
But its ethics and its commitment to protecting the environment make it very much compatible with the deep-seated love of wild places. And could teach more than a few game lodges I know a thing or two about going green!
Spier is most definitely far from average. Its wines are outstanding, as is its sprawling 4-star hotel, constructed in a quaint, village-like manner around the heart of the estate.
Its organic restaurant Eight is also beyond compare, as is its deli and cuisine… but it’s the fact that Spier is an undisputed pioneer in responsible tourism that makes it truly outstanding.
One of the first tourism destinations in the country to be accredited by Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa, Spier has quietly led the way forward in its commitment to people and planet for the past decade, taking huge strides forward in the process.
All of which makes a visit to Spier, no matter how short, extremely special, knowing that you are contributing to something which is making a real difference in the lives of the local communities and finding innovative ways to reduce the effects of global warming.
The hotel rooms are specially designed to be heat efficient, and all of the water on the estate – be it your shower water, or the washing up water in the kitchens – is recycled using state-of-the-art technology and mother nature!
Spier recycles 92% of what it uses.That’s a staggering amount for a sprawling wine estate and upmarket hotel-cum-resort. And a testament to what can be achieved when heart and soul are applied together.
Spier produces 900,000 cases of wine each year. All with recycled water, using just 2,6 litres of water to make 1 litre of wine, whereas most small, independent wine farms use 5,6 litres of water for each litre of wine.
Its laundry has been outsourced to members of the local community who have found clever ways to save water and reduce the amounts of detergent and bleach used in the process.
Spier employs a biokineticist to help staff become healthier, and in the formidable Mama Ida Mbele those same staff have a nursing sister, therapist, life coach and mentor rolled into one!
But all of these and its other amazing achievements go under the radar, and certainly, from a visitor’s point of view, are not used to “guilt” anyone into making significant changes in their own carbon footprints.
Far from it, in fact. Whether it’s taking a picnic from the deli and finding a perfect spot by the lake to enjoy it, or staying for a few days at the hotel and relaxing by the pool in between activities, the accent is on soaking up the atmosphere and history of the place.
Exploring the farm on horseback, for example, offers the chance to appreciate the true beauty of the estate. Visits can also be arranged to the water treatment plant as well as the recycling centre and local communities. There’s also a spa on the premises, as well as a sprawling craft market.
You don’t have to be “green” to visit Spier, but you definitely leave the place a lot “greener” than when you arrived!