The Majestic Mountains Embracing Val de Vie Estate

It’s impossible not to notice the mountain ranges that make up the backdrop of the views on Val de Vie Estate. These mountains are part of the Cape Fold Mountains, a 1,000km series of parallel ranges that run along the southwestern and southern coastlines of South Africa. With heights varying from a moderate 1,000m to 2,300m, the mountain chain consists of long parallel ranges separated by equally long valleys. Unlike other mountain ranges, they rise directly from the valley floors with no foothills, creating a dramatic landscape.

 The history of the Cape Fold Mountains is fascinating. They were formed between 510 to 330-350 million years ago when the Falkland Plateau collided with Southern Africa. As the continental plate on which Southern Africa is found drifted northwards, a rift was formed, which flooded, creating the shallow Agulhas Sea. The 8km thick sediments on the seabed formed the basis of the rocks now known as the Cape Supergroup rocks. Further pressure between the two plates closed the rift, and the edge of the Falklands plate was forced downwards, giving rise to the Cape Supergroup of mountains. The weight of the mountains caused the continental crust of Southern Africa to sag, into which the Karoo Supergroup sediments were deposited, which effectively buried the mountains.

 Despite being eroded over time, the Cape Fold Mountains still offer breathtaking scenery, and the 150-million-year-old-rivers that run through them create spectacular defiles and chasms that are characteristic of these mountains today. The Berg River, for example, is the drainage channel fed by the tributaries flowing from the surrounding mountains, bringing water from the mountain catchments and the soils that line the Paarl Valley.

 Val de Vie Estate is surrounded by a number of mountain ranges, each with its own unique history and characteristics. Groot Drakenstein, located east of the Estate and stretching from Franschhoek, is a notable example. Klein Drakenstein, situated to the south of Franschhoek with Victoria Peak (1,590m) as its highest point, is another.

Other notable mountains include Paarl Mountain, named ‘de Diamont en de Peerlberg’ (Diamond and Pearl Mountain) by Abraham Gabemma in 1657 due to its pale granite rock glistening in the sun after a rainstorm. Paardeberg was named after the Cape Mountain Zebra, which once wandered the mountain slopes across the Western Cape. Limietberg, the mountain range to the east of Val de Vie Estate, was named this because it was the limit of the Cape Colony, while Simonsberg was named after Simon van der Stel, Governor of the Cape Colony, who travelled to the area in 1679.

In addition to these mountain ranges, the local mountain passes are also worth exploring. Franschhoek Pass, originally called Olifantshoek (meaning Elephants Corner), was built by Lord Charles Somerset to facilitate easy access to the Overberg hunting grounds. This historic pass follows the seasonal migratory routes of elephants and can be observed from the road just before Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve.

Another well-known pass in the region is Du Toitskloof Pass, named after Francois du Toit, a 17th-century Huguenot settler. Bainskloof Pass, completed in 1854, was preferred over the Du Toitskloof Pass to reach the mountain’s interior. The pass is named after the Scottish military engineer Andrew Geddes Bain and is now a national monument within a natural heritage site. It is part of the Limietberg Nature Reserve and offers a glimpse into the region’s past.

One of the oldest passes is the Helshoogte Pass, built in 1854 between Stellenbosch and the mission settlement of Pniel. Waggoneers who used the pass named it, as the steep gradients and rudimentary brakes of heavy wagons made it quite taxing to traverse.