Apples galore

Trucks carrying consignments of apples are a common feature around Grabouw. Photo by Bright Shamu

Apples galore

Pink Lady, Top Red, Braeburn and more in the Elgin Valley

28 June 2021 | Tourism

Elgin, the “valley of apples”, produces 60% of South Africa's apple crop. This large, lush upland area of the Overberg Region lies just 70 kilometres southeast of Cape Town.

By Christina Rockstroh, Cape Town

It is a crisp sunny morning and nature has donned her dazzling autumn colours. Shades of yellow and red mingle with the evergreen of conifers. Orchards are everywhere, especially rows and rows of apple trees. The vast Elgin Valley, surrounded by mountains and nature reserves, is the largest single export-fruit producing area in southern Africa. South Africa’s apples are known and appreciated all over the world. More than 40% of its annual crop is exported. Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Royal Gala still top the list of favourite varieties.

Elgin is the home of Appletiser. The much-loved sparkling beverage of 100% apple-juice, without additives and preservatives, was launched by Edmond Lombardi in 1966. The first fruit trees in this area were introduced around 1898 and started an agricultural revolution, which had a profound effect on the development of Grabouw, the commercial centre of “apple country”. Today it is a sprawling town of some 30 000 inhabitants.

In more recent years the Elgin Valley has also become known for excellent wines. Viticulture and tourism are now significant contributors to the region’s economy. Elgin Valley Road combined with the northern part of Highlands Road makes for a beautiful circular route dotted with fruit farms, wine estates, restaurants and accommodation in an utterly tranquil rural atmosphere.

An unexpected discovery in Grabouw itself is the Elgin Railway Market, a former apple warehouse on the railway line, boasting some two dozen eateries, stalls and shops all under one roof. And what a roof it is: ornate cast-iron trusses constructed in the 1940's by Italian prisoners of war. Alas, this impressive place, which used to draw crowds from far and wide, is suffering the Corona-induced fate of so many businesses. Spectacular emptiness on weekdays, just one café open, waitrons ready for customers. The Ceres Rail Company’s steam train service that used to arrive from Cape Town on Saturdays, has been suspended until further notice.

On this Wednesday there is more life at Oude Molen Distillery on the other side of town. The brandy tasting and cellar tour are not to be missed.

Just once a year the Tru-Cape Heritage Orchard is open to the public. It is an opportunity to see and taste 26 apple varieties that are no longer commercially produced. Among them is the long-lost Witte Wijnappel, which as the name implies, was used for making apple wine. This variety was the first-ever apple picked in the Company Gardens in Cape Town in 1662.

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