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Babylonstoren Hammam – a modern take on an ancient tradition

Early spring is a wonderful time to be in Istanbul – it is not too hot – or crowded. I was determined to experience an authentic Turkish bath in this extraordinary city straddling the Orient and Occident.

On returning to South Africa and waxing lyrical about it, somebody happened to mention that if I wanted another Turkish bath experience  I need not fly to Istanbul – especially in the light of recent terrorist attacks – but could instead drive up the N1 to Babylonstoren, which is exactly what I did.

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The entrance to the Hammam in Istanbul

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The entrance to the Babylonstoren Hammam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nowadays, international visitors who are prepared to pay top dollar to stay in 5 star hotels, almost expect there to be a spa on hand. I must say after an international flight there are few things that transport and transcend one out of the daily grind and into an enhanced sense of wellbeing than a spa treatment.

My Babylonstoren Hammam, or Turkish bath experience, in their recently renovated spa, and the authentic one in Istanbul were quite different and yet equally pleasurable.

Arriving on a cold, grey, overcast, rainy day the idea of sitting in a hot steam-filled room and being given various water rituals was heaven. My BFF and I – always good to conduct research – especially of this kind – with a girlfriend – walked through the glorious garden with a few pale pink blossoms making an early appearance. On arrival at reception we were invited to go to the Change Rooms and get into white towelling robes. After a brief wait in the Recovery Room, we made our way across to the Hammam which is situated in a custom built area.

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Whilst the Hammam I visited in Istanbul was built in 1777 and had been run by the same family for more than a century, the Babylonstoren Hammam was built in 2013. I’m all for ancient culture but I did so enjoy the sparkling clean, modern and uber stylish feel of the Babylonstoren spa.

Revisiting my Istanbul Turkish bath experience, which my husband and I did together, once we were undressed we were led into the Hammam featuring a heated marble slab where we were instructed to lie. I must admit I felt a bit like I was being slowly poached. In Turkey we were then taken off to separate areas to be scrubbed, and then given a bubble bath. In her broken English my Turkish attendant said as she was shampooing my hair ‘I am your mama, you are my baby! Quite intense I admit, but still I felt like a three year old again! It was incredibly relaxing and we were served traditional apple tea in the central area, before enjoying an aromatic massage by Anna from Armenia. Heaven.

Back to the Babylonstoren Hammam where we took turns having our treatment by Nazlie who made us feel completely at home. Whilst in Istanbul my female attendant was naked but for tiny bikini pants, Nazlie was however suitably covered. Traditionally, Hammam treatments are performed separately according to gender but this is not the case at the Babylonstoren Hammam. The heated marble table accommodates one and we took turns receiving various water rituals, from scrubbing with a Turkish glove and then being washed down and my best – a bubble bath. The atmosphere of the gorgeous blue mosaic tiled Babylonstoren Hamman is very intimate – womb-like in fact with lots of female energy.

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The modern, stylish interior of the Babylonstoren Hammam

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Beautiful copper basin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After being washed down and soaped and literally ‘tubbed and scrubbed’ we enjoyed fresh apple slices from the Babylonstoren trees. It was a modern take on an ancient tradition but well worth the drive into the Cape Winelands and something I would highly recommend to literally wash away the stresses of everyday life.

Disclosure: The Hammam experience was complimentary and I received a gift of a bottle of wine and the Babel cookbook.

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Mark Dendy-Young – climbing new heights with Cape Elevation Vineyards.

There is an excellent book entitled ‘Halftime’ by Bob Buford which looks at mid-life and comes to the conclusion that the game of life is won in the second half.

I recently drove out to Franschhoek to meet up with Mark Dendy-Young, previously of La Petite Ferme, to find out what he is doing in his second half?

When I first met ‘’Dendles’’ during our UCT days he sported a mischievous smile and gorgeous blonde curls. Though his hairstyle has changed, he still has a twinkle in his eye and the gift of hospitality – a necessary trait if you have been in charge of running La Petite Ferme for more than two decades.

For twenty years Mark and his wife Jo, together with their staff, built up La Petite Ferme from a tearoom started by Mark’s parents to the much loved and popular restaurant and boutique hotel that it is today. It is a year since the sale went through to foreign owners in October 2015.

After two decades of eating, living and sleeping the brand, the Dendy-Youngs cashed out, retiring at the top of their game. I asked them if they missed those extraordinary views. Mark candidly confesses that it was those views that up until very recently represented stress – and yet now having sold he is able to look at the mountains and in fact name his new wines with a mountain feature.

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A relaxed Mark Dendy-Young at home enjoying his new wine

Time for a Change

Last year it was time for a change and whilst no longer running the farm, Mark, a self-trained winemaker and his wife Jo are still living in Franschhoek and turning their hands to their own wine label, Cape Elevation Vineyards.

All the fruit, namely Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir grapes, come from Elgin where the Sauvignon Blanc ripens only in March.

Journey into Winemaking

Mark started off studying a B SOC Science at UCT. In his 20’s his biggest regret was that he had not become a winemaker. In 1994, at the age of 29, with no formal training he approached the bank for finances to build a cellar. Amazingly they gave it to him.  When the cellar was built in 1996, he started on his self-taught winemaking journey and has just completed his 20th vintage – 19 of which were at La Petite Ferme.

Female Mentors

Gerda van Zyl was a wonderful mentor to him and now another female Catherine Marshall, is collaborating with a guiding hand in this new wine venture. As Mark is quick to point out the wine fraternity/sorority has been an amazingly generous and supportive network.

Fire of 1996

The ‘big fire’ of 1996 devastated the Franschhoek valley and burnt down everything at La Petite Ferme – except the cellar. This was the same year in which Mark’s Sauvignon Blanc was awarded Gold and his Blanc Fume Double Gold at the Veritas competition – not bad for a self-taught winemaker. As his wife Jo pipes up, Mark has an extraordinary palate and is very humble about his achievements, having been named Producer of the Year in 2012 by Michelangelo and sitting on various wine judging panels.

Together this couple is forging ahead in a new venture and partnership where Jo, with her artistic and stylish eye, has helped design the beautiful label for the Cape Elevation Vineyards wines. Elegant and stylish, the subtle labels represent the fine lines from maps marking out elevations on a map.

Trig Beacon Pinot Noir

Trig Beacon Pinot Noir

Contour Path Sauvignon Blanc

Contour Path Sauvignon Blanc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The expression ‘we had a blank canvas’ comes up a lot in our conversation. At Cape Elevation Vineyards Mark is now free to concentrate solely on making wine. It has been a recalibration having gotten used to operating at such high stress levels for so many years. Now after 20 vintages, Mark is aware that he has the experience to share, give back and mentor keen young students who call him ‘Oom’ in the supermarket!

So what are the wines of Cape Elevation Vineyards like?

Mark Dendy-Young tasting his newly bottled Pinot Noir

Mark Dendy-Young tasting his newly bottled Pinot Noir

I had the privilege of being the first wine journalist/blogger to taste the two wines of Cape Elevation Vineyards, which had just been bottled.

The reason for the name is obvious in that the wines are sourced from elevated vineyards with high altitude. These wines are a clear reflection of their terroir. Vinification of the separate clones has taken place and in the Pinot Noir the separate clays and soils from where the respective blocks come from have been reflected.

Because Pinot Noir is a new journey for Mark, Cathy Marshall’s influence and mentorship has been much valued. The cellar has recently moved to Stellenbosch to a cellar high up against the Helderberg – with the grapes being brought over the pass from Shannon Vineyards.

Sauvignon Blanc 2015

The colour reminds me of the cover of the song by Eva Cassidy’s song Field of Gold – pale winter sunshine. The bouquet is fruity – a wonderful heady mixture of figs and ripe pear. There is 7% Semillon which softens any acidity. Only 2nd and 3rd fill French oak has been used. Whilst it is a delicate fruit salad on the nose there is sherbet in the aftertaste and anticipated crispness as well as great mouthfeel. I loved it. Alcohol is 13.5%

Pinot Noir 2015

The colour is perfect. Deep rose velvet with a tinge of crimson. The wine spends 9 months in 2nd fill French Oak. Vineyards are situated in Sandstone and Clay. There is cherry on the nose – I could imagine it being perfectly paired with duck or an 8 hour lamb served slightly chilled. Again there is a richness of fruit – it is incredibly quaffable.

Only 3600 bottles of each varietal of Cape Elevation Vineyards wines have been produced. This is high–end sought after boutique wine by a winemaker with the luxury of not being desperate to sell his wines and are available to buy through their website.

Recently both wines from Cape Elevation Vineyards received Gold Awards in the latest Vitis Vinifera wine competition.

Disclosure: I was given a gift pack of each wine.

Poodle by Craft Artist beader Mantephise Maphaka

The Bo-Kaap and Church Street – Where Creativity and Social Entrepreneurship Meet

Cape Town is buzzing with creative flair and I so love introducing tourists from all over the world to a taste of local South African arts, crafts and unique home-grown creativity in the Bo-Kaap and Church Street. Coupled with a dose of social entrepreneurship it is a winning combination.

So often time is limited, but two hours spent browsing these special discoveries in the centre of Cape Town is a transporting and inspiring experience. The first stop is Monkeybiz, which is dedicated to reviving the tradition of African beadwork whilst providing employment.

Some of the wonderful Monkeybiz creations.

Some of the wonderful Monkeybiz creations.

You might wonder what well-known US designer Donna Karan and the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York have in common with women beading in Cape Town townships. Climb the steps of the Rocksole building opposite Atlas Trading in the Bo-Kaap and enter into a magical world of brightly beaded whimsical characters to find out. The brainchild of the late ceramicist, Barbara Jackson and Shirley Fintz, Monkeybiz started in 1999 when one of their students, Mathapelo Ngaka asked her mother, a bead artist, to make a unique bead doll. Today this empowering project has over 300 active beaders on its register. The name came about when they were ‘monkeying’ around – But Monkeybiz is in fact a serious business changing the lives of hundreds of families on the Cape Flats. When you pop into the showroom you are warmly welcomed and invited to view the DVD showing the Monkeybiz journey. Many a foreign guest moved by the project has been more than happy to buy a memento and thus support this worthwhile initiative. Back to the American designers who recognising the value of this project and the ancient craft of beading have collaborated in various ways to showcase Monkeybiz products to the world.

Owner Michael Chandler in his gallery @ Chandler House is always happy to chat.

Owner Michael Chandler in his gallery @ Chandler House is always happy to chat.

Michael Chandler of Chandler House features in Elbe Coetsee’ s absolute must-have ‘bible’ of ‘Craft Art in South Africa – Creative Intersections’ as one of the new designers to watch. Pop into his magical Chandler House at 53 Church Street described as ‘a small Design Studio, Antique Shop & Art Gallery that Celebrates the Old and New, Rare and Beautiful’ and you will be sure to find something creative inspired by our heritage and living in this part of the world. His VOC – Dutch East India Company inspired designs and the fantastic Cakes of Good Soap make brilliant gifts. Apart from the quirky play on words – and most tourists do make it to the Cape of Good Hope – the soaps are fashioned by a backyard entrepreneur making a living and is a feel good story. Michael himself is often to be found in his store and always happy to chat.

Meandering along you will find SMITH Studio at 56 Church Street with wonderful exhibitions highlighting local South African talent. The space is manageable to navigate and offers a fresh insight into the local fine art scene. You might be lucky enough to have Curator Amy Ellenbogen give you a personal tour on what is currently showing.

SMITH Studio is a great modern space. Photo Credit: SMITH, Kate McLuckie photographer

SMITH Studio is a great modern space. Photo Credit: SMITH, Kate McLuckie photographer

Next stop heading down Church Street on the left is The Gallery Shop – managed by the lady who used to run the gift shop at the South African National Gallery. She has a great selection of unique quality gifts personally chosen and the story behind which she is happy to share. Whether it be real ostrich shell bead necklaces fashioned by the Bushmen themselves or handmade jewellery, accessories and artefacts from all over the country, much of it made by women, you will find it difficult to leave, and it will definitely not be empty-handed!

A coffee is called for and there are plenty of good options in this part of town including Doppio Zero which is just next to the Mandela Rhodes atrium – the perfect place to rest weary tourist legs and take a visual tour of Nelson Mandela’s life whilst sitting in comfortable sofas.

Situated on the pedestrian zone of St George’s Mall step back in time and have a quick squiz into the expansive and elegant lobby of the gorgeous Taj Hotel and former Reserve Bank building – the staff are terribly friendly and the bathrooms are worth checking out.

Last but not least is a visit to the Mogalakwena Craft Art Gallery at number 3 Church Street which was established in 2008. Step into this quiet space and be astounded by this leader in social entrepreneurship, the local craftsmanship and beautiful products. Elbe Coetsee is a truly inspiring woman and her book on Craft Art in South Africa is well researched and beautifully published. In mid-life she completed a PhD which focussed on the demographic characteristics and entrepreneurial attitudes of craft artists in South Africa. The foundation she started in 1994 in Limpopo where she also has a guest lodge and Artist’s retreat aims to provide training and employment in craft art for unemployed people who produce beadwork, candles, basketry and pottery.

Craft Art in South Africa by Elbe Coetsee

Craft Art in South Africa by Elbe Coetsee

A two hour meander from the Bo-Kaap down Church Street filled with inspiring stories and beautiful craft is something no visitor to the heart of Cape Town, local or foreign, should miss out on.

The authentic South African pairing of red wine and biltong at Marianne's wine estate

Perfect Food and Wine Pairings in the Cape Winelands (enter to WIN!)

In the Cape winelands February is a busy month. Harvest is in full swing and the December break is a distant memory. However, thanks to Valentine’s Day, love is in the air and nothing beats the perfect combination of spending the day with a significant other in the beautiful Cape winelands.  Another winning formula is food and wine pairings.

Most of us are familiar with cheese and wine pairings and even chocolate and wine has become somewhat ordinary, but there are a host of new and exciting pairings springing up all over the Cape winelands to tempt your taste buds and help you experience wine in a whole new way.

Not only is February in the Cape busy but it is hot with temperatures in the mid-30s.  How cool then is Clos Malverne in Stellenbosch’s unique ice-cream and wine pairing where handmade gourmet ice-creams with exotic flavours are paired with their delicious wines. The wine and ice-cream pairing includes 4 wines starting with Kiwi fruit & chili ice cream paired with Clos Malverne Sauvignon Blanc and ending with Pineapple, coconut and mint ice cream paired with Clos Malverne’s Honey Dew – a delicious Chenin Blanc sweet wine. Not only does Clos Malverne have a spa but now one can also overnight on the estate.

Clos Malverne's unique ice-cream and wine pairings

Clos Malverne’s unique ice-cream and wine pairings

Delheim in Stellenbosch, was a founding member of the first wine route in the country. This estate offers a cupcake and wine pairing which captured my imagination. Whilst cupcakes are a little girl’s indulgence, paired with grown-up wine it is a ‘naughty but nice’ experience. How yummy does a Rooibos cupcake infused with lemon and topped with a cream cheese and honey icing paired with the Delheim Chenin Blanc Wild Ferment sound? Because the cupcakes are freshly baked each day pre-booking is required.

Delheim's decadent wine and cupcake pairing

Delheim’s decadent wine and cupcake pairing

 

In Stellenbosch, Marianne’s wine estate offers a biltong and wine pairing and you can’t get more South African than this! Guests are treated to 5 wines paired with three different types of biltong including Springbok and Pinotage; Kudu and Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz and then beef with their flagship Bordeaux blend, Floreal. A brasserie bearing the same name has recently opened on the estate.

The authentic South African pairing of red wine and biltong at Marianne's wine estate

The authentic South African pairing of red wine and biltong at Marianne’s wine estate

Fleur Du Cap – Salt and Wine pairing – at first thoughts one would think ‘yuk’ but South African Chef Craig Cormack has a fascination with gourmet salt (more than 161 of them) and in collaboration with Fleur du Cap has put together a unique tasting of 5 wines paired with tapas style offerings infused with specific salts. How exotic, and dare I say erotic, does unfiltered Chardonnay together with Black Larvae salt from Hawaii infused in a green olive tapenade sound or Cabernet with Khoisan flakes from the West Coast and sundried tomatoes and mature Gouda?

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Fleur du Cap’s original salt and wine pairings

Benguela Cove located on the Bot River Lagoon near Hermanus offers an unusual Liquid Gold Millionaire Pairing. Their Noble Late Harvest is paired with Millionaire’s Shortbread with a dark chocolate and gold leaf – described as ‘’A multi-textured caramel delight which highlights the sweetness of the wine. The crunchy shortbread base, soft caramel filling and cold, crisp chocolate topping creates a sensually delicious flavour explosion.’ Yum!

The delicious pairing of Millionaire's Shortbread with Benguela Cove's Liquid Gold

The delicious pairing of Millionaire’s Shortbread with Benguela Cove’s Liquid Gold

Creation wine estate in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley has always been at the forefront of wine pairing and over the years won many accolades for their food and wine pairings including one for Innovation by the Great Wine Capitals Network. Their tapas and wine pairing is the most popular and they are now focussing on drawing attention to herbs grown on the estate complementing their wines, such as mint and Merlot, chervil and Sauvignon Blanc and basil and Chardonnay.  According to innovative owner Carolyn Martin “At Creation we have always believed that what grows together goes together. Now that our herb garden is coming into its own it is just such a pleasure to match the fruit from our vineyards with the produce of our garden”.

Creation Wine's popular tapas and wine pairings

Creation Wine’s popular tapas and wine pairings

For a special Valentine’s month date why not combine a feast of pairings to create a truly memorable day.

Vindigo Travel is running a competition to win a selection of perfect wine pairings for two.

How to enter:

Follow Vindigo Travel on twitter and/or like our FaceBook page or if you already follow us leave a comment to automatically be entered into this competition.

Terms and Conditions:

Competition runs from 14 to 29 February 2016

You can only enter once

You must be over 18 years of age

The first correctly completed entry to be drawn randomly will win the prize

The prize includes a wine tasting experience for two at the following vineyards –

  • Benguela Cove: A Liquid Gold Millionaire’s tasting for two to be redeemed at either our Benguela Cove or Benguela on Main venues.
  • Delheim: Wine and Cupcake pairing for two;
  • Clos Malverne: Wine and Ice-cream pairing for two;
  • Marianne: Wine and Biltong pairing for two

The prize excludes transport to and from the tastings

Tastings are subject to availability and must be arranged directly with the vineyard within stipulated time period

The winner will be notified by twitter and/or FaceBook

 

All images by kind courtesy of wine farms.

 

Enjoying a full mouthed rose at Singita

Wine Safaris around the Cape Winelands and Beyond

Throughout my childhood I had the privilege of visiting the Timbivati – of white lion fame – for a long weekend each July.  One of the things I remember most were the ‘booze cruises’ through the bush at sunset. After a lazy afternoon snooze – no doubt aided by plenty of vino at lunch – we would climb into the back of the Land rover, which had been plentifully stocked with all manner of drinks – to go and spot animals and enjoy an African sunset whilst the grown-ups drank a chilly Sauvignon Blanc, cold beer or G & T in the great outdoors with more than a hint of danger in the rapidly falling dusk.

All grown up, twenty years later, a girlfriend and I – my research partner in wine – are sampling what is on offer in the Cape of Good Hope in the form of ‘Wine Safaris’. Two of the farms which we visited together, namely Waterford Estate and Warwick offer very different but equally enjoyable experiences.

To be perfectly fair Waterford Estate calls their 4 x 4 experience where one tastes the different varietals in the vineyards where they are grown- a Wine Drive – but it is the whole notion of being on the back of an open vehicle with a full cool box and a handsome game driver – oops – wine guide – which evokes very happy ‘’Safari –like’’ memories.

Signing indemnity forms whilst quaffing MCC!

Signing indemnity forms whilst quaffing MCC!

Beautiful scenery whilst on the Waterford Estate wine drive

Beautiful scenery whilst on the Waterford Estate wine drive

On arrival at Waterford we were greeted by our affable and highly informative host currently completing his Masters in Geotechnical engineering – think ‘Google Earth’. Whilst quaffing a glass of Villiera bubbly in the elegant courtyard, we happily signed our indemnity forms before a personal tour of the cellar. Once we had admired the impressive barrel cellar we got into the 4 x 4 which can take 10 people. Being a somewhat chilly day we were grateful for the personal blankets. Heading into the vineyards the most gorgeous vistas unfolded. We enjoyed the view of the whole Lion, not just its head crouching beside Table Mountain. We stopped next to a small lake and as our guide laid out the white tablecloth and crusty sourdough bread with estate olive oil, it was the attention to detail which impressed. He went and picked some local fynbos herbs to accompany our tasting of the white wines – Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Next stop was high up in the vineyards where we sampled the superb red wines which this farm produces. No need for lunch what with the generous bowls of droe wors and biltong as well as green olives and cashew nuts. Returning to the elegant tasting room, we were not disappointed to finish off on a sweet note with the renowned chocolate wine pairings in front of a crackling fire. What a treat – see Waterford to book.

Savouring white wine in the Waterford Vineyard

Savouring white wine in the Waterford vineyard

Delicious olives, olive oil and sourdough bread at Waterford Estate

Delicious olives, olive oil and sourdough bread

Heading past Stellenbosch we arrived for our next wine safari experience at Warwick which is a destination winery par excellence. Very child friendly and offering something for every member of the family, Warwick has captured an extremely loyal and growing customer base. Less bespoke (and more pocket –friendly on the wallet) our wine safari was casual and enjoyable. Our guide set off into the vineyards in a safari vehicle stopping off along the way to compare different varietals to different members of the traditional Big Five. It was fun and educational and we both learned something whilst enjoying the ride on the 4 x 4! The views at the top were amazing – 360 % and encompassing Paarl Rock, Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Cape Town. We stopped at the private viewing area which can be hired out – what a place for a celebration- and were given a glass of Warwick’s flagship red ‘’The First Lady’’ named after owner Norma Ratcliffe who was the first female wine maker in South Africa .

Good wine and views on wine safari at Warwick

Excellent wine and views on wine safari at Warwick

Warwick wine safari

Warwick wine safari 4×4 vehicle

Avondale near Paarl also offers an eco-Wine Safari. Having heard of the special white ducks responsible for keeping the vineyards snail – free I was curious to see them in action and experience what is on offer. The spectacular view of Paarl Rock is what grabs one initially on this peaceful family owned estate. After being greeted at the door to the tasting room adorned with landscapes by Scats Esterhuyse and enjoying their delicious MCC which has just won several international awards, I was invited to step onto the back of their bakkie. Memories flooded back of being a little girl growing up in the old Transvaal and visiting my oupa and granny on their farm near Swartruggens. I like the fact that whilst there is a very swish tasting room and cellar door experience – guests can be taken up into the lands to see where Nature is abundantly at work on this biodynamic estate. The ducks are very cute in their duck mobile and do invaluable work whilst having the weekends off!

Like the excellent wines it produces, the reputation of this estate is growing organically and now that Matt Manning of One Ingredient is providing the lunch platters visitors are assured a gourmet experience.

Duck Mobile at Avondale

Duck Mobile at Avondale – an eco way to keep the vineyards snail free!

Caelli on Eco Wine Safari

The delicious Anima Chenin Blanc

If you are looking for a real Wine Safari and more authentic experience then join the legendary Peter Finlayson of Bouchard-Finlayson fame and wildlife photographer David Rogers on a 6-night safari to Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park organised through Robin Pope Safaris. After a full day of game watching and photography, Peter will introduce his wines over a delicious bush meal. See here for details.

Another option is Wildphoto Safaris who have been running Wine & Wildebeest Migration safaris every year since 2006 with various luminaries in the South African wine industry. Upmarket safaris attract clientele in a certain wealth bracket who tend to enjoy good wines so the wine safari concept is a great fit. During the day guests are given guidance and tuition in the finer aspects of wildlife photography by guides knowledgeable about the flora and fauna, photography, and of course wine! Come evening and the focus shifts to around the campfire for a tasting of a few pre-dinner wines before a candle-lit dinner is served accompanied by several flights of wines. These can be comparative tastings, verticals or even comprise a few “mystery wines” from a selection brought by the guests. For more details see www.wildphotossafaris.com

Many clients rave about Boulders Singita and the truly exceptional cellar that stocks top South African wine. There can be few things in life as satisfying as drinking regional wine in beautiful natural surroundings and the sights and sounds of the bush only add to the experience. Wine safaris are a unique way to experience the best of what Africa has to offer.

The impressive cellar at Boulders Singita

The impressive cellar at Boulders Singita

 

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Family Friendly Farms in the Constantia Valley

The very name Constantia evokes the old world and the weight of history. Constantia is experiencing a new flurry of activity as it reinvents its wine tourism offering to cater to guests, young and old. Across the board what is on offer is of a consistently high standard, to be expected in this verdant valley, home of old money in the Cape.

The Red Hop on Hop off buses have introduced scores to the delights of the winelands right on Cape Town city’s doorstep. Those to benefit most have been Groot Constantia, Beau Constantia and Eagle’s Nest where the London-style buses stop off.

Red hop on hop off buses make visiting the Constantia Wine Route easy for all

Red hop on hop off buses make visiting the wine route easy for all

Starting off at Eagle’s Nest owned by the Mylrea family, the fresh ‘Little Eagle ‘Rosé is the perfect breakfast wine. For young families it is hard to beat the picture perfect dell surrounded by established trees to the left of the tasting room. Because it is a boutique family-owned winery, it is highly likely that you will encounter a member of the family helping out in the tasting room.

The venue is very popular on weekends when families – including well-behaved dogs – can come and spend the day enjoying the peaceful ambiance and one of the many platters and picnic options on offer. By special arrangement one can enjoy – at a price – a trip up to the highest vineyards with jaw –dropping views in the farm’s rustic 4 x 4.  Under the leadership of winemaker, Stuart Botha, Eagle’s Nest Shiraz has secured the accolade ‘Best Shiraz in the world’. During a private tutored tasting only possible through booking a private wine tour with guide – we enjoyed the 2015 Sauvignon Blanc – yet to be released, made from 30 year old bush vines from the Darling area. Well known for their Viognier, the 2014 did not disappoint. The 2011 Merlot, which was bottled in 2013, with its delicious savoury meatiness reflecting the minerality and iron from the granite block was my favourite.

The Eagle's Nest relaxed tasting room and picnic venue

The Eagle’s Nest relaxed tasting room and picnic venue

Constantia Uitsig is home to the flattest vineyards in this valley. Formerly home to the old River Café, La Colombe and the Constantia Uitsig hotel, loyal past customers to these old Cape Town institutions have had to adjust to the changes. The new owners are now establishing a new destination winery.

Jacques Du Plessis is the new winemaker who performs an impressive sabrage on the Uitsig MCC. The new mountain bike park is already in operation even though parts are still under construction. Plans to build a coffee barn serving coffee and pastry from the Open Door restaurant are in the offing as is a picnic area near a little dam planted with Fynbos banks.

A new green cellar on the estate will produce its own wines on site. Another great wine tourism idea is a public vineyard where members of the public can come and pick Hanepoort grapes.

Although I was an ardent fan of The River Cafe, I like the new Open Door restaurant with its hands on owner and great decor. They have a brilliant Children’s menu with mains such as Spaghetti with pea sauce, crispy bacon and Parmesan. Their cookies and steamed milk dessert also looks good.

Their standout white wine is the white blend with Semillon making up 70 % and Sauvignon Blanc 30%, a reversal of the traditional percentages, although their Chardonnay Reserve 2013 with ripe pineapple notes was a close second.

The newly opened Open Door Restaurant at Constantia Uitsig

The newly opened Open Door Restaurant at Constantia Uitsig

At the top of the Constantia  Valley is boutique wine farm, Beau Constantia. It boasts awesome views across the valley, towards the Stellenbosch Mountains in the distance and False Bay and has on-site the Sushi Box restaurant. There is a grassy amphitheater perfect for kids to play in whilst the adults sip delicious wines and imagine themselves as extras in a James Bond movie! All in all a visit to the Constantia valley offers a brilliant and accessible escape from city living and its accompanying stresses. The Constantia Wine Route comprising 10 farms offers something for every age and persuasion. From fine dining to picnics, wine-tasting to bike-riding, it is an exciting destination open to everyone and well worth visiting. For private tours please contact melissa@vindigotravel.com

The modern Beau Constantia tasting room with breathtaking views

The modern Beau Constantia tasting room with breathtaking views

 

 

The exclusive Melkkamer Manor House

Cold Gin and Hot Chocolate – a Whale of a Weekend at the Tip of Africa

In Africa, there is an easy answer to the question ‘Would you like a Gin and Tonic?’, but when it is a local artisanal brew from up the coast at Stilbaai and is graciously offered with a twist of bright orange peel in a sublime setting, it is an even easier answer.

Inverouche Verdant Gin from Stillbaai

Inverroche Verdant Gin from Stillbaai

And so the tone was set for three days during a recent long weekend at the end of Winter, flirting with Spring, as we drove through fluorescent Canola fields down to stay at the De Hoop Collection – a unique and memorable place situated in a nature reserve near the tip of Africa.

Wine Country

We stopped for lunch at the wine farm Gabrielskloof in the Overberg – over Sir Lowry’s Pass past Hermanus. We shared a quality charcuterie and local goat’s cheese platter, accompanied by home-made bread and olive oil off the farm. The signature Magdalena wine, a Sauvignon- Semillon blend was the perfect accompaniment – not to mention the gorgeous views encompassing countless Blue Crane’s – South Africa’s elegant national bird.

Fynbos Country

In Bredasdorp we had a whistle-stop tour to admire the spectacular display of vynbos including mountains of proteas at the local showgrounds as part of the Cape Floral Kingdom expo.
Four hours after leaving Cape Town, including an half an hour on a good gravel road from Bredasdorp, our group of 6 girlfriends arrived at the De Hoop Collection situated in a nature reserve managed by Cape Nature overlooking the Indian Ocean and teeming with whales.

The exclusive Melkkamer Manor House

The exclusive Melkkamer Manor House

Melkkamer across the De Hoop vlei

Melkkamer across the De Hoop vlei

 

 

 

 

 

Entrepreneur and owner of the De Hoop Collection, William Stephens has a friendly, avuncular disposition and it is clear his staff like and respect him. A hands on owner, his staff know what is expected and rise to the occasion. He clearly invests in his staff and it shows. They proudly engage with guests about what training courses they have recently been sent on or completed. Nothing is too much hassle for the staff – from the personal chef, to the manager, housekeeper, guide and driver we were extremely well looked after.

The friendly and competent staff at De Hoop will look after you well.

The friendly and competent staff at De Hoop

De Hoop is an organic project – growing and developing. A spa is about to be added to the complex overlooking the large De Hoop vlei where a flotilla of Pelicans happily while away their days fishing.

The three days spent at De Hoop were filled with excellent food, wine, fun outdoor excursions and plenty of time to rest and soak up the tranquil atmosphere. On numerous occasions I found myself sighing – exhaling really – the stresses of city life in an atmosphere of complete peace. Nature’s balm was working her magic. The house we stayed in Melkkamer is the most exclusive and we experienced the fully catered option. Sitting down to a 3 course meal the first night, we were treated to local wines from Strandveld – the Southernmost winery in Africa, Black Oystercatcher and Sjinn wines owned by David Trafford and situated close by on the banks of the Breede River.

Breakfast spread

Breakfast spread

Delicious picnic lunch

Delicious picnic lunch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accommodation

The beauty of the De Hoop Collection is that whatever your budget or group size, there is something for everyone. The democratic nature of the set-up is appealing with everyone able to experience the unique beauty and pristine nature of its setting. The Melkkamer house was perfect for our small party – it can sleep up to 8 people in 4 suites. The wooden floors, high ceilings and romantically draped 4 poster bed as well as comfortable linen ensured an excellent night’s sleep. After a hot bath in a Victorian style bath I climbed contentedly into my king-size bed – complete with a hot water bottle. The generator was switched off and the flickering paraffin lamps reminded me of a bygone era when life was much simpler. It’s more remote location – only accessible by boat for part of the year made it even more special.

One of the four ensuite bedrooms

One of the four ensuite bedrooms

Inside the beautiful, remote old stone manor house

Inside the beautiful, remote old stone manor house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the course of the next two days, we experienced the diversity of what De Hoop has to offer. We went on an interpretive boat ride around the vlei having some of the 250 bird species pointed out to us, accompanied by piping hot chocolate, flaky croissants and extra blankets to keep us warm.

Feasting

We hiked along the vlei to a delicious picnic lunch of quiche, salad, more Gin and Tonic as well as dessert. Local chef, Philip Lottering generously shared some of his life story and recipes. Back at the main restaurant and hub of the Opstal area – we decided to go Quad biking. This is a guided, controlled activity but was rather loud having become accustomed to the tranquillity. Supper that night was a delicious lamb potjie, or stew cooked on an open fire in a black three legged cast iron pot. It was preceded by a retelling of the history of the homestead built in 1907 by the Anderson family as well as local ghost stories – it was wonderful to sit around a crackling fire in the darkness far removed from city lights with the soft murmur of the ocean over the distant dunes.

Whales

De Hoop is world famous for its whale sightings and especially from June to October when Southern Right whales come and turn the bay into a giant nursery. Sadly it was raining when we drove down to the nearest beach, Koppie Alleen yet we still managed to spot some whales in the bay and enjoyed an interesting interpretive walk along the coastline with our fabulous, knowledgeable, diplomatic and agreeable guide, Dickson.

Southern Right Whales are part of the scenery here from June to October

Whales are often seen from June to October

The main house is extremely comfortable and I enjoyed two afternoon sleeps in a row– absolutely unheard of but clearly attributable- in part- to the fresh air. Sitting in the cosy lounge we were able to relax before our last supper – a traditional South African braai.

It had been a weekend of rest, relaxation, good food, laughs and new experiences effortlessly aided by the hospitality of the staff and the beauty of the land – and perhaps a good Gin and a hot chocolate or two!

To book your trip down to De Hoop and create memories that will last a lifetime at the tip of Africa contact melissa@vindigotravel.com

hot choc

The breathtaking Helshoogte Pass

The Heavenly Delights of Hell’s Heights Pass

If there is one stretch of road worth driving more than any other in the Cape Winelands I would have to say it is the windy mountain pass linking the historic oak lined university town of Stellenbosch and the fertile Banhoek valley leading into the French Huguenot town of Franschhoek. Not only are the vistas absolutely extraordinary but the wine farms, attached like amulets on a chain, each have a unique story and are each a worthwhile destination boasting top wines, restaurants, delis, accommodation, art galleries and sculpture gardens.

The beautiful picnic setting at Boschendal

The beautiful picnic setting at Boschendal

The ‘Helshoogte’ or Hell’s Heights Pass otherwise known as the R310 was originally built in 1854 and then upgraded in 2010. It links the wine districts of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and is 15 km long with the summit reaching 387m above sea level. If you are coming from the Franschhoek side on the left is Boschendal which has undergone a renaissance and become a real destination winery with plenty on offer. When my brother got married ten years ago the 3 day wedding extravaganza for their overseas friends who had travelled to the Cape Winelands culminated here with ‘le pique-nique’ on the Sunday. Boschendal pioneered the luxury wine farm picnic with beautifully presented hampers of fresh farm goodies to be enjoyed in the verdant grounds.

Pniel at the foot of the Simonsberg Mountains

Pniel at the foot of the Simonsberg Mountains

Further up Helshoogte you will pass through the small village of Pniel in the shadow of the Simonsberg Mountains. It is here where the first freed slaves chose to settle in 1842 after the abolition of slavery in the Cape in 1833. Its name comes from the book of Genesis in the bible and means ‘face of God’, an apt name for such divine surroundings.

Beautiful fynbos on the Bartinney farm

Fynbos on the Bartinney farm

Just before you reach the top of the pass on the left is a very special farm called Bartinney, overlooking the Banhoek valley. Owned by one of South Africa’s leading businessmen, the story goes that due to financial constraints the family farm passed out of the Jordaan family hands, but was able to be repurchased by the son who now lives there with his young family. Delicious Cabernet Sauvignons come from the Banhoek valley and I recently had the privilege of enjoying a tutored tasting conducted by the female winemaker Ronell Wiid at this boutique winery. At Bartinney sustainability is a business philosophy and the sustainable farming practices are seeing the return of wildlife and birds such as Guinea fowls. The shy Cape Leopard has also been sighted in the mountains above the farm. Social balance and harmony is regarded as equally important as environmental balance at this forward thinking winery, where the effluent from the wine-making process flows though the fynbos, indigenous to the Cape Floral Kingdom. By removing alien vegetation such as Blue Gums and Pine, a spring that had been dormant for 40 years recently started flowing.

Delaire Graff - known as the 'gem of the winelands'

Delaire Graff – known as the ‘gem of the winelands’

When my father turned 60 some years back he invited his friends to join him on a tour of the Winelands. A bus was hired and off we set confident in the knowledge that no-one had to drink and drive especially when navigating the windy pass. The chosen lunch venue was Delaire at the top of Hell’s Heights then owned by Erica and John Platter of Platters – the wine bible of South Africa fame. The simple country lunch we enjoyed was memorable. Today my father would not recognise what has now become ‘the gem of the Winelands’. Delaire-Graff owned by the founder of luxury jeweller, Graff Diamonds, Laurence Graff is a seriously impressive destination winery designed to leave visitors breathless. The gardens were created by South Africa’s leading gardener and celebrity horticulturalist Keith Kirsten and each season offers the visitor something new. Not only is the best of South African art on display but award-winning restaurants commanding magnificent panoramic views make this destination winery at the pinnacle commanding 360 degree views Table Mountain in the distance a must-visit. Across the road from Delaire-Graff you will find the well-known estates Thelema – recently rated one of the world’s top 100 estates and Tokara – known for their excellent wines, restaurants, olive oil, art galleries and charismatic winemakers.

Heavenly offerings.

Heavenly offerings.

Thelema has a lovely old world feel nestled into the valley. Owner and viticulturist, Giles Webb, a former accountant planted all the vines. As a student the first ‘sophisticated’ white wine I can remember which made an impression on my palette and which I could order with confidence was Thelema’s Blanc Fumé which they sadly no longer produce – we are talking more than a quarter century ago and one thing is for sure is that all these wineries are dynamic, constantly re-inventing themselves!

Tokara is housed in super modern buildings with gorgeous views. Original art works by South African Masters such as William Kentridge are to be spotted on the walls. The small gallery annually hosts an artwork competition where students are invited to paint around a theme using red wine as their medium. The results are astonishing and one can imagine the fun the students have in producing them. The sculpture garden walk through the olive grove between the more relaxed deli and fine dining restaurant is also well worth doing.

It might be called Hell’s Heights but the views as well as the offerings are certainly heavenly. A leisurely drive over this short but dramatic pass with multiple stops is a treat not to be missed and a delight for the senses on every level.

Ardmore ceramics

Ardmore Ceramics – where dreams come true

Ardmore ceramics are distinctive, unique and colourful – rather like their creators and the country they come from. They embody colour, joy and Africa and celebrate excellence, beauty and creativity.

The brainchild of Fée Halsted, who also individually designs each piece, Ardmore was started in 1985. As South Africa celebrates its coming of age, celebrating 21 years since democratic elections were held and a quarter of a century since Nelson Mandela walked free out of prison, Ardmore is celebrating 3 decades. A remarkable achievement.

Quality is a defining hallmark of any Ardmore piece and it is thanks to the partnership and high standards that the owners have with regards seeing the Ardmore range represented internationally at Christies and locally in South Africa through Greig jewellers.

The name Ardmore derives from the Gaelic for ‘high place’ and is Latin for zealous and ardent.

Located in rural KwaZulu-Natal, Ardmore was originally the result of an artistic partnership which grew between Fée Halsted who had moved to Ardmore Farm in the Drakensberg Mountains and Bonnie Ntshalintshali who was the daughter of the housekeeper and whose polio meant she was unable to work in the fields.  Fée who had a degree in Fine Arts offered to train young women in the area to come and train at Ardmore. After various moves the Ardmore Studio and Bonnie Ntshalintshali Museum named for her friend who died tragically from AIDS in 1999 moved to Caversham.

At the opening of the recent anniversary celebration and new exhibition at the Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia I had the opportunity to meet and chat to two of the Ardmore artists. Given the strong botanical theme of the most recent exhibition, it was fitting that the launch took place at the Cellars-Hohenort known for the magnificent gardens created by the late hotelier Liz McGrath.

Ardmore Ceramics are highly prized collector’s items and they don’t come cheap.  I spotted a Hoopoe Espresso cup for R1800, an owl butter dish for R7000 and a Giraffe tea pot for R8000. These are not items you would use but rather display and enjoy for their craftsmanship and artistic aesthetic.

Mandla Ngwenya (whose last name means crocodile) hails from Zimbabwe and has been at Ardmore for 4 years. For him it ‘has been a dream come true’ to be able to make a good living from his artistic ability. Ardmore employs 60 people, the majority being female. Each artist works in pairs on an individual piece which can take up to a month or more to complete. A sculptor is paired up with a painter. In addition to being paid employees, on the sale of the piece each artist receives 15% commission. Large pieces sell for 10s of 1000s of rand so in addition to having the status of being an Ardmore artist, the artists make a respectable living. Ardmore also has an active programme to expose their artists to international trends and so recently Alex ‘Rider man’ Sibanda (whose name means lion) was invited to Russia to do a demonstration. Known as ‘Rider man’ because of the figures he sculpts shown riding hippos and all kinds of exotic beasts, Alex who is a sculptor hails from Bulawayo in Zimbabwe and has been with Ardmore for more than 5 years.

Fée recently received an Honorary Degree from the University of Pietermaritzburg for her contribution to the area and upliftment through her artistic endeavours in job creation.

What is evident is the theme of Ubuntu which means that ‘we are because of other people’. It is obvious that Fée is held in high esteem and much loved by those who have been nurtured and by her commitment to Ardmore. At the launch she reiterated that ‘growing the artists means everything to me’ and it is evident that Ardmore is growing from strength to strength.

Ardmore has recently branched out of ceramics into fabric known as Halsted Design with a vision to transfer African Art into Global Design. They offer bespoke homeware such as colourful table cloths and cushions.  See www.halsteddesign.com

Halsted Design

Halsted Design fabrics feature vivid African designs

Company's Gardens

Returning to Cape Town’s Food Garden Roots

Whether it is a tart granadilla or peppery rocket leaves, there are few things more satisfying than picking home-grown produce from one’s own garden and eating it minutes later. I recently visited the newly established Vegetable Garden in the Company Garden’s in Cape Town where an abundant array of magazine –perfect produce is growing slap bang in the middle of Cape Town. Thanks to the innovative Manager of the Company Gardens, Rory Phelan, and his team of 4 gardeners, the move to restore at least part of the Company Gardens to its original Dutch roots has taken seed.

It is a huge pleasure to come across the neatly laid out colourful patchwork of artichokes, quinces, spinach, brinjals, mielies, not to mention numerous fruit trees, hanepoort grapes and berries which the public is free to enjoy and which are thriving in the Company Garden’s – the original site of the Dutch vegetable garden. Over the past 350 years the nature of the Garden has changed. Originally it was established to supply food to the ships sailing around the Cape en route to the East. It then changed to a botanical garden enjoyed by the citizens of Cape Town and during the Victorian era became a pleasure garden. Started as a World Design Project in 2014 and given initial funding by Woolworths, the dream to reclaim hard surface and green the garden is being realised.

Vegetable Garden at Company's Garden

The newly established vegetable garden in the Company’s Garden

Through meticulous research based on etchings and paintings of the time, every detail from the ‘lei water’ system to the sand and pebbles surrounding the gardens has remained true to their Dutch period. There is also an endangered medicinal herb section, a reminder of the local knowledge on the ground which the original Khoi and San inhabitants of the Cape would have shared with the new arrivals. According to Rory, the three main driving forces behind the project were to re-green those parts of the garden which had been turned into parking, provide a snapshot of the roots of the garden and establish an avenue of food security. The spectacular gardens at Babylonstoren are of course based on the Company Gardens and a lovely collaboration project exists between the two. Collaboration is the name of the game and what a fruitful partnership it has been. With the excess produce plans are afoot to have a fresh farmer’s market.

The recently revamped Company’s Garden restaurant is currently supplied with garnishes, herbs and salad greens harvested within a stone’s throw of their kitchen. They are planning a more substantial salad bar in which case the Garden will aim to grow produce according to their requirements. Do yourself a favour and go for lunch in this historic oasis and green lung of the city. Help is at hand for those of us who want to have more food security and become ‘locavores’ whilst reducing food miles. Sign up for one of the Eduplant sponsored morning workshops which will take place on 15 April and 24 June where, in addition to having the theory explained you, you will get practical training and go home with a planted up container all fired up to farm your own veggie patch!

The newly revamped Company's Garden Restaurant

The revamped Company’s Garden Restaurant uses fresh produce from the adjacent vegetable garden

Article first appeared in Food 24