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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.

Boschendal – the perfect Wine Tourism Destination to explore the Cape Winelands.

The Great Wine Capitals Network awarded Boschendal their 2016 Best of Wine Tourism Regional award for best accommodation on a wine farm. With this in mind, I booked four nights in the recent holidays to experience first hand what is on offer.

Accommodation

The accommodation is  comfortable and stylish, offering free Wifi and DSTV – a necessity when travelling with teenagers. It might have been freezing outside, but we were super snug with electric blankets and a fireplace stocked with free wood. I had originally booked the Orchard Cottages at the top of the farm, but seeing the road was being paved, we were upgraded to Clarence Cottage which suited us perfectly. It is just behind the Werf Cottages and within walking distance of the Farm Deli.

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Clarence Cottage – Our home for 4 nights – gorgeous sunny veranda to sit and relax on with a book overlooking the private garden.

Bedroom in the Werf Cottage

Romantic one-bedroom Werf Cottage.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Farm Deli

The cottages are fully set-up for self-catering and serviced daily by very helpful and friendly staff. Our package included breakfast at the Farm Deli. It was so relaxing to wake up each morning, have homemade ginger biscuits with our tea, before going for a run around the estate. We returned for a piping hot shower in the generous en- suite-bathrooms with homemade toiletries, before meandering over to the deli for a well-deserved and hearty farm breakfast. Each morning we tried something new and were never disappointed. 

 

A hearty farm breakfast with organic eggs, homemade sausage. freshly baked bread and veggies from the garden.

A hearty farm breakfast with organic eggs, homemade sausage. freshly baked bread and veggies from the garden.

You know you are in the country and on a farm when the information brochure includes the name and number for the local snake catcher! However that is no reason to be put off at all as Boschendal is great any time of the year and is incredibly family-friendly.

Horse-Riding

The one afternoon my teenage daughter and I went horse-riding. Having grown up reading classics such as Black Beauty and My Friend Flicker, it was great to be back on a horse in the most magnificent setting. The staff were very patient with us, as were the horses, and we thoroughly enjoyed the level – appropriate hour-long riding experience around this beautiful estate.

Riding through the food garden

Riding though the food garden in front of the main Werf restaurant – a great wine tourism experience.

Horses

Our guide and the well-looked after horses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trout-Fishing

Another day we decided to go trout-fishing. There were no bites to be had on this ‘catch and release’ activity, but it was in such a gorgeous setting overlooking the valley with the snow-capped mountains in the distance that it really did not matter. In summer if you are staying on the farm guests are welcome to swim in the dams.

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Dams stocked with trout – perfect for swimming in summer.

Wine-Tasting

No visit to Boschendal would be complete without tasting their huge range of wines – something to suit every palette. One afternoon we wandered up for the complimentary wine-tasting in the oldest building on the estate opposite the elegant Rhone Homestead before making our way slowly back to the cottage for an afternoon snooze. Time really slowed down and whilst it was only a four day vacation it felt a lot longer.

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Avenue leading towards the Rhone Homestead and wine-tasting.

Our relaxing stay at beautiful Boschendal once again convinced me that there are few places in the world which offer the magnificent scenery, quality of food and wine such  as the South African winelands. In the Cape, we truly have the best wine tourism experience in the world and Boschendal is testimony to that.

For booking inquiries or to plan your visit to the Cape Winelands please contact:  melissa@vindigotravel.com

 

 

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.

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

 

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.

A visual feast @Cafe Bon Bon

Casual Country Dining in the Winelands

Although there are lots of fine dining establishments in the Winelands catering to the Dollar and Pound laden foreign tourists, there are plenty of great reasonably priced options to delight locals who want to experience a break from the city and fresh and tasty local fare in country surrounds.

Steeped in tradition and celebrating their 330 vintage this year Jonkershuis @ Groot Constantia never disappoints. Family – friendly and always popular with locals I popped in for brunch recently and experienced excellent service, delicious scrambled egg on toasted ciabatta which was beautifully presented on a wooden board. Also on offer are their Cape Malay specials such as The Estate Tasting Plate which includes bobotie, samoosa and curry.

The relaxed setting at Jonkershuis at Groot Constantia

The relaxed setting at Jonkershuis at Groot Constantia

Few places beat the unique country charm and setting of Café Bon Bon which is located on La Petite Dauphine wine farm in Franschhoek. Turn right at the Huguenot monument and head into the back country roads and away from the bustling galleries before entering the estate. At Café Bon Bon you sit on the terrace under the oaks. The Café Bon Bon anti pasta platter is a winner and amongst other things includes Parma ham, minted zucchini, ham hock terrine, goat’s cheese accompanied by delicious bread. Booking is essential.

Cafe Bon Bon is the ultimate in relaxed country dining

The unique country charm of Cafe Bon Bon

The Country Kitchen at Mont Rochelle – Sir Richard Branson’s South African Hotel and Vineyard recently opened. It is a lovely venue separate to the main hotel buildings where the wine tasting takes place. It is open every day from 12- 6:30. In addition to tasting platters boasting a selection of local cheeses with homemade chutneys and preserves, it has a good selection of starters and mains as well as a ‘Little Chef’s Menu’. Their picnic baskets for two require 24 hour advance booking and range from R400 – R480 depending on the type selected.

The recently opened Country Kitchen at Mont Rochelle

The recently opened Country Kitchen at Mont Rochelle

La Petite Ferme – apart from the spectacular view over the Franschhoek valley, this family run restaurant with attentive staff can be relied on to deliver beautifully plated, fresh country fare. Whether it is trout caught that morning in the mountain stream or a Dender-Young family recipe, La Petite Ferme never disappoints. Booking is necessary for this popular spot.

La Petite Ferme in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley

La Petite Ferme in the beautiful Franschhoek Valley

The Deli at Tokara at the top of Helshoogte has been revamped and you can hardly get more family-friendly. Even the adults will be tempted to try out  the playground. There is standard fare of burgers and pizzas to tempt the littlies and the gift shop with free olive tastings and delectable truffles is hard to resist.

Heavenly offerings.

Lunch platter at Tokara Deli

Housed in the old wagon house, the Farm Shop and Deli at Boschendal, which recently hosted the Cape Wine Auction has also just opened. The whole estate has been revamped and there are outdoor tables under the oaks in front of the Manor House. Tempting homemade ice-cream with flavors such as pink geranium and green apple made on the estate are perfect for the still warm weather. Not only can you stock up on local preserves, but it is a perfect choice for a casual country lunch.

Lots to stock up on at the Boschendal Farmshop and Deli

Lots to stock up on at the Boschendal Farm Shop and Deli

Article first appeared in Food24.

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

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Art Galleries in the Winelands

 

I was recently invited to the opening of an artist friend’s exhibition in Franschhoek. To make a day of it, I asked a girlfriend to join me on the journey – not only to enjoy the Cape Winelands’ fabulous wine and food offerings but also the visual feast on offer through magnificent South African art located at some spectacular galleries in the Winelands. It turned out to be a wonderful excursion.

First up was Cavalli in Stellenbosch located on the R44 coming from Somerset West. Cavalli is the Italian name for horse and the theme is evident throughout the estate. Owned by the Smith family, Cavalli started as a stud farm, housing what must be the most aesthetically pleasing and luxurious stables in the world! As a destination winery it is hard to beat.

The Equus Art Gallery on the estate ‘aims to encourage the local arts through its platforms of public sculpture spaces and a public art gallery.’ From the entrance to the restaurant, once can see Table Mountain in the distance. Enter through the restaurant and across the water is a huge Dylan Lewis sculpture. Down the stairs and carved into the hillside below is the wine tasting room and then an astonishingly large 600 square meter gallery showcasing rotating exhibitions of visiting curators, alongside a permanent exhibition of other notable works from the Cavalli Estate Private Collection. When we visited, the Equus exhibition with a horse theme was coming to an end but we managed to view Janko de Beer’s astonishing Sea Weed horses. The Gallery is open Wednesday to Saturday, 11am to 7pm and Sunday 10am to 5pm gallery@cavalliestate.com or call 021 855 3218. There is no entrance fee.

Janko De Beer Seaweed horses

Janko De Beer Seaweed horses

Our next stop was the Rupert Museum at the entrance to Stellenbosch on Dorp Street. Housed in a custom built space, the Rupert Museum showcases the unique private art collection of billionaires Anton and Huberte Rupert. The walls are literally dripping with the most spectacular South African art – showcasing talents such as Maggie Laubser, Irma Stern, Alexis Preller, Walter Battiss, Jean Welz, and JH Pierneef. In fact the one gallery is dedicated to the original Johannesburg station panels painted by Pierneef in the 1950s and is in itself worth the visit. In addition, there are also major European works by leading sculptors such as Auguste Rodin.

Anton Rupert Museum Stellenbosch

Rupert Museum in Stellenbosch

Dylan Lewis @ Anton Rupert Museum

Dylan Lewis at the Rupert Museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

En route to lunch in Franschhoek we stopped at the top of Helshoogte pass and another billionaire’s dream – this time the awe-inspiring Delaire-Graff estate, which describes itself as ‘South Africa’s premier art, hospitality and wine destination’. Graff is a leading diamond dealer and the boutique jewellery shop off the foyer dominated by a huge Lionel Smit canvas is well worth drooling over. We were enthusiastically shown around the art collection on the estate by an estate ambassador who made us feel very welcome. William Kentridge is well represented as are the sculptors Deborah Bell and Anton Smit and Dylan Lewis whose sculptures strategically dot the estate. We were blown away by the latest acquisition called Morpheus a 3 ton mirror-image sculpture of a Malay woman by Lionel Smit.

Lionel Smit at reception to Delaire Graff

Morpheus by Lionel Smit at Delaire Graff

A visit to the Pierneef Gallery at La Motte on the outskirts of Franschhoek is always worthwhile, but by this stage we were starving and Café Bon Bon at La Petite Dauphine wine farm in Franschhoek proved the perfect spot to linger. The setting on the terrace under the oaks, the red rooster and the timeless feel of the place .Their food is visually presented like art on a plate and was both delicious and fresh.

A visual feast @Cafe Bon Bon

A visual feast at Cafe Bon Bon

Before making our way to the Gallery at Grande Provence and my friend’s exhibition we popped in for tea at Sir Richard Branson’s Hotel, the newly revamped Mont Rochelle and discovered the best deal in town. A pot of Earl Grey tea and rusk size biscotti with a view to die for over the Franschhoek valley for R15!

We finished off our perfect day with a glass of delicious wine at The Gallery at Grande Provence with its sublime setting. Not only does the gallery exhibit local artists like Angus Taylor, Deborah Bell and Lionel Smit but also emerging artists such as Arabella Caccia as well as artists from Europe and America.

We drove back to Cape Town having experienced a feast of South African art in spectacular surroundings whilst enjoying world class wine and food. This is an outing which can be enjoyed all year around come rain or shine.

The lighthouse at Cape Agulhas

The southernmost wine farms in Africa

 

Take a trip down south and taste some excellent SA wines.

‘Die winter is verby, nou kom die wind’ – winter is over, now comes the wind, remarked an Agulhas local. This remote part of the world, known for its treacherous shipwrecking coastline is at a superficial level somewhat intimidating. Yet scratch beneath the harsh surface and you will find delicious wines and hospitable locals.

At Cape Agulhas - the tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.

At Cape Agulhas – the tip of Africa where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet.

There is something distinctly romantic about tasting wine from vines grown at the southernmost point of the African continent, and not just ordinary wines but extraordinary, highly ranked wines competing with the best in the world. The Elim ward falls in what has traditionally been cattle and wheat country. Known for its biodiversity, the wine farmers established the Nuwejaars River Wetland Special Management Area dedicated to conservation of this unique part of the world where they have re- introduced hippo and buffalo. For those who take the road less travelled they will be richly rewarded.

History

Elim itself has a fascinating history as a Moravian mission station set up in 1824. Known traditionally for its thatcher’s, the name Elim is more and more associated with delicious Semillon and Sauvignon blends among the whites and full bodied reds.

Black Oystercatcher

If you approach the Elim wine route from Bredasdorp, you will come to Black Oystercatcher Wines. Here Dirkie Human has built a destination winery popular amongst locals and tourists. His fish braais are legendary and memorable coupled with his flagship White Pearl Sauvignon Semillon blend and a tranquil view across the Agulhas plains. The bulging organic vegetable garden which guests in the self-catering cottages are free to harvest is a foodie’s dream!

Dirkie Human is also the wine maker for Celestina, owned by Caroline Rillema of Caroline’s Fine Wines and her partner Ray Kilian. She has planted 1, 8 hectares in nearby Baardskeerdersbos and produced 2400 bottles in 2012. This wine displays the typical Cape Agulhas characteristics of minerality, raciness and gentle acidity and her sought after 2015 vintage is eagerly awaited.

Bredasdorp Square

Bredasdorp Square

Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strandveld Vineyards

A few kilometres south and only 9kms from the sea you will find, Strandveld Vineyards which claims the title of the southernmost cellar on the African continent. Their First Sightings range refers to the original sighting of the South African coastline by the Portuguese explorers in 1488. One of their flagship wines holds the name Strandveld Pofadderbos referring to the deadly poisonous puff adders to be found in that particular vineyard. The bouquet is full of white asparagus, nettle and green pepper aromas and it tastes sublime. Tasting fee is R40 which is refundable with purchase.

Strandveld Vineyards

Strandveld Vineyards

Zoetendal

Changes are afoot at Zoetendal named for the Dutch shipwreck of 1673 and which will reopen to the public at the end of 2015 under the auspices of David Nieuwoudt of the Cederberg, as the new home of Ghost Corner wines. Staying with cattle and sheep the new owners from Upington recognise the quality of the soil and are happy to lease and cooperate with leaders in the industry such as Dave Hidden and Charles Bak to harness the terroir and coax delicious and memorable wines out of this somewhat harsh climate.

(Note – The Elim Fruit and Wine Festival will be held in October.)

First appeared on Food.24

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