Beneath the seemingly infertile soils of the Western and Northern Cape lie the dormant seeds of more than 1,200 different species of wildflowers; waiting for the sun to rally against the winter chill. Towards the end of August and the beginning of September, when the days begin to warm, the seeds split open and send tender shoots skywards to bloom. And so, it is that the arrival of springtime in South Africa becomes marked by a spectacular event that transforms the otherwise drab and semi-arid landscape into an explosive cacophony of colour.
For a few precious weeks, places such as Darling, Clanwilliam, the West Coast National Park, Cedarberg, and, further afield, the Namaqua National Park, Kamieskroon, Port Nolloth, and Springbok become heavily carpeted with purples, oranges, yellows, and reds like thick brush strokes of oil paint. This spellbinding show by nature attracts people in the thousands from all over the country, as well as from abroad. But, for all their beauty and vivacity, the blooms are short-lived and as September passes, the spectacle wanes until the landscape is once again returned to its usual shades of browns, greys, and greens.
The Darling Wildflower Show 2019
The annual blooming of the wildflowers isn’t only celebrated by the local wildlife, which delights in the unusual abundance of food; several towns in and around the so-called “Cape Flower Route” also put on exciting festivals. And perhaps the best known and loved of these is the Darling Wildflower Show, which is held every year on the third weekend of September. This year, the 102nd instalment, it’s taking place on the 20th to the 22nd September and is set to be an extravagant affair; the perfect complement to a morning or afternoon spent admiring the spectacular wildflowers.
Here, visitors can enjoy attractions, such as craft and gourmet food markets, a beer tent, a mini-wine route, tractor-drawn wagon rides, veteran car and tractor shows, kids’ play park, live entertainment by local artists and musicians, conservation talks, and educational workshops for both adults and children. And, of course, when you’re not delighting in the food, tipple, entertainment, and enlightenment on offer, there is the remarkable Cape floral kingdom to admire.
Wildflowers bloom in gardens, fields, and along the roadside throughout the Western and Northern Cape but the best places to see them are those that are undeveloped and unspoiled. The West Coast National Park, Darling (both 1 hour’s drive from Cape Town), Clanwilliam (2 hours, 20 minutes), and the Biedouw Valley in the Cedarberg (3 hours, 20 minutes drive) are rewarding spots to travel to. However, getting the most out of your wildflower viewing requires more than just jumping in your car and driving to your destination.
The wildflowers are coaxed open by the warmth of the sun and so they are best viewed on warm, sunny days between the late morning (±10am) and late afternoon (±4pm). If the weather is poor or it’s too early or too late, the flowers will close to protect themselves from the cold and possible frost, and you won’t get the full visual effect. The wildflowers also angle their heads towards the sun, so it’s best to travel from north to south or from east to west along the flower route so that you keep the sun behind you and, therefore, the flowers open towards you.
A bucket list must for Capetonians and visitors
The annual blooming of the wildflowers is a truly magnificent show that every South African needs to see at least once in his or her lifetime. With the fun and flamboyant Darling Wildflower Show, and some of the most ostentatious floral displays as little as an hour’s drive from Cape Town, there’s every reason Capetonians and visitors should add this to their travel bucket lists!
The historic and luxurious Jan Harmsgat Country House delivers an unforgettable experience of al fresco dining, handcrafted wines, 4×4 farm tours, and divine country lodging.
On the southernmost periphery of the Robertson Wine Valley, about 20 minutes before Swellendam on the R60 highway, you’ll discover a bucolic haven spread out beneath a thick canopy of tree leaves. Here, the historic homesteads, luxury suites, dappled sunlit pathways, and warbling birdcalls offer visitors a serene respite from “it all”, whether it’s the stresses of the workweek or a demanding tourist itinerary. This is Jan Harmsgat Country House: a world secreted away and a place of cool tranquillity and sensual indulgence.
Picnic Under the Pecans
The first of many diversions guests can enjoy at Jan Harmsgat (JHG) is a picnic under the pecan trees, featuring a delicious abundance of farm-fresh, locally made treats. Think: whole breads that crackle as you cut into the crust, a selection of charcuterie and cheeses, fresh strawberries and grapes, olives and olive tapenade, biltong, fig preserve, and crunchy garden salad washed down with a bottle of JHG Sauvignon Blanc 2018. Our advice is to arrive hungry because you aren’t going to want to leave any corner of this indulgent spread untested.
Exploring the working farm
JHG is a 680-hectare working farm that produces a rich harvest of fruits, including whole pomegranates and pomegranate juice, pecan nuts, and grapes for wine. The farm is spread out on both sides of the R60 highway, providing a pleasing degree of separation between guest accommodations and trundling tractors. Having said this, some of the JHG’s most alluring attractions are its farming operations, which guests are encouraged to explore by foot, bicycle, or 4×4 safari truck…and there are few better ways to recover from a lavish lunch than going for a walk in nature!
The pecan orchard is a magical place to start with its soft carpeting of lush green grass and resident chestnut-coloured hoopoes. Beyond that, you’ll discover olive groves bedecked in purpling drupes belonging to the neighbouring Mardouw Olive Estate. There are no fences, so meander through the groves and look out for the gravesite of former farm owner and respected local councilman, Hermanus Steyn de Jonge. Another equally charming way to explore and work off all that delicious farm-fresh bread is to jump on a bicycle, of which the estate maintains three for guests to use. Just ask the staff to pump up those tyres!
4×4 Tour and Sunset
With the evening approaching, guests are invited to bundle onto JHG’s steed: a handsome Land Rover safari vehicle with manager and marketer of JHG wine portfolio, Mitch Boy, as tour guide. With a glass of JHG Chardonnay 2016 in hand, guests set off on a rutted track that winds its way through the farm’s vineyards, pomegranate orchards – stopping for a taste of the voluptuous ruby fruit – and up a nearby koppie to watch the sun descend into the mist-swathed mountain ranges bordering the Robertson Valley. Keep an eye out for the resident herd of wildebeest!
Guest Accommodations and Restaurant
JHG’s luxury accommodations consist of ten exclusive rooms and a romantic honeymoon suite. The spacious rooms are elegantly dressed and offer all the modern amenities you’d expect; yet still exude the enchantment of rustic, farm-style living with their original metre-thick walls, yellow-wood detailing, and floral touches.
Mealtimes are taken at the estate’s restaurant, Just Amy, which lovingly crafts delicious, homespun dishes, such as ostrich carpaccio, grilled West Coast sole with Mediterranean couscous, slow roasted lamb shank with mashed potato, and, for dessert, pecan pie! The elegant, yet rustic country theme extends beautifully into this space with its hardwood ceiling, warm lighting, gracefully decked tables, large fireplace, and leather sofas. There is also a large outdoor seating area under the shade of the pecan trees, which is perfect for al fresco dining on sunny days.
Jan Harmsgat Wines
Lunch, dinner, or anytime really, JHG’s staff is ready to deliver a wine tasting of the estate’s boutique range of small-batch, wild-fermented, and vegan-friendly wines. This consists of a Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Chenin Blanc 2018 (sold out) Chardonnay 2016, Pinotage 2016, Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, and Shiraz 2016. Each wine is crafted from a single block of vineyards no more than six hectares in size and with minimal intervention in the cellar so that the resultant wine is a loving and honest expression of its unique terroir.
A restorative getaway
For days spent embraced by nature and fruiting trees and nights engulfed in red wine and warm, white sheets, there are few better destinations than Jan Harmsgat Country House. Couple this luxury and indulgence with quintessential Western Cape vistas of vineyard carpeted valleys and rugged mountain peaks, and you’ve got a restorative getaway against which you’ll measure all others.
The Westin Cape Town is in the middle of a grand revamp but you really wouldn’t know that because, in our svelte suite fifteen floors in the sky, it’s as peaceful as a spa (without the annoying pipe music). The multi-million-rand makeover – *cough R150 million cough* – is set to be completed by October 2019 just in time for the summer deluge of tourists; although the Westin Cape Town remains perennially popular owing to its appeal to business travellers, both foreign and South African.
Our task is to put the revamped and reimagined rooms to the test by luxuriating in one for the next 24 hours – I know, it’s a tough job but someone’s got to make sure the next guest is getting their money’s worth.
Spoiler alert: they most definitely are.
The grand entrance
The Westin Cape Town is a five-star luxury hotel located right next door to the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) and a five-minute drive from the V&A Waterfront. This sleek and stylish hotel is a mainstay of the Cape Town city skyline, as well as the international luxury hospitality industry. Wherever you travel to in the world, you can expect a high standard of comfort, luxury, and hospitality from the Westin.
Walking into our suite, our eyes were first and foremost drawn to the floor-to-ceiling windows that dominated the far side of the room, affording us sweeping west-facing views of the city from Signal Hill and the V&A Waterfront to the bustling Cape Town harbour, Robben Island, and the shimmering Atlantic Ocean beyond. Beneath our feet, we had a (gut-wrenching) bird’s eye view of a congested N1 highway feeding traffic into and out of the city. However, rather than evoking feelings of anxiety, as one might expect, we felt just a little smug to be ensconced in luxury accommodation while those little ants down there in their toy cars were stuck in traffic.
Suite features and amenities
Our room was the epitome of comfort and convenience, packing practically everything any visitor with any agenda could want and need. There was a large king-sized bed with poofy covers clad in clean, white linen; an office table with lamp, telephone, and multi-plug electrical outlet (where I currently sit and write this); a sophisticated coffee and tea making station with kettle and Caffitaly machine; bar fridge stocked with sodas, water, and beer; closets with complimentary fluffy bathrobes, slippers, ironing board, and safe; and a very beautiful, very executive-feel bathroom with shower, bath, and twin vanities.
Unlimited Wi-Fi and access to the Westin Club Lounge, which is open all day for refreshments, round out the offer. Oh, and we also enjoy complimentary access to the Heavenly spa lounge, pool, and sauna (you only have to pay for treatments). Right off the bat there are two things I’m looking forward to: (1) seeing the view of Cape Town at night from our suite and (2) falling asleep beneath a mountain of duvet after dinner.
In the meantime, with the sun making its slow descent into the west (as witnessed from our room), we hopscotched to the Westin Club for Canapé Hour.
Westin Club Canapé Hour
Every day, from 17:30 to 19:30, the Westin Club (on the nineteenth floor) offers guests a rather sexy lounge environment in which to chill, crack open a beverage, and enjoy a complimentary selection of cold mezze and hot tapas. It’s a place to unwind after a long day of touristing, travelling, or being important; it’s a place to enjoy a cold glass of wine or hot cup of tea, and to whet the appetite in time for dinner.
The Westin Club is also open for:
Continental and hot buffet breakfasts between 06:30 and 11:00.
All day “grab and go” snacks and beverages from 12:00 to 22:00.
A quick recharge meal chosen from the Westin’s organic and freshly produced daily rotation snack menu, 12:00 to 14:30.
Afternoon tea featuring homemade gourmet biscuits and a carefully curated tea selection, from 15:00 to 17:00.
In other words, if you’re hungry, thirsty, or in need of a fabulously atmospheric venue for a business meeting, a date, or to get charged up for an evening of fine dining or a night on the town, the Westin Club is the place to kick off. And kick the evening off we did: with a glass of house white wine (Huguenot Chenin Blanc or ‘Steen’ 2018), a little basket of nuts, popcorn, and dried fruits, and front row seats to a spectacular sunset.
Dinner at Thirty7 Showkitchen
With the sun tucked behind the western horizon, we caught the elevator to the ground floor for dinner at the Westin’s main restaurant, Thirty7 Showkitchen. This enormous, opulent space is quite something to behold, although a major fundraising event going on downstairs robbed the restaurant of the majority of any patrons it might have had, leaving us to the lion’s share of the staff’s attention.
For starters, we had ocean trout with trout tartar, and slow-cooked pork with pineapple chutney and a smoked apple aioli so gorgeous, it is my most ardent recommendation that they consider selling it by the bottle. For mains we enjoyed the 12-hour confit Karoo lamb neck, with roast carrot puree and gremolata, and black mussel risotto with smoked onion soubise and slices of regional cheese, both soft and crispy. Unable to extend our stomachs any further, we concluded our meal with an Irish coffee.
The chefs at the helm of Thirty7 Showkitchen are Stephen Mandes and Rohan Mudenda whose philosophy aligns well with today’s demand for free-range, ethically produced meats, sustainable, green-listed seafood, and organic, never frozen vegetables “as full of flavour and nutrients as the day it was harvested”. They also maintain a live-fire kitchen, cooking on charcoal fire, which is beautifully showcased by the food’s flavour and presentation.
Thirty7 Showkitchen is open Monday to Sunday, 06:30 – 10:30 | 12:00 – 22:30. For bookings and enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org call +27 (0)21 412 9999.
Breakfast of champions
Waking up in the Westin’s immeasurably comfortable king-sized bed, I fantasised briefly about owning Mary Poppins’ handbag – you know, the one that can fit just about anything in it, for example, this king-sized bed. Of course, the Westin staff would soon notice the fact that a bed’s gone missing and since I would hate to be blacklisted by the Westin – never mind the impossibility of such a magical handbag – my fantasies soon shifted to breakfast.
Both Thirty7 Showkitchen and the Westin Club host breakfast each morning but since the former promised a more extensive and abundant hot and cold breakfast buffet, we took the elevator down, rather than up. The scene that greeted us could only be described as “food heaven”. Whatever breakfast food is popular in your country of origin, you’ll find it here. From cereal, oats, flapjacks, and fruit to fried eggs, bacon, salmon, sushi, and charcuterie; cheeses, croissants, and curry for crying out loud, to pretzels, stir-fried noodles, and smoothies.
Think of a breakfasty food: you’ll find it in the Westin’s breakfast buffet, served with just about every add-on, side dish, and condiment known to humankind. I particularly enjoyed their Superfood™ juices (I had the strawberry, date, and rosewater smoothie), which are the ultimate atonement for all the wine you may have drank the night before.
Let’s talk about water
One cannot sing the praises of the Westin Cape Town without mentioning its state-of-the-art reverse osmosis system that saves 40 million litres of municipal water a year. This hotel and many other buildings located on Cape Town’s foreshore stand on land that has been reclaimed from the ocean. Consequently, seawater flows through the underlying soil with the voluminous abundance of a river, which requires buildings in the area to actively pump millions of litres of water out of their foundations every day to keep from flooding.
The Westin Cape Town decided instead to pump this water, which has already been partially filtered by the rock through which it has travelled, through a reverse osmosis plant to remove the remaining salt and impurities. The result of this R4 million investment is 400,000 litres of fresh water every day, 180,000 litres of which is used on site (the rest is piped to its sister establishments, the Tsogo Sun Waterfront and Tsogo Sun Cullinan). The Westin’s reverse osmosis plant is a solution to the water shortages that once threatened Cape Town’s viability as a tourist and business destination and will hopefully contribute to our ability to survive drought conditions in the future.
With over a decade of luxury hoteliering under its belt, the Westin Cape Town has been given a multi-million-rand décor and design transformation to update and refresh its offering. It now boasts an interior to rival its sleek and sophisticated exterior, both in aesthetic and function, and with all the modern accoutrements and conveniences even the savviest business or tourist traveller could want and need. We enjoyed 24 hours of beautiful views, beyond comfortable beds, indulgent dining, and peace and tranquillity right here in the heart of the Mother City. And so it was with great reluctance that we bid our accommodations (and bed) a fond farewell.
The next time I travel, I know where I’m staying.
The Westin Cape Town is home to the award-winning Heavenly Spa and the Thirty7 Showkitchen. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 21 412 9999
This blog was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine, the biggest lifestyle and leisure publication in the Western Cape of South Africa: www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/04/testin-the-westin-dinner-and-overnight-stay-at-an-iconic-luxury-cape-town-hotel/
Most modern movie cinema experiences are tailored to blow you away with their deafening surround sound, base levels that vibrate your bone marrow, and visuals that sear both your retina and the thrill centres of your brain. This is washed down with copious amounts of overpriced soda and popcorn in a chrome and fake velvet environment managed by nameless staff. It’s impressive and it’s impersonal, and, most of the time, it takes walking out of the cinema (or at best a night’s sleep) for the experience’s to fade from your memory.
The Labia Cinema is the antithesis of this.
This independent film theatre salutes and pays homage to a bygone era when going to the movies was a thing of beauty, grandeur, and culture. The movies screened here are carefully selected to permeate one’s skin, moving one to tears, to smile, to think, and certainly to want to come back for more. After 70 years of delighting audiences with quality alternative cinema, the city’s original and last surviving independent movie theatre is throwing on its glad rags to celebrate a very happy birthday anniversary.
From Italian ballroom to independent film theatre
Tucked into its corner on Orange Street, the Labia has long been the venue to which movie buffs and lovers of cinema have come to satiate their hunger for art house movies, documentaries, foreign films, historical cinema, and even big-ticket blockbusters. But the Labia didn’t start out life as a movie theatre. In 1949, Princess Ida Labia (nee Robinson), officially opened the doors of what was then the ballroom venue of the Italian Embassy, located right next door.
In 1989, soon-to-be owner and manager Ludi Krause took a leap of faith by giving up a career in law, purchasing the Labia, and transforming it into an independent film cinema.
“It was an inspired move and one that has brought much joy to Capetonians and visitors alike,” said actress Roberta Fox during her emotive welcome speech at the 70th anniversary celebrations.
Guests to the exuberant 70th anniversary celebrations were welcomed with the kind of red-carpet entrance one would expect from a movie premiere, which it really was, but we didn’t know that at the time – more on that later. The entrance led up to a covered terrace crammed wall-to-wall and elbow-to-elbow with guests. Drowning in the crowd was a table groaning with canapés and another with wine, and not just any wine but a true stalwart of the South African wine industry: the KWV Roodeberg, which also turns 70 this year (no coincidence).
KWV Roodeberg: An ageless recipe that has stood the test of time; inspired by the undeniable pairing between the master’s original blend and modern evolution; serving only the fullest flavour for today’s ever-evolved taste palates; time after time.
Making our way to the KWV table required snorkelling through a soupy bend of perfume, body heat, and gay laughter but we eventually got our hands on a delicious glass of Roodeberg and even managed to scoff a few pastries before seeking refuge from the crowds in the cinema’s lobby, where eTV was filming an interview with Ludi Krause and the beloved, characterful staff of the Labia.
At 19:30, we were ushered into the cinema for a surprise screening of “Rocketman”, an intoxicatingly fun yet confronting film about Elton John’s rise to fame, fall from grace, and returning triumph. This, just three days after it was launched at the Cannes Film Festival in France! It took us by complete surprise and felt even more like a treat knowing that we were watching the film several days before it was scheduled to open in the UK and USA.
A little about the Labia Cinema
The Labia has four screens, the largest accommodating 176 people and the smallest and most intimate, only 51. Accompanying the cinema experience is a snack stand for popcorn, slush puppies, and sodas, a cosy coffee bar selling home-made sweets and treats, and an outside terrace serviced by a fully licensed bar. Wonderful: good wine and good movies were made for each other (and you can take your wine into the cinema with you!)
“The Labia is an oasis of culture. Its movies lift your spirits and make you think that much harder about who you are; they can make you profoundly sad or deliriously happy but mostly, the Labia is the gift that keeps on giving.”
Inside, the décor and interior design have remained pretty much untouched and its art deco, wood-panelled lobby and ticket booth give it a tangible feel of history, nostalgia, and charm. Of course, the projection technology has had to keep up with the times and it was with the fundraising and networking support of its patrons that all four screens at the Labia were able to go digital.
The Labia family and future
Over the years, many performers and directors have experienced career milestone “firsts” at the Labia. And while this independent film cinema has served as a launch pad for many an artist, it also functions like a home. And like any home, it has a family, at the heart of which is the staff, most of who have worked here for decades. It was lovely to see them as honoured and celebrated by the festivities as the Grand Dame of Cinema herself.
The Labia’s art deco charm, sense of nostalgia, and intelligent, compelling films comprise the formula that has kept loyal patrons coming back year-after-year. But what of its future?
“Our audience is becoming younger as millennials are looking for more ‘cool’ retro places to hang out than the glitzy spaces of the mainstream cinemas,” explains Ludi Krause. Excellent to hear.
To conclude, I couldn’t think of a better, more beautifully phrased ode to the Labia than Roberta Fox’s words: “The Labia is an oasis of culture. Its movies lift your spirits and make you think that much harder about who you are; they can make you profoundly sad or deliriously happy but mostly, the Labia is the gift that keeps on giving.”
The Labia Movie Theatre is situated at 68 Orange Street. Online bookings can be made through Webtickets. For more information visit http://www.thelabia.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 424 5927 for more information.
Step aside Big Five, whales are so much bigger and you don’t need to schlep to the Kruger National Park to see them! Every year, around June and July, great pods of southern right whales make their way northwards from their feeding grounds in Antarctica’s frigid Southern Ocean. The purpose of this epic journey is to reach the substantially warmer waters around South Africa, where they will make sweet love, have babies, and show off their fins. And it’s the predictable arrival of the whales each year that attracts hoards of people, both tourists and South Africans, to the Cape.
Cape Town’s prime whale watching spots
At this time of year, southern right whales can be seen cavorting along the south-western Cape coastline from several land-based vantage points. The most notable (and successful) of these vantage points are found in False Bay, Cape Agulhas, and, of course, the famous whale-watching town of Hermanus, which the World Wildlife Fund has rated as one of the top 12 whale-watching locations in the world.
Truth be told, however, you don’t have to drive far at all to see these marine mammals that are, in spite of being the size of a bus, remarkably graceful. In peak calving season, they take refuge in the shelter provided by the natural harbours of our scalloped coastline, and it’s here that you’re likely to see them whilst sipping on a cocktail at the Chapman’s Peak Hotel in Hout Bay, or on a sunset beach walk in Camps Bay. In fact, wherever you are along the Cape peninsula between June and November , you shouldn’t be terribly surprised to see a tell-tale spout of water, a skyward-thrust flipper, or a tempestuous fluke (tail) spanking the surface of the water.
The Cape’s Species of Visiting Whales
Southern right whales – so called because their tendency to move slowly made them the “right” targets for whaling vessels – aren’t the only species to grace the Cape. We are also routinely visited by humpback and Bryde’s whales, as well as several species of dolphins, which, if you ask any zoologist, are also technically whales. In November of 2016, a pod of an estimated 60 humpback whales made the waters off Cape Town their feeding ground and for several days, they just about broke the internet with people sharing photos and videos of their unusually vivacious antics.
We are also, on the rare occasion, visited by orcas or killer whales. In May 2017, the butchered bodies of three great white sharks were recovered at Gansbaai, a small seaside town about 160 km up the east coast from Cape Town and a stone’s throw from Hermanus. All three of the carcasses had been savaged and their livers completely torn out by what was clearly a much larger predator. So, unless Godzilla had once again risen from its deep-sea abyssal lair, the perpetrator/s could only have been visiting orcas, which not only have a liking for shark meat but are also known to be quite fond of liver! Yum.
The Cape’s spectacular and diverse marine life
South Africa’s coastal waters are teeming with marine life: great kelp forests gently swish and sway in the swell, Cape fur seals honk and bark at each other from their sunbathing spots on harbour walls, and beach rock pools are a kaleidoscopic array of purple sea urchins, orange star fish, and red sea anemones. A little further out to sea, we have some seriously big predators patrolling the waters, and, in the air above, a diverse bird life made up of gannets, cormorants, gulls, petrels, shearwaters, terns, and albatrosses.
The Cape is blessed with a biologically rich marine biome but its pièce de résistance has got to be the stately whales that, every year, make their homes and their babies in our bays. So, find yourself a great spot, take a picnic, crack open a bottle of vino, and enjoy the show!
Whale watching spots in and around Cape Town:
Arniston, Betty’s Bay, Elands Bay, False Bay, Gaansbaai, Hermanus, Hout Bay, Knysna, Lambert’s Bay, Langebaan, Llandudno (and Camps Bay), Melkbos, Mossel Bay, Nature’s Valley, Paternoster, Plettenberg Bay, Stanford, Stilbaai, Witsand, Yzerfontein.