Treat yo’self with a visit to the Award-winning Heavenly Spa by Westin™

As it turns out, the stairway to heaven isn’t a stairway at all but actually a sleek stainless steel elevator. And it’s located within the sweetly scented lobby of the Westin Hotel in Cape Town. Set the destination for floor 19 because it’s here you’ll find the international award-winning Heavenly Spa by Westin™.

Now, I’m typically suspicious of establishments that liken themselves to the abode of the Gods. My personal concept of heaven is a pretty lofty ideal to reach: anything short of milky maidens bathing in great glass vestibules of Chateau Lafite 1787 simply won’t do! And so it was with middling expectations that I entered Heavenly Spa, clean as a whistle and ready for my 60-minute Heavenly Spa Signature Massage.

Heavenly spa westin

Step into the oasis

The noise fell away, the temperature dipped ever so slightly, and the smell of essential oils pervaded. The neatly dressed staff at the front desk welcomed me with demure smiles and wasted little time in ‘signing me in’. Administration out of the way, I was lead along a winding, airy corridor to the ladies bathrooms, where I changed into my assigned fluffy bathrobe and Westin branded slippers. The bathrooms boast generously sized showers (with complimentary toiletries), lockers in which you can store your valuables whilst undergoing treatment, a hair and make-up station, and a staggering north-facing view of Cape Town.

Heavenly spa westin

It was here – 19 storeys in the sky, clad in bathrobe and slippers, and ensconced in the serene climate controlled interior of a luxury spa – that I stared out of the window over the city below with her car-clogged arteries and thumping dockside industry, and idly wondered if anyone down there could see up my bathrobe. Not really caring, I silently admired the view from heaven.

Treatment commences

Much to the relief of the traffic below (or perhaps to their disappointment), I moved away from the window and to the lounge area, where spa guests are invited to relax prior to, and after their treatment.

Heavenly-Spa-Westin Hotel

I’ve always believed that true ‘zen’ lies in nature and, apparently, so too does Heavenly Spa’s interior designer because the décor here centres on nature with earthy tones, natural textures, and organic elements reigning supreme. It’s clever really because, in a way, your therapy begins before you’ve even stepped into the spa room. With 10 minutes to kill, I helped myself to the ice water that had so considerately been provided (along with juices, green tea, and a few nibbles) and commenced my decompression.

Heavenly massage

Heavenly Spa by Westin™ offers a bevvy of treatments, including facials personalised to your skin care concerns, manicures/pedicures, calming body treatments and massages, men’s services, and waxing. They have a gym, an infinity pool, the latter of which has the most incredible view of the city, and an impressive 15 deluxe treatment rooms. Mine was called something seductively exotic like “sea of elixir” or “waves of tranquility” or “this is going to be the best day of your life”.

Heavenly spa westin

My lovely massage therapist left me to arrange myself on the heated massage bed and protect my modesty with big fluffy towels. The treatment in question, the Heavenly Spa Signature Massage (R820), is a 60-minute Swedish style medium to firm massage of the entire body, from toes to fingertips. And with deft, fluid movements of her surprisingly strong hands, she coaxed out the stress and the strain of a life lived writing, adventuring, jogging, and pestering the occasional cat.

The Heavenly Spa promises, in its offering, to pamper its guests and deliver world-class treatments that are both unique and luxurious. I can personally testify to this statement’s verity. Floating out of the dim, fragrant recesses of the treatment room, I repaired to the lounge once again; this time to attempt to wake up sufficiently so as to be able to get dressed and exit the premises without walking into any walls.

Heavenly spa westin

Escape

The Heavenly Spa by Westin™ is an international award-winning one and I say that without a trace of surprise or incredulity. Quite simply, it is heavenly! It’s also on the 19th floor of the Westin Hotel, which is located (and directly connected to) the Cape Town International Convention Centre. This means that it’s quite literally on the doorstep of anyone visiting, working, or playing in the Mother City.

Heavenly spa westin

Instead of becoming a cog in Cape Town’s perpetually gridlocked traffic system, why not wait out the worst of rush hour here? Or impress your special person with a spa gift card? With the frustrations of work, traffic, load shedding, and the political farces that play themselves out on the news and in the media, we could all use a little pampering. And you’ll be hard-pressed to find a more gorgeous place for that than the Heavenly Spa by Westin™.

I know I departed with the effects of weeks’ worth of working days, a few park runs, and one particularly taxing night of karaoke lighter than when I had arrived.

Heavenly spa westin

The Heavenly Spa at the Westin Hotel is open Monday to Sunday, 09:00 to 20:00
For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 21 412 8200.

This article was originally written for Southern Vines, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/02/28/heavenly-spa-by-westin/

A Walk Through the Fynbos at Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Bosman Family Vineyards is a family owned and family run winemaking enterprise with a winery (and one of the most influential vine nurseries in Africa) in Wellington and in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. In the latter location, a portion of the estate’s grapes are grown in the cool breezes that blow in off the Atlantic Ocean, allowing winemaker Natasha Williams to craft a range of wines – Bosman Upper Hemel en Aarde Sauvignon Blanc 2018, Chardonnay 2018, and Pinot Noir 2018 – that are true ambassadors of their varietals.

But before I whittle on about the wine, the food, and the views, let’s talk about Uncle Frank…

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Frank Woodvine is a veteran of nature. He knows each of the Cape’s thousands of endemic plant species, not only by their colloquial names, but also their Latin designations in the scientific lexicon. Furthermore, while setting a roaring pace through the pristine fynbos that flourishes on the Bosman Family Vineyard’s farm in the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley, just outside Hermanus, this sprightly 88-year-old man fires off these complex Latin names with great liquid ease and just a touch of reverence.

He will also tell you the stories behind the names, the possible medicinal applications of the plants, and his experiences trying to rehabilitate the indigenous vegetation here. Yes, Frank Woodvine is a unique soul – a walking, talking, leather-bound and sun-kissed tome of knowledge on all things relating to Cape botany and it was a privilege to be taken on a guided walking tour of the fynbos-clad “backyard” at Bosman Hermanus.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Unparalleled in uniqueness and diversity

For example, did you know that the fynbos floral kingdom encompasses 6,000 endemic plant species – found here and nowhere else on Earth? The entire continent of Europe doesn’t have a single endemic plant species to its name! “You’ll find more, often several more species of plants in a few square metres than you will on a few hours’ walk in England,” said Frank after riffling through a patch of Fynbos to show us the diversity of plants within that patch.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

So…what does Frank Woodvine have to do with Bosman Family Vineyards, asides from enjoying a few glasses of their superb Pinot Noir with his lunch? (Yeah, sorry, I may have been watching.) Well, while Frank may humbly refer to himself as the “garden boy”, he is in fact a conservationist and the spearhead behind the estate’s conservation efforts on their Hemel-en-Aarde farm; efforts to which they are extremely dedicated.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Bosman Family Vineyards walking and hiking trails

“Uncle Frank” is also the architect of Bosman Hermanus’ numerous hiking trails, and essentially plots and lays these trails around the farm, through the fynbos and Renosterveld, and up and over its rolling koppies. This is the Cape at its most pristine and the trails here afford visitors a sweeping journey through the incredibly unique, diverse, and beautiful flora, in addition to breathtaking 360º views of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, all the way across Walker Bay to Gansbaai in the south and Hangklip in the west. And if you’re lucky, you might spot some of the resident animals on the farm: rhebok, porcupine, mongoose, baboon, and even caracal and Cape leopard (extremely rare). Birds to watch out for include South Africa’s national bird, the blue crane, and the noisy, butter-coloured bokmakerie.

For a light sweat, you can walk up the koppie just behind “The Frame House”, a wood and canvas structure housing the wine tasting room and picnic service belonging to Bosman Family Vineyards. For a bit more of a challenge and a revitalising few hours in gorgeous nature, you can tackle the 9 km Koppie & Wetlands trail. For no sweat at all, you can meander around the fynbos gardens embracing the tasting centre and admire the spectacular surrounding views. All of the farm’s trails are marked with numbers, which correspond to numbered information on a hiking guide guests are given (Costs: R50 per person | R25 for kids under 12). Oh, and be sure to order your food and wine paired tastings beforehand!

In other words: a visit to Bosman Hermanus is highly recommended, especially if you are enthusiastic about nature, being outdoors, and even working up a little sweat before sitting down to a wine tasting and a nibble at a cheese/charcuterie/vegetarian platter.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Bosman Family Vineyards in the Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Naturally, we didn’t travel the hour-and-a-half to Bosman Hermanus just to burn calories on the farm’s walking trails and so after our guided walk, we sat down to a fynbos inspired lunch paired with some of the estate’s new wine releases, my absolute favourites of which were the Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Chardonnay 2018 and Pinot Noir 2018. In a heroic effort to replace those poor, lost calories, we mowed our way through a delicious lunch of sweet potato and lentil soup, pecorino flatbread, mixed green salad, roast vegetables, and a stunning chicken Wellington dish.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley
Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley
Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Visitors to the estate can choose from a simpler, satisfying menu of cheeses, cured meats, winter soup, a snack selection, and ciabatta with Buffalo mozzarella and slow-roasted tomato.

Come and find Frank

Within the tranquillity of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, perched on a sweeping landscape and beneath the shade of an enormous pine tree, lies the heart of the Bosman Hermanus farm. Potting about in the garden or on some fynbos-clad slope somewhere – always busy, always busy – you’ll find Uncle Frank hard at work and, at 88 years old, showing up our generations for our comparatively flaccid work ethic. Come and find Frank; and stay for a wander and some wine while you’re at it.

Bosman Family Vineyards, Hemel-En-Aarde Valley

Bosman Hermanus is open for visits on Tuesday to Saturday, 09:00 to 17:00 | Sundays, 10:00 to 16:00 | Public holidays, 10:00 to 15:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email taste@bosmanhermanus.com or call +27 (0) 63 083 5571

www.bosmanhermanus.com

De Bos Farm, Karwyderskraal Road, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde, Hermanus

This article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest leisure and lifestyle magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa.

Riverine Rabbit: Inventive Fine Dining with an Environmental Conscience (and a Spring Menu to LIVE for!)

With an emphasis on eco-conscious dining, Riverine Rabbit delivers a gastronomical experience that is both kind to the environment and its fauna and flora and, in equal measure, absolutely unforgettable to the diner. This is the chronicle of my epic 10-course spring menu tasting at this lauded Cape Town restaurant!

The Riverine Rabbit is a critically endangered animal found in the Western Cape, below the Nuweveld Mountains in the semi-arid Central Karoo of South Africa. In fact, it is one of the most endangered mammals in the world with a living adult population estimated at well below 1,000 individuals. In other words: it is a rabbit in trouble.

Riverine-rabbit-Endangered-Wildlife-Trust-min

This sounds a bit off, doesn’t it? After all, don’t rabbits bonk like, well, rabbits? Even if their habitat is being mercilessly destroyed and food is scarce, don’t females give birth to a dozen or more kits before the males get right back on that horse…or should I say lady rabbit? Yes and yes, to the last two questions but the Riverine Rabbit is rather special because females only produce one offspring per year. Rather than ruthlessly over-populating an area, as most rabbits are wont to do, Riverine Rabbits are rather chaste in their approach to multiplying. And, unfortunately, in the face of relentless agricultural development, they simply don’t stand a chance.

There’s an important metaphor in all this and one that sisters Head Chef Ash Heeger and Sommelier/General Manager Mandy van der Berg have employed as the powerful philosophy behind their eco-conscious, fine dining restaurant in Cape Town, Riverine Rabbit.

And, no, there’s no rabbit on the menu.

Eco-conscious fine dining

Farming in the Karoo has left much of the Riverine Rabbit’s natural habitat completely overgrazed and decimated, which has positioned them on the very brink of extinction. Thankfully, more and more of Cape Town’s eateries are shifting their dining philosophies to be more eco-conscious, environmentally friendly, and humane. Riverine Rabbit embodies that shift because Chef Ash Heeger prioritizes hyper-local, freshly caught or harvested, and sustainable ingredients.

“We are a family owned restaurant and strive to promote and encourage the sustainable use of our natural resources.”

With an emphasis on eco-conscious dining, Riverine Rabbit delivers a gastronomical experience that is both kind to the environment and its fauna and flora and, in equal measure, absolutely unforgettable to the diner. I should know because, last week, I was treated to a meal at the Chef’s Table!

Meet Ash, culinary boss babe

Riverine Rabbit Ash Heeger

Chef Ash Heeger has established a Herculean name for herself on the international restaurant scene. Having graduated from the Silwood School of Cookery, she cut her teeth (and probably several fingers) under the tutelage of Chef Luke Dale Roberts at La Colombe and then at The Test Kitchen, both top 10 restaurants in South Africa and, for various years, top 50 restaurants in the world. In other words: holy shit that’s impressive! 

Chef Ash then set sail for foreign shores to expand her repertoire and skillset, working with Brett Graham at The Ledbury in Notting Hill (London) followed by two years at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park. Both are Michelin 2 Star kitchens and, again, holy shit that’s impressive! Then, in 2018, she competed on The Final Table, Netflix’s version of Master Chef, except that the participants are all vastly accomplished chefs from all over the world. 

Today, Chef Ash Heeger has become somewhat of a household name and if you aren’t suitably impressed by the above biography then you might as well eat at McDonalds because you are beyond redemption.

Meet Mandy, manager and sommelier extraordinaire

I never got to meet Mandy but after tasting the wines she selected for each course of our expansive meal, I am utterly convinced that I’d love the heck out of her. With an astute business background in marketing and events planning, Mandy runs all aspects of the front of house at Riverine Rabbit with a focus on training, curating the incredible wine list, and general administration. Somebody’s got to do it. She also has her WSET Level 3 in wines, which is not only an extraordinary feat of pronouncing virtually unpronounceable French and German wine growing regions but also of palate perceptivity, smell memory, and covet-worthy intelligence.

Together, Ash and Mandy are a formidable team and their restaurant, Riverine Rabbit, is a testament to the spectrum of stratospheric skill they bring to the table. And now that you have met the talent behind the restaurant and the exigent philosophies behind the name, let’s delve into the dining experience!

Riverine Rabbit Restaurant

Spring has sprung!

Indeed, spring has arrived in the Cape and with the warmer weather comes the need for reinvention. Being seasonally inspired by locally available ingredients, Riverine Rabbit’s menu is implicit in this transition, and it was our task – three media folk – to play guinea pigs for Chef Ash’s spring menu, which is due to launch mid-October. What a life, I tell you!

Riverine Rabbit chefs table

We were seated at the luxurious chef’s table, a little nook adjacent to the open plan kitchen, and from where we (and the whole restaurant really) could see Chef Ash and her team at work. What a thing this is to witness! Whisper quiet, the kitchen operates like a well-oiled machine with each and every team member knowing exactly what is required of him or her. Barely a conversation was necessary. Then began the procession of Riverine Rabbit favourites and spring-inspired dishes paired with truly sumptuous wines from all over the Cape winelands….

The opening act

Our epic ten-course meal kicked off with some freshly baked focaccia and a trio of “snacks”: pani puri with chickpea curry and lime yoghurt; “cheese on toast” with burnt onion mayo and truffle; and Riverine Rabbit eggs benedict, all served with a flute of crisp yet biscuity Colmant Cap Classique Brut Reserve NV from Franschhoek. Chef Ash literally invents these titbits daily. 

Then, I smacked my lips through the beef dish, featuring tender pink slices of beef with honey, anchovy, rich egg yolk, aged Balsamic vinegar, garlic, potato, and locally foraged mushrooms. This absolutely exceptional dish was paired with the floral fragranced Paul Cluver Riesling 2017. Finally, we were served the soba noodles from Riverine Rabbit’s autumn menu, a savoury, umami-laced noodle and broth dish featuring chilli, kimchi, seasonal vegetables, and dashi, all served cool and paired with the uber sexy Saronsberg Viognier 2017.

Riverine Rabbit sobu noodles
Sobu noodles

The main event

Four courses down, we relinquished ourselves to a further deluge of sumptuous, imaginative dishes: leeks smothered in vegan béarnaise with breadcrumbs, hazelnuts, and herbs (paired with the exquisite Catherine Marshall Chenin Blanc Fermented in Clay 2018); mushroom and potato with blue cheese, egg yolk, onion, and herbs (paired with the Lismore Chardonnay 2016); and sustainably caught Red Roman linefish with cucumber, fennel, leeks, dill, and hyper local “sea vegetables”, such as West Coast sea lettuce (paired with the Diemersdal Wild Horseshoe Sauvignon Blanc).

Our meal reached a crescendo with the duck served with turnip, cashew nut, citrus, and mustard and paired with my favourite wine for the evening: the Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir. If Ash had served us nothing but this dish and Mandy conceived of nothing other than this wine and food pairing, I would have gone to bed equally as satisfied. I’m certainly not complaining that we were treated to nine other wine paired plates of foods, although my liver had a little something to say about it the morning after.

Riverine Rabbit duck dish

Sweet finale

Finally, after a blackberry, buttermilk, yoghurt, and black pepper palate cleanser, complete with liquid nitrogen sending great blankets of vapour cascading all over our table, we faced off with dessert. Having recently returned from a trip from New Zealand, Chef Ash was inspired to put together this absolutely delicious Hāngi steamed pudding of potato, caramel, honey, crème fraîche, and vanilla, paired with the saccharine Noble Late Harvest from Diemersdal Wine Estate in Durbanville.

An epic experience with an important message

Riverine Rabbit delivers experimental gastronomy that is inventive, beautiful to behold, brave, and – importantly – absolutely delicious. Most importantly, however, is the subliminal, yet pervasive messaging that the Cape is home to a cornucopia of fresh, sustainable ingredients that if harvested in an eco-conscious manner could prevent the loss of precious flora and fauna, like the Riverine Rabbit. I found the experience to be an education, a visual feast, and a hedonistic indulgence (you’d better skip lunch) with intelligent wine pairings in a cosy, unpretentious atmosphere. And I believe Chef Ash to be a true artist and master of her craft. Mandy, your choice of wines and pairings are testament to your enviable skill as a sommelier and wine lover!

I may have rolled out of Riverine Rabbit but I’ll certainly be back again for more, more, and more of all of the above!

Riverine Rabbit

For more information or to make reservations, please contact Riverine Rabbit on info@riverinerabbit.com or +27 (0) 21 424 7204.

81 Church Street, Cape Town, www.riverinerabbit.com

Wander Woman Thea is for sale (but in a totally legal and classy way)

If you like what you see and fancy a talented, witty, and ridiculously verbose writer for your website project, blog, or marketing materials, don’t hesitate to get in touch at thea@wanderwomanthea.com.

Meet Gorgeous George

Launched very recently in April 2019, Gorgeous George is a boutique designer hotel tucked into two lovingly restored heritage buildings on St George’s Mall in the historic, cultural, and culinary heart of Cape Town. The hotel’s interior is the creative effort of a constellation of local artists and designers brought together by German owner Tobias Alter. One such artist is Lucie de Moyencourt who hand-painted the 1,800 ceramic tiles that now adorn the walls of the foyer, depicting a map of the city; another is David Brits, whose painted murals add colour, depth, and intrigue to walls throughout the hotel, including the interior of the bell tower on the pool terrace. The outcome of this artistic collaboration is a grand masterpiece that is quirky, chic, cheeky, tranquil, fashionable darling, and, of course, gorgeous!

Meet George…

Gorgeous George has 20 studio apartments, eight one-bedroom suites, and four two-bedroom suites, all trendily dressed and kitted out with the usual mod cons and luxuries. The suites have a consistent South African contemporary design aesthetic, which is framed by raw, industrial elements, like the exposed ceiling pipework and original steel or wood window frames. Handpicked treasures, velvety drapery, and patterned rugs add personality and pops of colour.

The bathrooms are equally impressive – some even feature freestanding Victorian-style bathtubs. All are stocked with designer fragranced soaps and creams that are biodegradable and vegan-friendly. A kaleidoscopic floral carpet winds its way through the hotel’s sleek, black corridors like a river of paint. In no other place on Earth have I been so bewitched by the floor and if it weren’t for the guide showing me around the hotel, in my trance-like state I very likely would have walked straight into a wall.

Gorgeous George Interior

Location, location, location

Gorgeous George exists at the very epicentre of Cape Town. In every direction, the Mother City’s famed attractions, historical sites, restaurants, and bars line the streets. Towards Table Mountain, there is the Company Gardens, Iziko Natural History Museum, and South African National Gallery. Towards Lion’s Head, Long Street’s bar scene and foodie favourite-Bree Street unfurl at your feet with the cultural gem of Bo-Kaap a stone’s throw beyond. Then, there’s the vibrant shopping street of St George’s Mall and a vast buffet of artisanal coffee shops, uniquely flavoured eateries, food and craft markets, and sexy cocktail bars, making Gorgeous George oh-so-desirable in the eyes of visitors to the Cape.

Gigi Rooftop Bar at Gorgeous George
Gigi Rooftop Bar at Gorgeous George

Gigi Rooftop Restaurant and Bar

On the topmost floor of the hotel you’ll find Gigi Rooftop, a jungle-inspired lounge, bar, and restaurant where hotel guests can take their meals, sprawl out on the enormous couches, or lounge by the pool, and day visitors are encouraged to “come for breakfast and stay for dinner.” On the covered veranda, the ceiling drips with textured woven baskets and planters with moss beards, while large palm trees lend their verdant fronts to the oasis-like atmosphere.

Gigi-Rooftop-Bar-Gorgeous-George

It all works together to create a tranquil, green space that appeals to the sub-conscious’ need to feel close to nature. Inside, the restaurant has a decidedly different feel of an 18th Century gentleman’s lounge with a rugged, industrial edge. Chef Guy Bennett, previously of The Restaurant at Grande Provence in Franschhoek, heads up the kitchen of Gigi Rooftop, crafting seasonally and locally inspired dishes that are both healthy (read: guilt-free) and delicious. Behind the bar, inventive cocktails are proudly brought to you by well-known mixologist, Jody Rahme.

A place you’ve got to meet

Gorgeous George exudes history, fashion, and charm and presents as a work of art. More than that, however, it feels personal… like someone’s warm, colourful, and perhaps a little eccentric personality has been transposed onto its physical interior. And after spending a few hours poking about the hotel and sitting down to lunch at Gigi Rooftop, I wish that there were more people in the world with personalities like Gorgeous George.

Gorgeous George Hotel and Gigi Rooftop bookings and enquiries: +27 (0) 87 898 6000 | Gigi Rooftop Bar & Restaurant: gigi@gorgeousgeorge.co.za, +27 (0) 87 898 6000

The Den: a Base to Explore the Best of Stellenbosch

The Den Stellenbosch

The wind gently tousled through the rooftop area and as the sun descended below the western horizon, the chill crept, reminding us that although spring is on its way, winter still has dominion over the Cape; particularly the nights. We milled about, glasses of Waterford “Rose-Mary” Blanc de Noir and gin-and-tonics in hand, chatting and admiring the views over the entirety of Stellenbosch.

In the winelands summer heat, the pool would be irresistibly seductive but tonight, it is just pretty to look at. The rooftop of The Den, the venue for our drinks and canapés (and chin-wag), offers a remarkable space for visitors to spend time. Clean-cut and modern with extraordinary valley and mountain views…how could one not be inspired up here, I mused as I hoovered down my fifth basil, buffalo mozzarella, and cherry tomato hors d’oeuvre.

The Den Stellenbosch

The Den in Stellenbosch

The Den in Stellenbosch is a large apartment complex located on Dennesig Road, on the very doorstep to the historic town centre, the University of Stellenbosch, and all the wonderful wine estates beyond. Cape Summer Villas is a privately owned hotel group that began in 1996 as a single three-bedroom guesthouse, which has since expanded to a boutique collection of high-end properties scattered throughout the Western Cape. All feature “tastefully decorated interiors, the finest linen, and five-star amenities that have all been selected to showcase their surroundings.”

What do The Den and Cape Summer Villas have to do with each other? Well, the hotel group has just added 18 of The Den’s apartments to its portfolio, which it now offers as beautiful and super convenient self-catering accommodation to visitors to the Cape. And it was one of the 15 open-plan studio apartments that I would be spending the night – taking it for a test run, if you will.

Thank you Waterford Estate for the gift of wine and chocolate, and Stellenbosch’s very own Banhoek Chilli Oil Co. for the gift of oil that I shall slather my next slice of pizza with!

The Den Stellenbosch

Modern, comfortable, and entirely serviceable

If a luxury hotel and the student digs of your dreams had a whirlwind romance, the offspring of that would be what the Cape Summer Villas have done with their self-catering apartments at The Den in Stellenbosch. The rooms are compact and feature everything you could possibly need to live, never mind spend a night or two. Yet they also convey a sense of space so that you don’t feel claustrophobic. For example, my humble open-plan studio apartment had a queen-sized bed, a fully kitted-out kitchen (complete with high-end appliances, a washing machine, stove, and medium-sized fridge), small table for meals, study nook, large flat-screen TV, and ample closet storage on either side of the bed. It even had a balcony with a built-in braai. You could actually live here and very comfortably too.

The Den Stellenbosch

This made me think about the audience for such accommodations. Being a budget traveller, I’m always attracted by accommodations that have kitchen facilities and allow for complete independence. This is what The Den offers – complete independence – which essentially means that the target audience is limited only by imagination: foreign and domestic tourists, business travellers, tour groups, wedding parties, long-stay visitors; heck, even parents visiting their kids at the University of Stellenbosch. From R1,250 per night, it’s incredibly affordable accommodation, conveniently located, and allows for complete travel independence.

Practical considerations aside, these apartments are gorgeous. Artfully decorated with interior design by Clara’s Interiors, each room blends a palette of soft greys, whites, and blonde woods with pleasing accent colours (in my room, a gentle azure blue), whimsically patterned tiles, and artwork inspired by nature. There’s also high-speed fibre Internet and, for those concerned with safety, private parking, closed circuit cameras, biometrics, and 24-hour security. If I were a trust fund baby and a student at the University of Stellenbosch, this is where I’d like to spend my college years.

The Den Stellenbosch

Dinner by Chef Rich Rorich; wine by Waterford

That evening, a glass or two of Waterford’s “Rose-Mary” down (a delectable Blanc de Noir made from Shiraz, Mourvèdre, Tempranillo, and Grenache grapes), we all gathered for supper in one of The Den’s two-bedroom apartments. Just to illustrate to you how serviceable these accommodations are: Rich Rorich, the Head Chef of Cape Summer Villas’ Sky Villa Boutique Hotel in Plettenberg Bay (who had been brought down to Stellenbosch for the purpose of cooking for us), was able to use these kitchen facilities to whip up a delicious three-course meal. On the subject of working in a small kitchen, as opposed to the imposing stainless steel jungles he’s accustomed to, the gently spoken Ritchie had this to say:

“As chefs, we love nothing more than this. This is how we learned to love our craft: by cooking for friends and family in cramped spaces and environments.”

The Den Stellenbosch

How wonderful! Additionally, each course, I was absolutely titillated by, was brilliantly paired with wines from Waterford Estate: a starter of creamy mussels in coconut and coriander with the Waterford Chardonnay 2017. Mains of tender lamb curry, turmeric rice, and vegetables paired with the Waterford Grenache Noir 2017 or tall, dark, and handsome Kevin Arnold Shiraz 2015 (or, if you’re a wine glutton like me, both). Finally, for desserts: a kalaeidescopic selection of macarons and a fun game of “guess the flavour.”

Falling asleep has never been so easy.

The Den Stellenbosch
The Den Stellenbosch

A base to explore

The Den in Stellenbosch is the most recent addition to Cape Summer Villas’ constellation of properties and after spending the night, it’s clear that there is very little restriction on the audience these beautifully furnished and affordable self-catering apartments appeal to. With summer slowly on its way, even I am hatching a plan to get friends and family here to enjoy an itinerary packed with the best the Stellenbosch Wine Valley has to offer.

Cape Summer Villas: www.capesummervillas.co.za

The Den: www.thedenstellenbosch.co.za

Waterford Estate: www.waterfordestate.co.za

Bites & Sites: a whirlwind walking tour of the beating heart of Stellenbosch

In 1679, in a land far, far away from Cape Town (by foot), a plump man with a thin moustache and a head of flowing auburn hair that would have been the envy of any self-respecting Duchess decided to call it a day and stepped down off his steed – or ox wagon, it had been a three-day horse ride from Cape Town and the derriere could only take so much. Settling on the banks of a river, the Dutch Commander appraised his surroundings and conceived of the idea of expanding the Cape colony to include a second settlement here because, well, why not? Three and a half centuries ago, the human ego was hob-tied to conquering and owning things (oh, wait, it still is).

And so, on the banks of the Eerste Rivier (the first river), sprawled out under a bosch (bush) for shelter, the Dutch Commander and first Governor of the Cape, Simon Van Der Stel, had the epiphany that conceived one of the Cape’s most ardently loved destinations. He declared the new settlement “Stellenbosch” – a nod toward his own ego and the humble bush that sheltered him on that first night he camped out under the stars.

Or so the legend goes.

These are the delectable historic titbits one learns on a walking tour with Stellenbosch-based tour company, Bites & Sites Food Tours.

Bites & Sites Food Tours

Fast forward to Saturday 24th August 2019…

A group of two Americans from Miami, one from New Jersey, a family of three Belgians, and we two humble South Africans convened at 10:00 at 47 Church Street, Stellenbosch: the home of Bites & Sites Food Tours and Stellenbosch Wine Routes. Here, we met our Bites & Sites tour guide, the crimson apron-clad and crimson-headed Louise Smit, and hit the streets on foot to experience the town’s most alluring, internationally renowned attractions of history, architecture, food, and wine, glorious wine!

Bites & Sites Food Tours depart daily, Monday to Sunday at 10:00 and again at 13:00.

The tours centre on the five oldest streets in Stellenbosch: Dorp, Andringa, Plein, Kerk, and Rhyneveld Street, stopping quite regularly for anecdotes and architecture, and to appraise features of the town’ original build, such as the deep grachts or gutters that line the streets. Additionally – and this is where the offering is so greatly elevated above any other walking tour I’ve experienced – the tour makes frequent stops at various restaurants, cafés, a butcher, and a wine bar for distinctly South African refreshments, thereby giving visitors a holistic and unforgettable impression of the history, heritage, and culture of Stellenbosch and the Cape.

A hop and a skip back in time

Our first stop was the Stellenbosch Museum where Lousie laid out the basic foundations for the town’s history, introducing us to the indigenous Khoisan people, the early Dutch settlers, and the first Governor of the Cape, Simon van der Stel. For those of you who get narcolepsy at the mere mention of the word “history”, fear not. The Bites & Sites tour guides keep it light and entertaining without hovering for too long in any one place but at the same time, ready to delve deeper should you have any questions.

The Stellenbosch Museum property is home to four houses built during different time periods, the oldest of which, Schreuderhuis (1709), we toured. From the robust yellowwood furniture, meat hooks made from fire-hardened Protea tree roots, and kitchen ceiling adorned with bushels of drying herbs to the taxidermied cat enjoying a permanent nap on the bed, stepping into Schreuderhuis, which once belonged to the court messenger, is like stepping back in time. The house has also eerily survived the numerous fires that have swept through the town over the centuries.

Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour

Anecdote: since doctors were so appallingly ignorant in those days, the corpses of dead people would be buried with a string tied to their wrist, connected to a bell above ground. Then, should they wake from their misdiagnosed death (perhaps they were in a coma, fever, or deep sleep), their movement would ring the bell and attract the attention of some poor passer-byer who would probably spend the remainder of his or her life in sore need of therapy. Hence, the origin of the expression “saved by the bell.”

Our third and fourth stops were the impressive Dutch Reformed Church on Kerk Straat (1863) and the University of Stellenbosch’s Faculty of Theology, housed within a handsome, historic building and with lovingly kept gardens shaded by a monstrous 52 metre tall, 200-year-old Norfolk pine tree.

Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour

Desserts first

With a leisurely hour’s strolling around under our belt, we stopped in at Dora’s Restaurant at 2A Ryneveld Street for refreshments of tea and South African sweet treats. As locals, we found it endearing and strangely pride-inducing to watch foreigners dip a big toe into our culture and, for the first time, taste and enjoy the cuisine we were raised on. Dora’s served up three indigenous teas (rooibos, honeybush, and buchu) and three absolutely delicious sweet treats: milk tart, koe sisters (not to be confused with koeksisters), and malva pudding drizzled with amarula cream. These were accompanied by enthusiastically told tales of how the various spices and recipes that characterise South African cuisine were introduced to the Cape and the country.

Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour
Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour

Biltong, droëwors, and wine

Have you really been to South Africa if you’ve omitted biltong and droëwors from your bucket list? (Vegetarians and vegans, you’ll be excused from this one.) And so, after another hour of meandering the historic streets of Stellenbosch and listening to fascinating, romantic, and sometimes ghostly tales of the town, we stopped in at the Eikeboom Butchery, the oldest surviving traditional butchery in Stellenbosch. Here, we picked up snacks for our wine tasting, which was hosted at the Brampton Wine Studio, where we sampled the dry, fruit-driven, and easy-drinking Brampton Sauvignon Blanc, Rosé, and Pinotage.

Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour

Personally, I would have preferred it if we got to taste wines that better showcased the high calibre the Stellenbosch winelands are capable of. With Americans and Europeans in our tour group, we were competing against Californian and French wines! Nevertheless, the wines were drained and the biltong enjoyed by all.

Optical illusions and spiritual phenomena

With wine coursing through our veins, we resumed our tour of Stellenbosch’s historic streets, stopping in at various arts and crafts shops to indulge in a little retail therapy. We took in the Stellenbosch City Hall and its stunning artwork of late President Nelson Mandela. With the sun bouncing off the screen of my cell phone, taking pictures was more a “mik-en-druk”  (point and push) exercise. So I was quite taken aback when going through my photos later to see two beams of sunlight eerily coursing their way down on either side of Nelson Mandela’s artwork. An optical illusion or a spiritual phenomenon? I’ll let you decide for yourself.

Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour

Lunch at Oude Werf

For lunch, we stopped in at the Oude Werf, a luxury hotel in the heart of Stellenbosch whose history dates back almost to the town’s very beginnings (1686). The menu, of course, was a collection of classic Cape dishes: bobotie wraps, chicken pie, roasted sweet potato, snoek cakes, and yellow (turmeric) rice. This was served (I was happy to see) with two gorgeous wines from the Stellenbosch winelands: the Waterford Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc 2018 and the Kleine Zalze Pinotage 2018.

Whilst there, our guide Louise took us down a short flight of stairs to show us a slice of the hotel’s exposed, preserved foundations, which, since the Oude Werf used to be a Church, was where the wealthy (and only the wealthy, since they could afford the honour) were buried. It gives a whole new meaning to the expression “stinking rich” doesn’t it?

Bites and Sites Stellenbosch Walking Food Tour

A wonderful, whirlwind experience

Three to four hours of strolling, admiring architecture, and listening to evocative tales of South Africa’s second oldest town, with a bit of wine, biltong, retail therapy, and a traditional South African lunch thrown in…this is what Sites & Bites tours are all about. It’s a whirlwind, multi-sensory immersion in Cape and South African culture that will send you home – whether you’re a local or a foreigner – with colourful memories, beguiling anecdotes, and perhaps even a few new international friends!

For bookings and enquiries, please email info@bitesandsites.co.za, call +27 (0) 76 032 8234, or visit www.bitesandsites.co.za

47 Church (Kerk) Street, Stellenbosch

This blog article was originally written for Southern Vines magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/08/29/bites-sites-a-whirlwind-walking-tour-of-the-beating-heart-of-stellenbosch/

The Annual Blooming of the Cape Wildflowers

Namaqua daisies Cape wild flowers
Carpet of Namaqualand daisies on abandoned fields, Skilpad, Namaqua National Park, Northern Cape, South Africa. By LBM1948 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0.

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.

Darling Wildflowers Show
Silver Dune Photography

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.

The main celebrations will be going down at the Darling Golf Club but there will also be shuttles taking visitors on a tour of Darling’s key points of interest, including the Renosterveld Reserve, Darling Museum, Duckitt Nurseries, and Evita se Perron: famous South African comedienne Evita Bezuidenhout’s cabaret theatre and restaurant.

Darling Wildflowers

Wildflower viewing tips

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.

Tienie-Versfeld-Wildflower-Reserve

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!

For more information on the Darling Wildflower Show:
Telephone: (+27) 72 178 5744 or (+27) 84 916 1111
Email: info@darlingwildflowers.co.za
Website: www.darlingwildflowers.co.za

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine: http://www.southernvines.co.za/2017/08/13/annual-blooming-cape-wildflowers-2017/