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…
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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 email@example.com or call +27 (0) 63 083 5571
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!
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.
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 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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, +27 (0) 87 898 6000
It is all too easy to wax lyrical for paragraph after paragraph about how spellbindingly beautiful the Cape Winelands are. For example, here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote for Southern Vines magazine about a year ago:
“Perched high up on Helshoogte Pass in Stellenbosch, Tokara Wine & Olive Farm affords visitors the kind of views that words fail dismally to convey. From here, you can see the Cape farmlands’ patchwork quilt of emerald green fields and autumnal-coloured vineyards bordered by dramatic, craggy mountain ranges turned blue by a low haze.”
And another earlier this year:
“I’d need the romantic turn of phrase and poetic dexterity of William Wordsworth to describe the view from Cavalli Estate’s restaurant. An extensive terrace juts out over a small farm dam that reflects an endless vault of creamy blue sky. A neat, yet explosively coloured Fynbos garden thrives around the perimeter of the dam, in and out of which canaries, sunbirds, and prinias flit. The sky was completely unblemished, saved for the occasional soaring raptor, and the sun gently gilded the surrounding rolling hills, rugged mountains, vineyards, and horse paddocks.”
So now I sit here, kalaeidescopic memories of Oldenburg Vineyards emblazoned across my mind, trying to cook up a clever new way of conveying its particular allure because I dare say it’s one of the most beautiful of all the Cape’s wine estates I have ever visited. Top three at least!
In fact, to describe the sweeping amphitheatre of dramatic mountainscapes, undulating vineyards, and fiery flowering Fynbos gardens as merely “beautiful” is to nonchalantly say Thai food is “okay” or “Ja, she’s pretty” about the actress from the latest Wonder Woman movie. Beautiful, pah! Such a pedestrian, everyday adjective is almost slanderous in this context. A litany of far more adoring words come to my writer’s mind: mouth-wateringly delicious, heart-breakingly gorgeous, and knee-weakeningly divine…and yes, these apply to both Thai food and Gal Gadot.
So there you have it. Oldenburg Vineyards sprawls across a setting that will blow your mind in the most exquisite way possible and if you receive any visitors to the Cape and want to send them home with immediate plans to relocate, bring them here:
I told you I could wax lyrical for paragraph after paragraph…and I haven’t even started talking about the wine yet!
Wine, glorious wine
On the subject of wine, let’s talk about wine! Located at a higher elevation to most Stellenbosch farms and in the rocky embrace of the Groot Drakenstein and Jonkershoek Mountain Ranges, the valley in which Oldenburg’s vineyards sprawl is several degrees cooler on average. Three to be precise.
Upon arrival at the estate, the velvety-voiced and charismatic Stefan Reinmuth, Oldenburg’s wine ambassador, greeted us with a glass of the estate’s <CL° White Blend. There’s a great story to that name, which I’ll share in a minute but first I need to express how very delighted I was to receive a welcome drink of lightly wooded white wine as opposed to the usual crisp rosé or MCC…not that I have anything against MCC (quite the contrary actually), but a change is as good as a holiday, isn’t it? Also, I’m amongst the endangered species that love a good, wooded Chardonnay.
Oldenburg Vineyards <CL° is a white blend of 63% Chardonnay and 37% Chenin Blanc, both partially wooded. The name is a composite of nerdy symbols, the key to which is provided on the back of the bottle. “CL” is the vehicle registration for Stellenbosch, “<” is the mathematical symbol for less than, and “°” is the symbol for degree, as in temperature. Ergo, slapped together, the name alludes to the fact that the terroir here is cooler than central Stellenbosch, which, in winemaking, is a very good thing.
The <CL° on Oldenburg Vineyard’s bottles of White and Red Blend is what the estate’s marketers call a “message in a bottle” but what the dashing Stefan Reinmuth jokingly prefers to call a “dad joke in a bottle.” I prefer the latter, probably because I was raised on an interminable diet of dad jokes.
(Hopefully this doesn’t get you into trouble, Stefan.)
“Jy dink jy’s cooler as ekke”
– Profoundly foul-mouthed philosopher and poet, Jack Parow
Okay, so why is cooler better (within reason)?
Grapes typically take longer to ripen in cooler microclimates and a longer time on the vine means more nutrients for the grapes, a better development of the fruits, and more concentrated flavours. Quality fruit is the bedrock, foundations, and building blocks of an excellent wine. The winemaker is the architect.
If you’re still struggling to grasp the relationship between temperature and fruit quality, consider the following: have you ever eaten ripe tomatoes off the vine? Aren’t they delicious? Bursting with citrusy, sweet, and vegetal flavour? Quite a bit different to the tomatoes you buy in the supermarket, which are watery by comparison. This is because the latter are typically plucked off the vine when they are green and then ripen en route to the store, in the store, or even after they’ve been purchased. These tomatoes have been cut off from the steady feed of nutrients from the parent plant and so aren’t nearly as delicious and flavoursome as their vine-ripened cousins. This is why “vine-ripened” has become a sexy word in gastronomy and on menus.
So there you have it: the longer the ripening period, the greater the development of those fruit flavours winemakers (and wine drinkers such as myself) covet so dearly.
The wine tasting
After gagging over the view and sipping delicately on my “dad joke” in a glass, we took our seats around a long table in the stylish wine tasting centre to sample the fruits of Oldenburg’s vineyards and winemaker, Nic Van Aarde.
First up were the Oldenburg Vineyard Series Chenin Blanc 2018 and Chardonnay 2018. The first, a beguiling golden hue in colour, delivered aromas of yellow apples, fresh pineapple, and honeysuckle, followed up by a lovely texture on the palate, filled with flavours of ripe peaches, apricots, and gentle oak spice. The wine was fermented in a combination of egg and older barrels, and matured in 300 litre French oak barrels for eight months, of which 17% were first fill.
The Chardonnay 2018 was 100% barrel fermented and thereafter matured for eight months in 300 litre French oak barrels, 35% of which were first fill. Bright yellow in colour, the wine imparted a nose of gorgeous ripe tropical fruits: litchi, banana, papaya, and ripe citrus with warm oak spice. The palate was a study in balance between fruit and oak, delivering mouth-filling flavours of tangerine and dried pineapple with a fresh, crisp finish.
Next up were the Oldenburg Vineyard Series Grenache Noir 2017 and Syrah 2015. Mercifully, the tables were decked with great platters heaped with Dalewood cheese, olives, sweet green grapes, charcuterie, and crackers that were as delicious as they were deafening to crunch on in the quiet around the table, while Stefan walked us through the tasting. Oh, and by the way, these platters (minus the charcuterie – we’re special) are served to all guests who visit Oldenburg Vineyards for a wine tasting!
The Grenache Noir 2017, a gorgeous, silky red, was matured for 16 months in 300 litre French oak barrels (28% new and 72% second-fill barrels). The wine has a dark plum hue and aromas of rich red fruit, raspberries, hints of liquorice, and pleasant herbal notes. The wood from the oak is elegantly integrated into the body, while the sturdy tannins are rounded off by luscious fruit flavours, leaving the wine smooth and succulent.
To those of you scratching your heads over my persistent referencing to first and second-fill barrels, here’s the deal: oak imparts a distinctive flavour to wine that is strongest with new oak barrels (first fill). After a vintage, the barrels are thoroughly steam-cleaned and sterilized to receive their next consignment of vino, to which they also impart a lovely oak flavour but not as concentrated as the first. Oak barrels can be used many, many times over but each time they impart less and less “oakiness” to the wine. Some wines benefit enormously from being fermented and matured in new oak, like rich, heavy red wines.
Other wines can be ruined by too much oak, as is the case with Chardonnay and that blasphemous “ABC” movement – Anything But Chardonnay – to which I say: clearly, you aren’t drinking the right Chardonnay. Some wines, such as crisp whites like Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, typically aren’t oaked at all but are rather fermented and matured in great steel containers. There’s more to it – winemaking is mind-bogglingly complex – but consider this your crash course.
The Oldenburg Vineyards Series Syrah 2015
The reason I have given the Oldenburg Vineyards Series Syrah 2015 its very own subheading is because this wine – this liquid velvet ambrosia – was my absolute favourite from our tasting. First, it must be explained that the 2015 vintage here in South Africa is widely considered to be the best ever for our country’s wines. Not merely “one of the best”…the best. Cooler conditions throughout February 2015 allowed for slow, even ripening of grapes early in the season, contributing towards the development of the fruit’s colour and flavour, particularly in the red wine cultivars.
The Syrah 2015 was matured for 20 months in 300 litre French oak barrels (40% first fill, 30% third fill, 20% fourth fill, and 10% fifth fill barrels.) On the nose, this dark crimson wine delivers a powerful, ripe red fruit profile laced with vanilla oak and sultry savoury notes. On the palate, it boasts brooding, dark chocolate flavours with cumin notes and a firm, muscular structure. I fell so ardently in love with this wine that I bought a bottle after our tasting, even though my wine collection overfloweth and, with plans to relocate to Canada in the next six months, I should be whittling down my collection rather than adding to it.
Next was the bold but elegant Cabernet Franc 2015, matured for 19 month in a mixture of new, third, fourth, and fifth fill French oak barrels. This wine, another beautiful velvety red, is a deep, plum-red in colour with a nose of ripe cherry and savoury notes and the most succulent palate of liquorice, violets, raspberries, and red fruit and a mouth-watering pepperiness of capsicum, paprika, and black pepper, particularly appreciable after hoovering down 17 olives (no one else was eating them!)
Finally, we were treated to a tasting of the Rondekop “Per Se” Cabernet Sauvignon 2015, one of three wines from Oldenburg Vineyards’ top tier range. The grapes for these wines are grown on a low, rounded hill (Rondekop or “round head”) visible from the winery. Like a contagious laugh on an already attractive person, the presence of this geological feature within the valley adds further desirable idiosyncrasies to the microclimate. The result is that the fruit grown here is not just good; it’s blerry good. In fact, only ten barrels showing exceptional quality and potential were selected and left to age in 50% new oak and 50% second fill barrels for 24 months to create the Rondekop Per Se 2015.
The subsequent brick-red Cabernet Sauvignon delivers a profound herbal aroma with dried peach and hints of vanilla and a gorgeous full body of broody black currant, plum, and red fruit flavours. The tannins are as soft as a fall-of-the-bone lamb shank, but structured enough to allow ageing of 20 years or more. And, according to the winemaker, “this virile, succulent wine is a textbook example of what Cabernet Sauvignon is all about.”
Wine estate worthy of your next Stellenbosch visit
Oldenburg Vineyards is a must-add to any boozy Stellenbosch travel itinerary – the wines here are simply superb and the views, as I explained ad nauseum, heart-breakingly gorgeous. The only downfall to visiting such an exquisite wine estate is that you might find yourself insufferably critical of all others to follow!
Wander Woman Thea is for sale (but in a totally legal and classy way)
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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 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!
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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!
Two years ago, the worst wildfire disaster in South African history befell the Garden Route, so named for its lush and ecologically diverse vegetation, lagoons, and lakes. A combination of drought, powerful winds, and abundant fuel in the form of hardwood forests and indigenous scrub lead to the stoking of a “mega-fire” that killed seven people, consumed more than a thousand homes, and razed hectare upon hectare of verdant coastal landscape to the ground.
Two years on, driving into the picturesque emerald town of Knysna, sitting pretty on its glittering throne of turquoise lagoon, it’s difficult to fathom the tragedy that occurred here. The vegetation has rallied, the people have rebuilt, and, as ever, this neck of the woods remains an utterly gorgeous holiday paradise for visitors from all over the country and world. And for two indulgent days, we would be calling it our home.
Our home away from home for our stay was the Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, a fabulously quirky five-star hotel located on Knysna’s Thesen Island, a multi-award winning marina development in the scenic Knysna estuary. The hotel – one of Knysna’s most unusual – used to be a wood-fired turbine that powered the town, as well as neighbouring Sedgefield and Plettenberg Bay. Today, of course, its massive industrial machinery has been retired, artfully strewn about the hotel, and given a colourful coat of paint. What is an indelible part of the establishment’s history is now also, through décor, an indelible part of its present and future.
A little too early for check-in, we dropped our bags off in the lobby, scuttled off to a miniature quay a stone’s throw away, and boarded a motorised pontoon barge for Featherbed Nature Reserve with a stop en route to admire the Knysna Headlands or “Heads” as they have become affectionately termed. The steep sandstone cliff faces, which serve as the gateway to the Knysna Lagoon, protect the estuary from the unbridled fury of the thundering Indian Ocean beyond, transforming it into a watery wonderland for boating and kayaking. It’s also created a favourable environment for the endangered Knysna seahorse to thrive in, as well as a plethora of beautiful birdlife, from African spoonbills, grey herons, and black oystercatchers to pied kingfishers, little egrets, and that most iconic of our country’s birds: the African fish eagle.
Featherbed Nature Reserve has long served as one of Knysna’s top attractions, offering visitors nature trails, hiking, birdwatching, unparalleled views of the area, and a decent lunch. Tragically, the nature reserve succumbed to the 2017 fire, losing a staggering 98% of its vegetation. But, in a heroic real-life demonstration of the phoenix rising from the ashes, the team at Featherbed Nature Reserve used the opportunity to weed out all of the alien vegetation and replant only indigenous trees and plants. Today, the reserve is carpeted with new growth of indigenous fynbos and coastal forest, and the towering trees they thought would never recover, came back from the dead.
The new, wholly reimagined offering (opened since December 2018) is elevated several storeys above its predecessor. The new restaurant, which boasts a bar, wedding venue, and conference facilities, is a gorgeous affair; riddled with botanical and nautical-inspired décor and masterfully crafted indigenous wood tables by a local artist.
The reserve also offers affordable tour packages, such as the Eco Tour, which includes a return ferry trip on the Knysna Lagoon; a 4 x 4 drive up the headland onto the reserve, stopping at spectacular viewpoints and to hear the specialist guide talk about the history, fauna, and flora; an optional guided 2,2 km walk through coastal forest and fynbos into ancient sea caves; and concludes with an outdoor buffet lunch of such epic proportions, you’d do well to starve yourself beforehand. All of this for only R700 per person, and they also have South African resident rates for winter, which never hurt anyone’s wallet.
A visit to Featherbed Nature Reserve is a pilgrimage that all visitors to Knysna should make, or so I thought as we putted back to Thesen Island on the still waters of the lagoon.
Settling in and spa treatment
Back at Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, we finally checked in to our rooms, many of which had balconies overlooking the spectacularly beautiful surrounding canals and waterborne suburbia. Each of the establishment’s 26 rooms has a unique name and theme (mine was the botanical room) and, of course, the hotel’s history is honoured with industrial elements like painted pipework and wall-mounted panels containing gauges and buttons. Yes, you are welcome to fiddle with them.
After settling in, which included a hot chocolate, a quick nap in soft white sheets, and a restorative shower, I luxuriated under the sure, strong hands of my lovely masseuse at the Turbine Spa – is there any better way to dissolve the tensions of travel than with a spa treatment? A laid-back supper at the hotel’s Gastro Pub (with cocktails) doesn’t hurt, either.
Breakfast and bicycle ride
Breakfast is served in the hotel’s Island Café, which also serves a decent lunch and dinner. And after accosting the continental breakfast buffet, we grabbed a bicycle from the Turbine Hotel’s very own adventure centre, the Turbine Water Club – offers lagoon cruises, ferries to Featherbed Nature Reserve, kayaking, bicycle hire, and more – and struck out on two wheels to explore the estuary all the way up to the headlands. I don’t think I’ve ever sat down to a more deserved lunch and glass of rosé!
Dinner that night was taken at the Island Café – an exceptional, fall-off-the-bone lamb shank with vegetables and potato purée, which I washed down with a glass of Hartenberg Estate’s Alchemy Rhone Style Red 2017. One thing I greatly enjoyed about the Turbine Hotel is the fact that, in spite of its boutique status and compact lunch and dinner menus, it maintains a generous wine list, featuring beautiful picks from wine routes all over the Cape.
Ancient Knysna Forest Walk
On our final morning, after another plunder of the hotel’s breakfast buffet table, we struck out for the Knysna Forest, the largest in South Africa, and went on a 9 km hike in the deep, cool shade of 900-year-old yellowwood trees. The tap-tap-tapping of woodpeckers, the liquid melody of orioles, and the harsh barking of Knysna loeries were the soundtrack to our adventure; that and the burbling of the streams that cut their way through the ancient thick tangle of vegetation and towering trees. One could scarcely imagine a more tranquil and deeply restorative place on Earth, and if you ever find yourself on the Garden Route, I urge you to visit the Knysna Forests and relinquish yourself to its verdant embrace.
Luxury base with a personality
Birdwatching, outdoor adventure, charming shops, a thrumming restaurant scene, and raw nature… Knysna is a unique and heart-achingly beautiful town that leaves a lasting impression. The Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa, a luxury accommodation with a personality (and with convenient connections to all of this action) is a highly recommended place from which to soak it all up.