Eden on the Lagoon – Knysna and the Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa

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.

Nice, ne?

Turbine Boutique Hotel & Spa

www.turbinehotel.co.za, +27 (0)44 302 5746

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.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

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

www.knysnafeatherbed.com, +27 (0)44 382-1693

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.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

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.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

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.

Turbine Hotel Knysna
Turbine Hotel Knysna

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.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

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.

Turbine Hotel Knysna

www.turbinehotel.co.za

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/2019/08/20/eden-on-the-lagoon-knysna-and-the-turbine-boutique-hotel-spa/

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From Russia with Love

Avant-Garde at Hazendal Wine Estate delivers a harmonious fusion of South African and Russian cuisine

Before Avant-Garde, the only things I knew about Russia was that it’s the progenitor of vodka, the world’s best caviar, and a rather depressing novelist called Dostoevsky. And so, upon arriving at the sprawling Hazendal heritage farm and wine estate on Stellenbosch’s Bottelary Road, our expectations were a blank canvas with plenty of elbow room for impression.

Hazendal-Restaurant-1

Mark Voloshin, the owner of Hazendal, is Russian, which explains the colourful percolation of Russian culture and cuisine into the estate’s offering, from its authentic traditional tea ceremonies to its soon-to-open vodka distillery. That’s right: move aside craft gin. Beneath these charming Russian accents, however, Hazendal is most assuredly South African in heritage with its collection of Cape Dutch homesteads dating back to the late 1700s, right around the time that Catherine the Great was behind the wheel of the Russian empire. And it’s in Hazendal’s beautifully restored and elegantly dressed historic wine cellar that you’ll find the estate’s wine tasting lounge and flagship restaurant, Avant-Garde.

Hazendal-Restaurant-1

Getting to grips with Russian cuisine

Executive Chef Michélle Theron had little experience with Russian cuisine before her appointment at Hazendal Wine Estate. It was under the gentle guidance and encouragement of owner Mark and his family, and the tutelage of an experienced Russian chef that she dived deep and mastered a diverse cuisine that bears the influence of multiple ethnicities and social classes, from Northern Europe to East Asia and from the austerity of the impoverished peasant class to the exorbitant excess of the tsarist regimes.

Executive Chef Michélle Theron
Executive Chef Michélle Theron

Avant-Garde’s menu presents a subsequent fusion of South African and Russian flavours and ingredients, a musical composition that would have impressed even Pyotr Tchaikovsky. Presented with such a smorgasbord of delicious sounding dishes and perhaps a few words we had to run past Google Translate, we sent our waitron back to the kitchen with a single request: “surprise us.” Chef Michélle responded with a magnificent volley of fusion dishes that both entertained and educated our palates.

Hazendal Restaurant

Multi-course dining and wine pairing

We eased into our meal with an amuse-bouche of savoury pastry crowned with fennel-laced cream cheese and a generous dollop of black caviar, which we washed down with a golden flute of the Hazendal Scarlet Sails MCC 2014. Next, was a delectable constellation of starters paired with wines from Hazendal and surrounding farms along Stellenbosch’s Bottelary Road. Lightly smoked snoek and potato pampushki, Russia’s answer to croquettes, were served with Cape Malay curried sweet potato, apricots, and parsley purée and paired with the Hartenberg Riesling 2016; octopus terrine with a bright and lively salad of green melon, dehydrated tomato, salsa verde, chorizo, radish, and saltbush sprigs (pairing: Hazendal Sémillon/Sauvignon Blanc 2017); and asparagus, fennel, poached pear and pickled cucumber salad with Valley blue cheese from Riebeeck Kasteel (pairing: the Christoffel Hazenwinkel Cape blend 2017, a vibrant and fruit-forward, yet velvety Cape blend of Pinotage, Shiraz, and Cabernet Sauvignon.)

Hazendal Restaurant
Lightly smoked fish and potato pampushki, curried sweet potato and apricot, with a parsley sauce

This inundation of delicious and surprising dishes was followed by a Ramen style bowl of mushroom broth packed with bean sprouts, spring onion, tender slices of pork with crispy skin, a perfectly cooked egg, and springbok pelmeni (Russian-style dumplings). Then, we tried the winter-perfect slow-braised lamb on a bed of kasha (a savoury barley porridge) with hazelnuts and mushrooms, which, we were told, is traditional ‘peasant’ food in Russia; and roasted Kei apple-glazed duck breast with an apple and onion tart. I adored the upturned onion halves filled with Chef Michélle’s rich, savoury reduction. These main dishes were paired with the Goede Hoop Cabernet Sauvignon 2011 and Hazendal Chenin Blanc 2017 respectively.

Hazendal Restaurant

Dessert was no less impressive and just as artistically rendered as every dish before. We had the apple sharlotka, a classic Russian apple sponge cake topped with a flavourful apple and thyme ice cream in a milk chocolate encasing; and Anna pavlova with cream cheese custard, green tea sablé cookies, matcha coated milk rocks, strawberries, and cream. And while, by this stage, we were grossly over-filled, we managed to conclude the experience with that classic vodka cocktail: the Moscow Mule. How could we boast about our meal at Avant-Garde without a nip of vodka?

Hazendal Restaurant

Picture perfect setting

My early ignorant impressions of Russian cuisine – potatoes served with potato and a side of potatoes – has been completely obliterated by Chef Michélle and Avant-Garde’s sumptuous menu. Enjoyed in an elegant, classically attractive setting complete with hand-painted mural ceiling and a view of the wine cellar’s impressive stainless-steel tanks, Avant-Garde truly is a picture-perfect venue for long, leisurely lunches framed by Hazendal’s beautifully-crafted wines.

Hazendal Restaurant

Avant-Garde at Hazendal is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11:30 to 15:30. For bookings and enquiries, please email bookings@hazendal.co.za or call +27 (0) 21 205 5620 (bookings essential)

www.hazendal.co.za

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/2019/06/19/avant-garde-at-hazendal-wine-estate-delivers-a-harmonious-fusion-of-south-african-and-russian-cuisine/

Life Off Road – The Cape and Country’s 4×4 Adventure Tours

Beating a path into the heart of the Western Cape wilderness, in an eco-conscious way, of course, reveals treasures you could scarcely hope to see from any well-travelled road. There are pristine tracks of indigenous flora, thriving birdlife, vantage points of a breath-taking scale, and new paths that few takkies have trodden before. All it takes to become an intrepid explorer are four wheels with torque and a little horsepower. Let’s see the Cape by 4×4!

The muscle for the hustle

Offroad 4x4 tours South Africa

A 4×4 has a two-axle drivetrain capable of providing torque to all four of its wheels simultaneously. In other words, it’s the kind of vehicle owned by people who need power and people who enjoy power. This, coupled with an engine with more muscle than a Howitzer, enables drivers to tackle any terrain imaginable, save perhaps for boiling fields of lava but that goes without saying. This affords people rare and privileged perspectives on our country – no wonder 4×4 touring is such a popular tourist activity and local pastime!

4×4 Guided and self-drive tours

You don’t need to own, buy, or even know how to drive a 4×4 to partake in a little ‘bundu bashing’. There is an abundance of 4×4 adventure companies in and around Cape Town that offer guided and self-drive tours. Some even provide training. Dirty Boots Off-Road Adventures (+27 21 713 1491, Dirtyboots.co.za) runs single and multi-day trips in the Cape and throughout the country.

Xtreme-Trex Adventours & Transport (+27 21 713 1491, Xtreme-trex.com) does the same and maintains a fleet of modified Hummer H3s, Land Rover Defender TD5s, and Range Rover HSEs.

Further afield, Cederberg 4×4 (+27 21 910 1363 Cederberg4x4.co.za) arranges camping trips and overland tours to beautiful, remote locations and even neighbouring countries throughout pretty much all of southern Africa.

4×4 Trails near Cape Town

Landrover 4x4 trails South Africa

For those with the necessary tools of the trade and the skills to operate them, you’ll find no shortage of bushwhacking, dune bouncing, and donga diving opportunities nearby. The steep dune systems in Atlantis, 45 km from Cape Town (difficulty level 2-5), offer a thrilling romp for 4x4s. You’ll need a permit, though, which you can obtain at the City Council in Wale Street (Capetown.gov.za). Some other coastal trails include Blombosch 4×4 Nature Trail in Yzerfontein (level 1-2) and Buffelsfontein, which is spread out over Yzerfontein, Darling, and Langebaan (level 3-4).

For more mountainous challenges with gorgeous views of vineyards and farmlands, try:

  • The Wiesenhof Trail in Stellenbosch
  • Two Oceans View Route in Somerset West (level 3-4)
  • Takbok 4×4 Trail in Paarl (level 2-3)
  • Babylonstoren Trail in Malmesbury (level 4)
  • Sir Lowry’s Pass Route (bookings through CapeNature.co.za)
  • Sneeukoppie 4×4 in Rawsonville (level 2-3)
  • Tierkloof 4×4, also Rawsonville (level 3-4)

Wind in your hair, torque at your fingertips

offroad adventures south africa

A 4×4 adventure allows you to visit the remote, hard-to-reach places where life in all its myriad iterations flourishes. More than that: it offers the adrenaline rush of zooming about the bush, beach, mountains, and valleys in a car with serious muscle. And it’s in the name of discovery and maybe just a little danger that we veer off the beaten path to experience the Cape’s and country’s secreted away gems.

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/2019/06/20/life-off-road-the-cape-and-countrys-4×4-adventure-tours/

Holden Manz Wine Estate Delivers a Food and Wine Experience that is Pure and Unpretentious Luxury

We pulled up to Holden Manz Wine Estate in Franschhoek on a day that was the epitome of winter; although in her fine dress of vineyards and voluptuous mountain borders, this idyllic winelands town always manages to look beautifully dramatic on even the drizzliest of days. Situated in the southernmost corner of the Franschhoek Valley, sandwiched between the Franschhoek River and Stony Brook, the 22-hectare estate of Holden Manz boasts a unique terroir that is the progenitor of a range of truly exquisite red wines, including a ‘top 6 in the world’ Cabernet Franc and ‘top 10’ Merlot.

On the two occasions we have sampled Holden Manz wines before – the Franschhoek Summer Wine and Franschhoek Winter Wine festivals at which we had the Chenin Blanc and the Proprietor’s Blend, respectively – we were compelled by their depth of fruit, aromatic complexity, and pure elegance. And so it was with much anticipation that we swooned into the estate’s rustic tasting room to explore the full range before sitting down to a three-course lunch at Holden Manz’ restaurant, the Franschhoek Kitchen.

Holden Manz wine tasting

Holden Manz red wine Franschhoek

Our wine tasting was hosted by the dashing and charismatic Ruben, Holden Manz’ wine ambassador, who walked us through the estate’s very fine repertoire of award-winning wines, beginning with the lush and creamy Provence-style rosé, the gorgeous Chenin Blanc, and, the final white wine, the barrel-fermented Chardonnay 2018. Then, we embarked upon Holden Manz’ rich, elegant, and smooth reds, the grapes of which are grown in the topmost 16 hectares of the estate. To be quite honest, I would be hard-pressed to decide upon a favourite but under duress I suppose I would opt for the Holden Manz Syrah…and the Cabernet Sauvignon…and while we’re at it, the Reserve Merlot. Oh and their Visionaire, Cabernet Franc,and Big G Bordeaux-styleblend.

Do you see where I’m going with this? My absolute compliments to Holden Manz’ experienced and artful winemaker, Thierry Haberer.

Lunch at Franschhoek Kitchen

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen
Franschhoek trout ceviche with yuzu mayo and horseradish crème

A rather gluttonous volume of wine later, we headed upstairs from the tasting room and cellars for a much-needed lunch at Franschhoek Kitchen, which has been rated one of the leading restaurants in a valley already lauded for its culinary calibre. In this classically beautiful, yet rustic setting with stunning views over rain bejewelled vineyards, we tucked into a feast crafted from fresh ingredients strictly sourced from the Franschhoek Valley.

For starters, we shared the gorgeous and velvety vichyssoise soup, served warm and paired with the Holden Manz Chenin Blanc, and the Franschhoek trout ceviche with yuzu mayo, horseradish crème, and a glass of the deliciously indulgent Reserve Chardonnay.

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen sea bass
Sea bass with laksa (Malaysian curry) sauce and toasted coconut chips

For mains, we shared (again, because variety is the spice of life) the pork belly with pomme purée, peach gel, shitake mushrooms, vine tomato, and shitake jus with a glass of Holden Manz Reserve Merlot, and the sea bass, which came swimming in a rich, creamy laksa (Malaysian curry) sauce with toasted coconut chips. The wine pairing for this dish was the exquisite Holden Manz Syrah Reserve. For a sweet ending, we chose the triple chocolate mousse, apple tart, and a nip of Holden Manz Good Sport Cape Vintage 2014, by which stage we had slumped into a miasma of hedonistic pleasure.

Holden Manz Franschhoek Kitchen dessert
Triple chocolate mousse

Five-star accommodation

A visit to Holden Manz Wine Estate need not conclude with a meal. With the Holden Manz Country House being a stone’s throw from the tasting room and restaurant, guests – satiated with good food and wine – can collapse into the lap of luxury. This five-star guesthouse offers five spacious and lavishly appointed suites, all with breathtaking views of the upper Franschhoek Valley and the mountains beyond, as well as a pool, afternoon tea with homemade delicacies, sandwiches, cakes, and preserves, and generous breakfasts, featuring fruits from the estate’s orchards and eggs from their vineyard chickens.

Holden Manz Country Manor Franschhoek

Top culinary and wine experience

Holden Manz Estate owners Gerard Holden and Migo Manz, together with winemaker Thierry Haberer and every member of their staff, have created a wine and food experience that is every ounce as luxurious as it is unpretentious. There are few airs and graces here to dress up the offering because – no surprises here – absolutely none are necessary. Our first few encounters with the brand at Franschhoek’s seasonal wine festivals already had us impressed but our visit to Holden Manz took our impressions to stratospheric heights. Wine estate, fine dining country restaurant, wedding venue, wine tasting cellar, and luxurious five-star accommodations, Holden Manz has it all!

www.HoldenManz.com, +27 (0) 21 876 2738

One of a Million V&A Waterfront Restaurants, Firefish Manages to be “One IN a Million”

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have your tried-and-tested V&A Waterfront restaurant: the one you make a beeline for because you know the sushi is good, the wine list isn’t an insult to the wine educated, and the prices aren’t a total swindle. I know, right? Sounds like a bit of a unicorn at the V&A. The problem with this tendency is that restaurants like Firefish can sail under the radar, when in fact they more than meet all of the above criteria: the food is delicious (and healthy to boot), the atmosphere cheery and chic, and the views of Table Mountain a postcard of Cape Town you’ll take home and keep with you forever. And if all of that isn’t enough, Firefish is currently offering a winter menu special, which runs until 31stAugust 2019.

With all of this considered, I was seduced away from my usual V&A Waterfront routine for lunch at Firefish, hosted by the Kove Collection, the hospitality group behind this sophisticated harbour-side eatery and a portfolio of other South African restaurants, bars, and hotels.

Welcome drinks

Graham-Beck-Brut

Firefish Restaurant opened its doors towards the end of 2017, adding to V&A Waterfront’s existing cornucopia of eateries. Initially, the sheer variety of restaurants on the Waterfront’s Breakwater Boulevard can seem a bit overwhelming but once inside Firefish, its naturally bright and cheery interior and sophisticated, chic atmosphere drown out the noise and distraction of its neighbouring restaurants.

Firefish is an upmarket restaurant – and a Writer’s Choice Top Rated one at that – perched right on the harbour’s edge, yielding iconic views of the Cape Town harbour, from its tourist boats and restaurant-lined quay to the coruscating Ferris wheel and Table Mountain beyond. It has a delightful sheltered outdoor seating area but, due to the cold weather, we gathered inside and eased into our lunch with a flute of Graham Beck Brut and a bit of a chinwag with fellow foodie writers, bloggers, and photographers.

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-2

Three-course lunch with Kove Collection Wine

The Kove Collection has teamed up with various wine estates around the Cape to put together a signature range of wines, which we were treated to over the course of our lunch. To begin with, I had a glass of the Kove Collection Thelema Mountain White, an aromatic, lively, and elegant French oak barrel matured blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Rousanne. This paired excellently with my delicious starter of tuna tartare: cubes of raw, tender tuna served with avocado purée, crème fraiche, citrus dressing, and what tasted like a wasabi soy sauce with slices of raw chilli for kick. Also on offer were the parsley, butter, and lemon-dressed grilled baby squid and a fried goat’s cheese pastry, which, according to the exclamations of joy from my fellow diners were equally as delicious.

Firefish Cape Town-Tuna-Tartare
Tuna Tartare

Kove-Collection-White-Blend

For mains, I chose the pan-roasted sea bass, cooked to succulent perfection with a crispy skin, and served with mussels, olives, cherry tomato halves, buttery baby new potatoes, and fresh thyme and fennel. Curious to try another of the Kove Collection wines, I veered from the tradition of pairing fish with white wine and ordered a glass of the Thelema Mountain Red, a gentle, smooth, and cherry-fragranced blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Shiraz, and Cabernet Franc. Whoever said red wine and fish don’t go together has clearly never paired their seafood with the right red wine.

pan-roasted-sea-bass-firefish
Pan-roasted Sea Bass
Other dishes served for lunch were the grilled cauliflower steak with cauliflower purée and a walnut caper salsa, and grilled sirloin with walnut salsa verde, charred shallots, and potato fries. Here, it should be mentioned that while Firefish presents as a seafood restaurant (probably because of its ice bar, where guests can make their choice of fish, crustacean, or freshly shucked oysters), its menu is more accurately described as “surf and turf”. Making use of a Josper Charcoal Grill, Firefish turns out seafood, meat, and even vegetarian dishes that are both grilled to perfection and that retain their nuanced flavours. Also, using this state-of-the-art cooking equipment means that the restaurant can offer guests a varied menu that caters to all palates.

Our final course was a choice between creamy coconut panna cotta with mango sorbet, lime soil, and fresh wedges of grapefruit and orange, and vanilla crème brûlée with strawberries and olive oil sponge. I know: what a cruel thing to do making us choose between the two! I opted for the former, since my love of coconut panna cotta knows no bounds; not even the lure of crème brûlée.

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-Panna-Cotta

One in a million

Firefish is one in a million for several reasons. Quite literally, it is one of a million V&A Waterfront restaurants, many of which are located cheek-by-jowl along the harbour’s edge. In spite of that, it manages to stand right out with its delicious, well-priced, and varied menu; impressive wine list; artful food presentation; chic ambiance; friendly, efficient service; and, let’s not forget, extraordinary harbour and mountain views. And so, for more esoteric reasons, Firefish is, to me, one in a million!

Firefish Restaurant Cape Town-1

Firefish is open Monday to Sunday, 12:00 to 22:30. For bookings and enquiries, please call +27 (0) 21 286 4933 or go to the website at www.firefishrestaurant.co.za

Shop 154 Victoria Wharf, Breakwater Boulevard, V&A Waterfront

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/2019/07/02/firefish-one-in-a-million/

Where to See the Snow in the Western Cape This Winter

Snow in South Africa might sound as ill fitting as a giraffe in Antarctica, but every now and then, when a Western Cape winter storm system becomes particularly intense, it can cause temperatures to plummet to below freezing. In high-lying places along and beyond the escarpment, this cold snap can leave towns, farmlands, and mountains frosted in snow. Rather than seeking refuge from the cold, Capetonians and South Africans from further afield jump in their cars to spend a day or weekend cavorting in the wintry wonderlands; doing all of those things we see Americans doing in the movies, like making snow-men, lobbing snowballs at each other, casting snow angels, and… wasn’t there something about yellow snow cones?

Well, with winter fast approaching – bringing with it the possibility of snow – here are some of the Western Cape’s best destinations for seeing, playing, and, uh, peeing in the snow.

* All prices indicated are per person, per night.

Matroosberg Private Nature Reserve

Matroosberg nature reserve in winter
Snow capped peaks in the Matroosberg Nature Reserve. Credit: http://www.Matroosberg.com

Situated an easy two-hour drive from Cape Town, the southern slopes of the Matroosberg (of the Matroosberg Nature Reserve) frequently receive snowfall in the winter, and oftentimes heavy rainfall. After a good snow, the landscape remains painted white for several days after, giving visitors sufficient warning to plan a quick getaway. The nature reserve has even rigged up a private ski-slope, so if you’ve fallen in love with the sport on holiday in Sweden or Canada, you can satiate your craving right here in Cape Town’s own backyard. For overnight or longer stays, the Matroosberg Nature Reserve offers several accommodation options at Erfdeel Farm, from camping and ski huts to romantic candlelit cabins (seriously, they have no electricity).

Where: Erfdeel Farm, Matroosberg, Breede River, Western Cape
Contact: +27 (0) 23 312 2282, info@matroosberg.com
Web: www.matroosberg.com

Cederberg Wilderness Area

Cederberg mountain pass
View from the top of a Cederberg mountain pass

The Cederberg Wilderness Area in winter is strikingly beautiful with its vast plains and boulder-strewn slopes soaring skywards into craggy cliff-faces and rocky pinnacles. It is a landscape of grand scale in both the horizontal and vertical axes, and in winter, after a particularly cold spell, the high mountain passes, peaks (particularly Sneeuberg), and slopes can become utterly transformed by snowfall. Located three-hours’ drive (or 2.5 if you gun it) from Cape Town, the Cederberg Wilderness Area does offer self-catering cottages (from R640 per person, per night) and camping sites (from R120), just make sure you go prepared for the cold. Alternatively, you can book one of the many accommodation options (guesthouses, hotels, self-catering, and more) offered by found the two neighbouring towns of Citrusdal and Clanwilliam.

Where: Citrusdal, Western Cape
Contact Cape Nature: +27 (0) 21 483 0190, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Web: www.capenature.co.za

Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve

Credit: Cape Nature

Unless Table Mountain has received an unusual dusting of snow, the closest place for Capetonians to travel is the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve, which covers a wide swath from Elgin all the way to Stellenbosch. The Hottentots Holland is that craggy range of mountains we can see to the East of the city, by the way and, at only 90 km distance, it makes for a quick and fun day trip. The nature reserve is beloved for its spectacular, yet rugged terrain with its three highest peaks, Rifberg, Pike Mountain, and The Triplets, receiving the heaviest doses of snow. Rustic overnight huts with bunk beds, matrasses, wood, and running water are available (no electricity) at Landroskop and Boesmanskloof. Each feature four rooms and sleeps 30 people (from R240).

Where: Grabouw, Western Cape
Contact Cape Nature: +27 (0) 21 483 0190, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Web: www.capenature.co.za

The Boland Mountains, Kogelberg Nature Reserve

Located in the Kogelberg Nature Reserve near Stellenbosch and Paarl, the Boland Mountains are no stranger to snow during particularly cold spells in the Cape. The reserve itself, a World Heritage Site, is considered by many to be the most beautiful of Cape Nature’s protected areas and its exceptional diversity and quality of fynbos means it is also considered the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom. In terms of accommodation, the five glass-fronted Oudebosch eco-cabins afford guests breathtaking views of the reserve and sleep four people. Each cabin features two bedrooms, one bathroom, one en-suite, and a spacious kitchen, lounge and dining area, and goes for R1170 (1-2 people, off-peak), plus R390 per additional person, per night (max four). The Boland Mountains also span over the Jonkershoek, Assegaaibosch, Hottentots, and Limietberg reserves so if you’ve already been to Kogelberg, you have options!

Where: Kogelberg Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Contact Cape Nature: +27 (0) 28 271 5138, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Web: www.capenature.co.za

Hex River Mountains

Hex River Mountains in winter
The Mostertshoek Twins, Hex River Mountains. Credit: http://www.Fynbospress.co.za

The Hex River Mountains are the second highest mountain range in the Western Cape, so it’s little surprise that their sandstone 2,000-metre-high peaks are frequently kissed by snow during winter. Located an approximate 120 km to the northeast of Cape Town, between the towns of Worcester and De Doorns, the Hex River Mountains’ highest mountain is the Matroosberg, which even offers visitors two kilometres of ski slopes. For information on accommodation in the Hex River Valley, visit the tourism website.

Contact: +27 (0) 23 356 2041, hvtourism@telkomsa.net
Web: www.hexrivervalley.co.za

Langeberg Range, Robertson and Worcester

Langeberg Mountain Range in winter
Credit: Oudtshoorn Tourism (Facebook)

The wine growing regions of Robertson and Worcester are known for their snow-capped mountain views in the winter months, and there is also plenty to do here, from trout fishing in the lakes to historical winter walks through the town and, of course, wine tasting! The Langeberg is the mountain range that most frequently receives a frosting of snow in winter, particularly its highest peak, Keeromsberg, which lies 15 km to the northeast of Worcester. There is plenty of accommodation located throughout the Robertson and Worcester wine valleys – where you stay all comes down to your budget and preferences so check out the accommodation pages on the websites for Robertson and Worcester to explore your options.

Robertson Wine Valley
Contact: +27 (0) 23 626 3167, admin@robertsonwinevalley.com
Web: www.robertsonwinevalley.com

Worcester Tourism
Contact: +27 (0) 23 342 6244 or +27 (0) 76 200 8742, info@worcestertourism.com

Swartberg Nature Reserve (Gamkaskloof – Die Hel)

Swartberg Nature Reserve
Credit: Safari Now

Declared a World Heritage Site in 2004, Swartberg Nature Reserve stretches 121,000 hectares between the Klein and Groot Karoo, bordering the Gamkapoort Nature Reserve to the north and the Towerkop Nature Reserve to the west. The town of Oudtshoorn is 40km away. Visitors staying overnight sleep in restored cottages in the Gamkaskloof (otherwise known as Die Hel) and delight in the reserve’s rich heritage from the San rock art and artefacts found in caves throughout the reserve to its rich diversity of indigenous vegetation, including Renosterveld, mountain fynbos, and spekboom veld. There are self-catering cottages from R380 per night and camping sites from R150; alternatively, the nearest town of Oudtshoorn, known for its ostrich farms, has a greater variety and some sophisticated options for accommodation.

Where: Swartberg Nature Reserve, Western Cape
Contact Cape Nature: +27 (0) 28 271 5138, reservation.alert@capenature.co.za
Web: www.capenature.co.za

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: https://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/05/14/where-to-see-the-snow-in-the-western-cape-this-winter/

Boplaas Family Vineyards Celebrate Their Portuguese Wine Range Over Lunch at Jonkershuis Restaurant

The Portuguese are an indelible part of the Cape’s rich tapestry of history, having paved the way for the Dutch seafarers and the Cape’s first settlement by European explorers more than 500 years ago. So, while Verdehlo, Tinta Barocca, Souzã, and Touriga Nacional might not sound like they belong here in South Africa, there is something about Boplaas’ range of Portuguese wines that feels like a return to the roots for us.

The question asked by many, though, is why? Why Portuguese wine? Well, that comes down to a fortuitous, yet quite accidental turn of events…

The Portuguese connection

Boplaas Wine South Africa

After a visit to the Swartland in the late 1970’s Boplaas patriarch Oupa Danie Nel returned with a desire to plant Shiraz in Calitzdorp, so he promptly ordered vines from a nursery, only to discover several years later that what he had planted was, in fact, Tinta Barocca. What could have been viewed as a disastrous accident set the Nel family on a course that would forever change their farm, bringing to South Africa a range of grape varietals that are actually very much suited to our hot and dry climate, particularly that of the Klein Karoo.

Today, Boplaas Family Vineyards produce, in addition to several other table wines, award-winning Cape Vintage Ports, and spirits, a “Portuguese Collection”. This is a range of single varietal and blended wines that really showcase the quality and diversity of wines produced from traditional Portuguese varieties as interpreted by South African soil.

On a more practical level, Boplaas’ introduction of Portuguese varietals constitutes an important move towards a more sustainable future for South Africa’s wine industry. Through conditioning, these vines tend to be hardy, well-adjusted to heat, and comfortable with drought, making them an excellent fit for parts of the country that were previously not considered suitable to viticulture, such as Calitzdorp in the Little Karoo, which is where Boplaas is located; and potentially a better fit overall considering our drought crisis.

Portuguese wine has a deep connection with the Cape’s past (early Portuguese explorers) and a very valid connection with our present and future (it’s suitability to our climate and ability to withstand drought).

But is it any good?

We gathered at Jonkershuis Restaurant in Groot Constantia to find out because, at 370 km distance from Cape Town, a trip to the town of Calitzdorp would have been a bit too far, even for a good lunch!

Groot Constantia Wine Estate

A tasting of Boplaas’ Portuguese Collection

We commenced our tasting with a flight of four wines and two vintages of the Boplaas Cape Vintage Reserve Port. The first wine was the Boplaas Cape Portuguese White Blend 2018, a refreshing and easy-drinking blend of 50% Verdehlo (Portuguese varietal), 25% Chardonnay, and 25% Sauvignon Blanc. This light white wine has a fragrant nose of tropical fruits, pineapple, citrus, and yellow pair with a crisp acidity, making it easy drinking and, at only R70 per bottle online*, incredibly good value for money.

*All prices quoted have been sourced online at www.boplaas.co.za/shop/

Boplaas Wine South Africa

Next up was the Boplaas Gamka Branca 2017 (R177), the estate’s flagship white, a Chardonnay-based blend featuring an alchemy of five other wine varietals, including Chenin, Rousanne, Grenache Blanc, Viognier, and Verdehlo (Portuguese varietal). This barrel fermented and matured white blend displays a satisfying mélange of citrus blossom, lime marmalade, creamy lemon, and subtle spice, supported by grippy tannins.

We then tried the Boplaas Tinta Barocca 2017 (R89), an aromatic, medium bodied red wine with a gorgeous earthy and red fruit perfume of ripe plums, raspberry jam, and lively spices and velvety soft tannins. It was the accidental planting of this grape varietal that pretty much kicked off Nel family’s affinity for Portuguese wines. Today, a paltry 221 hectares of this tenacious, quality Portuguese grape varietal grow throughout the Cape, which accounts for only 0.2% of the total vineyard area in the country.

Our final wine before the two ports was the Boplaas Gamka 2015 (R259), a seductively smooth, full bodied red blend (the estate’s flagship) of old vine Touriga Nacional and Tinta Barocca from the Boplaas farm, and Shiraz from Stellenbosch. This Portuguese varietal-driven blend is matured in new French oak for 12 months and boasts dark, plummy fruits, lovely spice, strong tannins, and a long, languorous finish. My favourite thus far!

A charming bit of trivia: The name for both the white and red flagship wines comes from the Gamka River, which flows through Calitzdorp, and from which the farm receives its irrigation. The Gamka River was named after the Xhosa word for lion because of the roaring sound it makes when swollen with rainwater.

Boplaas Cape Vintage Ports

Boplaas also pays homage to Portugal through its Cape Vintage Reserve Ports, of which we tasted the 2006 and 2016 vintages. Port – or Cape port, lest I get into trouble – ages exceptionally well; so well that our host Carel Nel kept referring to the 2006 vintage as “still a baby”. In that case, the 2016 must be positively prenatal, although it tasted beautifully lush, fruity, and moreish to my uneducated palate.

Boplaas Wine Tasting South Africa

Carel then related a most interesting anecdote about a blind port tasting he participated in, which involved “real” port from the Douro Valley in the northern provinces of Portugal and Boplaas’ very own Cape Vintage Reserve Port. With Boplaas’ Cape port declared the best, Carel had the pleasure of revealing its provenance, and I’m sure there were more than just a few red faces around the room that day.

Lunch and (even more) wine

With the tasting concluded, it was now time to test the wines’ mettle against food. Lunch was catered for by the farm-style, yet elegantly dressed Jonkershuis Restaurant at Groot Constantia and was a three-course affair starting with creamy mussels and freshly baked bread paired with the Boplaas Bobbejaanberg Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (R116). This wine is made from single vineyard grapes high up in the Outeniqua Mountains of the Upper Langkloof ward. Owing to its cool climate origin, it delivers a rich vegetal bouquet of capsicum and green asparagus, flavours of lime leaf, white peach, and calciferous minerality, and a lush fynbos finish.

Jonkershuis Restaurant Groot Constantia

Mains was slow-roasted lamb with rosemary reduction, crispy potatoes, new broccoli, and carrots, which beautifully paired with the Boplaas Touriga Nacional 2017 (R92), a varietal aptly known as “the king of Portuguese vines.” This powerfully elegant wine featured fulsome tannins, a nose of ripe black plum, vibrant rich spice, and fynbos, and notes of cocoa with a savoury undercurrent.

Jonkershuis Restaurant Groot Constantia

Finally, dessert was a vanilla pod panna cotta with a seasonal berry compote and fresh strawberries, which was paired with the honey sweet Ouma Cloete Straw Wine 2015 (R154), named after Carel Nel’s great grandmother who originally moved from the Constantia valley in the late 1800’s to settle in Calitzdorp. It was then that we all recognised the significance of hosting the Boplaas tasting at Groot Constantia, aside from saving us the monstrous drive to Calitzdorp. The Cloetes used to live here!

Jonkershuis Restaurant Groot Constantia

In the spirit of things

In addition to their numerous wine ranges, ports, and gorgeous sweet dessert wines, Boplaas also has a distillery, and it’s here that Daniel Nel is the boss. The event kicked off with Boplaas gin and tonics beneath Groot Constantia’s ancient oaks and concluded with a tasting of their six-year single grain whiskey, aged in a port cask, and their famous potstill reserve brandy. It’s a miracle I walked out of there with my dignity intact.

Boplaas Wine and spirits South Africa

A part of the story of the Cape

531 Years ago, Portuguese mariner Bartolomeu Dias became the very first European to explore the southern coastline of South Africa. His mission was to plot a trade route to the Far East via the “Cabo das Tormentas” – the Cape of Storms. Nine years later, Portuguese seafarer Vasco da Gama completed the trip, landing in India a whole 14 months after departing Lisbon. In a way, the Nel family of the Boplaas Family Vineyards are as intrepid explorers as these early Portuguese seafarers, which, to me, tells a wonderful tale of innovation, unquenchable curiosity, and bravery.

Boplaas Family Vineyards
Saayman Street, Calitzdorp
Contact: +27 44 21 33 326, boplaas@mweb.co.za
www.boplaas.co.za

Groot Constantia is open seven days a week. For bookings and enquiries, please email enquiries@grootconstantia.co.za or call 021 794 5128. For more information, check out the website at www.grootconstantia.co.za.

This article was originally written by Thea Beckman for Southern Vines Magazine, the largest lifestyle and leisure magazine in the Western Cape of South Africa: http://www.southernvines.co.za/2019/06/04/boplaas-family-vineyards-jonkershuis-restaurant/