I have been fortunate enough to call one of the most beautiful cities in the world - Cape Town - my home for almost 20 years now. Global accolades and awards are testimony to the city's glorious and diverse natural splendour - mountains, oceans, rivers and semi-arid regions are all found in and within a few hundred kilometres of Cape Town.
The city is known for Table Mountain, Robben Island and the V&A Waterfront but just a little bit further afield an undiscovered cornucopia of treasures awaits. So let me take you on a winding, alterative journey of my region - one you may not always find in brochures.
In Vino Veritas….
One of the most delightful places I have been to in years is an off-the-beaten-track wine estate called Rickety Bridge Winery in Franschoek. A cradled utopia of multi-faceted splendour and nestled against the Dassenberg Mountain, in what was Olifantshoek, the quirkily named Rickety Bridge is a destination characterised by beauty, mystery, romanticism and history. The story begins 200 years ago with protagonist Paulina, the grand dame of this historic estate, and proceeds along a chronological continuum to the present day launch of the Rickety Bridge Paulina's Reserve Range.
The winery's release of this special edition range signifies a gesture which seeks to pay homage to the pioneering spirit of Paulina de Villiers. The story dates back to 1694, when farms situated in the Valley, at the foot of what is now known as the Franschhoek Mountains, were distributed amongst Huguenot farmers. Over the decades which followed this initial allocation, properties were thereafter sub-divided. On the 13th of May 1797, a quitrent grant was given to the widow, Paulina de Villiers, granting her the land she affectionately named 'Paulina's Drift', making her one of the first women to own and farm land in the Cape.
The 2009 Platter Guide suggests that the Paulina's Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2008 'promises well'. Winemaker Wynand Grobler echoes this: "For the past twenty years, and more significantly, since Duncan Spence purchased the property in 2000, there has indeed been a season of 're-birth' at Rickety Bridge with the winery having undergone significant developments in a number of areas. The official release of our special edition Paulina's Reserve Range complements this over-arching theme of renaissance, innovation and experimentation."
On the food side, Executive Chef, Rob Hahn, treats patrons to a gastronomic extravaganza of culinary exploration. Precious little compares with the serene, self-indulgent bliss of sipping nonchalantly on a glass of fine estate wine at sunset, while nibbling on a tasty treat from a platter of tapas.
And now, the picnic experience (complete with blankets and baskets of treats) has just been extended from the restaurant deck to an enclosed tranquil lawn setting amidst the surrounding vines.
A tad closer to Cape Town you will find Clos Malverne, a picture perfect wine estate in the exquisite Devon Valley which is situated on the outskirts of Stellenbosch. Vineyards surround the cellar and stately home of owners, Seymour and Sophia Pritchard who built a stylish, glass-fronted tasting centre and a boutique health spa: both of which capture these glorious views.
Besides sampling superb wines, visitors to Clos Malverne have added a culinary dimension to their tasting centre offering. Enjoy one of two assorted platters of delectable treats: a gourmet meat and cheese platter comprised of Italian salami, country ham, Carpaccio, pâté, a selection of four local cheeses, crackers and luscious seasonal fruit.
The Spa @ Clos Malverne Wine Estate is the brainchild of Seymour's daughter, Belinda, a trained health- and skincare therapist. The spa, situated above the tasting centre, offers a wide array of relaxing treatments including: facials, manicures, pedicures, waxes, massages, spray-tanning (providing an instant tan without sun damage), body wraps, bath therapy, hydrotherapy, a steam room, as well as a variety of specialised 'pamper packages'. Refreshments can be enjoyed on the spa deck, or while lounging beside the estate's magnificent crystal clear swimming pool.
The Wild Calling
I went to Norway last year and while the country is truly beautiful I started to suffer from what I call 'chocolate box pretty fatigue'. One can ooh an aah for only so long at the sight of another forest, another fjord and another mountain. The Western Cape's magnificence lies in it scenic diversity. I'm reminded of this fact again as we travel the road to the Cederberg en route to Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve & Retreat, located 270 kilometres from Cape Town late on a Friday afternoon.
The landscape changes in a matter of what seems minutes from dry, undulating grasslands to steep, deep red sand vistas and ancient rock formations in the dying vermillion light of the summer sun as we head into the Pakhuis Pass. Busmanskloof is a 5-star eclectic ecological oasis, uniting luxury and nature. The architecture is borrowed from simple Cape Dutch design but the interiors of the rooms speak of long-forgotten, colonial opulence with a decided African twist. The service and food is top quality, as befits a 5 star establishment. The estate is a sanctuary to many endangered species of fauna and flora but its most unique distinction is its more than 130 San Bushman rock art sites.
The rock art excursions are amazing. One of the more important sites is Bleeding Nose Shelter, where the paintings stand out richly against the white Sandstone. This was probably a ceremonial site, and subjects include eland, small antelope, rare paintings of birds and a whole variety of humans standing, dancing and shooting with bows. This site takes its name from a painting of a man in the shamanistic 'trance' state, with blood pouring from his nose, who is joined to his companions by mystical lines of power.
The massive slab that gives Fallen Rock Shelter its name is dramatic in its own right, but it also houses one of the largest and most well-preserved collections of images known in the entire Pakhuis region. It seems to have been a dwelling site, as it has an unexcavated deposit of ash, sand and grass left behind by the Bushman occupants over thousands of years. It shelters the largest painting of a Bushman cave-dwelling group known in the Western Cape.
Bushmans Kloof also cater for larger groups - Koro Lodge, an exclusive, fully catered for villa in the reserve is ideal for families with young children or groups of friends seeking their own private wilderness. The estate offers spa treatments as well. Inspired by the healing essences of Africa, the Spa at Bushmans Kloof has introduced Africology a unique and proudly South African anti-ageing body and skincare treatment range. Capturing nature's powerful healing essences, the products contain African Plant extracts and Essential oils such as Aloe Ferox, Marula oil, Rooibos and Hypoxis.
The entire experience of Bushmans is somewhat surreal - as one guest put it: "How can I ever describe this amazing place to anyone at home." I seldom encounter such effusiveness from guests in my travels but I have to say, I do concur.
So Close - Yet So far Away
I find myself driving on the world-famous winding road along the see between Cape Town and Llandudno after a particularly difficult week. My destination is the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa located in The Table Mountain National Park. Another international Heritage Site, the hotel has breathtaking views over the Atlantic Ocean and The Twelve Apostles mountain range towering in the background. I'm greeted with unfakeable hospitality and shown to my airy room with true photographer's view of the mountains.
I have massage booked so I make my way to the spa though the beautiful garden. I enter a silent, fragrant cavern-type sanctuary where people speak in whispers with the soft sounds of waterfalls and therapeutic Jacuzzis in the background. It's no wonder that this Spa was recognised by Conde Nast Traveller in the UK as 3rd best in their 2008 Readers' Spa Awards.
"We're not staying here," says my therapist Karen and leads me trough the garden up a path until we get to a gazebo under the mountain with the crystal sea shimmering in front of us. I fall asleep about four times during the glorious Swedish massage and I literally feel the stress and tension dripping from my nerves, tendons and joints.
A little later on I join my friend Peter for dinner in the internationally acclaimed Azure Restaurant, recognized by the exclusive Chaine des Rotisseurs and awarded a Blazon for its superb cuisine. There are few chefs who know how to cook meals extra-ordinaire than Roberto de Carvalho, the Executive Chef who is famous for his fynbos menu - a special style of South African cooking using indigenous herbs. He has single-handedly pioneered a local flavour with international appeal. The food is truly superb and the service beyond reproach but it is the young sommelier Luvo Ntezo, who leaves me speechlessly impressed.
For a young man who had no idea how to pull a cork when he took his first job in the hospitality industry, the 24-year-old Luvo has given every indication that a distinguished career in wine lies in wait for him. But not every hotel is likely to pick up on and nature the type of potential that this young man had - the management of the Twelve Apostles did. Aspects like these put this establishment in a class of its own. The following morning, after a breakfast that includes the finest method cap classique and oysters, I forlornly drive home, petulantly wanting to stay for another week.
The Twelve Apostles Hotel is a total experience, an absolute must-do. There you have it.
Review by Jo Kromberg