Gourmet Capital in the Western Cape

The final part of our South African trip took us back towards Cape Town along the N2 through George, Mosselbaai and Swellandam where we stopped for a light lunch and to stretch our legs. There is a lovely Dutch Reformed Church and an interesting museum so Swellandam would make a good place to stopover en route to the Garden Route. Dutch Reformed church Swellendam After Botsrivier we turned off onto the R321 towards Villiersdorp, a winding road with beautiful views across the Helderberg (formerly known as Hottentots Holland) Nature Reserve and around the Theeswaterkloof Dam. P1130713 Here we turned onto the R45 up through the Franschhoek Pass and stopping for an awe-inspiring view from the top of the Cat’s Road which is a series of hairpin bends winding itself down to the Franschhoek Village like a sleeping serpent. As you drive over the pass on the R45 from Theewaterskloof Dam, you have no idea of that beautiful valley ahead of you. P1130745 Franschhoek has always been a huge favourite of mine. Back in the 1970s it already had a reputation for award-winning restaurants and wine estates, top class boutique hotels, auberges, and guest houses (many located on working vineyards) and speciality shops. Then however, I didn’t have the means to take advantage of what it had to offer, but the surrounding landscapes have always been free. mountains2

This magnificent valley with its huge towering mountains on either side with spectacular vineyards that clad the mountain slopes has the most breath-taking scenery in the Western Cape (if not the whole of South Africa).

The valley was settled more than 300 years ago by the Huguenots, who brought with them their French culture and wine growing skills when they fled their homeland after Protestantism was outlawed.

Some arrived at the Cape of Good Hope and were given land by the Dutch government in a valley called Oliphantshoek (Elephant’s Corner) so named because of the vast herds of elephants that roamed the valley. Soon after the Huguenots settled here it became known as Franschhoek (French Corner).

As you drive into the village from the south you will notice the Huguenot monument, and close by the museum, which chronicles the history of those brave pioneers and the original Huguenot farms.

It is well worth visiting the museum to get an understanding of the history of the region. You will also notice that many of the farms still bear French names and are often resplendent with a spectacular Cape Dutch homestead, towering oak trees and vast vineyards.

We stayed at Auberge la Dauphine (Klein Daupine), on the outskirts of the village. A beautiful spot, ringed by the Hottentots Holland Mountains, and with its own dam and summerhouse where you can sit with a bottle of inexpensive sparkling wine and watch the sun go down turning the tops of the mountains pink and the sky ink blue.

On our first night we ate at “French Connection” having West Coast mussels, crispy duck with raspberry sauce, potatoes dauphinoise and stir fried vegetables (cut beans, carrots, courgette and mange tout), washed down with a superb bottle of Shiraz from one of the nearby cellars – Porcupine Ridge. The following day we went back up the hill to Haute Carbière for their cellar tour and wine tasting which was pretty good and very cheap (R30) to taste five wines. View from Haute Carbiere Carbière belonged originally to a French Huguenot farmer, Pierre Jourdan who was given the land in 1694. In 1982 the vineyards were replanted in the tradition of the Champagne, and focus on Pinot Noirs and Chardonnay cultivars.

“Come quickly, I’m tasting the stars” is a quote attributed to Dom Pérignon when tasting the first champagne. Pierre Jourdan’s distinguished dry elegance reminds us with every tiny bubble gently exploding like a feather on the tongue to re-look at how exciting life can be… ~ Achim von Arnim, cellar-master of Haute Carbière

We bought a bottle of the sparkling, champagne-like ‘Blanc de Blancs’  (R98) to put into our fridge and booked a table in their gourmet restaurant for that night before heading back into the village to have a good wander around.

A host of shops and galleries line Main Street with antiques, artwork, bookshops and bric-a-brac. There are several specialist shops including a chocolatier, where we bought some hand-made Belgian style chocolates (R26), and a fromagerie.

Don’t restrict your wandering to the main Street though as it is rather pleasant to walk along the streets behind where you can see some lovely Cape Dutch and Victorian architecture.

A Cape Dutch Style House
dutch reformed church
dutch reformed church

After a light lunch (salad) in the village we returned to the auberge to rest. Vineyards and Mountains Dinner at Carbière was, frankly, out of this world. All their items on the menu are available in half or full portions so you can have as many different dishes as you like. They also do tasting menus, pairing wines with each course. haute carbiere We had the Cuvée Belle Rose (100% Pinot Noir fruit portraying elegant sophistication) with our starters of prawn rolls with chilli jam and herb salad /  pea, leek and asparagus tart with herb salad – the pastry was so light it practically melted in your mouth; for mains we both had the chicken stuffed with a layer of lentils and served on a bed of tagliatelle, spinach, spiced cubes of butternut squash and very firm asparagus tips with rocket and chorizo jus which was accompanied with a Brut Sauvage (yeasty with a creamy finish, wild and elegant mystique); dessert was a meringue with raspberries, raspberry coulis and strawberry yoghurt ice-cream (all delicious) and my husband had a most unusual looking desert consisting of 3 tiny sweet spring rolls stuffed with hot dark chocolate and served with a shot-glass of a white chocolate milkshake – exquisite – and this came with a glass of the sparkling Blanc de Blancs.

The whole lot came to R550 (around £40 at the time) plus a R5 tip for the car guard. Currently there are lots of menu options, including wine pairing, from R295 per person .

On our last day in the valley we decided to have a look at a few other vineyards in the area such as Grande Provence, Boschendal, and Glenwood and then drive over the mountains to look around the university town of Stellenbosch. Grande Provence is lovely and has a fabulous setting for their restaurant, Glenwood is in the little valley of Robertsvlei and surrounded by outstanding natural beauty.

wine carrier Stellenbosch however, defeated us as we could not find anywhere to park! We drove around for a while but the centre was absolutely packed so we had a look at it from the car, admire the beautiful Cape Dutch-style homesteads, the university and the tree-lined streets.

On the drive over to Franschhoek from Stellenbosch on the R310 – Helshoogte Road look out for Tokara Winery which is famous as an olive oil producer and located right at the top of Helshoogte Pass. Passing a village called Languedoc you come to Boschendal one of the most famous wineries with exceptional grounds. manor house boschendal The farm Boschendal means “wood and dale” and was granted to Jean de Long in 1685. A fellow Huguenot, Abraham de Villiers bought it in 1715 and was responsible for the buildings you can see today. Boschendal is famous for its “picque-nique”  (mid Oct to April only) which you can buy in a basket and then eat in their gorgeous grounds.

Yellow wood and Stinkwood Armoire
Yellow wood and Stinkwood Armoire

You can visit the delightful manor house with yellow wood ceilings, floorboards and doors set in teak frames and stroll around the delightful gardens, including a very fragrant herb garden.

Naturally, food was not far from our minds and we bought a glass of real lemonade and a chocolate and coffee ice-cream sundae from the Café (formerly slave quarters), sitting under the shade of the lovely oaks in the grounds  and watching the white ducks (pure Jemima Puddleducks) strutting around looking for titbits.

franschhoek town hall
franschhoek town hall

Our final dinner in South Africa was at the “French Connection” again. We had the mussels as a starter (from Walvis Bay) followed by sole and couscous with butternut squash, feta cheese, courgette and a pesto sauce. Finished off with a Dom Pedro Kahlua, double espresso and an amaretto. Sublime!

Need a reason to visit Franschhoek? Believe me when I say it is one of the most beautiful wine valleys in the world. And the food and wine ain’t half bad either.

Cape Town Revisited

When I met my OH twelve years ago we each had a different favourite city in the world, which the other had not visited, so we made a promise to see each place together. In 2005 I went to Vancouver, his choice, and a very good one too, this is the story of my choice – Cape Town, South Africa.

I lived in Cape Town between 1973 and 1984 and fell in love with this beautiful city. I was eager to return with my (new) husband to show him my favourite parts. It had been over eight years since my last visit to the Mother City and a lot longer since I had travelled along the Garden Route, so I was keen to explore old and new places and show him what I thought made this the best city in the world. On arrival at the politically neutral named Cape Town International airport we picked up the VW Polo hire car and drove to our first destination in Constantia. We were staying in a lovely, welcoming bed and breakfast close to the beautiful Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens.

Lily

The only slightly off-putting aspect was the electric fencing surrounding the property and the guard at the entrance of the electronic gates. Oh, how things have changed, and not necessarily better for anyone. I was concerned that this might put my husband off. He already had some misgivings about visiting the country because of its notorious crime rate. Seeing the neighbourhood covered in ‘Armed Response’ signs wasn’t going to appease him.

The weather on the other hand was perfect with azure blue skies, a soft, gentle breeze and it was pleasantly warm. Having unpacked in our large bright bedroom, overlooking gardens to the front and rear, we strolled up to Kirstenbosch to stretch our legs after the long flight from London, via Windhoek and get some well-needed sunshine.

sunbird

This botanic garden is so tranquil and the backdrop of Table Mountain is so dramatic I could have stayed here for the entire trip photographing the many spectacular proteas and sunbirds. It became a regular evening walk during our stay.

Table Mountain
Table Mountain from Kirstenbosch

Later we drove over Constania Nek and down to Hout Bay and along the coast road to Llandudno hoping to see a decent sunset, but cloud on the horizon put paid to that idea. As we drove back to the B&B we called in for a meal of Kingklip, a firm white, buttery, local fish and chips at the Constantia Nek Hotel and Pub.

City Tour
A South Westerly brought in rain, wind and cloud overnight, but it brightened up over breakfast which was excellent – fresh fruit salad and yoghurt, cooked breakfast with choice of eggs, multi seeded bread and good coffee.

Cape Town City Hall
City Hall

We drove into the city and parked in the eerily empty Grand Parade, where the Italianate City Hall is located, and made our way along Adderley Street for a wander through the Government Gardens or ‘Company’s Gardens‘ as it is also known. The pedestrianized tree-lined Government Avenue links the top-end of Adderley Street to Orange Street where you will find the famous Mount Nelson Hotel, “Cape Town’s famous pink hotel”, with her distinctive blush-tint and English High Teas. Tea at the ‘Nellie’ (as it is fondly referred to by locals) starts at 2.30 pm and runs until 5.30 pm.

The grey squirrels which inhabit the trees lining Government Avenue are a delight.

Cheeky Grey Squirrel
Cheeky Grey Squirrel

They were introduced by Cecil Rhodes in 1890. These are larger than their European counterparts and the Garden’s oak trees and plenty of water channels offer a perfect habitat.

They are fairly habituated to humans and will eat out of your hand,  you can find someone to sell you a packet of peanuts with which to feed them. However, the downside is that you may also see huge rats. It has its own rose garden, aviary and fish-pond. In fact they used to sell off some of the fish from here when they got too big or too many, though I don’t know if that practice still occurs.

Also within the Gardens is the ‘Tuynhuys‘ which is used by the President on state occasions (and not open to the public), the neo-classical designed ‘Houses of Parliament’ with its distinctive red brickwork and impressive porticoes with extravagant Corinthian capitals, the ‘Delville Wood Memorial’ and the ‘Rutherfoord Fountain’

Tuynhuis
Tuynhuis, Gardens, Cape Town

This area is known as ‘Museum Mile’ in that the vast majority of Cape Town’s museums are concentrated into the same small space around Government Avenue including the South African Museum and National Gallery.

Iziko Slave Lodge - Cultural History Museum
Iziko Slave Lodge – Cultural History Museum

The Iziko Slave Lodge lies just outside the entrance on the corner of Adderley Street and Wale Street and is now a Cultural History Museum. Close by in Greenmarket Square you will find another museum in the Old Town House.

Greenmarket Square
Greenmarket Square Flea Market

We strolled along to Greenmarket Square where a flea market is held, but found that rather disappointing as there were only a few African craft stalls present and all selling the same objects (wood or soapstone animals, wire and bead ornaments, masks etc.) which to be honest looked mass-produced. The city centre was a bit like a ghost town with hardly anyone about and it felt a little unnatural. My last visit to the city was in December 2000 and it had been much livelier with buskers and shoeshine ‘boys’ so I can only assume that Sunday is not the best day to venture into the centre.

Chilling out on Signal Hill

Signal Hill
Signal Hill

Leaving the centre we drove up Kloofnek Road to the cable car station only to find it closed due to high winds at the top of Table Mountain. Another fail. With the weather becoming increasingly blustery and chilly I needed to find somewhere to impress the OH.

We retraced our route back to Kloofnek Road and then headed across and up Signal Hill, the lion’s rump, which connects Kloof Nek with Lion’s Head.

Guinea Fowl
Guinea Fowl

From the top you have a spectacular viewpoint over Green Point (home to the 2010 World Cup Stadium), Sea Point, Robben Island and the north coast around Table Bay. This used to be open waste ground,  but has been radically improved in recent years with tarmac surfaced, designated parking bays and public toilets. Wild helmeted guinea fowl ran around the car-park. The spectacular views over Cape Town were  unchanged and apparently it is still the place for locals to go for sundowners. A heavy squall sent us running back to the warmth and shelter of the car and to consider where next to go.

Wandering the Waterfront

P1100120
We decided on the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront and discovered that this is where Capetonians go on a Sunday. I love the hustle and bustle of the Waterfront, but as I am not a shopaholic, a short visit is all I need to drink in the atmosphere. It is lively, busy and again has that lovely backdrop of Table Mountain and is the place where you can catch a ferry over to Robben Island.

We stopped for a drink outside a little bar so we could people watch and then headed to the Two Oceans Aquarium, which I believe to be the best Aquarium in the world.

I recall the original Victoria and Alfred basins; it was from here that liners stopped en route from UK to Australia, and where once a little café served the best fish and chips in Cape Town, quite possibly the original Bertie’s Landing Restaurant near the Victorian Gothic-style Clock Tower.

Clock Tower
Clock Tower at Berties Landing

We returned to Constantia via Green Point, Sea Point, Three Anchor Bay, Clifton and Camps Bay – where only the brave venture for a swim into the icy waters of the Atlantic. On reaching Hout Bay we sought out the Mariners Wharf where we had dinner. If you like seafood then this is the place (no pun intended) for you. Chowder soup, calamari and prawns, followed by crème brulee for me and prawn chilli soup, grilled game fish and cheesecake for him together with a Greek salad and an excellent bottle of De Waal Pinotage from Stellenbosch cost us the princely sum of £35