After ten fascinating days hurtling around the winelands of the Cape, following a packed itinerary devised by WOSA – Wines of South Africa – David and I were ready for a holiday. (I shall post a commentary and photos in due course) Ronnie, our driver from the company Go Cape, drove us for the last time to our hotel in Franschhoek (having first resolved a minor flat battery crisis with minimum fuss)
L’Ermitage is a newish hotel built on the edge of Franschhoek, once known as the first settlement created by Huguenot immigrants, and now a very fashionable hub for foodie tourists, retirees, and wine lovers; the relatively wealthy, in other words. All around the town new build is burgeoning, though tourism is badly affected this season by the wretched drought. Only six of the hotel’s 36 rooms were occupied, and it was at least 24 hours before I clapped sight on another visitor! We were upgraded to the Honeymoon suite with a fine view from our balcony of the ornamental lake and a very dry garden below
Franschhoek’s water comes from local mountain sources, so the crisis is not as acute as in Cape Town, whose main reservoir is almost empty. But we were already very aware of the need to save every last drop; no baths, stop-start short showers, infrequent flushings; dry tooth-brushing, sanitising hand sprays…
The following day – Wednesday – Nicola Tipping of Mullineux wines, who we had visited the previous week, had arranged a tasting for us at Leeu’s Wine Studio. From her we had learned that Mr Singh, a very successful man whose main businesses in India are with Vodafone and Health Care, has begun investing heavily in the South African wine and tourism business encouraged by Rosa Kruger (their photo below)
Indeed, Franschhoek is heaving with Leeu estates (Leeu is an african name for lion, apparently, and Singh is the indian…) which have popped up, ready formed, in the last two to three years. He has impeccable taste and seemingly bottomless pockets.
The tasting room is minutely managed by highly trained and assiduous staff, and we particularly warmed to the Chopin and the soil samples…and the wines, of course
We left on foot – to walk through the exquisite gardens, managed by fleets of staff, past the vineyards and over the wine-tram track, to regain the single main street and Ryan’s Kitchen, recommended by Jason on Whatsapp the night before. Fantastic food, but we were their only lunch customers. Dinner is heaving, apparently…
We walked on through the town, enjoying the relaxed and safe touristy bustle and a couple of shops selling silk shirts and scarves. On to the Huguenot memorial, where we turned left in the direction of the hotel, spotting Le Lude estate en route. Another manicured set of vineyards with spectacular views of the valley and mountains; and another tasting opportunity : Le Lude’s bubblies, alongside Les Mesnil, of all things!
Back to the hotel, to change and dress for the next adventure – dinner at La Petite Ferme, less than a kilometre away, out of town. This required a taxi – and we arrived just as the sun was setting. The restaurant has changed hands since the friends who recommended it ate here, and the food was more hearty than sophisticated. But the views were breath-taking and the holiday had properly started as the photos show.
Thursday was transfer to Cape Town day – but not before we had packed, walked into Franschhoek for a spot more shopping and a tasting lunch at La Petite Colombe, set in another Leeu estates property right in the centre of town. This meal was a visual, culinary and vinous delight… These were just the starters!
As arranged, John Hartley from Go Cape collected us from the restaurant mid afternoon and we picked up our luggage from L’Ermitage before heading for busy Cape Town. Both drivers, from their very different personal perspectives have helped us make some sense of the staggering and shameful contrasts of lifestyles that we saw every day from the cars, and of SA’s political and economic fragility.
Alongside the affluence of tourism and the historic landownership of the wine farms there is 33% unemployment, and an average monthly wage for those with work of R3000 – £170 per month. But the hotels and housing are as expensive as Europe. It will take a long time before the distribution of black, white and africaans evens out; we met only one young black winemaker, and I saw only two white waitresses…
The legacies of apartheid live on in the townships – every settlement has an outlying area of shacks and huts huddled together, served by satellite dishes, rows of latrines, gravel tracks, and forests of posts bearing electricity cables. Khayelitsha township alongside the airport houses over a million people, and rising, as more people arrive from neighbouring regions with even less work. It made Calais’ Jungle look small.
We arrived at the 350 room President Hotel – named after Nelson Mandela who opened it in 1997 – beneath Lion Rock at Cape Point in time to swim (yes, there was water in the pool – chlorinated and filtered sea water, to judge by its saltiness) and get ready to go out – on foot – to La Bohème, perhaps a kilometre along Regent Street.
It was an uncomfortable walk, and we regretted carrying bags. In among the tourism are many people with very little, least of all a home. All the hotels maintained gates and elaborate security systems; their guests remaining around the pool during the day and venturing out only in taxis – though we saw plenty of Cape Town residents jogging along the promenade the next morning. We took a taxi home.
Friday was more of a working day. Christina of Cape Wine Academy in Johannesberg flew in to talk about her work and the academy’s aspirations, and in the afternoon we went into the city business district to meet Cathy Marston who teaches WSET courses in Cape Town. Heaving with traffic, the grid of one-way streets alternated between historic colonial style architecture and late twentieth century concrete. Not unlike any other busy city though the Greenmarket traders, having dismantled their stalls further clogged the traffic pushing huge trolleys and barrows through the streets.
Cathy and Kevin live in the southern suburbs with their 11 year old son, having moved here from Ipswich in the early 2000s. We met and ate in Bree Street (Long St is to be avoided at night, it seems). It didn’t take long to discover that we had lived in the same place, that I had known her parents and that we had friends in common. Less than six degrees of separation, I’d say! Another taxi home – the red pin, above
One full day remained – Saturday. How could we see as much as possible, as safely as possible but without the isolation of a taxi ? Well, its called the Red Bus…
For the princely sum of R200 (£11) each we were able to hop on at a stop by the hotel, ride north along the promenade through Sea Point, past the Three Anchor Bay, Green Point Lighthouse (below) all around the Victoria and Alfred (yes – Prince Alfred, her second son) Waterfront, through the old city, past the University and on to the Botanical Gardens, to Constantia. Able at any point to hop off, and after an interval, hop back on the next bus. The sun shone, the wind blew (and yes, it’s very windy in the Cape in January) and we had spectacular views from the top of the bus.
Where did we hop on, and off? Well, first at Groot Constantia, for a stroll round this nationally owned estate with its traditional buildings, views, restaurants, vineyards, Cape figs and winery, and later at the Eagles’ Nest wine estate, nearby
And then we moved on to Hout Bay, Marriners Wharf, past yet another township and resettlement area, and then up the coast past Llandudno and Camps Bay and Clifton’s beaches, and back to Bantry Bay with Table Mountain just peeping through
So, having left late morning, we were back at the hotel by early evening in time for a swim before heading to the very local La Mouette for a fantastic tasting menu with nominated wines. What more could a wine student (and his minder) want?
And on Sunday we came home. But not before a day at the hotel, swimming, writing, and David watching Chelsea beat Newcastle to go through to the fifth round of the FA cup for the 18th time in 20 seasons. (I might be useful in a Trivia quiz after all). South Africans are football mad, so of course the game was on in the lounge…
The airport at Cape Town is small and convenient – especially on Sunday afternoon. The flight was, well… dreadful, neither of us sleeping much in the poorly designed seats of elderly BA planes despite the Economy Premium. But I did watch Victoria and Abdul, which passed some of the time. Where would the film industry be without Judi Dench?
And no, we didn’t see any elephants, except this one, on a wall.
31 January 2018