Posts tagged ‘Cape Town’

Had Eve visited these gardens instead of Eden, she’d never have noticed the snake

To visit Cape Town, South Africa, and not visit the Cape Winelands that stretch some 100 miles to the east and north is like visiting California and not going to the beach. If you’re foodie, it’s simply inexcusable.

The Cape Winelands is an extraordinary region with jagged peaks, verdant farmlands, flowering lavender fields and wine farms (local speak for boutique wineries).


Originally settled by the French Huguenots 300 years ago, the Cape Winelands served as the halfway point between Europe and Asia for ships on the Spice Route. It was there, they replenished with water, vegetables and fruit. Many of those original farms with their stunning whitewashed architecture still stand, only today they host oenophiles, honeymooners and other contented guests who come by car, bus and train to their charming B&Bs, restaurants (more than half of South Africa’s top ten restaurants are located in the Cape Winelands) and tasting rooms.

I was fortunate to start my tour at Babylonstoren, a 17th century estate in the Drakenstein Valley with orchards, olive groves, bee hives and an eight-acre garden designed by a 20-year veteran of the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. At 7 a.m. each morning, Liesl van der Walt meets her gardening team, the chefs and oftentimes, owner Karen Roos, a former fashion editor, at the magnificent edible garden to pluck what’s ripe and begin designing the day’s menu that is magic-markered onto the pure white walls of the former kraal (cow stable) that has been turned into one of two restaurants on the property.


Except for a daily morning tour of the garden, time at Babylonstoren is intentionally unscripted, giving guests of the 14 exquisite cottages and the restored 1777 Manor House the luxury of strolling the 450 acres of orchards, swimming in the farm dam, relaxing at the spa or, if they want, joining in the harvesting, pruning, planting or picking of the 300 varieties of fruit, herbs, nuts, spices and vegetables.

If Eve had been here instead of the Garden of Eden, she’d have never given that snake a second thought. She’d have been too blown away by this garden where every plant is either edible or medicinal. There’s also a wormery (to help with composting), a prickly pear maze, ducks and chickens and attention paid to even the smallest of details. The path through the fragrance garden, for example, is lined with crushed sea shells and the floor inlays are made from blue and white pottery shards found on the property.


I also had the pleasure of visiting Vrede en Lust, a historic winery nestled in the foothills of the Simonsberg. Originally planted in 1688 with 10,000 vines by French Huguenot Jacques de Savoye, this wine farm is now owned by Dana and Etienne Buys. It makes quite a splash with female servers all dressed in elegant red dresses. Susan Erasmus, their acclaimed winemaker, has been known to play classical music to the grapes in the three vineyards.

This magnificent estate has a restaurant and accommodations in two restored 300-year-old homes.

So, yeah, South Africa’s National Roads Agency (SANRAL) is thinking about charging a toll on the N1 and N2 highways that lead to the Cape Winelands, but nothing is going to stop me from heading back there as soon as I possibly can.

Photos courtesy of Babylonstoren

Table Bay Hotel: Cape Town’s home away from home for the A-list

Back when Barack Obama was a freshman senator from Illinois, he booked a room at Cape Town’s Table Bay Hotel. Like many celebrities before him, he chose this exclusive hotel on Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront because of its prime location, stellar views and five-star service.

In fact, if you walk around Oscar, the sea lion statue facing the working harbor, you’ll see dozens of gold plaques with names of the many A-listers who have stayed at this gorgeous hotel: Michael Jackson, Charlize Theron, Stevie Wonder, Sarah Ferguson, Chris Rock and Sean Connery, to drop just a few names you may know.

At the time Obama stayed at Table Bay, the hotel was raising money for charity. Every time a notable person checked in, they’d be given paper and pen and asked to contribute a drawing for the upcoming auction. Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin and others quickly scrawled a doodle. But the future president of the United States gave it some thought and ended up contributing a gorgeous side profile of his wife, Michelle.

“After he got elected, we all looked at ourselves and thought, too bad we didn’t hang on to that,” said Sarah Prins, PR manager for the hotel.

Although no one asked me to contribute any drawing and it’s highly unlikely my name will end up on one of the plaques surrounding Oscar, the Seal, I did have the pleasure of staying at this amazing property on a recent visit to Cape Town. And I can easily second the nominations this 329-room property regularly receives for best of the best international hotels.

Three things stood out for me.

1. The windows.Like a model who knows which side to show when the cameras appear, this stunning hotel makes the most of Cape Town’s unparalled beauty with towering windows. One side of windows opens to Table Mountain, the imposing mesa that recently won a spot on the new seven natural wonders list, and the other to Robben Island, the infamous home of Nelson Mandela during much of his 27 years of imprisonment.

2. Location, location, location. Nearly everything is within walking distance—the gorgeous harbor with its cute shops and boutiques, the boat to Robben Island, the brightly-colored Bo-Kaap neighborhood, St. George’s Mall and the Company’s Garden.

3. High tea. I’ve been to some pretty impressive high teas in my years as a travel writer. In fact, last summer I wrote a whole article on the best and most decadent high teas. But this one at Table Bay Hotel may just take the cake…or the chocolate éclairs or the brandied chocolate mousse or the chocolate brioche with baby pear.

Like Prins said, “If only I’d known.”