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  • Shelley Dark

14. Cape Winelands

Because the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek valleys with their vineyards and wineries are only a bit more than forty minutes drive from Cape Town, it's possible simply to do day tours from the city, but there are so many wonderful hotels in the area, we'd decided to shift camp for two nights.

photo of Pam courtesy her Twitter account

This morning, Tuesday, Pam McOnie of Cape Fusion Tours picked us up at the Cape Grace. Pam is a foodie, wine buff, art lover - lover of anything to do with Cape Town and and the surrounding area. Her website is generously full of great hints by the way for travel planning to Cape Town:

She explained on our way past these townships how much has been achieved in Cape Town in recent years, and the huge cost of infrastructure just for electricity and water.

We were on our way to Vergelegen. Willem Van der Stel succeeded his father Simon as governor of the Cape in 1700. It took him three days by ox-wagon to reach this area where he claimed 30,000 hectares and named it Vergelegen (if I remember correctly, it's pronounced fair-kuh-lee-ken - these Afrikaans words are hard to say!) meaning far away. He spent vast amounts of the Dutch East India Company's funds developing the land, which led to bad feelings between him and the locals and eventually led to his being sent back to the Netherlands.

The property had varied fortunes until two women, Lady Florence Phillips and then Mrs Cynthia Barlow, successively renovated and extended the homestead and gardens in the twentieth century. It's now owned by the Anglo American Company and wines produced here compete in the top 100 wines in the world.

The gardens are extensive and impressive.

Formal manicured areas around the buildings give way to a more relaxed landscape style further away.

The homestead is typically Cape Dutch in style, with symmetrically designed gardens.

The camphor trees were planted by Van der Stel. What an impressive girth!

Hellebores are still flowering. The mornings are still chilly and the days just perfect!

It's a perfect soil and climate for camellias.

A couple of the outbuildings with water feature.

We went on the tour of the new winery building high up on a nearby hill.

It's a space age round design set into the side of a hill with square white glassed clerestory, gravel and lawn on the roof.

The wine storage facilities are slick and modern.

No time for wine tasting though. Pam had worked out the timing so that at the end of the wine tour, there was just time for what she called a two-wheel screechie back towards Cape Town to Vergenoegd (don't even ask me how to say that) in time for the runner duck parade at half past twelve.

Vergenoegd (meaning far enough - these settlers were more relaxed) has over 800 runner ducks employed as organic pest exterminators in the vineyards. Maybe they've turned out to be bigger earners than the wine in terms of tourist appeal! Here the geese are being mustered out of the way of the ducks who are waiting outside the low garden wall.

I'd imagined a rush of runner ducks in a hurry to reach the vineyards, probably because of their name! On the contrary, this is a stage-managed duck walk around the homestead yard by fairly reluctant ducks who are probably sick to death of doing it a couple of times a day!

However they do it very prettily!

Helen has fond memories of the 320-year-old Rust en Vrede winery on a previous visit to South Africa, so the day's plan included lunch here. Since 1977 they've specialised in red wine with the focus on syrah, cabernet and merlot. President Nelson Mandela served Rust en Vrede wine at his Nobel Peace Prize dinner and it also competes in the top 100 wines of the world.

I was feeling very decidedly 'off' by this time, so I happily stayed in the car with my eyes closed while Pam and Helen went into the cellar for lunch. Just to make sure they didn't forget me, I set off the car alarm by opening the locked door from the inside. Fortunately they didn't hear it. They both chose the salmon lunch option and pronounced the wines top drawer.

photo courtesy Leeu Collection

I've never been so glad to see any hotel as I was to arrive at Leeu Estates. Possibly the nicest hotel we've stayed at, I hardly gave a sideways glance to the decor as I shut the door on the world.

I took a shot of the garden before I pulled the curtains - how impressive is the parterre hedging? The grey plant is helichrysum. The life size statues of Artemis the huntress with her three dogs are by South African artist Deborah Bell.

Best we draw a curtain over my subsequent hours as well!

photo by Helen

Pam and Helen went on to visit La Motte for a wine tasting. This sculpture at the entrance is the Wine Bearer by Toby Megaw. She has an overflowing cup in her hands, a symbol of sharing. La Motte is owned by the famous Rupert family, one of South Africa's richest, listed by Forbes magazine among the 500 wealthiest in the world.

photo by Helen

They're art lovers, conservationists and philanthropists, much respected and admired by their countrymen. Helen really enjoyed La Motte wine - apparently some of it is made in partnership with the Rothschilds.

​But back to Leeu Estates. How did an Indian billionaire, Mr Analjit Singh come to make such a huge investment in the Franschhoek Valley?

photo hanging at Leeu Estates

I read in Forbes magazine that in 2009 one of his daughters asked him if she could go to South Africa to a wedding. Absolutely not said Mr Singh, how the heck do you get there anyway? After the wedding his daughter told him that it was his kind of place so he came here for the world cup in 2010.

Not a bad bedroom to feel sick in.

bathroom photo courtesy And Beyond

At the time, Mr Singh was looking for stillness and inner peace. Me too. He felt a deep sense of belonging and energy in the Franschhoek Valley. He bought three farms, a winery and a brewery and has built several hotels. I just stayed in my room.

The attention to detail and the quality of the furniture and fittings at Leeu Estates is quite remarkable. For example, we loved the carpet runner all in one piece without a join: it goes up those stairs, turns three right angles and then runs the length of the building upstairs. How could they do that?

A metal side table was covered in a pretty grey mottled hide. The interior designer for Mr Singh is Beverley Boswell of Franschhoek. She studied in Cape Town and worked at David Easton in New York and Studio Indigo in London before returning to South Africa in 2012.

The family name Singh means lion in Sanskrit. The Afrikaans word for lion is Leeu. Hence the name of his hotel collection.

The sheers on the windows are light open linen.

An arresting and unusual art work. We both thought she had my dog's disease!

The wine tasting room is simply superb. There's a glass topped table too supported by three Dylan Lewis bronze leopards.

A two-metre-high bottle opener cork screw on the wall down to the tasting room.

I think this contemporary portrait in the breakfast room is by Lionel Smit. His father Anton is a famous sculptor here in South Africa - their work is similar in spirit and style.

Linen bag for dirty shoes... By the way, my pale grey boots had become a pale red. Housekeeping at Leeu took them, cleaned them, and even washed the shoe laces. Spotless. Big tick, thank you housekeeping!

I'm unsure of the maker of this huge textural collage painting of a township at the top of the stairs - so powerful.

We both fell in love with the overscale weaving in the sisal matting!

Here's your flower for today, another of South Africa's native plants which do so well in Australia: the Kaffir Lily or clivia.

Tomorrow we'll visit the fabulous garden at Babylonstoren, stay at Delaire Graff Estate and see the amazing sculpture garden of Dylan Lewis.

Until then, buddies,

ps. Sorry if you've been unable to comment. The Minister for Comments is working on the problem so I hope it will be fixed soon.

shelley dark, writer 

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