MEANDERING THROUGH LIZ MCGRATH’S FLAGSHIP
ITHOUGHT I knew better than Google Maps – and almost ending up in Hout Bay. But as I meander along the tree-lined slopes of Table Mountain through Constantia I eventually find The Cellars-Hohenort.
I’m doing a Cape meander, taking in the properties of the famed Liz McGrath collection, and this is the flagship. Founded in 1693 as Klaasenbosch Farm for the chief surgeon of the Dutch East India Company, the vines were laid out in the 1750s and the Cellars building was the original wine cellar. In 1906 the Hohenort (or high place) was built on the original farmhouse. The properties were subsequently split up, but McGrath saw their potential and reunited them as the Cellars-Hohenort in 1993, and set about renovating them with her own distinct style.
Five-star establishments while always swanky, can be impersonal, but not the Cellars as it’s affectionately known. There’s the distinctive and imposing Cape colonial architecture of the main building, the gardens are a riot of roses in full bloom, and the staff are friendly and welcoming. On a warm summer’s afternoon there’s a welcoming glass of iced-tea waiting.
The 52 luxury rooms and suites are individually decorated and come with all the trappings one would expect from a five-star hotel – fresh flowers, complementary wine, fruit baskets, a well-stocked mini-bar, underfloor heating, wifi, DStv and such likes. There’s a double-storey Madiba Villa set apart in the gardens of the hotel with its own heated plunge pool.
My suite spoke of the understated four-poster and plump pillow elegance, and boasted a massive stone bath in the centre of the large bathroom. The veranda overlooked a courtyard with a water feature and rows of standing roses all magnificently in bloom. I’m told there are more than 2 500 rose bushes on the estate. It was a glorious sea of white and green. There, I was happy to while away a few hours taking in the late afternoon sunshine with a glass of wine in hand.
This was after a walk through some of the 3.6 hectare property that is renowned for its gardens. There’s a working vineyard out front boasting some 950 vines, two swimming pools – one is heated – and a tennis court. There’s the indigenous garden and the cool shade of the fern walk and then the herb garden was fascinating, trying to work out what would end up on our plates that evening. Tours of the gardens can be arranged.
If the gardens aren’t therapy enough, the Fresh Wellness Spa is a place to unwind, it’s menu boasting a selection of signature treatments.
And if you don’t want to relax, there’s plenty on offer in the Constantia area, including both Groot and Klein Constantia wine estates, wine tours, Kirstenbosch Gardens, hiking, horse riding and even the forest adventure zip line. Oh, and of course, there’s Hout Bay over the mountain. And a night on the town is only 15”minutes away.
The Cellars-Hohenort boasts two acclaimed restaurants. The awardwinning Greenhouse is the temple of executive chef Peter Tempelhoff. Sadly it was fully booked when I was there, so instead I dined in the more informal Conservatory, a glass-enclosed terrace built around a 300-year-old oak tree. The menu takes in many Cape classics, served with flair and a decidedly Tempelhoff twist.
The cousins joined me and after a glass of pink bubbly in the colourful and funky Martini Bar, we tucked in. The pulled Malay roti with its lemon atchar was inspired, as was the cheesy soufflé with a cheese and gin sauce. We loved the simplicity of a dish of the best Parma ham drizzled with olive oil and crispy capers. The grilled tuna with soba noodles and miso glaze was a superb main, while springbok cooked on the braai and served with a skilpadjie was extraordinary.
And yes, we found out second stomachs for dessert, a delicious strawberry and white chocolate mille-feuille, a dark chocolate tart with caramelised pears and crème caramel. Great cooking.
Breakfast was taken on the terrace outside the Conservatory, while a whole family of ducks swam by on the pond. It was a simple affair but a distinctly artisanal one. There’s a selection of muesli and yoghurts, and fruits – fresh stewed and dried – but all home-made. The cheese and meat selection takes in some of the finest Cape offerings and as one would expect, a selection of freshly baked breads, muffins and pastries. It was topped with a simple hot selection that might include a Benedict, French toast or oats or in my case, smoked salmon with beautiful organic scrambled eggs.
I wanted to spend another day relaxing in those gardens, but the second leg of the journey came all too quickly – Hermanus and The Marine. It’s an hour-and-a-half drive from Cape Town but I take the scenic route via Pringle Bay and Betty’s Bay. And stop for lunch of calamari served out of newspaper at the old Harbour at Kleinmond. More next week.
The impressive Hohenort Building at The Cellars-Hohenort with the roses in full bloom.
The beautiful and whimsical gardens at The Cellars-Hohenort.
The simple elegance of a suite at The Cellars-Hohenort.