My grape escape
SOUTH AFRICA: Forget the winter and festive leftovers and head for the sun and wine of South Africa, just like Christine Austin.
FTER many years of encouraging you all to get away to the vineyards during the very worst of the winter I eventually decided to take my own advice. By the time you read this I will already be back home, with a hint of a tan making me look just a little bit healthier than I did pre-Christmas. And it all happened so quickly. After a fairly tough year (haven’t we all had a tough year?) and with the family already occupied elsewhere the prospect of a quiet holiday season was beginning to look dreary instead of relaxing, so I settled down at the computer for some serious sunshine-seeking.
At just 48 hours notice, I found flights and hotel and decided to abandon the Christmas left-overs and booked myself and my other half on the last two seats on a plane to South Africa. Whether the cold turkey, cranberry sauce and various other Christmas bits and pieces will ever be seen again is a matter between me and my freezer but frankly I don’t care.
I am enjoying the fresher, lighter tastes of summer, my mid-winter blues are, right now, being blasted away by glorious sunshine and a regular morning swim is starting my spring slimming campaign at least eight weeks earlier than I would back home.
Why South Africa? It is straight down the time-line so you get on a plane in the evening, endure the plastic tray of plastic food and then settle down to watch a movie, and maybe manage some sleep. By the time you wake up you will be over Africa and about to make that spectacular left turn over Cape Point and into Cape Town airport. Make sure you sit on the A side of the plane rather than the K side so you make the most of the view.
If you haven’t been to South Africa before, then it is a good idea to spend a
few days in Cape Town, just so you can see that it really does look like all the tourism pictures. With Table Mountain acting as the perfect backdrop and the harbour spread out in front, there is plenty to do while you get used to winter sunshine. Take the cable car up the mountain and enjoy cocktails at sunset, take the ferry out to Robben Island or just explore the shops which offer good value at present with almost 14 Rand to the pound.
There are lots of informal harbourside restaurants where you can enjoy good food and wine. One great steak place, Belthazar’s, has a vast wineby-the-glass list so you can get the tastebuds in tune before setting off to the vineyards but I have found some of the best restaurants are situated away from the waterfront. Try La Colombe at Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate and Myoga in Newlands for elegant fine dining, but for great value you should try La Mouette in Seapoint, just a short taxi ride away from the harbourside. I must declare an interest here since the (British) chef is the son of a friend, but he has done his apprenticeship at many famous UK restaurants and has now set up his own place with his South African wife. The sixcourse tasting menu, matched with wine is terrific in quality and value. Make sure you sit in the courtyard and don’t miss the gloriously savoury mushroom and chestnut-filled Fontina Tortellini.
After a few days in Cape Town, it is time to head for the vineyards which are just a short distance away. Most hotels will arrange excursions, but then you are
My mid-winter blues are, right now, being blasted away by
trapped in their schedule when, frankly it is much more fun to plan your own.
Hire a car and first head to the lovely university town of Stellenbosch. The route is well signposted and the roads are not busy. There are dozens of really good guest houses such as River Manor and Batavia Boutique Hotel but tourism has expanded rapidly in the last few years and you can now go upmarket and stay in luxury lodges on wine estates (try Delaire), with stylish restaurants close by. Check www.stellenboschtourism.co.za for a comprehensive list.
My favourite wine visits include Warwick for its fabulous picnics which can be eaten in the garden or taken up the mountain where you can enjoy the view. The wine is excellent too. Try Beyerskloof for its scrubbed tables, bistro food and fabulous Pinotage or head to Tokara for sheer breathtaking views and exquisite, elegant food. An excursion to Jordan estate will take you towards the mountains, stunning scenery, great wines and an excellent restaurant, while Kleine Zalze has great wines, accommodation, restaurant and even a golf course.
From Stellenbosch it is just a short drive