Saturday, November 3, 2012

Cape Town and Franschhoek, S. Africa

My latest adventure started in the beautiful water soaked town of Cape Town, S. Africa.

Cape Town has had an interesting history with a patchwork of cultural influences due to the variety of rulers from the Portugese, English, French and Dutch.  We started our city tour at the Castle of Good Hope which was erected by the Dutch East India Company in 1679 to serve as a fortress. 

The castle sits close to City Hall, where Nelson Mandela made one of his first speeches after being released from prison in 1990, marking the end of apartheid.

This church at the foot of the Company Gardens served as a safe haven for those fighting apartheid.  If people went into the church, they couldn't be harmed.

The Gardens were leftover from the Dutch East India Company's fruit and vegetable gardens, and is still a tranquil park in the middle of the city with a variety of trees, plants and flowers.  This is the start of their Spring so things were starting to bloom.


You can see the notable Table Mountain in the distance.  It's one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, but sadly we will continue to wonder what's on top due to inclement weather, which was really just wind and clouds, but at that elevation (3,300 feet up), those elements increase exponentially, prohibiting the cable car from going up.

We settled for the smaller Signal Hill, which still provided excellent views of Cape Town.


We stayed in the lovely Cape Grace Hotel set on its own private quay situated between a yacht marina and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront.  The waterfront reminded me a bit of Baltimore's inner harbor with a two story open mall overlooking the water.  We ate at the solid, seafood restaurant Baia, which like most of S. Africa, provided amazing value for the food provided.  Due to the exchange rate being in America's favor, we actually had to confirm that we had the wine list for bottles since the prices were like that of glasses.

The next day, we toured the rugged, but beautiful coastline of Cape Point. We hugged the Atlantic Coast Road as we entered the picturesque Clifton and Camps Bay.


We stopped at the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve where we got our first wild animal sighting with zebras off the side of the road, but the main attraction is the south west tip of the peninsula, which we were all happy to call the most southern tip of Africa, but sadly, there's an even more southern point that we weren't able to reach that day.

You can see the Indian and Atlantic Oceans from the top of the hill, which is quite a sight, along with the climb where you can fully experience the ragged cliffsides.


I should mention how windy it was all week, especially at the top as you can see by my hair barometer.


We did what we could with our photo shoot to capture us with the amazing blue of the ocean, and stunning coastline.


The final stop of the day was at Boulders, near Simon's Town, home to a bunch of mangy penguins.  


No, I'm not getting (too) jaded yet, but you be the judge of the cuteness factor. 

No Happy Feet here.  There's a good reason they call them "Jackass" African penguins, and it's not just because the locals are tired of them pooping in their yards.  I will admit that some of the kids were molting and hence the shedding coats, which didn't help their sex appeal.

Lunch was served at Colona Castle, overlooking all trails of the day.  While not exactly a castle, it was a beautifully redone boutique hotel owned by a French woman with impeccable taste.

We got another glimpse into a Cape Town home with a welcome dinner at a very gracious couple's house who served us a home cooked meal in front of a roaring fire, complete with dog and cat in attendance.

Our next stop was wine country and Franschhoek, which means French corner.  Yes, I can't quit the French influence.  We even ate at a restaurant called The French Connection which was tres bon and a fraction of the price in Paris.  The persecuted French Protestants sought refuge here in the late 1600's.

The town felt like the Sonoma of wine country with several cute blocks filled with one-story shops and restaurants in matching white paint.  The only difference is that there was a security guard on each corner at all times to "watch" the shops and vehicles.

We stayed at the exceptional Mont Rochelle Hotel, which provided all encompassing views of the mountains and town, not to mention their own locally grown wine.


The next day we were rested and ready for a day of wine tasting.  First stop was Morgenster Estate in Somerset West, in the valley of Hottentot's Holland Mountains.  The estate is over 300 years old and has had some updates along the way and boasts a range of award winning olive oil, as well as a portfolio of Bordeaux style blends (the French are following me now).

We did an olive oil tasting, alongside a wine tasting, which was good fun.  There are worse things I could be doing at 10:30 in the morning besides shots of olive oil.  The truffle oil was pretty spectacular.


Where can you go from there, but wine and chocolate tasting.  Waterford Wine Estate was a beautiful collection of buildings influenced by the vitners travels, which included stints in Italy and CA.


They actually create special chocolates to complement their wines, often changing the recipes with changes in the wine taste year to year.

We came up for air at lunch on the Kleine Zalze Estate, complete with homes, golf courses, gardens and of course wine.  We had a gourmet lunch at Terroir on the covered terrace before stepping into our final tasting for the day...until dinner at least.


Anura Estate is located in the foothills of the Simonsberg Mountain range.  In addition to their portfolio of wines, they also offer award-winning hand made Forest Hill cheeses, so we had a nice sampling of each before we were ready to burst.


The wines while not overly complex, were still solid across the board, and a good value for the money.  Unfortunately most of the production is limited to small amounts so you're not likely to see much S. African wine in the US, though we tasted several varietals that do export there.  They're still making a name for themselves, and hopefully will have greater awareness and distribution soon.

Fully plumped with food and wine, it's time to head to the bush!

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