I always love paying a visit to the awesome, beautifully compact, Jan Marais Nature Reserve in Stellenbosch (about which I have written before). It is literally the perfect spot to stretch your legs and take in some fresh air without actually having to leave the bustle of the town behind.
Easy, wide paths to stroll around on, loads of interesting fynbos to take in, a scattering of art installations to admire or invoke conversation about, a small kids play area, an outdoor gym area, and the occasional tortoise or two.
Seriously, what is there not to love about this spot that finds itself smack bang in the middle of Stellenbosch itself?
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(Bonus: The slide at the end was a bit of an epic fail. Emily raced over to it, climbed to the top and then slid down, only to emerge crying her head off. Turns out the slide was home to a huge puddle of water at the bottom – which she had only noticed once she hit it. Absolutely soaked. All I can say is it was super lucky that Chantelle was with us for a change – mommy’s love was DESPERATELY needed! :D)
When it comes to picking out the granddaddy of visitor friendly wine estates in Stellenbosch, then surely the venerable Spier comes out right at the top of the list. It has been on the tourist welcoming bandwagon for many years now, and as a family we’ve also enjoyed the beautiful estate more than just a few times in the past.
Although the list of things to do at Spier has ebbed and flowed over the years, these days the wine estate still offers a smorgasbord of activities to both the day and overnight visitor – from wine tasting, picnics on their luscious lawns, self-guided walks and Segway tours, to dining at either Spier Farm Kitchen, the Hotel Restaurant, Eight Restaurant, or the excellent Hoghouse BBQ & Bakery.
You can ride a horse, browse the Craft Market, shop at the Spier Gift Shop, watch birds of prey at Eagle Encounters, get a treatment at The Spa, visit the Spier Artisan Studio, or simply admire the countless examples of public art on display.
And then of course there is the plethora of art and music festivals that seem to take place all the time!
On of the oldest farms in South Africa, and one of the most environmentally conscious, Spier also puts a lot of effort in its community upliftment projects as well as supporting local art through its art academy and various art projects.
On that note, one of the newer displays on the grounds is the Mosaic Kraal, containing various mosaic art pieces created by local artisans.
Given that I had just entertained Jessica and Emily with a rewarding visit to the owls and eagles of Eagle Encounters, I thought it only fair that I take some time for myself and get a chance to leisurely browse through some of Spier’s art pieces – much to the frustration of two easily bored little girls.
So I sauntered a little slower to make sure it took just that little bit longer…
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It is really is hard not to enjoy strolling around Spier’s expansive grounds!
On the 7th of November last year, Chantelle and I celebrated eight years of marriage to one another. To commemorate this special occasion, we decided to head out to Cape Town for High Tea at city’s famous Pink Lady: the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel.
With its name taking inspiration from Cape Town’s Table Mountain and the fame of Lord Horatio Nelson, the historic Mount Nelson Hotel (now owned by the Belmond group) first opened its doors on the 6th of March 1899. It was the first hotel in South Africa to offer hot and cold running water, and it was described back then as being ‘even better than its London counterparts’.
Today this five star luxury hotel, complete with gardens, restaurants, a spa and a host of other amenities, holds on to its status of being a place of accommodation that achieves that perfect mix of tranquility and class in the middle of a bustling urban environment.
(To be honest, I kind of have to believe what they say – this place definitely does amaze when it comes to first impressions!)
For Chantelle of course, afternoon tea (or high tea as it is otherwise known) at the Mount Nelson is old hat – she’s done it more than a few times in the past, but for me it was definitely a first.
And admittedly, I have to say that I rather enjoyed the experience.
For a start, the newly renovated tea room is now light and airy, apparently very different to the darker, more reserved space Chantelle has previously experienced.
The setup is simple enough: you get shown to your table, you get assigned a tea sommelier (or a waiter if you’re unlucky), get a stand of savour finger eats placed down in front of you at your table, and then proceed to select two teas from a very exotic (and extensive) list of teas (while continuously heading over to the exquisite dessert buffet table to fill up on treats whenever you run short).
For reference, my first pot of tea was the Pu-Erh Royal 2009 red tea, followed by a pot of Lapsang Souzhong smoked black tea. Chantelle on the other hand gave the rather dramatic Jasmine Dragon Phoenix Pearls oolong tea a go.
We had a particularly interesting tea sommelier (which is apparently now a thing) who spent a fair time talking tea with us, plus, given the fact that we were there for our wedding anniversary, we were even treated to a special little Happy Anniversary plating – much appreciated of course.
Sadly though, our romantic outing for two took a strange turn towards the end of the tea service – turning on our phones revealed that Emily’s school had been trying to get hold of us. Thanks to a MAJOR fire that was moving in onto Gordon’s Bay from Sir Lowry’s Pass, schools were being evacuated and basically we needed to abandon everything and get home fast!
Of course, being stuck more than an hour away from home meant that we had to phone up anyone and everyone in order to make a plan that ensured the kids were safe, and after a quick but slightly panicked stroll around the gardens to admire the exquisite Dylan Lewis sculptures out on display, we strapped in for a rather nail biting drive back home through traffic.
(For reference, we were all safe, but the blaze on the mountain was massive, gutting a few houses and causing much panic and evacuations, before eventually turning back in gale force winds and heading up over the mountain again. Quite a spectacle to see the mountain at the back of our house burning so bright orange for the next couple of evenings! Also, turns out the saying is true – if you live in a fynbos rich area then you are pretty much guaranteed a major fire every ten years or so!)
Anyway, back to the high tea experience – it was actually really enjoyable to have done:
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In Summary: Afternoon Tea at the Mount Nelson is an expensive outing to be sure, but definitely one worth doing if you’re looking to treat your partner to something that is special and perhaps just a little bit out of the norm.
I’ve written about the Rhodes Memorial on these pages before, and earlier in June I took my two girls up the slopes of Devil’s Peak to go and see this unique, classically inspired memorial to the English-born South African politician Cecil John Rhodes.
Firstly, if you have never seen this national monument in person before, then the Sir Herbert Baker and Francis Macey designed structure sitting on the flank of Table Mountain (above my old alma mater UCT for that matter) is guaranteed to impress.
(Well, that said, the girls didn’t really think it was all that. The liked the stairs and the horse, but as far as what they were concerned, the most exciting bit was the prospect of being allowed to take a photo or two with my phone camera, a promise that I had to make before we had even exited the car!)
Flanked by eight lions (cast by J.W. Swan and modeled upon those protecting Nelson column in Trafalgar Square), the memorial is fronted by the dynamic ‘Statue of Energy’, an imposing horse with rider sculpture – said to be a tribute to Rhodes’ restless drive and determination.
49 granite steps (one for each year of his life) then lead you to the main viewing platform which is adorned with a classic arrangement of Doric columns, the center at which stands the bronze bust of Cecil John Rhodes himself.
At this point of the photos, you might of course notice something slightly out of place.
Sadly, during the populist anti-colonialism outcry (complete with symbol defacement) that took place throughout South Africa in 2016, a few activists tried to behead the bust, ultimately failing in their attempt but doing enough damage so as to leave Rhodes without his nose.
As you might imagine, this does rather spoil the whole effect.
The site is also home to a popular tea garden and restaurant (makes sense when you consider the gorgeous view over Cape Town to be had from this location), and is also the starting base for a couple of popular Table Mountain hikes.
(The hour long walk to the King’s Blockhouse being one of those).
For the record, we didn’t pop in to the tea garden because we still had quite a few other interesting things to get to on the day (Llandudno Beach, Hout Bay Harbour, and World of Birds to be exact), but the girls were okay with that – after all, I did let them fool around with my phone camera for a bit…
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A visit to Rhodes Memorial doesn’t take particularly long, and no matter your view on colonialism or the likes of people like Cecil John Rhodes, it is worth a visit just for the architecture and view alone!
Forged in the 2000’s and named after the mountain whose western slope is home to many of their vineyards, Tulbagh’s award winning Saronsberg, despite the farm itself’s deep historic roots, is actually a relatively new wine producer, having only produced its first vintage back in 2004.
Saronsberg Wine Cellar is known as a patron of the arts, and as such have married their wine tasting facilities with an unique art gallery, showcasing the work of a broad spectrum of famous and proudly South African artists.
I’m particularly fond of Angus Taylor’s work, and his hauntingly beautiful “From Earth From Water” (more commonly known as Lady of the Lake) sculpture serves as Saronsberg’s official mascot.
In addition to the actual wine (and nowadays olive oil) production, Saronsberg caters as a superb conference venue, and if that wasn’t enough, accommodation in the form of elegant self-catering vineyard cottages is also on the books.
As for the wine, well two of Saronsberg’s red wines stand at the top of SAWi’s (The South African Wine Index) scored list, meaning that you are guaranteed to taste something remarkable if you ever find yourself in the area.
Which is exactly what happened when Chantelle and I paid a visit to their wonderfully modern wine cellar facilities last December.
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A perfect marriage of wine and art.
(Hint: Angus Taylor’s “Conduit” stone man is a good indication that you’ve successfully navigated your way to Saronsberg!)
Related Link: Saronsberg Wine Cellar
On a windless Friday evening in the Helderberg Basin, there is no better way to see out a long week of work than with a stroll along the water’s edge of Strand beach, patiently waiting for the shimmering sun to finally dip below the horizon.
The sea wall construction work continues unabated all along Strand’s beachfront (it is all part of the City of Cape Town’s R180 million promenade upgrade), meaning that a fair bit of the beach is technically still out of action, the impact on evening strolls isn’t all that high given the length of Strand’s famous main beach.
Of course, the girls are never keen just to walk for the sake of walking, so to make it a mission I have to create an objective – and for this particular Friday night evening stroll I decided that we should take the long walk over to the always art friendly upmarket Cape Sands apartments (on the very edge of Strand’s beachfront as you come into Strand) in order to see what they currently have on display in front of the building.
For reference (just in case you are curious and because the girls wouldn’t let me get close enough to take a photo with my phone), currently on display is a large green (bronze) face from the internationally acclaimed South African painter/sculptor Lionel Smit, who well known for his larger-than-life portraiture works.
And the reward for such a long trek? Some sit down and play in the sand time of course!
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Also, a map (for just in case you’re not entirely sure where I am):
Last year saw Chantelle and myself tackle the fantastic Franschhoek Wine Tram experience once more, and following our first tasting over at the Rickety Bridge Winery, our next stop came in the form of the grand, art rich and 300 year old Franschhoek institution, the Grande Provence estate.
We were very excitedly telling our companions all about the fantastic massive elephant and horse rider statues guarding over the entrance at Grande Provence, which I guess then is precisely why when we did finally pull up via our tractor drawn carriage, neither of those two statues were anywhere in sight!
(Turns out, as we found out later following some inquiries, some wealthy American took a liking to the statues and had them shipped out back to the States. Which makes complete sense when all the beautiful pieces on display are actually there for sale purposes in the first place!)
Not that it matters in the slightest though. We were after all there to taste some wine, and indeed, the wine that we got to taste was very good indeed!
Grande Provence was slightly on the busy side when we arrived, so Chantelle and I opted to do our tasting inside the tasting room while the others waited to be helped outside. We got talking to the gentleman helping us with our tasting, and he surprised us by letting us taste some of the more expensive wines which weren’t even on our tasting list for the day!
Following our tasting, Chantelle and I headed outside to explore a little more. The estate’s classic Cape Dutch architecture is enhanced by the beautifully manicured and maintained gardens, which are of course studded with clever and thought provoking sculpture pieces wherever you look.
So pro tip: keep this in mind if you are there for only a short amount of time – be sure to set aside a good couple of minutes for yourself to be able to amble around the gardens and take in all the artistic sights.
Unless of course you really are there only for the wine! ;)
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As for us on the day? Next up, lunch at Café BonBon on the La Petite Dauphine guest farm!
The impact that the wealthy farmer, politician and later philanthropist, Jan Marais had on Stellenbosch cannot be overstated. Having made his fortune first in the diamond fields at the confluence the Vaal and Orange Rivers, he then turned his hand to farming and moved to Stellenbosch, where he quickly established himself as a leading figure of the town and in fact, became the first representative of Stellenbosch to serve in the House of Assembly when South Africa became a Union in 1910.
In addition to being instrumental in the founding of Naspers and Die Burger (he provided a lot of the financing), Jan Marais also left a large amount of money in his will towards the establishment of the Stellenbosch University, establishing it out of the existing Victoria College. His testament also provided for the establishment of HJMNF (Het Jan Marais Nationale Fonds), which currently awards some R20 million annually to a number of developmental projects in Stellenbosch and elsewhere in support of the Afrikaans language.
Oh, and just because he could, he also donated a massive 23 ha piece of land for use as a nature reserve – and in so doing, the Jan Marais Nature Reserve public park was born.
This sprawling, municipal run park serves two main purposes, one of which is providing a safe haven for the region’s naturally occurring vegetation, with the park comprising of two primary vegetation types: Swartland Renosterveld to the north and Swartland Alluvium Fynbos towards the southern edge.
The other purpose is of course is to be a freely available green space for the residents of Stellenbosch to make use of – thus the many picnic lawns and even small playground area to be enjoyed!
There are a lot of rambling dirt paths to follow through a big variety of various types of vegetation, and with Spring in the air, the fynbos was certainly putting on a show for the girls and myself on our day of exploration!
Apart from the local inhabitants that include all manner of birds, rabbits and of course tortoises, Jan Marais Nature Reserve is also dotted with public art all over the place – in fact, you can make a whole morning out of just tracking these often quite whimsical (in fairness, that’s being a kind to a lot of the displays) sculpture pieces down!
There is also a labyrinth on show (as well as an eco-centre and outdoor gym mind you), but apart from the spectacular landscape views afforded from within the park, for me the surprise star of the show was finding renowned sculptor Dylan Lewis’ Elevated Leopard sculpture standing on display.
(It can be spotted in front of the thatch roofed restrooms, which themselves can be found towards the front, central area of the park.)
As you might imagine, the girls and I spent a good couple of hours wandering around the park, tracking tortoises, flowers, sculptures and termite mounds, but given the size of the park (not to mention the girls’ short legs), there is still plenty of it left to be seen.
So I guess a return trip is inevitable then?
I went a bit overboard in terms of taking photos on the day, but I have now trimmed the masses – even so, the gallery on today’s post is a bit on the large side.
Sorry, not sorry, about that.
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Note: By this stage, the girls were hot, tired and hungry (we had already spent the morning exploring Somerset West’s Vredenhof Organic Estate, as well as pop in to view some planes and flowers at the Stellenbosch Flying Club mind you), and after much pleading and wailing, I relented and took them for some Chicken McNugget Happy Meals at the local Stellenbosch McDonald’s – a place I haven’t frequented in literally years!
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This they liked.
(And then it was off to Monty and Cheryl’s place in Bellville, seeing as we had a massive surprise birthday party for Cheryl lined up for the evening.)
Anyway, here is a map if you too want to go and wander about or enjoy a picnic in the very accessible Jan Marais Nature Reserve – bonus, entry is free:
With the breakfast pancakes made, a little bit of gardening done and dusted, a small bit of DIY under the belt, and the shopping mission now complete, I decided to continue our Youth Day 2016 public holiday by taking Jessica and Emily out for a walk about Paardevlei in Somerset West/Strand – something I myself was quite eager to do seeing as I haven’t yet strolled around the vlei either!
The historic Paardevlei site is in an interesting transition phase at the moment, slowly transforming itself from its industrial roots (a long time AECI dynamite factory complex) into a modern mix of small business and residential units (and an ultra modern hospital for good measure!), using its beautiful Herbert Baker and Francis Massey buildings (which date back to the late 1890s) and consequential design guides, as well as the natural beauty that comes from the relatively recently rehabilitated vlei (Paardevlei, from where the precinct takes it name), to potentially become a much sought after destination in the area.
With beautiful walkways lined with all manner of sculpture art, Paardevlei has a little Nature Walk section, the entrance to which can be found right next to the Cheetah Outreach Center. There are a lot of future plans for this nature walk of course, but for now, you have a small trail that runs around the vlei, dotted with seating areas and great views of the diverse bird life that populates the area.
A nice surprise is the large flock of flamingos that call the vlei home, and the girls and I rather enjoyed spending some time just sitting and watching these big birds go about their business in the water. Naturally, Jessica and Emily were very firm in the fact that there was no way we were going to walk the whole way around the vlei, so I had to make do with just part of the trail done!
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Oh, and the art sculptures are for the most part pretty interesting too!