PAMPOENKOEKIES…. PUMPKIN FRITTERS While South Africa does not...
Jazz Lovers and Cruising offers different things for different people. For me, I love the fact that I unpack once while traveling to numerous destinations and I don’t have to worry about checking in and out of hotels at each one. It goes without saying that having meals prepared for me and a choice of them makes a cruise even more appealing. I love being pampered and entertained while on holiday. Every aspect of a day on a cruise has been perfected…. well almost.. until.. The Smooth Jazz Cruise
As a lover of Jazz, what more could I have wanted than a 7 day cruise filled with Jazz artists from around the world.
I love Jazz… so for me, being able to hear a different Jazz Musician throughout the day without having to book, pay, wait in line or even drive to the venue makes it all the more worthwhile. To top it all, I could choose to surround myself with music all day and night… or just opt for some quiet time.
A highlight for me was having access to the musicians and being able to purchase their CD’s there and then.
One thing to know, is that on a Jazz Cruise, you are spoilt for choice.
Smooth Jazz Cruise is offering back to back sailings in 2013 and is now open for reservations.
Contact Timeless Destinations for the greatest party at sea: 305 651 3636
The next morning we flew from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth which is a seaside town on the southeast coast of South Africa to start our safari. Kariega Game Reserve is about a 90 minute drive from Port Elizabeth and I couldn’t get there soon enough. As crazy as I am about wine, the prospect of finally seeing animals was one of the coolest moments of my life. It was so interesting to watch the landscape change from coastline to plains and finally to the deep tree lined valleys and gorges that make up Kariega. The game reserve is made up of about 25,000 acres of land separated by a paved road. I wondered if it would feel like “a big outdoor zoo” but it didn’t at all. There is enough space and wilderness that you do feel out in the wild.
image: Kariega Game Reserve
The accommodations were very nice with differing levels of “poshness” (there is no camping or even temporary structure living here, everything is permanent and very high end). My dad and I each had our own cabin or chateau. Mine had literally 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms along with a kitchen and huge living room All chateaux have beautiful wide terraces overlooking the gorge. Living in Chicago, I never get to see true darkness or hear total silence. It was spellbinding to sit on the terrace and hear nothing but the soft rustling of wind, birds, and wildlife calls. At night, the stars were otherworldly with my first view of the Southern Cross (only visible in the Southern Hemisphere), a Milky Way so bright it lit up a path through the stars, and a full moon you could read by. Going to sleep in such blackness and quiet took me a few days to get used to coming from the city.
We did two game drives a day, at 7am and one at 3pm. Obviously you have to go out when the animals are active so this is not a sleep late kind of adventure but what a great lifestyle – coffee early, 3 hour game drive, huge breakfast upon return, nap or walk/run, and back out at 3pm until dinner. Dinners were awesome at this park with native dancing, singing, and terrific food. The grilled bread is to die for and we had all kinds of interesting African dishes from big black kettles (soup, beans, sausage, chicken, peppers). No surprise but we also had great wine here – the Tokara Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 was exceptional along with a Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc.
The animals were just awesome. On our first afternoon game drive we saw zebra, rhino, impala, hippo, ostrich, wildebeest, a multitude of antelope like creatures (blesbuck, eland, kudu, water buck, nyala), and even an African wild cat. There are few things more humanizing than being able to watch such beautiful wild animals roam around freely eating, drinking, or sleeping. We even got to see Thandi, a rather famous rhino that had been left for dead after her horn was poached. Thandi miraculously recovered although she still is shy around humans. Our guide told us that poachers will cut into the rhino’s actual face in order to get every last bit of the horn and then leave the animal dying. Poaching is still a huge problem in Africa and our guide also said that occasionally they will take the horn off themselves (in a safe manner of course) in order to discourage this barbaric practice. Thandi’s name means “hope” in Xhosa.
After seeing Thandi and his two cohorts, we headed down into the valley to see what else was out there as night fell. This is when our Jurassic Park moment happened. The jeep we were riding in ran over an Acacia bush thorn and it punctured the tire so badly that the rubber fell apart in strips. These thorns are unbelievable (3 inches long)! So here we are, 9 of us, trying to figure out how to replace a tire on a vehicle that needs to be jacked up about 3 feet. Turns out the jack was broken (or this didn’t happen often so was rusty) and with the darkness growing, our guide tried to use her walkie talkie to call for help. That would have worked fine except we were low in the valley and I guess even walkie talkies don’t work that far down. So our guide went walking in search of higher ground while the rest of us tried to think of ways to replace the tire.
image: Acacia thorns
We weren’t there very long before another car came but it was a good reminder of our minimal place in the world to be in the middle of a game reserve at night and not be able to get out via car! My dad was joking that this was the moment where the Jurassic Park movie got started. All good fun and a humorous memory as we headed to meet the rest of our group who was at the gorge crest drinking sundowners (a great concept of catching the sunset while having a drink and watching the day fade away).
Over the next few days we saw graceful lions, majestic elephants, curious giraffes, and water buffalo. The only two we didn’t see were leopards and cheetahs. One morning we got behind a lioness out looking for lunch and she let us follow her for a bit before turning around to face us. She gave a big cat like stretch, walked within 3 feet of us, and disappeared into the bush. Shortly after, we were driving and passed by a big gray rock. On second look I realized it was the back of an elephant and when we slowed down, we saw 15 elephants munching on the dense trees. I could never imagine not being able to spot something as large as an elephant but they blend in remarkably well. It’s incredible to watch them eat and amazing how agile they are working such a long trunk. I’ve read that they can pick up one single blade of grass and eat it.
Most of the animal viewing we did was by vehicle except for one afternoon where 3 of us did a walking tour. This was astounding on many levels. First of all, when you are in the vehicle, the animals take little notice of you. They may move back a bit to get distance but they don’t seem generally concerned with you. When you’re on foot, it becomes an entirely different situation. It was like we had walked into the world of Narnia (if you are a C.S. Lewis fan) and suddenly became an intimate part of their world. We first came upon several giraffe families. They were incredibly curious about us, at first moving back but over time growing ever closer. The giraffes would just stare at us with an E.T. kind of unblinking gaze. It was as if we, the humans, were now the zoo for them. I didn’t feel at all threatened by them nor did they of us. We sat in the tall wheat colored grass and watched them eat, walk, and nudge each other – one of the trips grand highlights.
The wildebeest on the other hand were not at all happy about our presence. I’m sure you’ve watched nature shows where the wildebeest is famously crossing some river all the while being chased or chomped on by crocodiles. My prior impression of them was that they were small not so intelligent animals. I learned on this trip that they are not at all small and they don’t seem very stupid either. The minute we got about half a mile from them, three males starting flanking us by circling widely around the back of us. This made novice me a bit nervous but our 23 year old guide (all guides there are certified by an 18 month program along with required experience time) decided we should move closer to the herd and see what else was below us. We ended up kneeling in a clump of trees not being able to see the male wildebeest and wondering when they were going to come charging from behind. Nothing happened but it is interesting how we began thinking like the more vulnerable animals which is that you want to stay on higher ground with wide open spaces to be able to see what’s coming. It was an incredible experience to be on foot and if you ever get a chance to do a walking tour, by all means do it. Most guides have a maximum amount of people they can take since they will be carrying a gun. Our guide was only able to take 3 people by law. Guns were not carried in our vehicles. On the way back to camp, we saw another amazing sunset (with of course more wine), and then came across a jackal hunting for food.
There are few experiences like being on a safari. There is a peacefulness and connectedness that comes from being near the animals in such a beautiful natural setting. The smell of the morning grass, the yellow eyes that come out at night, the wind as it picks up over the valley, and the ever changing orange colors that only an African sunset can create will always stay with me. It was truly a magical experience.
A lot of people asked me what it was like to go to South Africa, was it safe, how long was the trip really, was it worth it, and would I go back. I would go back in a second. While we saw a ton in 10 days, we only saw a tiny bit of this amazing country. The Garden Route is a gorgeous drive I’d like to take (it winds down around the southern coast) and there are so many more wine regions and animals to see. Plus Cape Town has enough interesting things to easily spend a few weeks in. The trip is long, sure, but you’re traveling to about as close to Antarctica as most people are going to get – it’s just a long way. But it’s worth every minute of it to see the Cape of Good Hope alone. The people are amazingly friendly with a terrific sense of humor and hospitality. Everyone wants to show you everything they have and it’s hard to ever leave anyone’s house or property. This is the kind of culture we experienced. You also need to make sure to ask someone from the Xhosa tribe to talk in their “clicking” language (fascinating). It is a Bantu tonal language. I think the different clicks are around the “c”, “q” and “x” letters and it is truly amazing to listen to. By clicking, the Xhosa people get three times the amount of expressions or meanings that the English language does.
From a safety standpoint, I don’t think Cape Town is any different than any other city. You need to be alert and pay attention like you do anywhere and because you’re not familiar with everything and there is a good deal of poverty you may need to be a little more alert (and don’t go walking dark streets at night) but that’s true for anywhere. At the Johannesburg airport, I’d heard of a scheme where someone dressed nicely (but not in a suit) comes up to you and pretends to be helping you check your luggage only to run off with your bags, passport, or airline ticket. While that didn’t happen to us, a guy did come up and start walking off with my friend’s luggage until we chased him down. Don’t give your passport, ticket or bag to anyone not wearing the airlines uniform – but again that’s just common sense.
Americans don’t need a visa and we didn’t even need malaria pills for the game reserve we went to as it’s a malaria free one. Yes I know that sounds like an oxymoron and I’m still not sure how they do that but I have been back for a month with no issues so it must work!
We were especially fortunate to have our travel organizers, Timeless Destinations (who do all of Morton’s wine trips) be South African natives. They did a phenomenal job with this trip, showing us the best the country has to offer with amazing accommodations, mouth watering food, world class wines, staggeringly beautiful scenery and animals, and above all incredible hospitality. It was the trip of a lifetime and one made more so by all of their knowledge and extensive planning for a group as large as ours (36 people). Timeless Destinations arranges safaris and wine trips (and cruises) for honeymoons, groups, or individuals so keep them in mind if you have any interest in South Africa. Their resident knowledge is irreplaceable.
Wear long pants, long socks, and long sleeve shirts to protect from unwanted insects. Don’t forget a fleece for morning drives as it can be chilly.
Use Deet and spray yourself and your clothes. Deet is the only thing that works on ticks and one did drop down on us which we caught in time. Wear a hat for this reason too (and for sun protection).
Bring water and Kleenex/toilet paper. You’ll be in the bush like the animals over a 3 hour drive.
If you plan on safari walking for any length of time get real trail shoes or hiking boots. I wore running shoes for our 3 hour walk and while ok for that period of time, the terrain was too uneven for much longer. Or if you’re really brave, you can wear flip flops like my adventurous friend although she encountered a lot of interesting things on her feet afterwards.
Have a great time!
As long as I can remember I wanted to go to Africa to see the animals. My dad says that I was talking about this even before I can remember. When I fell in love with wine several years ago, South Africa only got more interesting as it’s also a fascinating wine region. My dream finally came true this past April when I got to go to South Africa with my dad and see animals, wine country, and the stunning Cape of Good Hope. Anything one has thought about for so long comes with almost unattainable expectations but South Africa was all I had ever hoped for and more. It is a hauntingly beautiful country with mountains every direction you look and a mesmerizing rugged coastline that stops you in your tracks. It is lush, green, arid, cosmopolitan, and tragic all in the same moment.
We spent 5 days in Cape Town and along the coast, 3 days in the Winelands (Paarl, Stellenbosch, and the exceedingly charming Franschhoek), and 3 days at the Kariega Game Reserve on the east side of South Africa. It was a perfect mix of barely tipping the iceberg of all this amazing country has to offer. Cape Town is a colorful city with a serious past and exudes an eclectic mix of Dutch, English, Malay, Black, and Colored cultures. Colored is a recognized term in South African that seems to represent a mix of anyone who is not completely White and not completely Black. There are many classes and tiers of people interspersed within the Black and Colored categories. During the Apartheid era, Black was obviously considered the lowest group with the worst “housing” (if one can call it that) and the Colored group getting only slightly less horrific housing. There are many remnants of this today and you can still see these “shacks” made of boxes and paper as you make your way in from the Cape Town airport. It’s quite an interesting dichotomy as you see the entrancing mirage of the University of Cape Town perched among the hills in the distance.
We stayed at the historic and world class Mt. Nelson hotel which is a grand and sprawling English mansion and garden set right up against the awe inspiring Table Mountain. While it is located right in the city, it has a very serene feel to it and is a perfect location to both see the sights as well as feel completely removed from everything. The service and attention to detail at this hotel is unlike anything I have experienced anywhere else. The staff was simply top notch, friendly, and went over the top for us. Case in point, one of our travelers became ill on the first day and the hotel not only called a doctor to do a phone consult but then sent a driver to go get the recommended medication for our fellow traveler! Not sure I’ll be seeing that again anytime soon. Having lived in England for a bit myself, I also loved the daily full English breakfast and the beautiful property grounds (that even included a gym). It’s a fantastic place to stay and my dad said he’d be content to never leave there despite all the other amazing things to see.
images: View from Mt Nelson and Table Mountain
The geography, terrain, soils, and climate in South Africa are among the most unique in the world. Two oceans, many mountains, and soils of sandstone, granite, and shale all play a role in the extreme diversity of grapes grown in this country. There is a quote by South African winemaker, Bruce Jack, that sums it up well: “Our geology is like a craggy old sun-etched wild west gunslinger in Hollywood – it would be impossible to cram more evidence of character and age into one face, that’s us – and it makes our wine different. We call it the energy of memory. “ During our Cape Town days, we went to the oldest winery in South Africa, Groot Constantia, the boutique and narrowly perched Eagle’s Nest Winery, the expansive Constantia Glen, and Steenberg (name means “stone mountain”). This part of the country has a Mediterranean climate and is cooler due to the heavy influence of the cool Benguela current from Antarctica. Granite and sandstone soils are common here and the area has been making wine since 1652. Wines from the Constantia area include whites (Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier) and reds (Merlot and Shiraz). The Sauvignon Blanc has nervy minerality, tart but pleasing grapefruit and lime flavors and a firm structure with perfectly balanced acid. The Eagles Nest Merlot 2009 was outstanding with much more body and power than one often thinks of when they consider typical American Merlot. It had a lovely combination of raspberry, spice, herb, stalky green tomato, and rich berry fruit with a nice long finish. South Africa is also known for its Shiraz and the Eagles Nest Shiraz was very good with white pepper, savory spice, and green pepper in a true Northern Rhone style.
At Groot Constantia, we tried our first Pinotage (a cross bred grape of Pinot Noir and Cinsault) which is a South African special varietal. These wines can be quite robust with a tar, sulfur, and cherry profile and the one we tried fit that description well. We also sampled our first fortified sweet (dessert) wine, another South African specialty. This one was called Grand Constance 2011 and was a knockout amber gold colored wine with rich apricot, prune, fruitcake, honey, and pineapple flavors. Based on the Muscat Fronsac varietal, this was an outstanding wine rivaling any Bordeaux Sauternes.
image: Groot Constantia
At Constantia Glen, we had one of the most interesting and authentic meals of the trip. This consisted of babotie (a meat like curry dish) and melktert (milk tart) for dessert. Both were exceptional. There were several fantastic wines as well – both white (Sauvignon Blanc) and red (many Bordeaux style blends). In a clever naming convention, they label their red wines by the number of classic Bordeaux grapes used in the blend. For example Constantia Glen Three 2010 represents a 55% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon blend. The Constantia Glen Five 2009 is 40% Petit Verdot, 25% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Franc, 15% Malbec, and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon (5 grapes). The Five was outstanding, an inky robust, black and red cherry fruit with aromatic spice nose combined with cassis and chocolate. Robert Parker gave this wine 89 points. I thought it was fantastic for the kind of wine I prefer (big, complex deep reds). The Bordeaux blends in South Africa were continually exceptional, interesting, and extremely well made with great value for the price. They are up there with my favorite wines now but the only sad thing is that it’s hard to get many of them in the U.S.
image: Constantia Glen
That night we went to the famous La Colombe Restaurant which is touted to be the best restaurant in all South Africa. Constantia Uitsig is the adjoining winery. It is easy to see why everyone loves this place as the meal and paired wines was perfection at its finest. A cozy and warm but subdued restaurant, it had a similar feel to what I’ve heard Napa’s French Laundry is like. Here is the menu for the foodies out there:
Yellow fin Tuna –Seared tuna in soy-picked daikon radish, tuna tartare, pine-nut and lemon crumble, avocado & wasabi panna cotta, miso and teriyaki – paired with Constantia Uitsig Semillon 2012
Foie Gras – Terrine of Foie gras and confit duck leg, duck ham, quince jellies, smoked lentil purée, caramelized brioche – paired with Cederberg Bukketraube 2013
Linefish “du jour” – Buttered poached kingklip, white bean purée, creamed mussels and leeks, tempura mussels, black forest ham velouté and a black forest ham vierge – paired with Groot Constantia Chardonnay 2013
Chalmar Beef – Chalmar beef fillet, creamed swiss chard, smoked pomme purée, brussel sprout, leeks and a black pepper café au lait – paired with Constantia Uitsig Red Blend 2011
Chocolate and Absinthe – Cocoa nib and aniseed cake, chocolate crémeux, cocoa nib ice-cream, blood orange purée, lemon balm pudding, absinthe crisp, lime candies and fresh fennel – paired with Signal Hill Vin De L’Empereur Solera Nonvintage
This was the best meal of the entire trip. The beef simply melted in our mouths, the linefish (which is basically whatever fish was caught that day on a line) was superb with this preparation, and the chocolate made a few rounds around the table – quite divine!
Along the way, we worked in a drive to the Cape of Good Hope which I think is one of the most spectacular sights I’ll ever see. The blues and grays of the collision of mountain and sea are breathtaking. There aren’t enough words for it so I’ll just show you a picture to create your own.
image: Cape of Good Hope
Prior to that, we got to ride in motorcycle sidecars up Signal Hill to start off this journey. This was loads of fun and a great way to see the town closer as well as get a different look at the beautiful Table Mountain. This is a must do for any age and everyone agreed it was a highlight of the trip (as well as the penguins we saw later that day at Boulders Beach). African Penguins are the second largest of the three living Penguin species (Emperor Penguins are the largest and Little Penguins are the smallest). African Penguins used to be called the “Jackass Penguin” because of the donkey like braying sounds they make.
image: Table Mountain from the top of Signal Hill
image: African Penguins at Boulders Bay
We also hit the V&A Waterfront which is a bit touristy but so stunning in scenery that you should see it anyway. Table Mountain serves as the backdrop for a massive harbor and many piers of shops. You can take a sailing trip as we did, sit in one of many outdoor cafes drinking fantastic (and really cheap) wine, or shop your way around the many interesting stores (including a lot of ostrich skin products).
image: V&A Waterfront
It was hard to leave the spacious and peaceful grounds of Mt. Nelson but we headed off to the Winelands for another outstanding adventure, based at the Franschhoek Country House and Villas. This is like a tiny slice of a rustic Italian village set amidst the beautiful countryside and quaint town of Franschhoek (which means “French Corner” in Afrikaans). The rooms had wide balconies overlooking the many fountains and gardens all with the ever present mountains looming in the distance. I think the Drakenstein Mountains were my favorite as they seemed the darkest in color and the craggiest. Very mysterious and majestic.
image: Franschhoek Country House and Villas
Our first stop in the Winelands was in the wine growing district of Paarl (means “pearl”) and at the Fairview Winery. This is a terrific combination of wine and cheese which they also specialize in making (and the contributing goats can be found in their front yard). We tried several amazing cow’s milk and goat’s milk cheeses paired with our wine. Chenin Blanc is another South African specialty (often called “Steen” there) and we had an interesting one in the Fairview Darling Chenin Blanc which leaped out of the glass with tropical fruit, guava, melon, and mineral aromas. We also had a standout Shiraz called the Jakkalsfontein Shiraz which was aged for 24 months in 75% new French oak. Robust red berry flavors and ripe bold tannins accentuated this very age worthy wine. Many of Fairview’s wines are accessible from the U.S. which was not the case with many of the wineries we visited. Fairview is also known for its clever “Goats Do Roam” label which is a cute play on the more famous Cotes du Rhone.
Next we went to Glen Carlou, one of my favorite wineries of the trip. It was a cool rainy day (the only cloudy day we had the entire 10 days) and it was a perfect setting to enjoy an amazing lunch of ostrich (incredibly good and good for you) along with some terrific wine. My favorites here were the Cabernet Sauvignon Paarl Gravel Quarry 2008 (you can buy this in the U.S.), the Chardonnay Paarl Quartz Stone, a Petit Verdot that the winemaker graciously pulled out for us, and the Grand Classique (a classic Bordeaux blend of 52% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Merlot, 12% Petit Verdot, 4% Cabernet Franc, and 16% Malbec ). Johan (the General Manager) and Arco (the winemaker) were incredibly hospitable and spent the entire afternoon with us talking about their wines and property. It was a perfect way to spend a rainy day.
image: Glen Carlou
Not that we needed any dinner, but that night we went to the famous Grande Provence Restaurant and Wine Estate which is another of the most talked about restaurants in South Africa (and conveniently right next door to our hotel). The restaurant has a nice art gallery and small but spacious seating in a kind of stone like mansion atmosphere. Here’s another menu for you foodies:
Truffled garden pea and estate cured pancetta risotto with smoked thyme and black pepper espuma – paired with Grand Provence Viognier/Chenin Blanc
Pulled Karoo lamb breast croquette with barrel smoked tomato and charred harissa velouté – paired with Grand Provence Cabernet Sauvignon
Acorn smoked pressed pork belly with bacon pane king scallop, apple essence pipette, horseradish potato, pork cheek boudin blanc and spiced beetroot apple gel – paired with Grand Provence Shiraz
Crown roasted quail with crushed pearl barley, organiz carrot and winter vegetables mosaic, caramelized onion soubise and celeriac purée – paired with Grand Provence Cabernet Sauvignon
Hazelnut 80% valrhona fondant with sea salt, frozen white chocolate air, sweet beetroot gel, burnt cinnamon
Honey bavarois with honeycomb crunch, hot spiced honey pot, waffle
It was one of the best meals of the entire trip and a very relaxing atmosphere. The wines were also very good and I enjoyed the Viognier/Chenin Blanc and the Cabernet Sauvignon. Viognier/Chenin is a wonderful combination and a more powerful and interesting white wine for those liking something a bit more complex.
The next day we toured the Franschhoek Winelands including Boekenhoutskloof, Anthonij Rupert Winery and Rust en Vrede (where we also had dinner). These first two were also among my favorite wineries. Boekenhoutskloof is an extraordinarily beautiful setting amid the Franschhoek Mountains. When you drive up to the winery, two incredibly large and completely stone quiet Great Danes are manning the property. We thought they were statues at first. The sweeping cliffs are craggy with a faint resemblance to the Scottish highlands and the vineyards are active with baboons running through them while the dogs attempt to keep them at bay. You may have seen one of their wines in the U.S. called “The Chocolate Block” which has gotten a fair amount of press. It‘s a Syrah based blend with some other Rhone varietals and Cabernet Sauvignon. One of the standout wines here was Porseleinberg which comes from a property Boekenhoutskloof purchased in 2009 and is a terrific Syrah with leather, meat, smoke, and black fruit flavors. Visit this winery for the view alone.
image:Boekenhoutskloof (means “Beech wood gorge”)
I couldn’t wait to get to Anthonij Rupert whose winery makes a wine I tried a year ago at the Wine Spectator Grand Event and fell in love with (Cape Blend 2007). This was probably the most fascinating winery of the trip for me. They have an incredible state of the art facility where they use gravity to facilitate every step of the wine making process (crushed grapes flow down into fermenters and eventually into barrels that rotate circularly around the room). It’s amazingly inventive (and expensive)!
The wines themselves are top notch and still among my favorite. The Cape Blend 2007 (another classic Bordeaux blend) was just as good as the first time I had it and the Optima 2009 was another great find. The Optima is a red blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc and is around $34 (can be bought in the U.S.). In addition to a stunning property and great wines, another cool thing to do here is to see the Franschhoek Motor Museum which is a collection of classic cars that rotates every few months through the owner’s private stash of hundreds of cars. It’s an incredible museum and along with the oldest cars used in South Africa, you can also see Nelson Mandela’s massively bullet proofed car. All of them are in pristine condition.
image: 30 year old Chenin Blanc vines at Anthonij Rupert
We had another over the top dinner hosted by Rust en Vrede (means “rest and peace”) that night. This winery, situated at the lower slopes of the Helderberg Mountain, focuses only on reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot). Their Estate Classification 1694 2010 is terrific with a powerful blend of dominant Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon from their best vineyard lots. We also had possibly the best Chenin Blanc of the trip in the Donkiesbaai Steen 2013 that was served with a tuna appetizer. Rust en Vrede’s owner Jean Engelbrecht is a gregarious and charming man who loves a big steak and professes to try one everywhere he goes.
Our last day in the Winelands was spent in Stellenbosch at Vergelegen, Kanonkop, Ernie Els, and Mulderbosch. Vergelegen (means “situated far away”) is a wonderfully historic place with a past dating from 1685 including 300 year old Camphor trees. You can take a tour of the property, buildings, and garden along with a terrific tasting of both white and red wines. Kanonkop (means “canon hill”) was one of the most interesting tastings of the trip for me. They specialize in Pinotage here and while it’s not my favorite wine, it’s always fascinating to go where people have a specific focus on something not often seen. We tried several different Pinotages including one from 2004 and one from 2012. The 2004 was again all tar, sulfur, black fruit, bell pepper and plums and amazingly dense. The 2012 had more of a red and black fruit flavor along with licorice. We also tried a 2005 and 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon. The 2005 was very dry with an herbal, cassis, and earthy profile and every bit as complex and interesting as a top notch Napa Cabernet Sauvignon (and only $35). The 2012 was also dry with stalky green tomato and toasty oak. I really enjoyed both but, with my big red taste buds, loved the 2005 Cabernet.
image: 300 year old Camphor trees at Vergelegen
After the tasting, our hosts prepared a snoek (barracuda) fish fry for us, smoking a huge white fish on the grill. It was quite tasty with homemade steaming pot bread (about 10 inches high!) and really fun to get to attend a real braai (word for “barbeque” in Afrikaans). We also had a traditional dessert called Koeksusters which was like a fried donut kind of thing. The owner of Kanonkop gave us a few not so subtle reminders of a woman’s place in the world (being a traditionalist I suppose) as he walked off after grilling to leave the women to serve. We American girls got a big kick out of that. I was surprised that the cuisine in South Africa was not spicier but the traditional Dutch style seemed very light on spice. Of course you can find spiciness if you head to a Malay restaurant or more overall African style place.
We went to Ernie Els Winery later that day and once again, found a ridiculously beautiful setting. I didn’t have high expectations going into this one as the few Ernie wines I’ve had in the U.S. didn’t wow me but I obviously wasn’t drinking their higher end wines which proved to be quite good. The Ernie Els Proprietor’s Blend 2012 (60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Shiraz, 5% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec and 5% Petit Verdot) was very smooth with a nice degree of complexity. I liked the Ernie Els Signature the most which was a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc, 5% Malbec, and 5% Petit Verdot blend. Wine Spectator magazine has given this wine 91 or more points in every vintage it has been made. It’s a fantastic full bodied wine with richness and powerful depth and at $65 still a very good deal for the quality it provides. The winemaker at Ernie Els is Louis Strydom and he is a fascinating person to talk to. He told me he is experimenting with several different Cabernet Sauvignon clones and does all sorts of interesting blends among them to get the exact taste he wants. This winery was a really pleasant surprise with some terrific wines.
image: Ernie Els Winery
Our last night in the Winelands was spent at Mulderbosch where we had (seriously) a tasting of 13 wines. We had so many wines that we couldn’t even get through them all – this gives you a prime example of South African hospitality. After 5 days of tasting and eating, we were all dragging by this point but we rallied to have wood fired pizzas and of course more wine. Mulderbosch has an incredibly talented and engaging manager and winemaker. They gave us an astounding amount of detail and tasting notes on all of their wines. My favorites were the Mulderbosch Faithful Hound 2012 (a nice Bordeaux blend with plum, dried herb, green tomato and black fruit flavors) and the Marvelous Blue 2012. This one was another Bordeaux blend with Merlot as the dominant varietal. Unfortunately you can’t find this one in the U.S. but I have found a few of their others in Chicago. Adam Mason, the winemaker, has been featured in Wine Spectator a few times for his wines and is highly talented and also very approachable. This is a fun down- to- earth winery with a diverse portfolio and a creative marketing flair.
Author credits: Personal reflections from Stacy Dalton a highly knowledgeable wine aficionado and member of the Timeless Destinations group on its annual Wine Flight & Safari to South Africa. For more wine travel musings visit: https://eodalton.wordpress.com/
This is the third installment of what has truly become a much-anticipated annual trip to South Africa for some rest, relaxation and GOLF!!!!
This time, we journeyed to SA a little earlier than usual. Late September and early October is the time when the golf courses here hollow tine and sand in preparation for the busy summer months ahead. For this reason, most of the courses had greens that were running a bit slow, probably 9 or 10 on the Stimpmeter. This however had virtually no impact upon my enjoyment of these wonderful golf courses.
This year I played a total of 6 courses. Five new ones and a second visit to what has become the favorite course that I have had the pleasure to play.
The trip started once again in Knysna on the east coast of South Africa, where I played at the Simola Golf and Country Estate. A day after arriving, I pulled my stiff aching body out of bed and we headed out to the course. This top twenty rated course sits on the side of a mountain and is part of an amazing residential resort. Hit a great weather day with gorgeous view of the mountains, ocean and Knysna Heads. The course itself is a 7000 yard parklands course with multiple gentle elevation changes. Five par five holes and an equal number of par threes on this par 72 course. All of the par threes were relatively lengthy, the least at 171 yards all the way up to 222 yards. Lost 3 of my 4 strokes to par on these 5 holes this round. Some fantastic holes here as well. The 2nd hole with a huge drop to the fairway below and the par 5 fifteenth hole, 571 yards and uphill all the way… seemed to play like 700 yards. I felt fortunate to walk away with bogey. However, there are lots of birdie chances here. Lots of holes leave you with a wedge or short iron to the green. So all in all an open, fair course. ideal as a warmup round on a golf vacation. Highly recommended to those in the 15-18 handicap range and below. Lest I forget… a great halfway house with stunning views and the chicken curry at lunch was mouth-watering.
Next was a revisit to the Links at Fancourt. This course is now rated the number one course in South Africa!! On this day, I was the lone golfer that challenged the course. They actually opened the halfway house and the pro shop just for me! Once again the weather was quite nice. My caddie and I had a leisurely and most enjoyable round. No need to comment further on this tract as I can’t improve on my glowing commentary from a year ago. Did find out that players at the Links are now allowed to use the Golf Academy facilities to warm up prior to the round. Check these out… on par with some of the finest practice facilities you are likely to encounter. I played a little better this year, was only one over when I pulled my tee shot left into the hazard on the 17th… an easy par 3 😦 Finished at 3 over on this par 73 course. Just makes me want to come back and play it again next year. Remember… you must be staying at the Fancourt resort to play this course.
The next phase of our journey took us to the Arabella Golf Club the seaside town of Hermanus. This is an area that I had been to on a previous whale watching trip, but did not have a chance to pull out the sticks, This time, we stayed and played at the Arabella Golf and Country Estate. First rate luxury accommodations, with a nice restaurant and bar and a pro shop just an elevator ride from our room. Unfortunately this not yet being high season, caddies were not an option and golf carts were the only option. Highly recommended as this is a hilly course. On this day the wind was howling and there were bouts of rain from the approaching cold front. I drove the cart to the range to warm up and was thinking how miserable this day was going to be if the conditions stayed like this. It was like hitting uphill into a wind tunnel. Fortunately, the course wasn’t nearly as windy. Arabella is currently rated number 4 in South Africa. Plays 6651 yards from the club tees. There are several blind shots off the tee, and the lies are anything but flat. On this day I guessed right on most of the tee shots and left several short iron and wedges to the green. Hit eleven greens, and was fortunate to stay in the 70’s. A caddie would have been immensely helpful on this day as my complete lack of course knowledge cost me a few strokes. Even had to chip from the green over a sand trap to the other side of the green on one hole. Caddie would have told me to hit to the back of the green to avoid this mishap. This is a more difficult course than Simola or many of the others I have chronicled in the past. In my opinion, this is suited for a golfer with an index in the mid-teens or better.
Day 4 took us to Somerset West where I played the Erinvale Golf Club. This course is currently the 22nd rated course in SA and is the previous site of the World Cup of Golf and the SAA Open. The course plays nearly 6800 yards from the white tees. The front nine is relatively flat and is dotted with numerous pot bunkers. At the halfway house a woman asked me if I was going up top. I had no idea what she was talking about until I drove straight up the hill to the back nine. This nine is situated on the slope of the mountain and has an entirely different feeling than the front. The view from the 15th was a sight to behold. Even though the wheels began to fall off on this round, I thoroughly enjoyed this tract. This is another course in the winelands, so the non-golfers in the group could enjoy a few wine tastings while those of us that are addicted are out beating that little white ball.
What was purportedly my last round this time around was in the Constantia region just out of Cape Town. Here we stayed at the Steenberg Golf Estate. This course is currently rated number thirty one in South Africa. This course was well manicured throughout. It sits within one of the more wealthy areas around Cape Town and butts up to the American Embassy and the Pollsmore prison. This is the prison where Nelson Mandela was isolated for a couple of years after his release from Robben Island. One of the holes runs along the border of the prison and another adjacent to the embassy. Measuring only 6435 yards from the white tees, for some unknown reason this course seemed long. While I am by no means a long hitter off the tee, it seemed I was always pulling out a hybrid, long iron or fairway wood for my second shot to the green. Perhaps the rain from the previous days had softened the course and killed the roll, or maybe I was getting weak from playing 5 days in a row. This course would be a nice course to stretch out on prior to tackling the more mountainous and demanding courses within the Cape winelands.
Well, now on to the bonus round. We met up with my golf addicted friend Jonathan Butler in Johannesburg where he was performing. Then back to Cape Town. Jonathan just had to get his fix, so we tried to find a tee time at the last-minute. On Heritage day (a national holiday here in South Africa) it seems that everyone is either golfing or braai-ing (barbecue). 4 calls later, we had situated a tee time at Milnerton Golf Club. This tract is situated in a strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Rietvlei River and affords some of the best views of Cape Town and Table Mountain from any golf course I have played. The course must have been hollow tined and sanded that morning as several of the greens resembled sand traps rather than greens. But on this day it was who you”re with and not necessarily where you’re at. So our threesome had a grand hit and giggle time. Definitely a course that you might want to try once, very similar to that nice muni you left in the States. But … if your flying 10,000 miles to play golf there are alternatives.
So, until next year……
Travel Golf Director
This past October, I had the pleasure of visiting South Africa. Booked through Timeless Destinations, this trip was intended to be a combination of golf, safari and sightseeing.
I opened the journey with a stay along the fabulous Garden Route. Here I had the opportunity to play the George Golf Club and the Ernie Els Signature Course in Oubaai. The George tract is not a long one by modern standards. It has the feel of an older established country club. Lots of target golf here. I made the mistake here of renting a cart. WALK this course and use a caddy! A little extra information here will go a long way. The clubhouse and facilities are a bit dated, but I had the most incredible grilled sandwich here that still makes my mouth water thinking about it.
Ernie Els’s course is situated near George and is associated with the hotel that has become one of our favorite places to stay. The Hyatt Regency at Oubaai is off the charts with amazing rooms and service. Looking out the window one morning, I saw a driving range and putting practice area. When I inquired about it, I was invited to use it… at no charge!! Are you kidding me? I could have stayed there and banged balls for hours, but then, I would have missed the opportunity to play Ernie’s course. This course is pretty much the opposite of the George tract. It is much longer… especially from the tips.
The pro told me of a long par four that Ernie doesn’t even reach with driver driver when the wind is blowing. This course has some beautiful ocean views. The awesome 17th hole reminds me of the 7th hole at Pebble Beach.
Par three straight down the hill to a small green. The 6th hole which is another par three, has a challenging tee shot over trees and brush to a hillside green. Visually spectacular, this has an amazing view!
Heading an hour north along the Garden Route we discovered the beautiful lake district of Knysna, and the much anticipated mountaintop course, Pezula. Unfortunately, the day we booked Pezula, it was pouring rain. But heck, I didn’t come this far to not play it, so out I went. The staff was incredibly accommodating. They supplied me with stacks of dry towels and even lunch at the turn. From what I could see through the rain and fog, this course is the bomb! It isn’t one of the top 10 courses in South Africa for no reason. I would love to play this course again under better conditions, but I still had a great time. Amazing clubhouse to dry out in after the round.
I have some regrets. While I was there, I did not have the opportunity to play at Fancourt in George. This is one of the premier golf destinations along the Garden Route. There are three courses here, along with an upscale hotel and resort. The feeling I had when I entered the grounds here was the same one I had when I rolled into Pebble Beach for the first time, but even more so! One of the courses is a links course that is only available to sixteen golfers each day. This resort is on my bucket list for the next time that we are in George.
The second leg of our trip was not golf related. Even for the most golf addicted souls it would be an absolute shame to go to South Africa and not see Cape Town and go on safari. The incredible views from the top of Table Mountain, the history of Robben Island and the spectacular terrain of the Winelands is almost enough to make you want to leave your sticks in the bag. Add to that the nicest people on the planet, the diversity of the food and the amazing wildlife that you see on safari and your trip will be complete.
But I digress… this is about the golf. There are numerous courses in and around Cape Town to play. The last leg of my trip was spent in Stellenbosch, which is in the middle of the Winelands. Here I had the opportunity to play two more courses, De Zalze Winelands Golf Course and the course at Pearl Valley Golf Estate.
First stop was De Zalze, a resort winery and golf course where we were staying. Again, not an overly long course, but as any resort course, it was fairly wide open and golfer friendly. This is another course where you should consider walking, and using the services of a caddy. The course is a modestly hilly course that affords some very nice views of the wine country.
My last round was played at Pearl Valley., the site of previous South African Opens. Once again a bit longer and more challenging than your typical resort course, but certainly enjoyable by golfers of all abilities. Might be wise to bring an extra sleeve of balls as there are a few holes where you might never see that Titleist 2 again. The course was little flatter than the Winelands courses, and distance off the tee would be nice to have. Again, another very nice overall facility.
There are many many courses throughout South Africa that I would love to play. I haven’t even made it up to Sun City which I have heard is the premier golf destination in the country. Perhaps on another trip. I do plan on a return to South Africa…and will be sure to bring my sticks!!
About the Author: Dr Ron Lee is an avid golfer to say the least and when not out and about on the course you will find him hard at work at his Dentistry practice in Sacramento, California. Timeless Destinations were honored to host him and his wife Cathy in South Africa in 2012.
Photographs courtesy of Cathy Lee
Fly out of New York City or Washington DC to Johannesburg for $999
Book before 10 December 2012 and fly between 15 January and 31 March 2013
PAMPOENKOEKIES…. PUMPKIN FRITTERS
While South Africa does not celebrate Thanksgiving, there are lots of people who have heard about the American Thanksgiving and love the idea. So with a little twist here is the South African version of a pumpkin pie. It is fried and delicious and can be served with Turkey, Chicken or Meat. It might however be a little heavy to serve with fish.
2 cups pumpkin, cooked, drained and mashed
1 large egg beaten
2Tbs cake flour
1tsp baking powder
Peanut Oil to fry
Cinnamon sugar mixture (1 tsp cinnamon mixed with 4 Tbs sugar)
In a large bowl, combine pumpkin and egg.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and a good pinch of Salt.
Heat peanut oil in a deep frying pan and drop in tablespoons of the mixture.
Fry fritters for about 4 minutes both sides, until golden. Drain on paper towel.
Serve hot, sprinkle cinnamon sugar lightly
Enjoy these crispy on the outside and soft on the inside delicious treats.
Sitting under the stars and looking up at the moon with the quiet of my surroundings I realized how lucky I was. First meeting the man of my dreams, then marrying him and now, sitting under an African sky… listening to the sounds of silence. This was extraordinary. Breathing in the slight chill of fresh air and hearing nothing more than crickets sounding off around us.
The fire burned bright, the wood let off sparks which looked like lots of little candles. This was more than I could ever have imagined. We arrived in South Africa spent the first few days sight seeing and eating the wonderful food the country has to offer.
We visited markets and chatted to the locals. I was so impressed by how friendly and helpful they were. No one could do enough. Everyone goes out of there way. And nothing seems to be too much trouble. What wonderful people.
I was surprised at how modern and advanced the cities were. Then it was off on our Safari. We were so excited. Being married less than a week, we were loving our African adventure so far.
Arriving at our Game Reserve, we were greeted with Champagne, nuts and Biltong. Biltong is similar to Beef Jerky but fresh. We were taking to our private suite. It was unreal. The shower was outside.. enclosed in glass and when looking up, I could see the stars. It was amazing and unlike anything I had seen before. We showered and then met our Guide who was to take us in an open vehicle to see who was at the water hole at sunset.
Wow… I saw my first Elephant and Hippo that evening. I was amazed at the mere size of the elephants. They are gorgeous and we managed to quietly get quite close. The beauty of the animals at the watering hole took my breath away. Only then did I realize this is so real. My husband could not wipe the smile off his face. We felt like we were conquering nature. The Game Reserve had our table at dinner outside decorated in the most beautiful manner with gorgeous flowers indigenous to Africa. Staff at the Reserve played music, sang with gorgeous voices while we danced and later prepared their own special dance for the “Honeymoon couple”.
The next day, we woke up at 4.30am with morning coffee and Gert our driver/spotter was waiting to take us out on a drive again. Today we would see the animals awaken. We had been driving for no more than 10 minutes when Gert spotted the Lion. Immediately I was fearful but as he explained our surroundings and their nature, I felt myself relax and look forward to seeing them closer.
We were not disappointed. That game drive, we saw Lion, Rhino, Springbok, Water Buffalo, Giraffe, Elephant and Hippopotamus. It was spectacular. The sun rose into the African sky and my husband and I sat together in awe of our wonderful adventure into Africa.
Thanks to Timeless Destinations who not only booked our Honeymoon but made sure we were well taken care of from the moment we touched down in South Africa, until we flew back home. It was a dream vacation and one where the memories will live on forever.
Thanks to Janice of Timeless Destinations for sharing her clients wonderful Memories.
There is nothing like a wonderful Trip to a foreign Country anywhere in the world. That is… if you return safely and securely, without incident. Here are a few tips we discuss with our Travelers before they leave:
Remember, anywhere in the world you have places and areas which are less safe than others. So before you visit a foreign country, be sure to talk with your Travel Marketing Company and Google information to avoid any incidents.
Some safety tips:
Always be smart.
Being flashy in a poor Country is a not recommended.
Walking around with large amounts of cash would be a big mistake.
Dress according to the area you are visiting.
A smart suggestion would be to leave all valuables at home and just take the necessary items you need.
Always be aware. You never know if there is a pick pocket or purse snatcher lurking.
Meeting local strangers in bars is something to be very cautious of and never leave your drink unattended. So many times, especially in the Far East, you hear stories of Bar girls and Lady boys doping drinks and ending up with all your money and valuables. Leaving you with a bad hangover.
Make sure your vaccinations are up to date for any of the countries you are visiting.
Food. Every country has its own exotic delicacies. Remember if your body isn’t used to a certain food, you could feel unwell. I always travel with an anti biotic, Tylenol and stomach settling tablets in case of an emergency.
Be extra cautious and avoid tap/faucet water in a foreign country. Their water might be good, but bottle is best.
Medical Care in most foreign countries is fairly good as their are always some private care facilities. So make sure your travel and medical insurance is current.
If there are any weather advisories while you are in a foreign country… listen. Chances are, they have experienced that kind of weather and know how to prepare you.
worldnomads.com will give you the information you will need regarding Health, Crime, Weather and Safety tips.
Lawrence Anthony’s mission in life were Elephant. They were his passion. He rescued and rehabilitated them from human atrocities. His most famous mission was the rescuing of elephants from the Baghdad Zoo when the bombing was occuring.
Early in March Lawrence died. The most remarkable thing happened. It had been well over a year that the Elephants had come near his home, but 2 days after his death a group of Elephants had converged outside his house. The first 2 were the matriarchs of the Elephants. They were followed by groups of younger Elephants. 2o in total.
The Elephant paid there respects to a man who had rescued them and done so much to give them a good and safe environment. They stayed 2 days, honoring a friend who had saved their lives and then 2 days and 2 nights later, they left, to make there journey back home.