Monday, January 30, 2017

Hermanus & Stanford - Western Cape - South Africa

On the recommendation of our South African friend Jan, we decided to take the scenic route around the coast from Gordon's Bay to Hermanus.  The driving in the late afternoon was simply stunning with the sunlight hitting the hills and glittering off the waves.  The main roads are of a good standard with plenty of spots to pull over along the way to stop and enjoy the scenery, and if in season, spot southern right whales.   Whilst we didn't have the benefit of being in season, we had the pleasure of the great weather and fabulous views.

Taking a pit stop for a photo with our little Kia

Views along the R44 to Hermanus
En route we happened upon a sign simply saying 'Penguins', and although time was getting on a bit we decided to check it out and headed towards a place called Betty's Bay.  After a fairly short detour, following the penguin signs we ended up in a gravel parking area and headed over towards a waddle of penguins relaxing in the evening sunshine.  We were able to follow the route to get close to them and whilst you're not supposed to touch them, they don't seem inhibited by human presence.  There were hundreds of penguins by the boardwalk and all along the coastline, as well as a fair amount of dassies.

African penguins at Betty's Bay

African penguins at Betty's Bay
Our poor Kia Picante had to endure an 8km stony, potholed gravel road to negotiate in order to get to our destination, Mosaic Private Sanctuary, but when we finally arrived we were delighted to find out that we had been upgraded to a 9 person cottage named Duminy.  It was far more than we could have ever imagined in the way of accommodation, beautifully designed to let in the light and with natural materials.  Because we arrived after dark we didn't get the full spendour of the location being on the Hermanus Lagoon, and instead enjoyed the luxurious and spacious self-catering accommodation that had been arranged as part of our tour package by Kruz Africa.

Kitchen/living room in Duminy Cottage, Hermanus Lagoon
The next day however, after a rainy and stormy night we were able to witness Hermanus Lagoon in all its splendour.  Our location was like being within a painting, one that adapted and shifted moods depending on the weather and time of day.  There was nothing to hear but the light breeze and various birdsong.  We could enjoy doing as much or as little as we wanted here after our busy time in Cape Town.

Patio view at Mosaic Private Sanctuary, Hermanus Lagoon

Duminy Cottage at Mosaic Private Sanctuary, Hermanus
For me, the most picturesque time was at dusk where the sun hung low in the sky and exaggerated the contours of the mountains and brought out the moody contrasts in colours.  This is best exemplified in the excellent picture that Kate took that evening from the lagoon edge.

Hermanus Lagoon from Mosaic Private Sanctuary
On Friday 27th of January we decided to take the trip into the town of Hermanus where we could soak up the sights and whilst it wasn't whale watching season, you never know here as Hermanus is the place to be when it comes to land based whale watching.   From Mosaic, it was around 30 minutes or so into town and we enjoyed pottering around, doing a little clothes shopping and visiting a charity shop to get a few CDs for the car.  At the seafront we were joined yet again by those wonderful dassies.  We enjoyed relaxing and looking out to sea with these critters close by.

Dassie on the rocks in Hermanus, South Africa
The dassies got even closer when a local man called them over, they seemed to recognise his voice and scampered up the cliffs to where he was standing, waiting with bread in hand.  They were jumping all over him, even biting him which is why I was hesitant when he handed over some bread and suggested we starting feeding them too but to pay attention to make sure they all got a feed!  I soon had dassies on my shoulders too, to the delight of this local gentleman.

Dassie in Hermanus, South Africa

Helping a local feed his dassies in Hermanus
We were recommended a restaurant by a South African friend of ours for an early dinner.  It is called Bientang's Cave, it's wedged into the coastline at Hermanus and would be relatively difficult to stumble upon unless you knew of it.  It's a great place to dine and whale watch when the season is right, but regardless of the whales it's a unique location and a great spot to enjoy the coastal views whilst tucking into some great cuisine and be on the receiving end of friendly and personal service.

Sharing seafood platter at Bientang's Cave, Hermanus

Kate enjoying her seafood and wine at Bientang's Cave
 After dinner, we took the opportunity to do a shop for another braai, as the BBQ facilities at our self-catering cottage were tremendous.  After the shop we played a little dominoes and went to bed eagerly anticipating our white shark cage dive the following day.

Surprisingly, we didn't need to be at the office/slipway of the company, White Shark Projects, until around 12.30.  In the past we had typically been informed that the morning is the best time to see marine life.  Tom, the biologist working for the company explained that it shouldn't matter and that sharks are relatively unpredictable creatures.  It was great having a biologist to answer questions and explain the plight of great whites and how their numbers are unfortunately dwindling due to pressures imposed by the fin industry and clumsiness of commercial fishing methods.

After an important safety talk, we boarded the boat and made the 15 minute journey to the site.  Whilst there ever a guarantee of seeing anything, we were excited as we had heard the group before us had seen 4 sharks, and the morning group 6!  Not only that, but we were in the best possible location to view great whites, Gansbaai.  When we arrived at the site, there were a couple of other boats anchored nearby, then we put on our wetsuits and one of the crew laid the bait as we waited... and waited and waited.  It must have been for nearly an hour and a half and we were beginning to lose faith when suddenly one of the crew yelled 'shark' and we looked over to see the torpedo like body cruising just below the surface by the side of the boat.  It was majestic, and whilst it wasn't there for very long we were so happy to have seen it.  The next step was to get into the cage and wait for it to pass, the crew enticing it with the bait (although not letting it bite).

We were using the 'breath hold' method, i.e. without scuba gear.   So with our masks, the 6 of us in the cage would take a breath when the crew mentioned there was something to see and put our heads towards the front of the cage as, hopefully, the shark made a pass close by.  Into the cage we went as we waited... and waited... and waited.  Eventually it looked like there was nothing to see, the other four got out of the cage but Kate and I decided to wait it out for as long as we could.  It ultimately paid off as our shy, lone, shark made the briefest of passes quite close to the left hand side of the cage before disappearing into the depths.  Whilst this had been a special moment for us, the crew were disappointed as it had been their worst shark-viewing experience in a long time and decided to compensate us with vouchers for another trip, which was a really nice touch.

That evening we fired up the braai and enjoyed our great value meat and wine for our last evening at Hermanus Lagoon.

Yes there are only two of us
Preparing the meat for the Braai
Kate arranging the drinks for dinner

Cape Town - Western Cape - South Africa

We departed Stony Brook on Sunday 22nd Jan and headed back towards Cape Town where we would be staying at a 'Boutique Hotel' named Rouge on Rose in the Bo-Kaap area.  After the hour-and-a-bit drive we parked streetside, our vehicle watched by car guards who patrolled the streets after dark.

Our Suite at Rouge on Rose in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town
We were greeted at our hotel by Michel, one of the proprietors who helped us with getting our cases from the car and taking them upstairs, where he also personally delivered some bubbles on ice to celebrate our honeymoon.  The suite was excellent, both comfortable and stylish, and all the staff we encountered were very friendly and helpful.

Complimentary bubbles at Rouge on Rose
For our first evening we decided to check out the V&A (Victoria and Alfred) Waterfront.  We decided to walk as it was only 20 minutes from the hotel but undoubtedly made the wrong choice, by taking the quickest route along the main roads and encountered quite a lot of hassle from the same folks who approach cars for money at intersections and red lights.  We were followed a short while by one individual until it became clear that we weren't going to give any money, and whilst we never felt directly threatened it was a little uncomfortable.  Needless to say we used Uber for most journeys following this (taking the hire car around the city and finding parking seemed disproportionately inconvenient compared to how cheap it was simply to arrange a car to take us from A to B).

Kate at the V&A Waterfront - Cape Town
Arriving at the Waterfront, the contrast couldn't have been more different.  Luxury yachts scatter the marina and well-dressed holiday makers wander, chatting to one another past the exquisite selection of upmarket restaurants awaiting their custom.  The area is busy, but not overbearing, and whilst you would do well to make a reservation to ensure you are able to dine at your restaurant of choice at a suitable time if you have constraints, as a couple without any real agenda we were able to find a table for two in a restaurant recommended to us by our tour operator Meldon, called Den Anker.

Sneak peak inside the kitchen at Den Anker
I couldn't believe the value when looking at the menu prices.  Whilst it isn't incredibly cheaper than what we pay to eat out in China, for the food you're receiving and the setting you are in there is no denying that South Africa has an incredible quality to price ratio.   For those coming from more expensive regions, if you were to compare it to the equivalent dining experience in the UK or elsewhere, then you'll be among the foodies weeping tears of joy whilst allowing yourself shamelessly to enjoy a starter, mains and desert.  You'll find that there is very little need to compromise and soon be relaxing your vigilance in converting those South African Rand knowing full well that ordering that extra bottle of wine isn't going to hurt the pocket too much, nor is ordering exactly what you want from the menu.   Of course, if you did want to spend that little more on the ultimate luxuries on offer, there are tasting menus comparable to the prices of back in the UK, but again they come in a little cheaper and tend to offer a lot more (including wine & tea matching among other things).

Evening at the V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
On January 23rd we had a arranged a helicopter tour as a honeymoon gift courtesy of some friends from home.  The company it was arranged through was called Sports Helicopters and we opted for the blue route, or 'Two Oceans' tour.  We took an Uber directly to the point of departure, although they do offer a shuttle service from the V&A Waterfront.  We arrived early (just before 10.00am) as instructed for our scheduled 10.30 departure.  It did feel a little rushed as the somewhat impatient, young staff were doing all they could to usher us onto the helicopter where the driver was already on the tar mac and seemingly waiting for us.  It soon became clear we were going to be simply taking off as soon as possible rather than taking our time and after a short safety briefing we were being escorted to the helicopter and without a moments hesitation took off at 10.00am.

Paul and Kate after the ride
The rushed start was soon forgotten however, as we were up in the air in no time and soaking up the panoramic views over Cape Town and enjoying the information provided to us by our captain come tour guide.  This being my first ever helicopter ride, Kate allowed me the privilege of the copilot position and the experience was unreal.  As we coasted over the bays on this clear day it was undoubtedly the best way to experience the geography of Cape Town in all its glory.  The half hour flew by and by the time we had completed our descent we were all the more appreciative and knowledgeable about the capital city that had recently become our place of residence for this short period of time.

Bird's eye view of Cape town from the helicopter
As it was still early and the helicopter company was able to take us to the Waterfront via their shuttle, we decided to shop around for a decent travel camera.  We looked into possible options then opted to shop around, but soon realised that South African electronics don't represent great value for money.  If only we hadn't been so busy prior to our departure to pick one up in China.  We opted out of it and instead decided to pay a visit to a gun store which also hosted a firing range (as you do).

Fun with guns at 'Gun Fun', Cape Town
The range we found on 57 Haut Street had a gun shop, 'City Guns' above it, the range is from the company 'Gun Fun' where we went for the popular 'Shoot the Poacher, Save The Rhino' package.  Unfortunately there weren't any AK47s available so we switched this for a .223 assault rifle and before firing this, had a chance to try out a Glock handgun on our own targets.  It was great fun, and the guide helped us with a safety briefing as well as by assisting with loading and general safety on the range (basically making sure nobody pointed the guns anywhere else but down the range).  Kate mainly shot her target in the balls which was slightly disconcerting.  Afterwards we were able to keep our targets and we donated to the 'Save the Rhino' charity box they had in the facility.

Unloading a Glock at Gun Fun, Cape Town
That evening, we were lucky to get a table for two at Miller's Thumb restaurant without reservation (we arrived quite early), which is extremely highly rated for seafood.  It ticks all the boxes of great hospitality, a great choice of specials when it comes to seafood and a various array of styles in which your dish can be prepared (i.e. Malay, piri piri etc).  We also tried the local fish, kingklip, which I later found out was actually in the eel family.  It was prepared very well but the texture is not that of a nice slightly oily, flaky fish which I tend to go for usually.  Kate had 'bluenose' which was delicious and both dishes were cooked to perfection as you can see from the picture.  Of course this was all washed down with a bottle of local wine!

Enjoying some fish at 'Miller's Thumb', Cape Town
On January 24th it was time for our long awaited Robben Island and full day table mountain tour.  We weren't too sure what this would comprise of, but it turned our that we had a private guide/chauffeur for the day (thanks Kruz Africa!).  Theo picked us up from our hotel in his BMW and took us to the dropoff point for the Robben Island ferry.  There wasn't anything Theo didn't know about South Africa and Cape town and we delighted not just in his knowledge, but in his passion for history and what he did.  We just chanced to be going to the island the same day as a 'Miss South Africa' photo shoot, damn shame.

Miss. South Africa candidates getting ready for a picture
After departing the ferry, we made a short walk to where we boarded a bus and the friendly guide, who was also very witty, was giving us clear and concise information about the various historic sites and landmarks as we went by.  As we were passing a gun installation intended for the Nazi Germans during World War Two (which was subsequently never required), a turtle meandered past and we later saw a wild deer which was an unexpected delight.  The tour was unexpectedly far from somber and whilst the topic in question was far from jovial, the guide had the ability to keep it engaging and frank without allowing it to become overbearing.

Robben Island Deer spotted from the bus
Following the coach journey around the island, we were dropped at the prison facility and introduced to Nthando, an 'ex-resident', a man who had actually been incarcerated in Robben Island as a political prisoner for around 6 years.  In fact all of the tour guides of the prison had previously served time as inmates when it had been a 'correction facility'.  His frank but unemotional accounts really brought the information to life, again it could have been a darker experience than it was, but his insistence on the importance of looking forward whilst not forgetting the past and emphasising his belief in the 'power' in the 'power to forgive' and not let the past continue to do damage was inspiring. I'll not go into much more detail as it's something everybody visiting Cape Town should experience for themselves, but it was a very worthwhile and informative experience and yes, we did see Nelson Mandela's cell!

Nthando and I

Nelson Mandela's Cell
This was our most overcast day in South Africa to date and as a result, on Theo's recommendation, we skipped the Table mountain part of our tour (since the cloud cover would obscure any view from the mountain) and instead opted to visit the Castle of Good Hope which was established by the Dutch, followed by a visit to the Botanical Gardens and a visit to a local prestigious vineyard called 'Groot Constantia'.  The long awaited rain came down (South Africa had been experiencing a drought so this was in many ways a great thing) as we made our way through the castle.  There were a fair few renovations going on, but we were still able to experience the area and Theo all the while was contributing bits and pieces of knowledge to put everything into context and bring it all to life.  We didn't spend a great deal of time here considering we are from the UK (and Jersey) where there are castles a plenty, and much older ones at that!  We made our way to the Botanical Gardens.

Inside the Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town
The rain was still coming down, but it was time to grab a bite to eat so we left Theo and waiting out the rain with a good old chicken mayo sandwich.   As luck would have it, it was clearing up by the time we had finished and we got to enjoy the splendour, scale and serenity of these impressive and lush gardens.  I was very impressed, especially considering I'm not really down with horticulture and even just the name 'botanical gardens' has me innately looking for the nearest exit sign.  They are amazingly well kept, and the variety of what's on offer is astounding.  There is a 'Canopy Walkway' that is only a few years old from where you can get a great bird's eye view of a lot of the gardens.  The indoor facility is nice, but a bit of an afterthought, but all in all it's a worthwhile visit.

The Botanical Gardens, Cape Town
Theo was on time to meet us as scheduled, from here we visited Groot Constantia for our 4th... I think, I'm losing count now... but certainly not our last, wine tasting session.    This is the oldest vineyard in South Africa, with the estate being founded in 1685.  Now it is obviously a successful commercial endeavour, with a substantial wine-tasting hall packed full of benches and discerning, and not so discerning customers.  I took full opportunity to ignore the spittoon with benefit of our friendly guide showing us around, and having tried 5 generous portions of wine for 'tasting' (more or less what would pass as a a full glass of wine in some bars at home), Kate and I were feeling very jolly.  The wine itself was of a great standard, and worthy of it's reputation as an estate at the forefront of wine production after all these years.  If I was wealthy, there would have definitely been a few crates added to the container bound for China as would have been the case for every vineyard we had the pleasure of visiting to date.

Groot Constantia, Cape Town
On our way back to the hotel, Theo pointed out District 6, an area that was leveled during apartheid as it didn't comply with their policies of segregation.  Theo's own family were displaced from here and there is still nothing occupying the land even today.  It' s still a sensitive issue, and the time that has passed since apartheid is but a blip.  Sometimes it's easy to forget that this is the case when exploiting the playground that is South Africa for the average tourists like ourselves, combined with the positivity exuded from the locals who freely discuss all there is to experience here and are rightly proud of everything their home has to offer.  An honourable mention has to go to 'Nelson's Eye' Steakhouse where we spent dinner that evening.  Amazing range of steaks, perfectly prepared in an unpretentious and welcoming atmosphere.

Fillet steak at Nelson's Eye, Cape Town

January 26th was our final full day in Cape Town, and we had a tour of Bo-Kaap scheduled which included a 'cooking safari' in this predominantly Muslim area.  We had the brightly coloured houses, synonymous with Bo-Kaap on our doorstep, so we were eager to find out more about the history behind this.  Our tour guide arrived around 15 minutes late, which was a little frustrating as was her inability to acknowledge this but we put it down to 'African timekeeping'.  Shireen firstly took some time to explain the architecture of the area before taking us to the local shop, The 'Atlas Trading Company', to explain mainly the spices that we would be using later that day for our cooking experience.  She was very knowledgeable and understandably so considering she was born in this very area and had seen it change over the years.

The brightly coloured houses in Bo-Kaap
The most interesting snippet of information I garnered from the wealth of history being provided, pertained to how the Cape Minstrels came about.  Originally the slaves of the area's colonial landowners, they would have been forced to work new years day but would have been provided with a day off on the second of January during which they were free to celebrate in a manner of their choosing.  They opted to sing about their life troubles, often this would relate directly to their masters and they would parody and joke about them to ease their woes.  Now of course this would have attracted attention, notably so from the local children who would report back to their parents about the jest at their expense and punishment would ensue.  As a result, they decided to paint their faces but being slaves, of course their wardrobes were modest and it would be possible to identify individuals from their clothing.  So to combat this, they would sew patches of fabric onto their clothes and thus making it difficult, if not impossible to ascertain who was who to any degree of certainty leaving them free to mock and poke fun of whom they pleased.  This tradition continues, and the Kaapse Klopse or Cape Minstel Carnival (originally dubbed the 'Coon Carnival' under apartheid) takes place on the 2nd of Jan, and the competitors can be seen performing their music in bright attire on Saturdays throughout the month.

Atlas Trading Co. Cape Town
After the spice shop we went to Faeeza's Home Kitchen (  Faeeza was incredibly welcoming, we even had a local drink on arrival, and in a short time it felt just like being at home and part of her family.  She explained to us what we would be cooking, a Cape-Malay style chicken curry along with samosas, curry bites and roti.  She walked us through the various steps and the smells were simply incredible.  She made the cooking seem straightforward and we were able to construct the various items ourselves.  We were provided with a recipe book to take with us after and left with happy memories and full bellies.

Curry and Roti at Faeeza's Home Kitchen

Saying goodbye to Faeeza
For the final part of our tour, Shireen met us with us and after a nice cultural chat in Faeeza's kitchen about everything from the weather in various countries to the guy outside trying to wash her car for a few coins, we did the touristic thing of taking pictures around Bo-Kaap as she nodded to the other locals and gave sweets to some of the local children.  It was much better seeing the area with a little more history to back it up, as it isn't especially big and without this it would have been nothing but a 10 minute tour.  It's ultimately very picturesque and being just a short 5 minute walk from our hotel it was great to finally check out the neighbourhood.

Picturesque Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

Picturesque Bo-Kaap, Cape Town
On our final evening in Cape Town, we had heard via our hotel about a 3 person show,  'Sherlock Holmes and the Curse of the Queen's Diamond' that was taking place in Camp's Bay's 'Theatre on the Bay'.  As we hadn't spent any time in this part of Cape Town, and our opportunities in China to see a production like this are few and far between, we decided to grab a quick bite to eat followed by the show.

I'd had a little time to check out the reviews before the performance, but even so I was still pleasantly surprised by the wit and talent that was on display.  The energy from the performers was incredible, they were engaging throughout as they interacted between each other and occasionally the audience whenever there was an audible guffaw or even an awkwardly timed sneeze!  Often requiring character changes in quick succession, and playing off the parodied inconvenience of this was a major highlight for me, with the actors 'deciding', via persuasion or inescapable logic (after all this is Sherlock Holmes) who would need to go offstage and return in a new role.

I'd highly recommend looking into what may be showing during your trip to South Africa, check out 'Pieter Toerien Productions' to find out more.  After the show, like proper stalker fans we waited to congratulate the actors and ended up going for a drink together at nearby 'Dizzys', which is more like your typical non-pretentious pub and a good option if you're looking to enjoy Camps Bay without the premium price tag.  It's also good for sports and were showing live football whilst we were there.

A picture with the writer, and one of the cast Robert Fridjhon
On our final morning in Cape Town we decided to try for Table Mountain again, luckily the weather was looking absolutely glorious.  We queued for at least an hour and a half for the cable car up the mountain, but it was a nice day and the views whilst you are waiting are stunning, the highlight of the wait was hearing the 'noon gun' cannon being fired.

Queue at Table Mountain, Cape Town

Table Mountain Cable Car, Cape Town
Finally we were shuffling into the cable car, in which the floor rotates 360 degrees to help everybody get a chance to enjoy the ascent.  It's quite a quick ride and we were soon stepping onto the top of Table Mountain.  I must admit, I was floating the option of turning straight around when we first saw the queue but when we were up there it was well worth the wait.

View from Table Mountain, Cape Town

View from Table Mountain, Cape Town
The views for one are stunning, and being in the open air is a different experience from when we had the chance to see cape town from the heavens in our helicopter ride.  The walking trails are quite vast and there is even a fair amount of wildlife to see, especially lizards, birds and dassies.  No, I wasn't sure what a dassie was before either, but their proper name is 'Hyrax' and they're pretty cute.

Hyrax or 'Dassie' on Table Mountain, Cape Town

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Franschhoek - Western Cape - South Africa

We booked our 21 day itinerary with a small but great value company called Kruz Africa after a personal recommendation from a South African friend of ours.  Whilst we booked the flights in good time (South African Airlines) from Hong Kong, we had admittedly left it a touch late to book accommodation and activities for the season we would be travelling in, that is mid-January to Feb.   We shopped around and had some great offers but ultimately, we felt Kruz offered the best package for the places we were staying.

Having booked insurance with World Nomads which offered the level of cover we were looking for with great rates, we flew into Johannesberg O.R. Tambo international airport, and then took an immediate transfer to Cape Town.  Before we transferred, Meldon from Kruz met us at O.R. Tambo and presented us with some champagne for our honeymoon which was an awesome touch.  We had a little time for a coffee and a chat and it was great to meet him having had a few conversations over the phone.

Internal flights were booked with a well known flight, hotel and car hire service in South Africa called Kulula, with whom we had also prebooked our hire car. Internal flights and hire car rental was very cheap, although we had to pay the equivalent of around 700GBP deposit on the car upon arrival.  To rent the car with super waiver cover and tire and windshield cover cost around 250GBP.  Internal flights from Johannesburg to Cape town and returning from Port Elisabeth to Johannesburg was around 120GBP per head with British Airways. 

Driving to Franschhoek 
We picked up the car in Cape Town and I was a little anxious about driving having read about the dangerous drivers and poor road conditions, however I was more or less pleasantly surprised by the driving here (compared to China it seems relatively safe).  One thing that was a bit unnerving are the roadside sellers you encounter at junctions who will come up to the car.  We rented a Kia, just a basic city car which represented the best value, and whilst it’s a 4-door (5-door?) we didn’t have enough room to enclose our suitcases in the boot, so the back seats were down with the cases for all who got close to see.  This makes it obvious we are tourists and trying to brush away sketchy-looking hawkers on either side whilst judging oncoming traffic at busy intersections can be uncomfortable to say the least.

Our first stop was a 3-night stay in the area of Franschhoek in South Africa’s Western Cape.  The area is famous for it’s wines and Dutch architecture.  It’s about 80 kilometers from Cape town so took just over an hour to get there from the airport.  It was originally settled in 1688 by French Huguenot refugees.  Originally named Olifantshoek (elephants corner) because before lands were drained for vineyards and other cultivation, elephants would cross into the valley to calve.  Unfortunately they are long gone, but as a result of the boom in wine growing it’s now a mature, upmarket destination with the feeling of a resortesque-playground for wine-loving retirees and those who enjoy the quiet life.

Dutch Reformed Church, Franschhoek
We stayed at the outskirts of town in a welcoming and rural vineyard called Stony Brook.  The hosts greeted us upon arrival and we felt at home right from the outset.  We were quite tired and smelly after our travel, so we freshened up before deciding to checkout the town.  There are some options where you could probably get by without the car here, but Stony Brook isn’t one of them.  However, it feels great to be off the beaten track and having your privacy in self-catering cottages.  The area feels secure and the staff, including the workers, are friendly and will give you a smile and a wave if they happen to pass by. 

View from our cottage at Stony Brook
On recommendation of Joy, one of the owners, we picked up a bottle of dry white wine named ‘The J’ to enjoy later that evening, then made the short 10 minute drive into town to find somewhere to eat.  On Joy’s recommendation we dined at CafĂ© Des Arts, just off the main in a nice courtyard area next to Stellenbosch Library.  The food was very reasonably priced, and had a cool and friendly atmosphere.  The member of staff was very engaged and politely recommended the pork belly and lamb’s liver.  Having never tried lamb’s liver we tried it and weren’t dissapointed.  The pork belly was also slow cooked to perfection, the sauce was perhaps a little too sweet but altogether a very nice low-fuss meal.

Amazing staff at Cafe des Arts
We did a shop for the following day’s breakfast, picking up everything we needed for a full English from Woolworth's supermarket (living in China going around here was wonderful, a lot like Marks and Spencer back at home with prices to match).  The bed in the cottage was very comfortable and we slept extremely well!

Inside the cottage at Stony Brook
The following day was our first full day in South Africa, after a slow breakfast we headed to one of the most reputable vineyards in the region, La Motte, to have a quick look around and enjoy the 2-3 hour hike on offer around the grounds.   La Motte is impressive to say the least.  There were vacationers lazing around the sizeable and pristine kept gardens and patio areas sipping on wine, chatting and romancing with their significant others.  The staff were very polite and friendly, and unpretentious considering that this is definitely a destination for those who enjoy the finer things in life or want to impress. 

The pristine entrance to La Motte Vineyard
We mentioned that we wanted to do the hike at reception, to which we were told to head up to the restaurant to book and pay.  It was inexpensive at around 50ZAR per head (about 3GP at time of writing… Brexit) and included an essential bottle of water (we also brought some with us).  After a quick cursory check on our footwear, we were led to the start of the trail.  We were quite excited about the potential to see a wide range of birds, reptiles and even mammals like baboons, however setting off at 2pm is far from an idea time to see these things!

The hiking trail at La Motte
The trail initially takes you through the La Motte vineyards then up through a path resulting in some amazing views of Franschhoek.  It’s not easy in the sun, and there are some steep parts where you do have to be conscious of your footing but all in all anyone who hikes fairly frequently won’t have any issues.  We didn’t come across anything spectacular on the animal side of things, however we did see a few lizards and enjoyed some great views.

Lizard spotted on La Motte hiking trail
Following this we picked up some La Motte Wine and did another shop to take back to the cottage, this time in the more budget-friendly ‘Pick and Pack’ supermarket which had a lot more cosmopolitan feel, with locals of all races adding modestly priced items into their shopping carts.  We were specifically shopping for items for our first Braai (South African term for BBQ), and couldn’t believe how inexpensive the meet was here.  For example, our two T-Bone steaks came to a little over 40ZAR, which is under 2.50GBP even with Brexit! In addition we bought some sausage, burgers, salad and seasoning to enjoy later.  That evening we fired up the BBQ and enjoyed both bottles of wine from La Motte and went to bed giddy with very full tummies.

Our first Braai attempt!
On our final full day in Franschhoek we were planning on embarking on the Wine Tram, however, we hadn’t yet done the complimentary wine tasking (when you book accommodation) here at Stony Brook.  Morning wine-tasting was a first for us, as we sampled our way through the list with expert guidance from Joy along with some very interesting and frank insight into the running of the vineyard and the ups and downs that go along with it.  It was so interesting to hear the stories alongside the information about the wine and we had a great chat whilst finding out more about the region and wine business as a whole.  Even though there’s a relaxed approach to drink-driving, I was conscious of being in a good state of mind so used the spittoon for the first time in my life!

Wine tasting at Stony Brook Vineyards
We made the decision to opt out of the famous Wine-Tram, for better or worse, and instead make the trip to another vineyard ourselves, this time to one called La Bri, in particular to try their wine and ‘biltong’ (South African dried, cured meat) pairings.  The staff were very knowledgeable and friendly and the experience cost just 60ZAR (3.50GBP).  Whilst I didn’t  feel as though biltong is naturally a great item to pair with wine (can’t beat cheese or chocolate), it was novel and we tried ostrich biltong for the first time.  The wine was also great and we took a couple of the bottles of Syrah (more or less a Shiraz) to enjoy with us later on our trip.

Kate enjoying Biltong Pairings at La Bri Vineyard

A closer look at the biltong pairings at La Bri Vineyard
After a failed attempt to eat at the amazing-looking Le Bon Vivant restaurant (their kitchen closed at 2pm and we arrived too late), we had a late lunch in the street-side ‘Dutch East’ restaurant with some oysters, and two decent portions of French and curry style mussels washed down with a little bit of Sauvignon Blanc.  I didn’t miss the backpacking days right now!

Mussels at The Dutch East restaurant
A very honourable mention must go to towards the excellent coffee we had at The HOEK espresso bar.  It was without a doubt one of the best coffees I’ve ever had.  Good coffee is getting more pretentious, but this was a fine example of an understated establishment which really knows what they’re doing.  They also sell some snacks and the ‘small batch’ ice cream is highly recommended.

The Hoek Espresso Bar from the outside

Flat white with an ice cream at The Hoek Espresso Bar
Having had some really nice R&R we decided to enjoy some of the cheese and wine we had gathered on our travels back at the cottage and enjoy an evening of tranquility before heading back towards the hustle and bustle of Cape Town where we would be doing some great activities such as a Peninsular helicopter tour, Table Mountain and Robben Island Tour and Cape Malay ‘Cooking Safari’ in the renowned Bo-Kaap district.