Wow, this has certainly been a holiday to remember! Today I went on a full-day tour of the Cape Winelands, and what better day to enjoy exquisite food and wine than on Bastille Day? I was pleasantly surprised to learn from Reuters (via Hotwire.com) that the sixth best Bastille Day celebration takes place in Franschhoek (“French Corner”), a small wine valley just outside of Cape Town that was originally settled in the late 17th century by French Huguenots. I was so anxious to see the celebrations, especially after our tour guide indicated that we would have the chance to spend more time than usual in Franschhoek so that we could take part in the festivities!
Before taking advantage of the Bastille Day celebrations, we stopped at a few wonderful wineries along the way. During the ride to our first destination, Stellenbosch, I acquainted myself with the most incredible tour group I’ve ever traveled with! The first couple we picked up was a pair of young honeymooners from San Francisco. It was really interesting to hear their take on how Cape Town strongly resembled Northern California in terms of the landscape and local culture. They even mentioned that they would doze off at some points when we hit traffic during the tour and would wake up thinking they were back in California when they initially looked out the window! I have never traveled to San Francisco before, but if the city is anything like Cape Town, I think I’m going to have to plan my next vacation there!
Next to board the tour bus was a woman who was treating her sister, Christine, to a birthday celebration in the winelands. But Christine was certainly no stranger to South Africa – she served as Nelson Mandela’s personal assistant for many years! She shared with us a wealth of incredible stories about her time with her friend Madiba and other global figures such as Jacques Chirac and Prince Charles. It was such a plus to have her on this tour guide because she informed us of the detailed history of the winelands that we visited in Stellenbosch. Along the wine route, we learned of Langverwacht (“long awaited”), a wine estate that the Dutch East India Company originally granted to Jean le Roux, one of the first French Huguenot wine farmers who fled from France in 1688. In the 1930s, the land was also used for tin mining, in addition to wine farming. Today the winery is called Zevenwacht, which means “seven expectations”. Christine proceeded to tell us that she was forcefully removed from her land near this wine estate during the apartheid regime and taken by truck to live elsewhere in a part of Kuils River. Her original land was subsequently confiscated and given to farmers who were POWs of the Second World War. Although she and other non-whites who were stripped of their land claims during the apartheid do have the opportunity to apply to reclaim their land today, many are not even bothering because it takes years to simply process all the necessary paperwork to apply. There is no doubt that justice for her and other non-whites in South Africa has been long awaited.
After a lovely cellar tour and wine and cheese tasting at Zevenwacht, we visited another Stellenbosch wine estate called Saxenburg. This estate was particularly fun because we were greeted by a wide variety of grazing creatures that included guinea fowl, wildebeests, zebras, springbuck, and ostriches! There was even a house cat inside the winery who socialized with us during the tasting. Christine also shared with us an interesting history of how the wine industry in Cape Town gained momentum from the sailors who settled in the area. Furthermore, it was the early Portuguese immigrants who introduced many culinary staples to South African markets, including an old fashioned fish and chips recipe adapted from the British!
Once we had finished our tastings, we took a brief stroll through the beautiful town of Stellenbosch. The newlyweds aptly remarked that the area greatly resembled the quaint city of Santa Fe. The old church, contemporary art galleries, and the nice cafes that lined the streets definitely brought back memories of the stunning architecture and art of New Mexico. I can only imagine how wonderful it must be to attend Stellenbosch University and live right in the heart of this lovely town!
After waiting in a long line of traffic heading toward the festival, we finally reached the historic town of Franschhoek! We enjoyed an excellent meal and wine tasting at Rickety Bridge, where we were excited to see that many of the patrons donned blue or red berets in honor of Bastille Day! It was also interesting to learn a bit about the history of the town. Even though it was a bit rainy, we had a chance to take part in all of the wonderful festivities in town. The food and wine marquee tent offered a wide variety of delicacies, and one could find many unique handmade items at the craft market stalls. Live folk music played from the street corners and the pubs. Best of all, the art galleries featured a number of new and unique works on display. My program coordinator recommended one great gallery called is art, where his friend Tom Clark was showcasing his intricate spiral design piece constructed of wood, aluminum, copper, and viscose thread. The piece is titled 1.618/1, which references the ever-elusive Golden Ratio that the design adheres to. According to the artist, who dedicated about a month to constructing this work, “The design of this piece is based on the cross-section of the Nautilus shell. With the use of straight lines (a universal symbol for masculinity), do we find the formation of the Golden Ratio, and thus creating curvature (a universal symbol for femininity).” Sounds like we may have found the next da Vinci!
On our final stop along the wine tour, we visited an unbelievable wine estate in Paarl called Laborie. This was without a doubt my favorite tasting of the day, as we tried several unique wines and spirits that included a fantastic champagne, pinotage, brandy, cabaret sauvignon, and sauvignon blanc. Laborie succeeded in perfecting tastes that were never too sweet nor sour nor oaky. This was a perfect way to end a most wonderful tour of the Cape Winelands!