19 December 2013

13. - 19 Dec.: Swellendam to Cape Town, through Stellenbosch

After another pantagruelic breakfast we head off for a walk in town. Swellendam is a quaint little place, but it is doaked in history as it is one of the very oldest towns in South Africa. The fourth oldest to be precise, and it retains its old charm even if modern shopping malls are popping up along the main street, which would otherwise very much look like a Western American desert town.

A little shopping and a few photographs to the beautiful orthensia that dot the streets and we drive to Stellenbosch. An easy drive, mostly downhill, heading straight for the Cape.

We reach Stellenbosch at about 4:00pm but again, like for the ostrich farm, the first vineyard we visit, ... is about to close down. A guard at the door comes walking towards us as we approach the gates of the tasting rooms after parking in the huge lot between the road and the vines. He is polite and smiling. In fact I get the feeling he is a bit bored and welcomes the chance to do something and talk to someone. No chance to taste anything here today, he says, they are closing down for the day. I'll be in the region for a few days but this is Yan's last chance for a good tasting of South African nectar before she heads back home. Time for Plan B.

I have a quick look at the various guidebooks in the car and we decide our best chance for a tasting of South African wine before dinner sits at the "L'avenir" ("the future" in French) farm. You can't really see L'avenir from the road unless you spot a board by their main gate. You then have to drive a small winding path seemingly in the middle of nowhere until you reach the farm.

Why "L'Avenir"? Why a French name in the middle of a country that boasts eleven official languages, of which nine are African and two (English and Afrikaans) are anglo-saxon? It's because of the immigration of French Huguenots escaping persecution by the Catholics in the 16th and 17th century France. The found refuge in many Protestant European and North American countries, and a few hundred families ended up in the Dutch Cape Colony. Here they were put to make wine. And today more than 90% of all South African wine is produced by the descendants of the Huguenots.

It is a purely bucholic setting, a small farmhouse in a gently sloping garden and, a few hunder meters away, the vines. We take a table outside and are attended to by Katie, a new girl in the farm, it's her first day on the job in fact.  Katie is a college student who makes some extra money for her studies. We taste a half dozen whites and red in the garden, in a idyllic setting but for a worker with a very loud lawn mower who is doing his thing just in front of us. Luckily after some 15 minutes he is done and moves on, leaving us with the tranquillity of a setting sun, blus sky, green rows of ripening grapes and our wines.

Grapes at l'Avenir are slowly maturing

With most of our senses sated we head out to drive to Cape Town, where we reach our hotel by the Waterfront. Dinner is at "The Greek Fishermen". Great fish soup, intense aroma and thick creamy texture, one of the best ever, and it would have been enough for a meal. But we are tempted by their seafood platter, expecting one of those imposing round trays with piles of shell fish and crustaceans on a think bed of ice. What we get, however is not much, is all cooked and not really exciting to the taste buds. Oh well.

Patrons here are mostly, though not exclusively, white, while waiting staff is mostly black or "colored", as they call mixed race people here. The Waterfront is the pulsating heart of international Cape Town, with upmarket restaurants, smart stores and an uninterrupted flow of tourists, both domestic and international.

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