A return to Constantia Uitsig
It is always a return to the soothing balm of Constantia Uitsig.
The reasons for this are historical, aesthetical, gastronomical and environmental. When all these key ingredients combine effortlessly, together with the magical consequence of a tap-rooted soul, then you instinctively return, time and time again.
For most people wishing to visit Cape Town, the prerequisite sights include mountains and vineyards. Many are inspired by its Cape Dutch architectural legacy while some may start with Table Mountain and then think Ocean. Constantia Uitsig is a classical Cape Dutch estate: gateposts which mark the beginning of a tree lined avenue, leading to an opening in a white mid-height wall, separated by stairs, which lead onto a glorious porch with welcoming front wooden doors beneath a uniquely moulded gable. It is a country retreat set in its own award-winning vineyards at the foot of mountain glory. It has a world-renowned cricket oval in an amphitheatre of mountains, framed by soaring shade-bearing cedar and oak, with a quaint clubhouse. There is a lovely swimming pool; plus a sparkling new spa fit for the likes of Aphrodite... and a reclining Bacchus. More often than not, the sky is 'squintingly' blue, with the odd cloud floating over in search of the nearby 'Tabletop'.
The gardens have flourished from decades of love, skill and passion, bursting their blend of lush tropical and sensuous Mediterranean with rapturous iridescence. Squirrels, doves, ducks and lizards among others, scurry about their routines, while staggeringly handsome horses roam in paddocks in the meadows beneath the mountain. It's hard to imagine that the tourist-laden Waterfront is a mere twenty minutes from here while the nearest beach is less than that. This sub-rural retreat has nostalgic vintage Cape flavour, still flowing at a gentle pace in a cornucopia of indigenous style. The 19th century slave bell that hangs with an anchor quietude, stands as a stark white reminder; a far cry from the culture of Constantia Uitsig today.
For many of us eating well on holiday is more than a bonus, it is a vital component in choosing a particular hotel. I'm honestly not sure you could better the kitchens at Constantia Uitsig, within quite some radius. La Colombe Restaurant, a separate build near the cricket oval, is on the lips of most local connoisseurs, as well as the Constantia Uitsig Restaurant, which is situated in a conservatory off the main house facing those mountains.
We arrived after our formidable bush adventure in Tanda Tula, with the ripening vines glistening from the sun's amber finale before dipping like a giant sultana behind the mountain. It's only thirty minutes from the airport, with the last ten a pleasant breeze through leafy luxe-urbia. When you're wrapped up in the Uitsig-bubble you feel blissfully removed from the rest of the world, a tranquil rendezvous of refined idiosyncratic provenance. The rooms and suites are chintz-cottage to modern chic, depending on where you stay on the property. However this is a 'chillaxed' country haven therefore uber-cool together with priceless imported antiquities are not necessary, though comfort is paramount and the style flows amidst the beds in clover. We stayed in one of the garden cottages with white stable door and plenty of red gingham. Adorable.
We have always had our winning meals in Cape Town at La Colombe and this one was no exception. Being a Saturday night the restaurant had not a seat to spare, nor stool, at the slick new bar. The food is high octane but the mood is jazzy. The service is slick and swift; there is little the staff don't know about the Provenšal (faintly Eastern) influenced menu, which is chalked in white on a large blackboard beside your table. Chef extraordinaire Franck Dangereux, whose cookbook graces my kitchen and thousands of others, had left La Colombe for foreign pastures, so we knew there was much to cook up to. And, it did.
My sister is a regular here so the wonderful Maitre d' Jennifer bagged us a table at the conservatory end of the restaurant. I chose to stay local as scallops and foie gras feel a little 'coals to Newcastle' down here. However, Kudu tartar with pickled ginger plus a hint of chilli on a creamy soy mayonnaise - topped with a coriander pesto and a light coat of hoisin dressing. Could Europe compete? Then, a taste sensation worth travelling for: medallions of suede-soft, pink-centred, Springbok, not too gamey but distinctly flavoursome, on a delectable 'muscadel' and grape jus. This place has indefatigable 'je ne sais quoi'. The wines are predictably excellent, with many of them conjured from home soil. The new sparkling 2007, launched the day we arrived, is an import imperative.
Sleep is great here. It's deep and profoundly quiet. The breakfast on our little terrace overlooking the lawn towards the pool was a profusion of freshness with a pyramid of berries alongside homemade muesli-styled granola with organic yogurt. Several cappuccinos followed, it had been quite a week. We were lunching at Salt, the cliff-side 'swankery,' in order to inhale an absorbingly dramatic Atlantic view prior to long-haul departure. But first, a walk and talk around the dewy grounds with the wholly likable Alison. The Spa is drop-down nirvana. It's a new arrival in glistening white on travertine with water features, drapes and baskets of fruit. It will no doubt draw in the salubrious 'Constantianites' along with the fortunate guests. Your heart is always full after staying here.