by Nadia Gamieldien

CAPE WINELANDS

A pearl of great price

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Nadia Gamieldien spent a day in the Drakenstein Valley, exploring the gem of the Boland, Paarl, and discovering new facets of the area’s heritage and cuisine.

The warm hospitality of Paarl and its locals greeted us long before we arrived at our destination.
En route to Cascade Country Manor, where we would spend the evening, our car ran out of fuel and we were forced to take the closest exit off the N1. Already 15 minutes behind schedule, we were faced with the task of locating the closest garage to refuel.

As if right on cue, we were met by two police officers who stopped to assist us very lost looking damsels in distress. Upon explanation of why we had to pull over, a young man passed by carrying a five-litre bottle of – you guessed it – fuel. Exactly the kind we needed.

The officers arranged to take him back to the garage to refill his bottle. We paid the gentleman for his fuel while the officer refilled our tank. All the way to the manor, we ruminated on our good fortune.
One would be excused for driving past the Waterval Road turnoff, as it is hidden off an old beaten track, which could put quite a damper on the trip. Finally upon arrival on a rather humid morning, we were instantly transported to a tranquil oasis of colours, sights and sounds – promising an ideal getaway for anyone who has had enough of the hustle and bustle of the city.

Cascade Country Manor is like no other location in Paarl and you have to double-check to make sure you are indeed still in this typical Boland town. The friendly staff of the boutique hotel greeted us with fresh fruit juice and bathroom facilities fit for royalty. We were treated to a few deliciously healthy snacks before we had to scurry off on our food and heritage tour of the area.

The spirit of late former president Nelson Mandela is as palpable as ever; when standing in front of his statue at the entrance to the Drakenstein Correctional Centre, you are once again filled with emotion and awe of this great hero of South Africa.

Another well-known landmark is the Taal Monument, its oddly shaped spires watching over Paarl from its lofty hill. Once the guide explained the history of the monument, it suddenly all made sense: the architecture, the shape, the various adjacent parts all tell a story of a people who had pride in their heritage and wanted nothing more than to leave a lasting legacy for future generations. The Western European languages and cultures that gradually gave way for Afrikaans; the southern tip of Africa with the Khoi, Nguni and Sotho languages; a bridge between Africa and Europe; the Malay influence; and the Republic of South Africa are all represented by the various towers, arcs and columns. Fascinating stuff.
Information boards provide an introduction to Afrikaans and the (quite humorous) path it has taken to its present-day form.

With breathtaking views of both Du Toitskloof and Table Mountain, as well as the valleys surrounding the monument, immaculate lawns for picnics and a small restaurant and a gift shop, you may be tempted to spend the day lost in thought. The monument also plays host to various concerts and picnics, including the ever popular star- and full moon-gazing evenings. Security is excellent and concerts are believed to be
well organised.

Another stop on our day trip was the KWV Winery. We were taken back in time and educated about the origins of wine in South Africa. A cathedral-like cellar boasts skillfully crafted wooden wine barrels, and the guide informed us that at one stage, the cellar played host to classical music performances.
In a quaintly decorated room, guests can savour a variety of tastings of the world-class KWV offerings, paired in such categories as: South Africa, with wine, biltong and nuts; Decadence, with brandy and chocolate; Elegance, with wine and chocolate; and Excellence, with liqueur and Lindt® chocolate.

For those not wanting an alcoholic indulgence, there are also tastings of beautifully aromatic teas paired with a selection of chocolates that are sure to cause a flavour concerto on your palate.

We headed back to the manor to freshen up before heading off to the Spice Route Destination for lunch. This was the first preview of our accommodation for the evening. I was tempted simply to stay in my room and order lunch in. But upon arrival at the Spice Route (being of Malay descent, I am forgiven for assuming there would be oriental decor), I was glad I had opted for an alfresco
lunch instead.

The food was not only filling but perfectly prepared – taking into account the weather and settings. The Spice Route Restaurant takes you on a culinary journey, exploring the fusion between spice, food and wine. The restaurant interior sets a tranquil theme throughout, embracing the natural surrounds.

Culinary explorers can enjoy an array of dishes discovering the fusion of traditional South African cooking with the various influences of cooking cultures along the Spice Route, all the way from Europe to the east and the places that once formed the empire of the Dutch East India Company. Each dish is carefully crafted and prepared to complement the award-winning Spice Route wines.

The savoury couscous was the best I have ever tasted. The restaurant caters for every palate, and you can easily become lost in the surrounding scenery while the exotic flavours hijack your senses.

We opted to return to the manor for an afternoon of unwinding and respite from the cloying humidity that has become the norm in this area. Our room was pleasantly allocated right beside the spa, and a leisurely dip in the indoor pool took me back to my original impression of the manor – that of a tranquil oasis.

Still too hot to venture far beyond the gates, I opted instead for a leisurely stroll to the manor’s waterfall about which I had heard so much. Thankfully, the route was shaded by trees and made it all the more pleasant. I was lost in my own little world, with the sound of birds chirping and the river gently meandering somewhere beside me. When I arrived at the waterfall, I was truly stunned. Beautifully displayed with an area reserved for events, the cascading water makes for a breathtaking backdrop. Nature has never looked more beautiful and I felt like a bride standing at the altar, full of heady excitement. Must be why the waterfall is such a famous wedding venue…

As the sun began its descent, I made my way across sprawling green lawns toward the pool; ‘picturesque’ and ‘immaculate’ were the words that came to mind. After a quick swim in the cool water, I had a lovely conversation with a fellow guest, who made an apt observation: regardless of who you are or where you are from, once you step foot within the confines of the manor you instantly leave the rest of the world behind.

We were treated to an informative yet comical olive oil tasting by the owner, Volker, who took great pride in his passion for olives and his wife Maika’s baking prowess. Dinner was a beautiful mélange of fresh ingredients infused with warmth and comfort. The dishes were well executed, and the chef really has mastered the art of combining textures and flavours.
Coffee out on the patio overlooking the gardens was a perfect end to a busy day. I welcomed the luxurious bed as it whisked me away into a deep, trouble-free slumber. The rooms boast attention to detail, with a spacious bathroom suitable for couples and families alike.

Breakfast was the cherry on top of our already delightful stay. A wide variety of pastries, breads, cheeses and cereals were available to supplement a scrumptious English breakfast. There is something for all foodies: from healthy to sweet to gourmet.

The meal was followed by a soul-calming, all-encompassing massage that tempted me to pack up and relocate to Paarl without a moment’s hesitation.

Sadly, this spa treatment drew the curtain on our stay in the splendid ‘Valley of the Pearl’, and we were once again packed up and heading down the old beaten pathway, leaving behind our hidden treasure – our oasis of tranquility.

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