Letter from Stellenbosch

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Some notes from our trip to South Africa’s wine country:

*Uva Mira winery, in Stellenbosch, South Africa: this is a gem of a winery to visit in the Cape Winelands. Their wines are not well-known (and not currently distributed in the US), and perhaps because they’ve chosen not to add a full restaurant, they seem to not be on the tourist-track — despite charming terraces, a friendly team and beautiful views over vineyards out to False Bay. And that’s before you get to their wines, which are not expensive but have been winning some gold-medal awards and a few +90 ratings, if that matters to you. This is an easy winery to add in to an itinerary because it is in a central region, just past one of the area’s highest-rated restaurants, up a narrow winding road. They serve charcuterie, if you need some food to accompany your wine tasting, and they have an easy process for shipping wines to the USA.

*Travel tip to Cape Town: arrange to be met off your plane by a “meet-and-greet” service. We used “DiamondAir.” It can save you over an hour of lines, as Cape Town is becoming quite a busy airport.

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*Cavalli Restaurant, at Cavalli Estate Wine & Stud Farm: It is worth coming here just for the exquisite setting, more than the food (which is fine) or the service (our waiter simply pushed whatever was most expensive and had less knowledge of wine than he professed). There has obviously been a tremendous amount of thought and energy put into the design and planning of the estates overall. The restaurant is in a contemporary building, with terrace seating practically on an artificial lake, fire pits and picnic tables on proximate lawns. The reservations process was straightforward, which always helps when planning from a very different time zone, and reservations are required just to get through the guardgate which then leads to a half-mile drive past vineyards and stables until you reach the restaurant and wine tasting building. Overall, a beautiful place to enjoy a meal, and remember to request terrace seating when you reserve.

IMG_20170206_0830573*Indochine Restaurant at the Delaire Graff hotel: I would be hard-pressed to think of a better wine-country lunch venue than Indochine: everything gelled perfectly here. The service from the moment we entered the main building was exactly on-key, especially when they held the restaurant open a bit longer for us when we were late for our reservation. The setting has terrific views from the terrace out over sculpture gardens and out to Table Mountain. The Asian-influenced food is a nice change for the area, and is beautifully-prepared. The ceiling sculpture in the main dining room is quite impressive too, showing 1000 Swallows in Flight. There is an overall feeling of an oasis and “benessere” here, and one senses it is expertly-managed.

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*Hotel: La Residence: This is a lovely well-regarded hotel in Franschhoek, which is a good half-hour drive or more from Stellenbosch in its own wine area. The hotel is beautifully-situated at the foot of the mountains with sometimes spectacular banks of fog rolling in over the cliffs; there are even peacocks wandering through the sundowners terrace – presumably also enjoying the view of sunset over the pond. Our bungalow was very nice, with an outdoor shower, a fountain and a pool right next to rows of vines, so we were well-ensconced. The breakfast service is bounteous and actually healthy. There were so many sweet personalized touches, such as the dinner menu which was printed with our names on it. And when the power to the entire property was cut one night, the staff very quickly brought multiple candles (power was quickly restored anyway). However – we would likely stay closer to Stellenbosch on a next visit, and even if we stayed in Franschhoek again, we would try elsewhere for dinner. Also, if you like the option of a gym to work off some of the incredible dining and drinking, La Residence’s gym is a bit of an afterthought.

Ilona Quasha

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