After an early night and a gentler start to the day with a much deserved lie-in, we boarded the minibus with George and Jeff and began our drive out of Cape Town and into the Winelands, watching as the urban build-up of Cape Town gave way to sprawling fields and vineyards. Our first stop was the Lord Charles Hotel in Somerset West. Named after Lord Charles Somerset, a British soldier, politician, and Colonial Governor from 1814 – 1826, the hotel was spacious, comfortable and very modern inside, though quite isolated.
After a whistle-stop tour of the hotel, Sharon and Mikaela split from our group to head to a couple of charity projects in the shanty towns outside of Cape Town; the rest of us boarded the minibus, driving deeper into the flat fields of the winelands towards Stellenbosch, for a visit to Neetlingshof Estate.
Set within beautiful gardens, the Neetlingshof Wine Estate is one of the oldest wine estates in South Africa, being established in 1692 by Willem Barend Lubbe, who originally named it De Wulwedans (“Dance of the Wolves“), mistaking the jackals in the region for wolves. The current name comes from one of the previous owners, though I do not know when Lord Neetling took it over, only that his widow, Maria Magdalena Marais took over after her husband, Charles, died in 1818, as one of the estate’s top wines is named Maria in her memory.
After a few minutes of exploring the gardens and admiring the fountains, we were led into the Winery itself for a tasting session of several of the estate’s four star wines. I know very little about wine, so I can’t really comment on the session, other than that I enjoyed the reds a great deal more than the whites, and ended up purchasing a bottle of Owl Post as a gift for my parents. As was becoming a recurrent theme of the South African part of this trip, we found ourselves pleasantly and warmly inebriated (Liz asking for additional samples of other wines, which we all got, and the generous pourings certainly didn’t help) just in time for our Tour of the estate and the wine making process.
Slightly wobbly and giggling perhaps more than we should be, we met up again with Jeff for a light lunch at the Lord Neetling Restaurant on site, where (as another running theme) I befriended the local mouser. Slightly upset to find, after quizzing the staff, that the cat had no official name, I made the decision to name the cat Willem, after the estate’s founder, and took great pains, in my tipsy state, to announce this to any and all of the staff. I would be greatly interested to know if the name has stuck.
From Neetlingshof Estate, we made the long journey back to Cape Town, to the Victoria and Albert Waterfront and the Table Bay Hotel, where our bags were collected by porters in full suits and white gloves. Shortly after arrival, we headed back to our rooms to freshen up and change into more suitable attire for our tour of the 5-star property, opened in 1997 by Nelson Mandela. The entire building was magnificent, but I must admit that I felt wholly out of place. Whilst the grandiose and elegant decor was a sight to behold, from the various restaurants and lounges, to the suited staff pressing the elevator buttons for u (which I felt quite capable of doing), I personally find such opulence uncomfortable and pretentious. I was not made for such luxury and grandeur.
After our tour, we were led into the main restaurant for an ostentatious dinner of ostrich carpaccio, followed with a Malaysian lobster-pot curry. I’ve never had lobster, I must admit, so I seized the opportunity to try it, but I found that, as has always been the stereotype in my head, it felt unnecessarily posh – that despite the associated price tag and glamour to it, it wasn’t at all different to any other seafood that I have had. Maybe that’s just me, but whilst I found the experience enjoyable, and I understand that the luxury that the Table Bay offers is exceptional – if that’s what you’re in the market for (which I’m personally not), I still found myself wholly misplaced. That my room was large enough to house a small family, yet was still designated as sole occupancy in it’s description, and that there was a room-service telephone next to the toilet, close enough to use whilst seated, boggles my mind.
So I slipped under the plumage of my bedroom sized bed, browsing the Life At Table Bay book we had each been gifted (which is a stunning presentation and will always have pride of place on my coffee table when I get one), and lost consciousness, filled with a slight dread for the next morning.