Cape Town - First thought. Not sure if I want to go there. I’ve been to Vergelegen – what else is there to see?
Second thought. Isn’t it mostly for retired people who want to get out of the rat race, the slow movers who don’t like change?
So glad I was persuaded otherwise. Somerset West has to be the forgotten jewel of the Western Cape, oozing with its own special charm and a special brand of vive la difference.
This was my day exploring the outreaches of the R44, 50 or so kilometres from Cape Town, dwarfed by the mountainous canopy of Sir Lowry’s Pass, the name mostly associated with the weather forecast.
First stop the Lourensford Wine Estate. What? You’ve never heard of it? That’s maybe because, like me, you haven't ventured much beyond Franschhoek.
It nestles in the fertile bowl of the Helderberg Mountains, which I hadn't heard of either and a more different place you won’t find. It’s got wonderful wine, the organic variety so I’m told. But that’s not what caught my fancy. What did was The Coffee Roasting Co coffee shop with its warm, comforting aroma of freshly ground beans, all milled the old fashioned way in big cauldrons with grinders going non- stop.
You can watch coffee being roasted and get home-grown advice from the coffee roasters, even join a free tasting of the coffees coming fresh out of the roaster. Palpitations! They have a selection of 20 coffees from origins all over the world.
With all this talk of coffee I couldn’t resist buying a genuine hand- beaten brass coffee grinder from Holland for R700. Extravagant I know, and damn hard work for one small cup of espresso. Not sure it tastes any better than the bottled stuff, but it sure impresses the visitors.
And just around the corner when you thought you’d seen everything, you come across a tiny art studio that looks as though it’s part of Lord of the Rings and inside you’ll more than likely find international artist Frans Groenewald hard at work.
You’ll recognise his work because it is so, so different and is found on restaurant walls all over the world. It’s nothing like Tinus de Jongh would have painted. This is real quirky stuff like zebras with bras on with the words “The Wonder of Africa ZeBra”. You’ll find his designs on table mats, coasters, anything that celebrates as he says, “the cheeky champagne side of life”.
Now for something else completely different. Not a stone’s throw away up a pretty steep pass you’ll find a restaurant so à la mode it literally takes your breath away – the Waterkloof Restaurant. Remember the old red lift on the outside of the Maharani that used to take visitors up the side wall to Raffles? That’s what the glass cage on the outside looks like.
Inside it is magnificence personified, modern, contemporary with everything happening within eyesight – open plan food preparation cooking, hand waving, French chef Gregory Czarnecki’s repartee, pretty much like a film set, except that you get to sample some extraordinary dishes.
My starter was so beautiful I barely wanted to destroy the design, which in a way is a bit off-putting, but you have to admire the artistry. On one side a pale salmon mousse shaped like a shell surrounded by edible flowers. Perched on the edge was a thin breadstick with a miniature flower garden blossoming from the crumbly surface.
Not cheap, as you would expect. The whole meal for eight was a few thousand rand – but on the bucket list – a must.
It actually is a wine estate so if expensive eating out is not what you are after, the chic wine tasting lounge and gravitational cellar is pretty interesting.
The blurb on the menu tells you that Chef Czarnecki “places an emphasis on using only the freshest seasonal ingredients, such as free-range eggs, farm-reared Schapenberg lamb, and a variety of common and rare herbs and vegetables – many of which are grown and sourced right here at Waterkloof”.
It was time to wind down, so off we went further along the R44, past the Strand to Gordon’s Bay to watch the sunset and have a picnic on the rocks above the sweep of the bay. There is a bit of sadness here. A white inscribed boulder tells of a great white that attacked and killed a surfer just below where we were sitting.
But the glory of a blood-red sunset and the lurking predator bigger and more ferocious than anything in the sea is quite a heady combination – dramatic, yes – and very different. - Sunday Tribune
If You Go...
From Cape Town get on to the N2 in the direction of Cape Town International Airport, towards Somerset West.
Take Exit 43 off the N2 (Broadway Boulevard / Stellenbosch).
At the top of the exit ramp traffic lights, turn LEFT on to the R44 in the direction of Somerset West/Helderberg.
Approximately 500m further at the next traffic lights, turn RIGHT into Main
Road, Somerset West (The NH Lord Charles Hotel is on the opposite left corner).
Travel along Main Road towards the Somerset West town centre.
Approximately 1.5km further, at the fourth set of traffic lights; turn LEFT into Lourensford Road (there is a large sign board stating “hospital” and Land-En-Zeezicht).
It’s a good starting point for your travels.
GPS co-ordinates: S34º 04' 47.0” E18º 53' 12.3”