The Korea Herald


South Africa’s Mother City boasts natural beauty, food and wine

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 14, 2014 - 19:50

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa ― I’m normally not a morning person.

But by 5 a.m. on my first full day in Cape Town, the sun has risen high enough to peel back the curtain of night and reveal the majesty of Table Mountain.

Sleep no longer interests me.

I sip hot tea, nibble the chocolate truffle left during turndown service the night before, slide open the doors and take in the view.

Behind me, television continues 24/7 commercial-free programming ― tributes, interviews and news about Nelson Mandela. The “Father of the Nation” died two days ago. 

Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. (Town Tourism via Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT) Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. (Town Tourism via Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT)
I remember something I’d read in a guidebook: When Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, he’d look across the bay to Table Mountain and see a beacon of future freedom. Indeed, Cape Town’s iconic formation ― a flat-topped mountain that rises 3,563 feet above sea level and looks as though its peak has been sliced off ― has presided over more than 3 1/2 centuries of history in this, the Mother City of South Africa.

On summer afternoons, strong breezes nudge the clouds to a hover atop the mountain, creating an effect that locals call a “white tablecloth.” When the wind pushes the clouds over its face, it looks as though they are tumbling down a waterfall.

Winds of change, in fact, have been hard at work carving the landscape here in recent years. People around the world are noticing. Bolstered by a strong exchange rate, overseas tourists ― and Americans, in particular ― are flocking to the Western Cape region to experience the beauty and charm of its land, people and culture.

The New York Times last month named Cape Town the No. 1 place to go in 2014 (on a list of 52 destinations around the world).

Lonely Planet named the city No. 3 of 10 destinations on its Best in Travel 2014 list.

And the city will hold the title of World Design Capital for the year. It will play host to many events that showcase the theme “Live Design. Transform Life,” an effort to “position Cape Town as a leading global city ― a hub of creativity, knowledge, innovation and excellence,” tourism officials say.

Almost nowhere is this more easily experienced than on a culinary tour of the city and its outlying wine region. Cape Town has become a new frontier for chefs around the world, such as Nobuyuki Matsuhisa, who opened the first and only South African outpost of his eponymous restaurant Nobu there in 2009. The city is home to eight of the top 10 South African restaurants listed in the 2012 Eat Out Awards, and the country’s only two restaurants to make it into the 2012 San Pellegrino World’s Best Awards.

And in the Cape Winelands, centuries-old winemakers are using new technology to produce world-class wines.

On a sunny Saturday morning, locals pack in, elbow to elbow, to the Neighbourgoods Market at the Old Biscuit Mill, a bustling “village” of restaurants, cafes and shops in the Woodstock neighborhood, which is undergoing a renaissance much like that of Fort Worth’s near south side.

Local vendors sell organic dried fruit, dozens of types of mushrooms, freshly baked macaroons, flatbread pizzas, pork belly pies, ice cream and hundreds of other products and foods. Some give out samples; all allow patrons to enjoy their purchases on long tables in the middle of the market.

The Old Biscuit Mill was once, indeed, a biscuit (cookie) factory, and it is evidence of the “what’s old is new” trend that is feeding the city’s culinary pursuits. It’s where British superstar chef Luke Dale-Roberts opened his fine-dining restaurant The Test Kitchen to rave reviews in 2010. In 2012, he followed up with the critically praised The Pot Luck Club, on the sixth floor in the silo of the Biscuit Mill.

The Mill is home to a charming gourmet boutique deli called Saucisse that specializes in hard-to-find meats and cheeses of the area, and to a coffee shop called Espresso Lab Microroasters, which serves up single-origin coffee creations for which people line up out the door on Saturday morning.

Less than an hour’s drive out of Cape Town, rows and rows of vineyards climb the mountainsides. Traditional white Cape Dutch-style homes dot the landscape, and bright pink bougainvillea grows next to the road in this picturesque countryside.

With its mild Mediterranean climate and limited rainfall, the Western Cape region has been home to a wine industry dating to the 1600s. Today, wines from the region are scoring ratings higher than French Burgundies in worldwide competitions.

Accompanied this time by Luvo Ntezo, award-winning head sommelier at One&Only Cape Town resort, my group’s day in the winelands begins with breakfast at Le Quartier Francais, an exclusive but cozy hotel in Franschhoek.

The first of two wine tastings of the day comes in Stellenbosch at Tokara, a sprawling operation that produces a variety of site-specific wines, made entirely of its own grapes, in three distinct vineyard areas.

Tokara uses cutting-edge technology to analyze the vineyards and viticulture. It’s the first one in the area to use a process that “captures both visible and infrared light emitted from vineyards to create a color index describing variances between cultivated sections,” its website explains.

On the drive to the town of Paarl, to the second winery of the day, Nederburg, a mid-afternoon rain invites a rainbow to reach down from the sky and across the mountains. It’s a sublime scene.

Nederburg, founded in 1791, is one of the region’s best known wineries, recognized around the world not just for its award-winning wines but for its place in South African wine history. The Nederburg Auction was established in 1975 to showcase the country’s finest wines. The annual event has become one of the five most important auctions in the world; it’s a glamorous, invitation-only social occasion.

The 5-year-old One&Only Cape Town resort, home base for my visit, has hosted a roster of VIPs from every corner of the globe. Actor Denzel Washington, U2 frontman Bono, former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Mandela himself have all stayed here.

By Stephanie Allmon

(Fort Worth Star-Telegram)

(MCT Information Services)