During the year La Motte holds classical music concerts in their historic wine cellar – always worth attending, especially at this time of the year with leaves on the old oaks starting to yellow and the mountains in the distance growing soft.
For Easter this year there was something different - Easter Lamentations - a brilliantly put together programme for piano, flute, cello, soprano and narrator.
The audience was asked not to applaud at all but to stay still in meditative mood to the very end.
At once we were plunged into that mood with the soaring music A Feather on the Breath of God by that remarkable medieval woman Hildegard von Bingen. This was followed by the Sonatina from a cantata by J.S. Bach, ”Actus Tragicus”, and then A Chloris by Reynaldo Hahn, written in the midst of the awful horrors of World War 1.
Readings from the Gospel were followed by arias from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Blute nur, du liebes Herz and Erbarme Dich.
A poem by the Afrikaans poet Elizabeth Eybers was read:
“‘n Engel het dit self gebring, die vreugde boodskap – en jy het ‘n lofsang tot Gods eer gesing, Maria, nooi uit Nasaret”. (An angel himself brought the joyful message – and you Mary, girl from Nazareth, sang a song of praise in God’s honour.)
After more music by Bach and Rachmaniov and readings from Psalm 22, Silent Mourning – a reflection on Stabat Mater was performed.
“At the Cross her station keeping stood the mournful mother weeping”.
This latter music, composed by Steven van der Merwe, was, in fact, its world première.
The juxtaposition of joy at God’s coming with the pain felt by a mother whose son was being put to death was so beautifully presented both in music and readings.
The final work was Vidit Suum from Francis Poulenc’s Stabat Mater and then, once more, we were left with A Feather on the Breath of God.
Then walking out from the farm’s white washed cellar into the warm Franschhoek autumn night one was immersed in the dark, clear sky and the bright stars.
I am not sure who was responsible for the choice of music and readings but it was indeed inspired.
The Western Cape’s Cape Floral Kingdom link, a World Heritage site, is the smallest of the world's six floral kingdoms. It is characterised by fynbos and the Protea family. It comprises only 6% of the area of Southern Africa yet has half the species on the subcontinent and more species than the whole continent of Europe. Just Table Mountain alone, has more endemic plant sorts than the United Kingdom.
In late winter and spring our region becomes a wonderland of colour.
Add to this palette our English and Mediterranean urban gardens plus the agricultural land, with its winter crops of canola, wheat and barley and the world becomes a feast for the eye.
In late August and early September drive to Papkuilsfontein near Nieuwoudtville, or to the West Coast National Park near Paternoster (Our Father), walk in the mountains above Franschhoek or in the Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven-and-Earth) Valley near Hermanus and you will soon realise what a paradise this is.
We are so privileged to live here.
Kiyomasu Deon Sensei, who makes the most wonderful sushi, has closed his restaurant Funiki in Franschhoek. Kiyomasu Deon, or Sensei as we all so rightly called him, is an incredible man, with interesting beliefs and an old-fashioned, disciplined way of doing things. No room for compromises, no room for poor quality and no room for the short cuts of the modern world.
His stories of the old Japan and its 13th century ways were as good a reason to eat with him as was the food. His explanations of why this had to go with that were fascinating. We would believe here is room for more people like him.
His meals will be missed by us at Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guest House and by numerous guests of ours who made his food and stories one of the main reasons to stay at us.
Every morning when I walk to Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guest House I see, on top Twyfeling’s chimney, the weather vane designed by my late father-in-law Peter Moór.
On winter days I can see the smoke pouring out from under the two devils with their pitch forks clutched in their hands. He named them Peter and Arthur.
Franschhoek is the centre of the world - a small world and easy to reach. Gansbaai is a two hour, interesting drive from Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guest House through some of the wonderful scenery talked about in previous blogs.
Today it is well known for the Great White Sharks that swim off this coast line and the boats that take tourists diving in cages in order to get close to them.
In the 1850’s Gansbaai was a tiny fishing village that no-one had heard about but Danger Point close by, became much better known for one of the British Navies worst sea disasters
The troop ship HM Birkenhead left Cork in Ireland in December 1851 bound for East London in South Africa.
The vessel carried troops from ten different regiments, but predominantly from the 734th Regiment of Foot, to the 8th Frontier War being waged against the Xhosa people in East London, South Africa. In total, there were an estimated 643 people on board and some horses.
The 47 day passage from Cork to Simon's Town was reportedly the fastest ever by any troopship at the time. The trooper left Simon's Town in perfect weather to sail to Algoa Bay. To make good speed, the captain kept close to the shore and using the paddle wheels, maintained a steady speed of 8.5 knots.
At about two o’clock on the night of 26 February, the Birkenhead struck a submerged rock off Danger Point. The lower deck was instantly flooded and about a hundred men drowned in their bunks. Chaos reigned and the panic-stricken passengers and horses frantically milled about in the darkness.
All the soldiers were summoned to the deck by the captain and were ordered to save themselves by jumping overboard and to make for the boats, many of which, especially the two larger ones, had been destroyed in the collision.
Lt-Col Seton of the 74th Foot Regiment took charge of all the military personnel and commanded his men to stand fast, for fear that they would endanger the lives of the women and children in the few remaining life boats. Most of the men honoured the command, although two or three reportedly joined the women in the boat.
All the women and children were saved but of all 643 people on board only 193 survived. Many of the troops were eaten by the Great White Sharks which even today, amongst the locals, are called Tommy sharks.
Ever after that it became standard protocol when abandoning ship to issue the command - woman and children first.
In 1895, about forty years later, a lighthouse was built at Danger Point. No fewer than seven wrecks are today littered on the rocks beneath the lighthouse.
The lighthouse stands at the tip of the peninsula overlooking the rock responsible for the wreck of the Birkenhead. One can climb its steps for pretty spectacular views out over the ocean.
A lovely walk from Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guest House is up to the wine farm Dieu Donne.
Depending on one’s fitness it takes about 30 minutes to 45 minutes to get there with the last part up a long, steep road. It takes me 45 minutes and then I am stiff all the next day. Clearly I need more walking and less blog writing.
It is a lovely walk down the one long village road with its mainly late Victorian early Edwardian architecture and then, on the way back, along the one that runs parallel.
At Dieu Donne itself one can walk through the restaurant Roca and down on to the terrace with possibly one of the best views in Franschhoek. It is particularly stunning just as the sun starts to set behind the Simonsberg Mountain.
I like to eat on the terrace, not only because of the view, but because they make really good falafels which I eat together with their humus dish. Each time I am asked, “Do you really want to eat chick peas with chick peas”? Yes I do. It is delicious, especially with a glass of the Dieu Donne red blend.
What’s in a name? Place names capture momentous moments and stand as symbols of significance. They also express to the world a sense of place and emotion. In the names of Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guest House in Franschhoek lie the life and times of real people, doubt, equanimity, joy and conviction.
The romantic French flavour of Franschhoek is captured in its names. These names alone are enough to transport the visitor to a land of lavender and full-bodied Bordeaux: La Cotte, La Motte, La Bri, and Plaisir de Merle to name but a few.
It is all the more surprising, then, to turn a corner and come across an imposing Cape Dutch homestead proudly bearing the Afrikaans name Twyfeling (doubting), and right next door, a rustic cottage that bears the name Oortuiging (conviction). A leafy footpath leads to Vreugde (joy), while a romantic double storey villa Gelatenheid (equanimity) nestles in a private corner of the lush garden.
When Adré, my first wife, died I was very unsure about the future. I named the homestead Twyfeling as it was more in keeping, at that time, with my sense of loss and my feelings of doubt about the future.
Oortuiging (conviction) was named during a happier chapter. When I bought the house next door (without a name at that time), I christened it Oortuiging to indicate my renewed hope for the future.”
The cottage never until then had a name. It was built in 1860 on the commonage used to graze cattle. During the Anglo Boer War,when it was used as a billet for British troops, it was known by the locals as
Rooikamp House, a name which reflected the mood of the times and which was derived from the derisive word for an English soldier Rooinek (redneck) and the Afrikaans slang for a pasturage Koeikamp (cattle camp).
When I remarried Katherine I named the new villa we built together in the garden Gelatenheid. We continued a tradition, hailing from the 18th century, by carving into the gable the intertwined initials of our names (K and A), the year it was built (2000) and the depiction of a cat and a dog.
Vreugde arose from an abandoned outbuilding. Vreugde conjures up images of a zest for life and the luxury of quietude and relaxation. It is a retreat from the madding crowd. A feeling of joy is renewed just by sitting on the sun-drenched veranda, alongside the sweet scented lemon tree and listening to the cooing of the Cape doves or the chirping of the cicadas.
Uitsig (view) built on top of the garage at Twyfeling has lovely views of what is probably the most beautiful wine valley in the world. Every time I walk up the back staircase I stop and gasp. If the world can be so lovely how unhappy should a person be.
One of the numerous short trips one can take from Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guest House in Franschhoek is to Greyton.
Drive up the winding Franschhoek pass to Villiersdorp. On the way towards Caledon cross over the dam wall which holds back the waters of the Theewaters (Tea Waters) River. Then descend into the valley where the Riviersonderend (River without an end) runs, eventually arriving in the towns of Genadendal (of which more in another blog) and Greyton.
Greyton was established in 1854 and the layout of the village then remains essentially the same today. The properties with full water and grazing rights were made available to buyers of any race, nationality or religion. At that time this was the only town in the Cape where this was allowed.
Greyton is a lovely little treed village owing much of its charm to the fact that its Cape vernacular architectural heritage has remained largely intact. It is an extremely popular weekend and holiday destination for visitors who enjoy its combination of old-world charm and modern conveniences.
There are many nice tea rooms, lots of horses and a wonderful hiking trail up the Boesmanskloof.
It even has a special dog. It just sat and looked at me the whole time I was drinking tea in one of the tea rooms.
Of course Franschhoek is the centre of the world - a small world and easy to reach. It is closer to the most beautiful and varied scenery than almost any other place than I know. This varied beauty is why so many film companies make movies in the Cape.
There are numerous short trips one can take from Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guest House in Franschhoek – to some of the most beautiful countryside, seascapes and hamlets, and all within an hour or two. We will describe some of them over the next few weeks.
Drive just over the mountains, up the winding Franschhoek pass over the continental divide, and one reaches the Overberg. The “Overberg”, literally “over the mountain” is a land of haunting beauty, with green and sinuous hills and valleys rimmed by blue mountains. It is a pastoral country of sheep, wheat and barley lands.
It is at its pristine best in the late winter when the wheat is green or in the late afternoon when the land is casting long and moody shadows.
As the old year draws to a close it is useful to look back and take stock.
At Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guest House it has, thank goodness, been a good year despite the gloom and doom around us.
Having been a winner for 2011 and 2012 in the Tripadvisor ratings has meant a lot for us in terms of increased occupancies. It has meant we have been able to swallow some of the excessive inflationary costs without excessive increases in rates.
So having got there how does one stay there?
To be the number one hotel anywhere is extremely simple in theory, not so in practice.
To be good one needs to have:
Great service is easy to figure out but it is hard work. Give the guest whatever they want, no matter how unreasonable it initially sounds, and then having gone that extra mile continue to give it to all one’s other guests.
We are blessed at Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guest House in that our staff are all happy people and get on well with each other. We have a happy team, who are proud of being number one and they smile at our guests a lot. One of South Africa’s great hoteliers is famously quoted as saying, “I only employ staff with a sunny disposition” - and how right she is.
Obviously the rooms have to be fresh and spotlessly clean. They need to look at all times as if they have never before been slept in. That requires a great deal of work and meticulous checking.
It doesn’t really help to have the latest HD TV screen and the best Wi-Fi if it does not work. Rather do not have them at all. We fail a bit in this area as the author of this blog is not very handy. Our New Year’s resolution is to get our maintenance standards much higher
Food in Franschhoek is easy. We are surrounded by many of the country’s finest restaurants so we only have to specialise in one relatively simple meal, breakfast. That meal our cooks do exceptionally well.
We wish all our readers a most happy and prosperous New Year.
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