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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PRIZE (VALUE more than R15 000)
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Answer the following question, the answer to which can be found on our website:
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TERMS & CONDITIONS
Our recent visitors to Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guest House will know our dog Anna. She is the most adorable dog and is, without a doubt, our star staff member. Check the many Tripadvisor reviews
for Akademie to see how our guests rave about her.
But those who have stayed with us longer will remember her predecessor Woof. Especially those who remember who as a young Labrador with their shoes or sunbathing lotion or sunglasses hanging out of her mouth imploring them to say “give”.
For those of you missing her here is a picture of her in her well earned retirement. Talk about a dog’s life.
It is always exciting when a brand new restaurant opens up in Franschhoek.
A small Japanese restaurant on the GlenWood vineyards opened its doors yesterday. Okamai is run by a South African who spent years in Japan studying the martial arts, particularly of the 16th century. There he fell in love with the traditional Japanese way of doing things. He has adopted a Japanese name Kiyomasu Deon Sensei.
Everything is authentic from his clothing to the Samurai movies playing in the corner to his explanations as to why one should always eat with your arm down. This way of eating is to make it more difficult for an assassin, with a long thin spike easily hidden in his robes, to murder one. The spike would go in from under the victim’s arm directly into his heart.
When the writer of this blog was a small boy that was the way they used to murder people on the over-crowded trains to Soweto on Friday’s pay-day when the weekly paid workers had cash. The Tsotsis used a sharpened bicycle spoke because it was silent and deadly and no one could see who had committed the crime.
The food at Okamai is wonderful and Sensei is a perfectionist. He insists on doing everything the authentic way and everything is prepared fresh, fresh, fresh and served in a traditional bento box. Wasabi should never be more than 3 hours old for instance. Much of his raw material is sourced from Japan. Since the Tsunami Japan has had difficulty in growing enough rice. Sensei buys it from Uruguay as the Japanese are now growing rice there.
GlenWood is already one of Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guest House’s favourite farms. It is splendidly situated, away from everywhere else, in the valley along the Robertsvlei La Motte dirt road. The wines are great and Alastair, the owner, and Nikki are passionate about the farm and the food and the wine and it shines through. D.P. the winemaker and Sensei and also their wives make up a wonderful team.Next time in Franschhoek make a visit to GlenWood. You will not regret it. Remember to book though. The restaurant is really small.
The 74 year old author of these reflections, while on holiday in Turkey spent time with the younger members of his family exploring the pleasures of adventure tourism – hot air ballooning, paragliding, clambering up slippery rivers and equally slippery rocks in one of Europe’s longest canyons and also quad biking. (All brought to an exciting end when he crashed his quad bike - first into a street pole and then into two refuse drums!)
These activities are great fun when done solo or with a few others.
When translated to MASS events, as they were in some of the more famous adventure spots, they take on a different hue – a frenetic wave washes over one of thrill-seekers all needing to have been there and done that – a sort of mass hysteria with barely enough time in between adventures to take photos to mark one’s rites of passage. Pretty villages turned into adventure stations with long stables of dusty quad bikes, tour buses herding the great adventurers from one adventure to the next and the interminable sitting around in dingy surroundings at 4.30 am waiting for the correct weather conditions.
Rather the quieter adventures – the hiking up steep mountains to the ruins of ancient Lycian cities over-looking the lands and mountains of their vast, ancient civilisation.
Or the quiet pleasure of drinking Turkish coffee and biting into an apricot and semolina dessert under an incredibly old walnut tree in a quiet garden in the village Kayaköy made famous in the book “Birds Without Wings”. The garden, so typical of a Turkish village garden, is a lush oasis redolent with pomegranates, mulberries and chickens. No mass tourists here, just a few other people to contemplate the ruins of the Greek and Armenian houses and their tragic fate after their expulsion in 1923 at the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. Many hundreds of thousands, peobably millions, died in the swop of populations between Turkey and Greece.
One is fortunate that in Franschhoek the only MASS tourism is centred on dining, with its sometimes equally frenetic imperative to book at the best restaurants for which Franschhoek is so rightly famed - the desperate need to tick off the food experience and then to leave. These visitors ignore, at their cost, our adventures of the quieter kind – hiking in the glorious fynbos covered mountains or cycling or riding through them on horseback.
In Franschhoek the real tourism pleasures are pastoral – visiting the wine farms, lunching on a wine farm, watching the pruning or harvesting, taking in, in huge dollops, the beautiful scenery, lying under the oak trees and listening to the cooing of the Cape doves. It is a time and a village for rest and contemplation, a time and place to recharge and fill one’s soul with peace and so recharged, once again, face the frenetic pace of one’s normal city life.
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