Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Country Life and Everything Nice

Whether you’re an equestrian, an epicurean, or an urban escapee – getting away from it all in Noordhoek gets you more than what you started with.

I’m standing in a curious place – a place like no other in the world. A bold statement, I know – afterall, none of the usual excitements exist here. No dazzling city lights, shopping meccas or restaurant rows, no glitz nor glamour. Yet it’s precisely in this emptiness – in what is not here – that this place gains value. It’s a place with an abundance of that curious country feeling – that something that ticks inside of us in the face of long sandy beaches framed by bushveld, dunes and a milkwood forest. This is a place where the wind has a way of ruffling your hair and carrying any form of status away like so many grains of sand, and where the excited thrill of urban exultation peters out like a tiny stream in the face of the ocean’s vastness.

This is Noordhoek, a small corner on the fringe of cosmopolitan Cape Town – overlooked by some, passed through by others. For the rest of us, the local’s term “Noordhoeked” has meaning. Only 35-minutes from the centre of Cape Town, just getting here is a spectacular journey through Camp’s Bay and her Twelve Apostles, along the coast past Llandudno, Hout Bay and her faithful Sentinel, and culminating along one of the world’s most famous roads – Chapman’s Peak Drive.

Just two narrow lanes carved into the side of an impending cliff-face that extends 600 meters over your head and falls nearly as far into the crashing Atlantic below, it offers the kind of driving that inspires the dreams of motoring enthusiasts and colours the knuckles of their not-so-adventurous companions gleaming white. If you can pry you eyes away from the road you’ll be lavished with 180-degree panoramic views over the blue Atlantic, across the white sands of Noordhoek’s 8-kilometer long beach, until the last few rocky outcrops of the peninsula curve just out of sight.

The roads 114 twists and turns eventually deliver you to Noordhoek where you’re greeted by Cape Point Vineyards, home to some of South Africa’s most highly acclaimed wines, including Sauvignon Blancs that make regular appearances in the 5-star John Platter SA Wine Guide rankings and which have easily broken through the 90-point benchmark set by Wine Spectator for “outstanding wines of superior character and style”. Not widely available, these wines are a true reflection of the local terroir and the perfect welcome in a glass.

Next stop, go for a meander in the Village – the tourism office is located here along with a collection of shops and restaurants, not least of which is the humbly-named Food Barn. The chef, Franck Dangereux, spent his early years training in 3-Michelin starred restaurants in France before eventually joining the team at Constantia Uitsig’s La Colombe, where his influence helped make it one of the world’s top 50 restaurants. Now he’s realising his dream of running his own restaurant and spending more time with his young family. You can choose to dine in or shop the deli for a bounty of culinary delights – locally sourced artisanal cheese, olives and spreads, even quiches and to-die-for gourmet sandwiches. Did I mention the on-site bakery? Only those of merciless willpower can withstand the temptations of the multitude of fresh cakes, pastries and bread that seem to stand in formation like a small army intent on liberating your waistline.

Once you’ve made your contribution towards the ‘Battle of the Bulge,’ make your way towards the Common where you can spread out your treasures for a casual picnic, wander along the babbling stream where hundreds of Arum lilies bloom in springtime, or get to know the equine beauties resting in the adjacent paddocks. No ordinary creatures, these gentle beasts with their soft, chestnut eyes and curious nature are mostly investments of the purebred kind. If you fancy a sunset ride along the beach, never fear – the folks at Sleepy Hollow Horse Riding just down the lane will completely kit you out with riding gear, a safety lesson and a trusty (if semi-retired) steed.

Following the road towards the beach, you’ll come across the Red Herring – a local institution that hosts formal wine and food pairing evenings next to a roaring fire. Upstairs you’ll also find Skebanga’s, a casual pub famous for its range of pizzas, rooftop terrace and local flair. Live music is also a regular feature.

Just across the road you’ll find the turnoff to Monkey Valley – a collection of timber chalets nestling in the embrace of the Milkwood forest. My favourite is along a private pathway towards the beach, complete with a wraparound terrace and a millionaire’s view – 180-degrees of undeveloped bush, a seasonal lagoon (and occasional home to migrating pink flamingos), and unspoilt beach – all wrapped up in the sounds of the sea. Sitting on your terrace, the sun starts to set. The horses and their riders appear as if on cue, making their daily formations across the sand. It’s Golden Hour now – the dunes are rich in colour from green to dark brown and billowy yellow. A little later the sounds of frogs present themselves, punctuating the silence of nature.

If you’re lucky, the rare Leopard Toad might make a quick appearance while fireflies dance on the horizon, as if to add their glow the sky now radiating hues of yellow, orange, pink and purple. One by one, thousands of twinkling lights join in the chorus, illuminating the sky as it gradually grows darker – not dazzling city lights this time – but stars.


Where to Eat:

  • The Food Barn: Restaurant (reservations a must) and Deli;
  • The Red Herring (formal) or Skebanga’s Sunset Bar (local is lekker):

Where to Stay:

  • Monkey Valley: Live like a millionaire, if only for one night in these private, self-catering chalets; Restaurant on on-site;

What to Do:

  • Cape Point Vineyards: Wine Tasting options priced at R10, R30 or R50; Mon-Fri 09h00-17h00, Sat 10h001700 and Sun 10h00-16h00;
  • Shopping at the Village
  • Picnic in the Common
  • Beach Walk
  • Sleepy Hollow Horse Riding: 2-hour beach trail from R400 per person;