THOSE who live there don’t think about it much as they go about their daily business, but when you’re a fairly infrequent visitor to the Cape winelands you can’t help but be overwhelmed by its leafy beauty.
Especially when, on the day you arrive, glorious, intense sunshine makes the ancient oak trees of Bishopscourt and Constantia practically shimmer, while here in the Eastern Cape we’d had nothing but endless rain.
Spring came calling in my life last Wednesday when property guru Dr Andrew Golding’s annual wrap of the real estate year was followed by an opportunity to test- drive, if you like, one of the recently revamped luxury suites at the historic Alphen Boutique Hotel in nearby Constantia.
Mine was a “Cool” suite in the Dower House and one of the cheaper suites at this high-end hotel. But, even though it did not have his-and-hers bathrooms or its own terrace, it felt every bit as “Amazing” and “Stunning” as the suites by those names.
Luxurious carpeting, heated towel rails and underfloor heating; a massive shower and clawed bath … all made for a soulfully satisfying experience.
It got even better when, after a most enjoyable meal with a friend at the hotel’s 5 Rooms restaurant, I dived head first into a king-size bed draped with best-quality linen (pity I crushed the complimentary macaroon on the pillow on the way in).
Upon waking, I first forsook my morning shower and then breakfast at the Alphen’s popular La Belle Cafe to bask in boudoir bliss a little longer. By now in a race against the clock, I was grateful that the Lavazza pod coffee machine in the suite delivered the kick I needed.
But the thoughtful staff at La Belle were so concerned about me missing breakfast that they sent me off in the airport shuttle armed with two almond and chocolate croissants, a Mac-size macaroon (these people must be psychic) and another kick-ass coffee to go.
I left the Alphen feeling quite enchanted by it (and plotting a return). When you speak of this sprawling Constantia landmark many people do seem to have a treasured memory of it, whether they hiked the trail on its grounds or slept over at some point in its rich and colourful history.
But the new-look Alphen is radically different to its somewhat stuffy (some might even say a little scruffy) former self. Its playful new mantle of tongue-in-cheek sophistication is mostly thanks to a wacky businessman whose out-of-the-box thinking is transforming it into an uber-cool, “must-visit” spot.
Prepare yourself for a lighthearted, fun fusion of old and new; 17th and 18th century shadows blasted away by a fearless new take on Cape manor house living.
Of course you shouldn’t ignore the history, and the Alphen has heaps of it, having hosted the likes of Mark Twain, Cecil John Rhodes, George Bernard Shaw, Jan Smuts and Captain Cook. Originally part of Simon van der Stel’s Groot Constantia estate, the property was later bought by the Cloete family, who lived here for 150 years and still owns it today.
But the family is not involved on the hospitality side at all anymore. Instead, the 21-suite, five-star hotel, as well as La Belle, 5 Rooms and the deliciously laid-back Rose Bar, are now under the umbrella of Paul Kovesky’s Kove Collection, which also includes several restaurants (Paranga, Zenzero, The Kove, Pepénero and The Bungalow) on the Atlantic seaboard.
EXECUTIVE chef Charl Coetzee, of the Alphen Hotel’s La Belle Café and Bakery, shared his recipe for seafood broth (right). This quick and easy dish relies on the freshest ingredients being used.
Ingredients250ml fish stock
5g finely chopped garlic
5g finely chopped fresh chili
5g chopped fennel
50g tomato, peeled and finely chopped
10g spring onion, finely chopped
120g prawn tails
fresh lemon juice to taste
Cut fish into 3cm blocks. Lightly simmer stock, season fish to taste and poach in the stock for 2 min. Add prawns and cook for another 2 min. Add the other ingredients (not the lemon); cook for 2 min. Add lemon and serve.