Friday, 31 March 2017

The Tulbagh Boutique Heritage Hotel

Celebrating the best of local produce
What could be a lovelier way to spend a few days than in the historic mountain village of Tulbagh? Thoroughly South African, Tulbagh is a beautiful little town with old Cape Dutch whitewashed and thatched buildings, quiet streets and the friendliest people.

Unlike some of the bigger tourist towns, which now seem to stock anything from every country at exhorbitant prices, this town celebrates all that is local. I spend a happy day olive tasting at nearby Oakhurst. The olive oil they describe as 'intense' pops tiny, peppery fireworks in my mouth when they teach me to suck in as I taste. I am now thoroughly enjoying my mission of sampling local wares and I move on to wine tasting at Saronsberg. I am given a local cheese platter which makes the wine perform a symphony in my mouth. I happily totter through fields of art sculptures, clutching two bottles of the superb Voignier under arm. Just outside town on a quiet little road, I am able to wend my unsteady way back to the hotel in Tulbagh without endangering myself or anyone else.

And what a gem is this tasteful South African haven of the Tulbagh Boutique Heritage Hotel! With rooms named after various protea and other favourite regional flowers, the decor manages to be both elegant and bold. Vibrant pinks are muted against peaceful ash velvet and crisp white cotton. The deep, modern, white baths and generous basins contrast the olde worlde charm perfectly. Fynbos soaps and bath products fill the suite with even more local flavour. The turndown service gifts South African chocolate coated nougar, once again perfectly complementary to the fragrances which already fill the room.

I would love to come back to this hotel in winter. My suite has both airconditioner and fireplace and I pray for a cold snap so I may watch the fire from bed. It is 32 degrees today and an unlikely request.

What I especially love about the hotel is the creative art which catches one by surprise at every corner. A fountain pours out of a kettle below an open-faced clock on your way to the sparkly pool. 

A pair of meercat are up to their usual mischief at the open fire area. Hand-painted protea and mountain scenes line the walls. There are varied seating areas and multiple decks looking out towards the mountains which surround the village.

The Olive Terrace Bistro and Lounge restaurant is an outdoor deck under dappled shade, looking out onto the main street in town. Specialising in local, seasonal produce, the menu includes descriptions of cheese from Druk my Niet farm and free range eggs from De Heuvel, while the fruit is from the surrounding valley estates. The vegetables and herbs are from Dream Tulbagh Community Garden just down the street. I choose a Snoek pate as starter and Cape Malay lamb curry as a main, which complement the setting well, especially paired with more local wine.

The breakfast is another experience in fresh local produce, and you can taste the lack of food-miles in every mouthful. The marmalade is the best I have ever tasted and the jams are tart, not over-sugared.

The hotel is well staffed with said friendliest of locals, equally enthusiastic in the advice of where best to sample the fine local produce for which the area is famed.

There is so much to see and do in this vibrant yet gentle part of the country. Art galleries, famous restaurants, a cafe called the Reading Room, chocolate dipping, tractor rides and Cederberg canopy zipline adventures. 

Finally, car filled with all the local produce that I sampled, I reluctantly make my way back to Cape Town via the spectacular Bain's Kloof Pass, a narrow winding road through a river gorge with views to rival any mountain pass. 

I feel somehow that I have imbibed the innocence of a heritage setting and am well pleased that places like this still exist where we have the privilege of traveling back to a simpler time, uncontaminated and vibrant in its essential purity and intense flavour.

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