The phrase “getting away from it all”, generally refers to those little countryside gems or retreats on the beach, or in the bush, where you drive a considerable distance to feel separated from the trials and tribulations of the daily grind of the world. Yet within spitting distance of the buzz of Stellenbosch, lies a little haven, which appears to be a world on its own, where peace and serenity rule.
The Devon Valley Hotel has long been a favourite watering hole for members of the wine fraternity, and I have been a frequent visitor to its seemingly rarified climes. The Platter’s guide awards are held there regularly and the terrace is a perfect meeting place, as is the cosy bar for wine makers, wine writers and anyone associated with matters vinous.
Editor Carolyn and I dined there recently on a perfect autumn day at the Vineyard Terrace, where we gazed at the vineyards in all their golden- and rust-coloured glory, while vistas further afield gave on to a patchwork of winelands and the Helderberg. There is a delightful old fashioned feel to the hotel, which is currently celebrating its 60th year, and this feeling carried through from the ambience to the service and the warm and generous hospitality.
An excellent repast of lamb shanks for a hungry Carolyn and a goat’s cheese and biltong salad for a less ravenous me, were greatly enhanced by a stunning viognier from Diemersfontein. And while the ambience may be old fashioned, the menu offers some delightful cutting-edge cuisine, from mushroom and emmenthal tortellini to apple and walnut risotto to a spicy chicken and prawn tagine, amongst a selection of well-thought-out offerings.
Carolyn’s lamb (R95) was melt in the mouth and my salad (R55) was deliciously flavoursome. Both so huge that I struggled to finish mine while Carolyn took home a sizeable doggy bag. The following weekend saw my partner and I ensconced there for the night prior to the Bastille Day festival, just down the road in Franschhoek, and again we were treated to the same warm and genuine hospitality. The hotel recently refurbished its guest rooms and added a new wing with its Vineyard Rooms, where we stayed. Fabulous views give on to the valley and our spacious room with a glowing gas fire made it difficult to tear ourselves away, even with the temptation of dinner in the Flavours restaurant.
But tear ourselves away we did, and we were glad, as we ate (again) a most splendid meal, served charmingly by one of the in-house staff. We both had fish – a cob fillet in a creamy delicious saffron sauce for me and Michelle had pan-fried kingklip, also in a sauce. One cannot mention either restaurant without referring to the excellent wine list, which offers an amazing representation of the Cape’s wines – we chose Stellenzicht’s stunning Reserve Semillon 2002 to go with our fish – a rich wine that has stood the test of time so well that we savoured each sip, enjoying the citrus tones boosted by lanolin and a singular creaminess that doesn’t cloy on the palate.
It was the end of a long week and by that stage we were too tired to have a nightcap in the Cedarwood Bar, but this well-known venue is well worth a visit. It has one of the largest selection of single-malt whiskies in the Cape (more than 50), lovingly tended by SylvanVale wine ambassador, Tokozane Sibeko, who also selects the wine for the wine list. It is in the bar that you can also taste the hotel’s SylvanVale wines. SylvanVale Vineyards cover a total area of seven and a half hectares within which the hotel is nestled. Grapes have been grown on the property since the 1960s and among the well-crafted wines you can taste are a delicious chenin blanc (Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2008) from 39-year-old vines, one of the oldest blocks of chenin blanc in Stellenbosch. There’s also the much-lauded rosé, made with cabernet sauvignon grapes, and the delicious SylvanVale Family Reserve 2004, a Cape Blend which pays tribute to the Louis family who own the hotel. A blend of cabernet sauvignon (57%), pinotage (29%) and shiraz (14%), this lovely winter wine has beautiful oak undertones with a lingering spicy finish.
Before we turned in for the night we promised Tokozane we would be back. And after a restful night’s sleep where only the occasional barking of farm dogs broke the silence, we were treated to a hearty breakfast: a tiered tray of fruits and cold meats and cheeses offered the precursor to scrambled eggs, mushrooms and smoked salmon, all washed down with freshly squeezed orange juice. It definitely hit the right spot. Rested and rejuvenated, we bid farewell to the helpful staff and like Arnie Schwarzenegger, promised “we vill be back!”.
Published in Die Bolander