Thursday, 14 February 2013

Vineyard escapades

On freezing winter days do you dream of lying on a four-poster bed in a summer garden?

The Alphen, Constantia, Cape Town

You can, if you like, in these rose, herb and lavender filled gardens where a duel was once fought between an army captain and a doctor named James Barry, supposedly over the affections of a daughter of the house. Both missed, happily - and probably intentionally, since they were actually best friends! James Barry went on to a celebrated career as a surgeon, performing the first Caesarian section in South Africa.

The twist in the tale is that on 'his' death in 1865, James Barry was discovered to be a woman. A petite, fiery redhead, she had disguised herself as a man in order to be accepted into Edinburgh's medical school and later as a surgeon with the military in India and South Africa.
Look at her - good grief, surely somebody must have cottoned on?

The Alphen manor house and wine cellars (below) are part of the Constantia Valley vineyards, only 10 miles from the city of Cape Town.

Hydrangeas are called 'Christmas flowers' here, and already just past their best by late January

Today the Alphen is a beautiful hotel for people visiting Cape Town, though for Capetonians it's a place to go for breakfast under the trees after a walk through the vineyards -

My niece and I met up here for a drink looking over the pool right here one evening

and another friend and I for tea and carrot cake in the garden

 Besides pistol duels and famous cross-dressers, this area has seen a lot of colourful history. Nearby at Groot Constantia is where the wine-making all began, in 1685, when Dutch colonists found this lush valley to be perfect for growing vines ...

Napoleon supposedly had 30 bottles of Constantia wines shipped over to Elba once a month to ease the pain of exile (that's a bottle a night, which would surely have done the trick). 

King Louis Philippe of France, Frederick the Great, England's George IV and Bismarck all dispatched emissaries to fetch crates of the stuff, and Dickens, Baudelaire and Jane Austen waxed lyrical about them. (Austen recommended 'a glass of Constantia' for 'its healing powers on a disappointed heart', she and Napoleon clearly both knowing a thing or two about drinking for solace). 

You can drink Constantia wines here too, at The Cellars (above and below), down the road

which is where my friend Lorelle and I met one evening for a glass of bubbly

and had this terrace with a view to the mountains all to ourselves

barring a few ducks and a curious cat

Lorelle gets to come here for a morning coffee or an evening glass of Constantia wine whenever she likes

... lucky fish.
Happy birthday and Valentine's day, Lorelle xo


  1. I grew in Bordeaux, on a vinyard...drank wine mixed with water in a bay bottle!This Vinyard is spectacular! i will be going to South Africa in April and wished I could find time to visit Cape Town.

    1. Dear Francine, please get in touch with me if you do visit Cape Town - I'd be very happy to give you some good suggestions of where to stay/what to see.

  2. It looks so gorgeous. Blissful, even. And what a story about James Barry!

  3. Karen, even if NYC skipped a snow forecast and had blue sky today, our light was nothing compared to what appears in the photos in this post.

    In a few more weeks we might get another glimmer that spring is waiting in the wings.


  4. Just magnificent
    The light..the intensity of the greens
    I'm speechless


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