Cape Town is known was a maritime region, a stopping point on the old Europe to India trade routes, but it was also known for its excellent wine region.  The fist vineyard in the Cape were planted by Jan van Riebeeck in 1655 at the foot of the imposing Table Mountain, and he entered in his diary on February 2, 1659 the famous phrase, “Today praise be to the Lord, wine was pressed for the first time from Cape Grapes.”

The Vineyard is a former estate.

There is no better location for discovering the Cape’s vintages than from the Georgia-style Vineyard Hotel and Spa, which was the wine estate of Lady Anne Barnard, which was built in 1799 and then turned into a luxury hotel during the Victorian age, the third oldest hostelry in the Cape, and the sister property to another famous wine lands hotel in the Stellenbosch area, the d'Ouwe Werf Hotel (the oldest hotel in all South Africa).

The highest peak of Table Mountain (there are 12 peaks altogether) overlooks the Vineyard Hotel, and because the area is on the lee side of the mountain, it is more tropical and gets four times the rain as Cape Town on the coast, with lesser winds, but tons of fog, all bullet points for growing great grapes and producing fantastic wines. The Constantia area around the Vinyard Hotel is blessed with geography and topography.

I had a chance to sip Napoleon’s favorite wine, now named after him — Vin de Napoleon — on a wine tasting adventure to Klein Constantia near the Vineyard Hotel. Klein Constantia’s vintages were sought after by the European aristocracy of the 18th and 19 Centuries and praised in the novels by Dickens and Jane Austen.  Even back then Klein (little in Dutch) Constantia’s wines were famous.

The Klein Constantia Winery.

Taste Vin de Napoleon wine.

Redevelopment of the family-owned estate in the 1980s and the site specific plantings, led to its renaissance where all the wines are grown, made, and bottled.  The original recipe for the Napoleonic wine was lost for over 150 years when the original estate was broken up into four mini-estates, but by luck, the recipe was rediscovered in 2006 on a scrap of paper in one of the estate archives.  The grape varietal was identified and now Napoleon’s limited bottling of about 1,600 cases is exported worldwide.  You can even find it at South Africa airports, and duty free.  The light red wine was the most unique that ever crossed my palate.

The other wine estates in the area include Meerlust, Simonsig, Warwick, and Waterford Estate, and all five vineyards offer guided tours or self drive options.   The estates only grant tastings if booked in advance from the Vineyard Hotel or its in-house Travel Desk just off reception.

Events and weddings are held on the back lawn.

Over the years the Vineyard Hotel has been whittled down to about six acres but it replanted its vineyards in 2009 so I will have to return soon to sample their bottled nectars.  Lady Anne Barnard's original house is still used as offices with two rooms overlooking the back lawn, fountain, and mountains rented out as accommodations. The backyard terraces are utilized for special events, concerts, and weddings.

The famous Newlands Stadium is nearby and the Cape’s rugby team, appropriately called The Stormers, was lounging around the hotel’s Health and Fitness Center preparing for a game that afternoon (they won). The state-of-the-art center included heated indoor and cold outdoor pools and a massive gym with the latest equipment.  Order an organic poolside lunch from the Center’s Splash Café.

The magnificent views from the outdoor pool.

The Vineyard is world famous for its Angsana Spa, conceived and operated by the Thailand Banyan Tree Group.  No doubt the Stormers won their game because of the unique spa treatments that loosened them up. Fitness trainers are available on request, and the Travel Desk can outline a jogging route for you. The hotel had such wonderful gardens and their detailed garden guide kept me busy identifying plants, flowers, and birds.

The serene Sanctuary Spa.

I certainly enjoyed my Garden View room that actually framed the Table Mountain as well. All rooms have an en-suite bathroom and a separate shower with local bath amenities. I enjoyed the explosive light that invaded my room courtesy of a full length window wall that overlooked my private patio where the birds came to drink from my private fountain. I am not a proponent of air conditioning, but it probably is needed in the summer months, and the heavy curtains were drawn at bed time but I threw them back to watch a rain storm work its magic one evening.

My bi-level Garden View Room.

I had not one, but two remote control satellite TVs and a wide writing/business desk in my bi-level room with free Wi-Fi.  I was pleased with the international electrical sockets because I could charge my camera gear as if back home. I came to appreciate the tasty South Africa biscuits which are more like cookies, and there was always fresh water and juices stocked in the mini bar.  Paraplegic and inter-leading rooms are also available and all rooms are non smoking.

A newer room wing designed by famous architects Jack Barnett and Revel Fox brings the room total to 207 in mountain and garden view settings.  The most recent addition is a block of River Suites that are great for families, and located along the landscaped parkland along the banks of the Liesbeek River, bordering the new vineyards.

A Mountain View Room.

Out of the 207 rooms there are 59 Courtyard Rooms comprising a double bedroom of approximately 22sqm and a bathroom (with bath and separate shower) of approximately 5.5sqm. There are 55 Courtyard Deluxe bedrooms at approximately 26sqm and they are either ground floor rooms with sliding doors opening on to a garden or patio, with the upstairs rooms overlooking a delightful private garden.  There are 40 Mountain Facing rooms with majestic views of the forested slopes of Table Mountain; they comprise a double bedroom of approximately 22sqm and a bathroom (with separate shower) of approximately 8sqm.

There are 20 Mountain Deluxe rooms with a larger bedroom (approximately 26sqm) and sliding doors opening on to its own balcony or patio with views of Table Mountain. The six Mountain Facing Luxury Suites have an appointed lounge, with a separate bedroom en-suite; round floor suites have sliding doors on to either gardens or terraces. 

The exquisite bath and shower.

The eight Garden Facing Junior Suites overlook beautiful gardens with the backdrop of Table Mountain; they feature a double bedroom and lounge of approximately 33sqm, with a superb en-suite bathroom. The six River Facing Junior Suites overlook the Liesbeek River and feature a double bedroom and lounge of approximately 33sqm, with a superb en-suite bathroom. The two River Facing Suites are similar to the Junior Suites, but are larger at 40 sqm. 

The sole Francois Suite is named after Francois Petousis, who was the patriarch of the family that presently own the Vineyard; this suite has a beautifully designed lounge and bedroom with a magnificent private patio. The third floor Kitty Suite is name for Kitty Petousis and features stunning mountain views with a spacious lounge and sliding doors which open onto a balcony with sun chairs.

A typical open bedroom.

There are also five self-catered Garden Cottages with two bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, with dining and living room; ideal for families or longer stays at the Vineyard Hotel.

South Africa government offices and international consulates are housed in a complex called The Oval directly across the street from the Hotel and I noticed at lunch the smartly dressed professionals dining at MyYoga Restaurant’s patio Café behind the original house.  The organic MyYoga Restaurant more formal dining area was closed on the Sunday and Monday during my stay, but the Café was delightful in the warm autumn sun.

Try MyYoga Restaurant for organic cuisine.

Chefs whip up afternoon delights.

One afternoon I ordered the Karoo Lamb Burger and the next day, because there are so many commercial ostrich farms on the Cape, it was a tasty Ostrich Burger. Because of its international influence, Cape cuisine also boasts a mix of fare from around the world, with a dash of South Africa thrown in, as was the case with the Minced Ostrich Casserole with spicy Malay Saffron Rice I ordered one evening, with wine from the area served by the Square’s bar staff. The Square is also open for dinner or for a made-to-order or full breakfast buffet; return in the afternoon or evening for Sushi specialties.  Most room packages at the hotel include breakfast.

The Vineyard is actually its own museum, preserving its past in words and photos, with an amalgamation of select pieces from emerging modern South Africa artists and sculptors. The antiques in the glass cases can be purchased from Vineyard Antiques and Imagenius in the foyer. Elouise Meyer's newly opened contemporary salon, Hair by Elouise, is situated near the spa, gym and Splash Café.

Lady Ann Barnard's original Georgian-style mansion.

The nearby Cavendish Square Mall offers Vineyard Hotel guests a free shuttle, but the weather was so nice I walked the five minutes to purchase South Africa botanicals. Cavendish Square has over 200 unique stores, restaurants, 16 cinemas, including foreign feature films, and five Forex Banks all conveniently situated in a safe and secure indoor shopping environment.

The hotel gives guests a daily pass code for the computers/internet near the Travel/Adventure desk, staffed with knowledgeable and helpful staff.  

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— Feature by Kriss Hammond, Editor, Jetsetters Magazine; photos by the author and courtesy of Vineyard Hotel and Spa.