I used to live about a five-minute drive from Vineyard Hotel, and yet not once in the three years that I called the Southern Suburbs home did I so much as set foot in its driveway. Isn’t that always the way? And now, after a very pleasant morning there, I know what I’ve been missing.
More fool me.
Every second Wednesday, the Vineyard Hotel offers a special tour of its impressive seven-hectare gardens, followed by tea at Splash, its poolside eatery. If you’re looking for a midweek escape from the city, this should definitely be on your list.
We’re met at reception by Bruce Nutman, one of the hotel’s horticulturists. Together with a team of eight full-time gardeners, Bruce is responsible for keeping these incredible, mostly indigenous gardens in shape. And it’s a lot more complicated than setting the sprinkler timer…
We begin by viewing the courtyard garden, a beautiful Eastern-inspired oasis of trees, smaller plants and water features, which separates two wings of the hotel. What’s really special about it is what can’t be seen though – the entire thing is technically a rooftop garden, positioned over the hotel parking garage. Engineering and horticulture may be unlikely bedfellows, but here they’ve come together to create something beautiful and tranquil out of otherwise dead space.
Next we move across to the hotel’s main lawn to begin our exploration of the garden proper – but not without a little history lesson first. The hotel, we learn, actually dates back to the early 1800s, when it was the homestead of Lady Anne Barnard. Like so much of Cape Town, it combines beauty and a sense of heritage – so we’re all a little horrified to learn that the hotel and grounds were about to be rezoned as a housing estate in 1980, before its current owners came to the rescue.
It was then, too, that the landscaping project began. Mostly under the care of the late Ann Sutton, the grounds were taken in hand and transformed into the veritable Eden they are today. The only brief from the new owner was that he wanted plenty of trees – and trees he has. In fact, standing on the hotel’s breakfast terrace and looking out at the gorgeously-thick canopy, it seems as though the garden continues all the way to the mountain.
Then it’s away along the garden path, with Bruce pointing out various plants and points of interest along the way. The tour lasts 90 minutes, and it whizzes by as we wind our way along cobbled walks; looking up, looking down; and taking in all the life, scents and colours around us.
It’s the tortoises that seal the deal for me. We round a corner and spot two of them. Their shells almost knee-high as they happily munch grass and give us the once over with their scrunched-up, little-old-man faces. I’m still smiling about them later as we sit down to a four-tier tower of dainty sandwiches, scones and cheesecake. Certainly not the worst way to spend a Wednesday.
Where The Vineyard Hotel, Colinton Road, Newlands
When Walks for the remainder of the year will take place on 11 and 18 November, and 2 and 9 December. They will resume in April 2016. The tours begin at 9:30 am.
Good to know Booking is essential
Cost R65 a head for tea
Contact +27 21 657 4500, [email protected], www.vineyard.co.za
Photography courtesy Vineyard Hotel (main image) and Jade Taylor Cooke