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July 20, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Summer 2013 issue
Elegance out of Africa
Words: Jim Dunn
“I had a farm in Africa,” wrote Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke in her enchanting memoir first published in 1937 under the name Isak Dinesan. The book was made into the worldwide hit film Out of Africa in 1985 and those words are probably the most famous opening lines ever used in a film or, for that matter, a book. We all remember the story. It was all about her life on her coffee plantation in Kenya, then British East Africa, and we will all also remember the film starring a young and very wooden Robert Redford and the massively talented Meryl Streep. The film won 28 awards including 7 Academy Awards I thought of the film earlier this year as I toured a small part of the new South Africa around Cape Town, that sophisticated, marvellous café society city so European in many ways yet definitely African.
I stayed in yet another beautifully appointed African farmhouse, albeit not in Kenya, and one now lovingly restored and with all modern conveniences as the photographs on these pages show.
There’s one thing you will never be short of in SA and that is a very comfortable room, beautifully interior designed to the hilt and often in a wonderfully situated, converted African farmhouse mostly of the famous Dutch Cape design. As a holiday destination SA is second to none.
I have been visiting South Africa since the early 90s, with my first visit coming very soon after we all learned, with great relief, that Nelson Mandela was to be released from prison. Since then the country has made great strides as a democracy but still with great tensions and security a constant and major concern.
When I asked a South African friend of mine just how long can all this last? – This wonderful life, not expensive, terrific wine, great food from adventurous young chefs, an abundance of servants, beautiful homes with spectacular views of the ocean or savannah etc. she looked at me slowly and answered, “5years… and I have been saying 5 years for the past 25 years.”
The country certainly does not give the impression of a lack of permanence. Life is good for the some but pretty basic for the many but still some people wonder out loud just how long this can all last.
Property prices are also very reasonable although house prices have gone up over 10 per cent in the last year. Tourism is booming and there is very good infrastructure with excellent roads and plenty of staff in hotels and guest houses. However, if you succumb and buy a house there are a host of interior design magazines available to help you create your home or apartment of your dreams and it seems almost everyone you meet is an interior decorator or certainly knows one!
You can have a wonderful life down there at the tip of Africa where our winter here in the Mediterranean is their summer but as I say, you always have to worry about security and if you decide to buy make sure you live in a gated community or certainly an apartment block with 24 hour surveillance. All this makes SA sound very worrying indeed - which it isn’t, you just have to be alert.
The South Africans, despite all this, are really geared to the tourist. They work hard at the service ethic, create beautiful hotels and homes and there certainly seems to be no shortage of water as the gardens and lawns are lush beyond belief.
You can add to this all its natural resources, of acres and acres of vineyards, sunshine and the restaurant food which on the whole is very good and only occasionally puts style before quality.
My tour this year took in the towns of Franschoek and Stellenbosch only 30 minutes’ drive up the motorway from Cape Town up in the Winelands where some of the greatest wine you can taste is grown. I then journeyed further up to the Paarl region and stayed at one of the more spectacular small properties I have ever visited on its own wine estate, the Grand Dedale Manor House www.grandedale.com
Here British owners Dorothy and Dennis Kerriston have created one of the chicest little retreats you‘ll find. There are six beautifully, spacious, interior designed rooms and suites, all the work of Dorothy who has never designed professionally and her experience has only been on her own homes.
She has peppered the House with many antique pieces from her own collection; gilt tables from 1807, a Queen Ann walnut table and many mirrors including one from the 1800s.
Each suite has every modern service and there’s one small thatched cottage in the grounds. All this is surrounded by their own land and wine estate where you can drink wine over dinner which was grown a stones’ throw from your table.
At the foot of the Bainskloof Pass, itself a spectacular drive, Grand Dedale estate is in a gorgeous valley and has 380 hectares of vineyard and forest and is surrounded by dramatic mountain ranges.
The approach road to the House is a romantic country road, no tarmac here, and is surrounded by vineyards so if you tire of dinner at the House you can drive a short way and sample another estate.
As you arrive at Grand Dedale you pass manicured paddocks, white roses, and flowers galore. If you are looking for a place to recharge those batteries then this is it.
The landscape of the new South Africa is delicious and the life is good. The transformation of the country since the end of apartheid has been remarkable and though tensions remain, the Cape Winelands have evolved into one of the world’s most attractive, easy going epicurean getaways.