Monday, December 2, 2013

Around the Globe: The Steenberg Hotel

There is a place several thousand miles to the south and east of the United States, across the Atlantic Ocean, that every serious traveler and wine aficionado should visit at least once during their life.  

Generally, the place is called the Constantia Valley, striking winelands flowing into craggy mountains just 20 minutes outside of Cape Town.  
Specifically, the place is Steenberg, the Cape’s oldest farm and one of the best accommodations at which I’ve ever stayed.
“Old” here means something fundamentally different than what most Americans consider old.  Steenberg Hotel’s buildings date back to 1682 (don’t worry, they’ve been extravagantly updated), as does the spacious winery.  Fathom that – the early settlers were growing grapes and making wine at the Steenberg nearly 100 years before America declared its independence. 
The Steenberg is a pleasure land in so many ways.  Start with the Khoi Khoi Suite that we stayed in. 
Named in honor of a traditional local tribe, the Khoi Khoi Suite is more cottage than suite, as it is as large as many comfortable houses.  

Adorned with traditional African art and stocked with fresh coffee and other South African goodies, it opens into a spacious backyard abutting gorgeous vineyards, and it is filled with pungent fresh herbs and a private swimming pool.  

Toasting the sunset behind the mountains in the backyard with a glass of Steenberg’s signature Graham Beck Brut NV – which was served at both Nelson Mandela’s and President Obama’s respective inaugurations – enlivens all of the senses.
Perhaps equally tantalizing is all of the food offered on the spacious Steenberg grounds. Gorgeous Bar offers the perfect excuse to break into a bottle of world-renowned sauvignon blanc, which benefits from the mineral soil and relatively cool climate here. 
Bistro Sixteen82 opens onto sleek manmade ponds and stunning natural beauty and, under the leadership of well known bistro-specialist Chef Brad Ball, offers smart takes and modern twists on classics and throws in a robust raw bar for good measure.  And Restaurant Catharina offers fine dining, a modern wine bar, a terrace that overlooks rolling lawns and vineyards, and an open fireplace.  It also offers an interesting story, as Catharina was an early and beloved proprietor of the Steenberg, but suffered numerous odd and tragic deaths of her numerous husbands – including one being eaten by a lion.  Stories of lions roaming the land are about the only thing that can shock one out of a Steenberg bubbly-induced stupor and serve as a reminder that while Constantia is not the bush, this is Africa, and every living moment is worth savoring.

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