Paradise is a Farm in Africa

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Pretty as a picture

DIANE DE BEER

 

If you are ever looking for the perfect getaway, Halfaampieskraal is heaven.

In their latest book Halfaampieskraal The Way we Live, the first quote reads “The perfect place to do nothing at all.”and it captures the farm which opens its arms to guests so generously and completely.

Turning off from the N2 at Caledon and driving in the Stanford direction, it is a part of the rolling wheat fields of the beautiful Overberg. It is still very much a working farm and when paging through The Way We Live, I was reminded of a friend’s 50th birthday celebrated there a few years back.

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The glamour of the past

It’s all about the place and its people, the way you become part of the farmstead while luxuriating on recliners under huge trees with homemade cocktails and unusual snacks while farm animals come and peek at the latest arrivals.

The rooms which are just behind the main house are drop-dead gorgeous and quite unique in the way they have been designed. This is obviously someone’s passion and it shines through.

Owner Jan-Georg Solms (with partner Cobus Geldenhuys) describes it as “curation of my favourite things – and lots of them”. He explains that with this being the family farm, he also inherited much of what is featured and he and partner have an annual breakaway to Greece where he often picked up objects, he lost his heart to. “I have an eye for pieces that can be fashioned differently and given a second life.”

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The charm of farm living

But he has stopped chasing new purchases and prefers appreciating beautiful objects in other homes and buildings rather than a personal desire to own even more. The rooms are done subtly but with a luxurious tint. “The idea is that you have to feel comfortable, as if you know the room intimately.” Included are heavy linen gowns, beds that are slightly larger and higher than the norm with down duvets stuffed with the feathers of their own geese, but in European weight.

The rooms are stocked with excellent coffee, buttermilk rusks and fresh fruit. Mosquito nets stand alert in season and bathrooms are oversized, all with open showers (wet rooms), some including baths and others, outside showers. Flowers fill all the rooms and the main house stoep, if you can tear yourself away from your room, is a favourite gathering spot to enjoy either sunrise or sunset.

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Interior at Halfaampieskraal

The main house which also has some rooms but is also the gathering place is a jumble of well-organised themes “which allows guests to peek around and lose themselves in flavours and textures of bygone eras”. The rooms have names like Plantation Room, Reading Room Officer’s Mess, Red Dining Room (with a 53-year-old post office wall-to-wall red carpet from his parents’ time) and Empty Room (filled with objects…) which gives you an idea of the feel and style of this quite extraordinary vintage farmstead.

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Dining in splendour

And with all this chic comfort, in addition, there’s the extraordinary delicious factor of the food. “We keep files of all our guests (with 60% of them being returns) and the menus we’ve served, not to repeat ourselves,” he responds when I ask him about our weekend meals. Many of the guests order some favourite from the previous menu though.

Their chef Marlette Scheltema has been with them for some time and has chef training, but she easily adapted to their style of cooking: simple food, generous, but not an overly loaded plate. “We draw a picture every time of what the plate will look like once the guests have dished up, when planning menus.

“Most food is served table/family buffet. We use what we have locally, simply because we want food less travelled.  Marlette now does almost all the cooking, and I get to taste everything!”

Our menu was as follows:

Friday casual evening with spanakopitas, lemon and tzatziki for starters, paella on the fire for mains, and a simple lemon-pudding;

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Three cheese breakfast soufflé-tart and Turkish cucumber;

Breakfast Saturday was the three cheese breakfast soufflé-tart, boerewors and the most amazing Turkish cucumber;

 

Saturday evening, the night of the celebration, started with canopies of toffee tomatoes and salmon-rolls. Starters: field- and porcini-mushroom soufflés, baked in cream and pecorino. Mains: home grown leg of mutton, cooked at 110 deg C for 9 hours, served with a green-oil-gremolata dressing. The sides included caramelized onions with branches of bay leaves; Potato Ann, upright butternut, courgette strips and small beetroots. Desert was an old fashioned croquembouche, with the crème patisserie flavoured with frangelico and decorated with pistachio brittle. Served with tiny liqueur milk shake shooters – and quite spectacular to suit the occasion.

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For those still standing, breakfast Sunday was the house standard Brekko-pan – a big pan, with small pork bangers, bacon, onions, garlic, cherry tomatoes, dried oregano and a bit of cream, baked slowly, with halved hard-boiled eggs added in the end. This was served with traditional vetkoek and jam. All breakfasts start with a fruit platter with their six-spice syrup and double cream yogurt and their own honey, freshly squeezed orange juice and extra strong coffee.

What you have is pretty much a breakaway weekend of fine farm dining in style with as much rest in-between as possible although the area offers much opportunity for exploring if you wish.

But first have a look in their latest coffee table book packed with the most beautiful pictures and recipes from the farm which will give you a chance to see for yourself if this is your idea of paradise – at a cost that isn’t prohibitive. Check their website for more information.

 

*You can buy Halfaampieskraal The Way we Live at www.kraal.biz also Wordsworth, Love books in Mellville and Exclusive Books. It won the South African Gourmand World Bookbooks award (category: Hotels)

 

 

Hokkaido is an Island for all Seasons

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An other-worldly landscape

Many South Africans will be travelling to Japan as the host country of this year’s Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics. Following a holiday in Japan in October last year, DIANE DE BEER was invited on a return trip to Hokkaido, the most northern main island. She loses her heart and gives her impressions:

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The spectacle of snow festivals

 

What I probably love most about travelling in Japan is that it is foreign and familiar at the same time.

It’s immediately clear that the Japanese have a different culture, they speak a different language and use a writing system that many foreigners can’t read and yet, there’s a familiarity that’s unmistakable and comfortable.

While you might think that you could lose your way in such a strange land, there’s much that you know and recognise, to keep you in a very happy place.

What should have had me worried when I was invited by JETRO (the Japan External Trade Organization, a non-profit parastatal under the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry of Japan) for a brief visit to their most northern main island, Hokkaido, in February, was the weather.

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Dressed for the weather

At the back of my mind I could hear someone saying when we were planning our holiday last October that February wasn’t a good time to go as it was the coldest month in that neck of the woods. And a further notice from the hosts about the climate in Asahikawa/Sapporo, the two cities we were visiting, should have been ample warning.

The average ranged at about -6.5 deg with the minimum touching -12. Suitable clothing was suggested as one of the reasons we were traveling all this way at this specific time was for the annual Japanese snow festivals celebrated all over Hokkaido but specifically in these two cities.

Snow hasn’t really been part of my vocabulary but the spectacle of a world clad in white, the texture like powder, the fact that snow isn’t wet until it melts, a cold that leaves you breathless, all of that is part of an other-wordly experience.

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The majesty of the snow festival in Sapporo

The snow festival itself in both cities is about (gigantic in some instances) snow and ice sculptures depicting scenes or characters from Star Wars, which seems to be a popular theme, or anything Disney and some of Japan’s favourite mascots like Hello Kitty.

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Hello Kitty with Jetro’s Slindokuhle Mbuyisa

The festivals ran from February 6 to 11 (it changes annually but not by much) and both cities attract well over a million people from the rest of the country as well as foreign visitors. The area offers fantastic skiing in close proximity to both cities, ice skating, sledding and snow rafting, as well as the wondrous winter canvas with a landscape completely covered in snow.

We had a few bus rides from one city to the next and watching what seems like a silent world go by is stunning. As a child of Africa, I certainly don’t want to live in that extreme weather – we were in Sapporo on the coldest day in history – but I can appreciate the spectacle.

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The riches of the meat and seafood in Hokkaido served at Otaru’s Canal Restaurant

Hokkaido is a fascinating island because, amongst other things, it seems to be the food basket of Japan. It has nearly one-fourth of Japan’s arable land and is a leader in the production of many agricultural products. Different coastal areas are also rich sources of seafood ranging from shrimp to salmon, sea urchin and scallops, sweet snow crab and tuna. The variety is awesome and reflected in the restaurants.

We had spectacular meals ranging from sushi/sashimi to a seafood barbeque; a traditional tasting menu and a unique sea-urchin shabu (hotpot) with the broth mixed with leftover rice the perfect comfort food; buffet breakfasts in hotels, an adventure all its own; the odd ramen and gyozo (dumplings) – and then I haven’t even mentioned the meat. How can one, with the abundance of seafood, unlike anywhere else in the world? Every meal had a scallop or two tucked in somewhere.

 

Hokkaido also boast a sizeable timber industry, hence their focus during a part of our visit on furniture factories. An entry into this world was slightly puzzling as they don’t export to Africa but I was intrigued by the work ethics and the employer/employee relationship. It also proved the familiar adage that the Japanese are constantly striving for perfection. There’s a reason for everything and its all about the final results.

One specific factory we were taken to for a specialised visit was Takumi Kohgei with the owner, Yoshihiko Kuwabara, sharing his particular philosophy, which he says is what Hokkaido is all about. Most of these factories and this one in particular are not big concerns and perhaps that is why the attention and care heaped on the workers is so impressive.

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The design of the Takumi Kohgei factory

From the design of this particular factory, which looks more like a high-tech home, to the humidity and temperature control on the factory floor – with some of the workers not even wearing the ubiquitous mask because the dust from the wood was immediately removed by huge extractor pipes, the whole concern is impressive with the end results, the furniture, quite unique.

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Having fun with timber

It is a clever combination of their past and a modern sensibility with possibly a nod to the ‘50s, and their interior accessories are extraordinary. Forty crafts people dedicate themselves to making detailed furniture from indigenous wood and the machines are used only as support.

Visiting Hokkaido in autumn/winter or spring/summer makes a huge difference. These would be completely different holidays – each with their specific attractions. Before I left on the trip, someone sent me a link to Sapporo and there were some amazing art spots to visit, but I realised when there, that these weren’t possible in winter. One was a fantastic sculpture park by artist Isamu Noguchi in Sopporo, as well as a cemetery by the amazing architect Ando Tadao which includes a pool of water and a pathway that leads up to a circular structure accessed via a tunnel. He is famous for his entrances to his buildings and this one with a circular structure with 15 000 lavender plants along the roof, certainly seems worth a return visit.

So are the hiking trails and the natural wonders of this particular island, which was hit by a devastating earthquake only last year. They are desperate to revive their tourism but when you see what they have to offer, it’s not a tough ask.

We had an onsen (hot spring) in our Asahikawa hotel and each night it was an astonishing way to recover all the energy the weather had tapped during the day. The island is especially famous for its range of outdoor onsens, which would also deliver on the complete experience of the Japanese ritual so popular amongst its people.

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Jetro’s Slindokuhle Mbuyisa and media personality Lalla Hirayama having fun in the snow-drenched Hokkaido

From participating in meals at the local ramen shop to sharing an onsen, it’s a way to get to know the Japanese people, which in itself is special. In today’s fast life and daily grind, especially in Japan where they struggle with an overdeveloped work ethic, mixing with the people when they find time to relax is your best chance for social interaction.

Having been to the country twice in the past five months, what has become clear is that you need that first trip to discover what you want to do and see in this complex yet completely fascinating country. So if you are off on your first trip, do as much preparation as possible. Find out as much as you can about everything you want to do before you go. It will all contribute to an incredible journey.

* Diane de Beer was invited by JETRO, (the Japan External Trade Organization, a non-profit parastatal under the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry of Japan), for a brief spell at the beginning of February to their northernmost main island Hokkaido.

 

 

 

 

 

Magically Mesmerising Japanese Islands are Packed with Art and Architecture

In the next two years, Japan will be highlighted on the travel itinerary as they host the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympic Games. Travelling that far it’s worth checking into some of their magnificence.

 

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DIANE DE BEER

 

If your travels are driven and dominated by art and architecture, Japan’s art islands seem designed specially for your desires – and then they deliver so much more.

Hearing about them the first time, they sounded magical, almost unreal – islands filled with art – which I couldn’t believe I had never heard about.

Only once you journey there, the fantasy and fun of it all materialises majestically. The island landscape that’s the backdrop for this art-inspired world often determines the art you will be viewing in what should be an extended trip – as many days as you possibly can pack in.

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Seascape from Naoshima

Google was my first port of call when starting my research. And coming back following the visit, returning to that information, much of it only makes sense once you’ve been.

When your research says that you need at least three days, even that isn’t quite enough, but it will be worth your while. Some 3 000 islands are dotted in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan, which separates Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu, three of the four main islands of Japan. Three of these – Naoshimo, Teshima and Inujima –  form the main part of what is described as Japan’s art islands but there are more and they’re multiplying as islanders understand what it can mean for the future of a particular island.

This unique art project began in 1987, when a businessman, Soichiro Fukutake, the chairman of Fukutake Publishing (now known as the Benesse Holdings, Inc.), bought the south side of Naoshima. He then enlisted Pritzker Prize-winning architect Tadao Ando to design his dream and most of the architecture you visit on this main island, all the established museums (and the hotels) are the work of Ando. If you haven’t heard of him before, you will appreciate his architecture once you witness his work. He has also designed, for example, a museum to form part of the cultural precinct planned for Abu Dhabi with the Louvre the first finished project.

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An example of Tadao Ando’s extraordinary architecture on Naoshima.

One of the strongest visual pleasures of Naoshima is that it is one architect and his unique architectural vision that determines the impact. He sets the tone, not only of the museums on the main island, but also of the art.

When you embark at your port of call, it’s all sea, sky and islands with boats of all sizes as far as the eye can see.  And once on the ferry, the landscape, dominated by shades of blue, is completely enveloping and an inviting sign of the excitement that awaits. As you enter the port at Naoshima, one of the famous dotted pumpkins, this one in bright red, of one of Japan’s most prolific artists, Yayoi Kusama, is the first thing that greets you. You know you have arrived.

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Shrine’s sparkling glass stairway

First it’s on a bus (or a bicycle, motored for the hilly countryside) and you’re off to see either the mainstay of the island, the Benesse Museum complex which is furthest from the port, or, on the way there, the Art House project which includes the architect’s own house with his architectural plans explaining his art island mission and his design ethos. We started off there, but it would probably have made more sense once we had seen all his buildings even if they speak with great clarity for themselves.

Six other buildings have been used to create special artworks which include anything from an artist playing with light in almost fairground fashion with extraordinary results, an outside shrine with a spellbinding glass stairway, to a mesmerising pool of darkness, which takes viewers on a specific journey.

Even though I would leave the Ando house till later, the rest of the project is a great introduction, playful and out of the box, while giving individual artists and their unique voice a chance to shine. This is where one could probably also find accommodation (but more about this later).

Then it’s on to the three major museums as well as the outdoor sculptures on the main Benusse site. It’s a fusion of architecture and nature with the island and the surrounding backdrop the perfect setting for Fukutake’s expansive dreams. Importantly, the Ando environment-sensitive designs are part of the landscape as he plays with light and hidden delights in a way that fashions and informs his designs.

His buildings are all different yet have a similar sensibility. His building blocks are concrete with natural light the premiere design feature to show the art in a way never seen. This is especially true of Monet’s Water Lilies, which are given a fresh perspective.

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The entrance to Tadao Ando’s Lee Ufan Museum displays all his design strengths

From the detail of the floors in the passages and specific rooms and even the toilets (or, as some would say, especially the toilets!), every detail is put out there, full tilt. The Chichu Art Museum, for example, is built like a bunker, all underground, but with shafts of light encouraged and enticed to play with the space and the art.

The art includes many familiar names but there’s much to discover and learn, for example, the Lee Ufan Museum is dedicated to this octogenarian Korean artist quite spectacularly. And in especially the Chichu and the Lee Ufan museums, there are only a few rooms with minimal art displayed in a fashion that grabs both your attention and your soul. You are gifted time to appreciate each piece and to absorb the impact. It’s the the best way to view art.

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Korean artist Lee Ufan’s art outside the Museum

The outside sculptures have similar impact. Pieces speak to one another unexpectedly, and others simply because of their placement, sometimes like driftwood on a beach, have a special charm. Because of these outside pieces and the museums which are in walking distance, you engage with nature as much as with the art and the day strikes a particularly balanced note without you even trying.

We were there for two days, thinking we could do three islands, but in the end, only managed the one. It was one of the most unusual art excursions of my life and one I could easily repeat – often. But it takes careful planning, thoughtfulness about where you want to stay, on or off the islands with the ferry which is a joyous ride but takes time depending on the port you choose. Probably the best, if you can afford it, is the Benesse Hotel on Naoshima Island which is part of the museum complex and allows you to see the art in  a way that is completely deluxe – early in the morning and late at night.

You can travel from either Tokyo or Kyoto to Okyama and then one of the ports, either Uno or Takashima, both of which have ferries that travel to and from the three islands daily.

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Art is a way of life on Naoshima

Take note though that it isn’t as easy as jumping on and off a ferry as they’re scheduled very specifically and it’s tough to squeeze in more than one island on a day. If you make the train journey as we did from Kyoto (two hours), once passing through Okyama to Takamatsu, you’re traveling surrounded by the sea – seemingly everywhere – over expansive bridges and this is the beginning of the discovery of the breathtaking backdrop for the next few days.

It’s a fairy tale journey for art and nature lovers.

 

 

 

Social Media and Smartphones Dictate the Pace but Detract from the Vibe

Social media and smartphones can play havoc with the way you understand the world. DIANE DE BEER is hoping for a reality check where the picture doesn’t tell the only story:

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Smartphones on the march

 

There are lots to say for both these modern amenities but sometimes – and that probably has much to do with my age – I can’t help but wonder about real life and slow living that is lost along the way. Two examples of their impact had me puzzling just a bit recently.

The one had to do with commuters on a train in Tokyo all so lost in their smart phones, they might – and probably are – be living in a parallel universe. Back home, an invitation to sample the new summer menu at one of Joburg’s premiere restaurants had me struggling to make sense of the moment as single plates of every dish was passed around for diners to sample, photograph and promote to the outside world – at breathtaking speed or that’s how it felt.

On a trip to Japan, our mode of transport in Tokyo was the train – sometimes above the ground and, when we couldn’t do it any other way, underground. But this didn’t really make any difference to the phone phenomenon which was so pervasive it had my whole party pondering the merits of easy access to … well almost anything. And that is the problem perhaps.

It wouldn’t it be smart phones I suppose if we didn’t have perfect access?

It doesn’t take long for foreign travellers to notice that everyone on the train is either on their phone or sleeping. That’s sounds like a rather mild condition when stated like that. But what I really mean, from the moment you walk into the station and then arrive at the right platform and step onto the train, there’s no eye contact with any individual who is probably making this journey twice a day.

It makes sense that they would use this instant source of entertainment to keep themselves occupied during what must be a tedious part of their day. But it is the level of engagement which completely ignores the public space they find themselves in that is quite fascinating.

Given the Japanese innate politeness, it feels especially as if the young men have found a way of ignoring all the social conventions of their society by simply locking into their phones. From the moment they step onto the train and off and beyond, they have their phone pressed – up close and personal – right into their face and they do all of this while grabbing a seat and then they stay put.

There’s no acknowledgement of pregnant women or elderly individuals who might warrant a young man giving up his hard-earned seat – and which they are advised constantly to do via public announcements and one understands why.

But there’s also no embarrassment or losing face, because he is locked completely off from the world happening around him. If they were reading books or even watching news, that would also add some justice to the endeavour but it’s usually games. We did spot some manga to our relief and perhaps three books (always manga) and perhaps two newspapers on our journey.

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Those on the train who aren’t on their phones (both men and women) are asleep, standing or sitting, sometimes with the phone pressed to their noses. Admittedly, commuting is tiring and while we are on holiday with all the time in the world, this is a hard slog – before and after work – either way.

What is disturbing though is the absence of discovering who these people are. They’re simply missing – any time of the day. It seems that’s what the Japanese do – particularly in Tokyo –when on their commute. The sleeping is less disturbing because tiredness in today’s world is a universal trait amongst workers.

The stress and long days are easy culprits but the cutting off from the outside world, your fellow travelers, to the point of not making any contact at all cannot be healthy. Instead you’re in communication with a machine.

Our fellow commuters seemed lovely people, but who could really tell?

Similarly, a recent media lunch at 54 on Bath’s Level Four to test their new Summer Menu was equally soulless. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the function that’s at fault, it’s what the world has become and what we have to do, to survive. By ignoring the process and going simply for goal, depth and thus lasting impact is missing, to my mind.

Previously – and not that long ago – a tasting menu would actually include having a meal, conversing with you fellow diners, testing the temperature of the room for conviviality and all those other benefits that add to a great meal.

Call me old fashioned and I am when it comes to this kind of stuff, but simply gathering around a table while the starters, then mains and concluding with desserts are placed on the table while everyone has the chance to sample, doesn’t do the food any favours. There’s too little time to savour and chatter about the food, because everyone is busy taking pictures and posting it on one of the many social platforms all of us use to promote whatever catches our fancy and an event expects.

It’s not that I want to fault the restaurant or their marketing people. This isn’t their doing.  It’s how media works now and how it works best. I love the instant thing and the fact that one can get your message out there.  I use it myself to promote my blog and anything I might post – how could we possibly have done any of this before? It opens new vistas for those who love to write (or want to promote anything else) and want to share what they experience with like-minded souls who might tune into a particular vibe.

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Sweet potato ginger tart starter

It’s not that difficult to give a snapshot and a soundbite about the dishes as they pass you by. The starters feature seared yellow fin, fresh raw peas, avocado mousse, wasabi powder, and pickles; the ‘Black Angus’ carpaccio, quail egg, pomegranate, truffle mayonnaise, and parmesan; the chicken and sundried tomato terrine, with smoked tomato, baby beetroot, radish, apple gel and roast nuts; and my favourite for its originality, the sweet potato and ginger tart, with spicy pineapple gel, corn, lemon cream, and pickled cucumber.

For mains I would opt for the nose to tail eating with the ‘Marino’ lamb cutlet, loin, confit belly, braised shoulder, with pea puree, and asparagus which is hearty and rich in flavour yet strangely works as a summer dish, while with dessert, opt for two classics, lemon crème brûlée or vanilla pannacotta, both with a summer swirl of berries interpreted in different ways.

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Marino lamb cutlet

The accent is on quality ingredients like yellow fin tuna, duck and Wagyu sirloin while punting local with fresh produce and artisanal cheese. Dining at 54 on Bath has long established itself and with their exec chef Matthew Fox inviting all his chefs to the party to contribute their own dish, there’s an individuality to the different dishes which works well.

There’s a lot going in its favour, but sadly for me personally, sampling a new menu, I want an individual bite of food which I can savour if not in my own time, given some time rather than sitting in the middle of a hectic scramble to get it out there briskly please. It’s as if the chase is on because the ice cream might melt before the picture hits its audience.

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Lemon crème brûlée

Is it only me? Or do I simply long to focus on more than just the destination? Personally, eating has as much to do with the vibe as the visuals.

Meandering in the Midlands is Magical

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View of the Midmar dam from Lake House

DIANE DE BEER

In our stressful world, all of us should respond to the need to get away. The Kwazulu-Natal Midlands is around the corner for Gauteng with ‘meander’ the verb that encapsulates this scenically spectacular part of our country:

 

 

The Midlands reminds us of a country rich in things to do and places to go.

The choices of how you do it are many and will be determined by what you want to do and how active you want to be. Price also comes into play because this is a popular area for many things, weddings included, as well as the Midlands Meander, which offers a leisurely way of exploring the countryside by crisscrossing the area in search of artisans and artists selling their wares. Like anything else, this has also become commercially driven more than the initial ideals of people making and developing their own, but there’s enough of the real thing left to keep everyone happy.

It’s not always easy to find them but with smart phones, everything is possible today and much of the discomfort is dissolved as you find a map or a phone number which will quickly explain and navigate the route. The roads might also be an obstacle for some, but this is not speed racing and if you amble along, even the challenging ones will be easy to navigate.

Personal favourites on the Meander included the Terbodore coffee roasters with simply the best coffee to drink (also available online), clothing companies, including well designed and locally made canvas bags and cotton shirts at Dirt Road Traders, irresistible handmade shoes at the Groundcover Leather Company, homemade goat’s cheese with delicious options at Swissland Farm, the extraordinary family-run Culamoya wind chimes and a really cool kitchen shop Cookin at the more commercial end of the Meander at Piggly Wiggly which was really an anomaly on the meander yet hard to resist.

Glorious Culamoya wind chimes
Glorious Culamoya wind chimes

Our favourite by far was Ian Glenny’s Dargle Valley Pottery – everything about it from the pottery to the place. And it’s no secret that there are fairies playing in the woodland area surrounding his house which is an artwork in itself and worth the trip.

But be warned, both the artist and his work will captivate you and you won’t be leaving without one of his beautiful art creations. There are tables full to choose from which makes it really tough.

Ian Glenny's fairyland
Ian Glenny’s fairyland

It is all quite bewitching and one can wander around the pottery and the place for some time and then have wonderfully winding conversations with the artist about his work and his life.

As one of the originators of the Meander, he misses the way it was, but is happy that he still attracts his fair share of visitors. You would be silly not to take the turnoff to his special world.

The special Howick Falls as well as arguably the most evocative Mandela site are both easy to access on the meander.

The Marco Cianfanelli monument
The Marco Cianfanelli monument

The Marco Cianfanelli monument was constructed to mark the 50th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s capture by the apartheid police in 1962 – at the site of the capture.

The setting is striking, and you must do a symbolic “long walk” before you are struck by the remarkable image of Nelson Mandela and the rustle of the wind through the columns as you approach which seems to tell its own story. According to the artist, the 50 columns represent the 50 years since his capture, but he also hoped to illustrate the great man’s legacy of inclusiveness by showing how individual structures all come together to complete the perfect whole.

Howick Falls
Howick Falls

The Howick Waterfall is on the edge of the town and you can pop in when you pick up some groceries if you’re staying in a self-catering lodge which is popular in the area. It’s simply a skip and a jump from the car to the viewing point and again evokes a South African scene that’s quite humbling.

If you like traditional wares, this is also a good place to support the local community in their endeavors with even some serenading happening on the side which might just fall gently on your ear.

Succulent paradise by Mandy Crooks
Succulent paradise by Mandy Crooks from HillHouse

Hotels, lodges and self-catering cottages are plentiful and depending on what you like and for how many, you should find exactly what you’re looking for. Our first few days were spent in Lake House at Hillhouse Accommodation on a farm owned by two artists. It is situated in Dargle on a hillside (hence the name) overlooking the magnificent Midmar Dam. The cottage we stayed in can house four people but just the two of us filled it easily and the sheer isolation (seemingly) from the rest of the world was almost other-worldl

A higgledy piggledy gravel road takes you up to the cottage and while there are two other houses, one accommodating as many as 12 people, each one is different and slightly unusual to the more commercial venture. This is where the artists come to play with husband Nick the architect and builder and Mandy (Crooks) the one responsible for the interiors. All of the cottages are delightfully individual with a quirkiness that’s unexpected but joyful to experience.

And once there, the indigenous gardens in many hidden spots on the property and Mandy’s artistic succulent obsession are like outdoor galleries.

Hillhouse is situated on the edge of the Meander (was part of it at one time) and Howick is only 10 minutes away. But It felt like total immersion in nature as well as a kind of hideout from the rigours of the real world. You could easily just hide out right here for a few days.

The views at Whispering Waters
The views at Whispering Waters

 

Our second port of call, Whispering Waters, is nestled in-between hills and dams with cows munching in every pasture as far as the eye can see. From the minute you wake up, the fields and the water lie invitingly in the early morning light. You can wander up and down hills and dales and warmed by a brisk walk, the dams are inevitable even if we didn’t think so initially, more used to sparkling swimming pools. Once in the water, the spell was cast.

Closer to the Notting Hill Road side of the Meander in Fort Nottingham, this is a more commercially driven property and yet because of the farm setting, it had that Meander appeal. The thatch cottages are spacious with a large kitchen, lounge, dining area and a stoep with a view – and the staff are intent on catering to your every wish.

Food is another Meander obsession, but these can be hit and miss like anywhere else. Howick is best for grocery shopping and our best find for exciting food was the Blueberry Café (with the adjoining brewery with a different kitchen) presenting many choices.

the quinoa and falafel salad with a blueberry sauce
The quinoa and falafel salad with a blueberry sauce

A personal favourite was the quinoa and falafel salad with a blueberry sauce while on the more substantial side, the fillet steak paired with risotto caught my eye. The brewery offers hearty hamburgers or if you want a healthy option, a roasted veggie salad. But there’s much to explore even though we did find it simpler to stick with what works for you.

If you’ve never been this way, it’s a treasure trove to explore in so many different ways. Just another corner of natural loveliness in this diverse land of ours.

Lightness of Being at Louvre Abu Dhabi

Pictures: Diane de Beer

Louvre exterior
The magical play of lightness at the Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Louvre Abu Dhabi celebrates its one-year anniversary this month (November 8). On a flight to Japan recently DIANE DE BEER decided to stop over for a little more than 12 hours to see not only the spectacular art collection but also what has already become yet another iconic museum designed by one of the architecture’s superstars, Jean Nouvel:

Flying with a stopover in Abu Dhabi on a recent trip to Japan, it was the ideal time to try to see one of the world’s finest new museums, the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Depending on your flight times, ours landed at 5.55am in the morning and there was a flight to Japan that night at 10 pm, it couldn’t be more perfect.

A visit to the EAU Embassy in Pretoria and their visa office confirmed that a visa would cost R800 per person (with no special concessions for museum visits and the like) and that there was ample transport to and from the airport to the museum and back.

In fact, if you wanted to, you could also pay a visit to other attractions including the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque but on this first-time visit, my focus was very specific. It would mean a break and respite on a too long flight with the opportunity of an amazing art foray, not something I had imagined would be possible.

And then I discovered it was – quite easily. It’s not a cheap stopover for those of us on a budget but it’s worth the money and time with the museum and its art, food for both spirit and soul. On the way there in one of the airport’s black official taxis (a cost of approx. R250 more or less, either way) you get some insight of what this pleasure world is all about as you pass Ferrari World as well as the Formula 1 Circuit and Warner Bros Theme Park which also opened earlier this year.

Louvre under the dome (002)
A play of light and people under the magnificent dome.

Many would have seen images of Nouvel’s Louvre building, which seems as if it is floating in the sea with a dome and its “rain of light” created by a complex geometric pattern of stars, but nothing prepares you for the experience. On a visit to Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, it was all about the architecture and this was almost what I was expecting with this Louvre in the Arab world. But, it is something completely different.

Expectations are high as you arrive but with the Bilbao museum, it is the structure in its completeness that overwhelms you from beginning to end – magically so. With the Louvre, almost blindingly white in the blue seas and skies of Abu Dhabi, the full scale is impossible to see as you arrive. You immediately get the design, the water and the cobalt blue sky but the full impact comes much later – like a gift that reveals itself along the way – little by little until finally it takes your breath away.

It’s as if the architect captures the mystery which seems so much part of the Arabic psyche. As you start walking through the galleries, Nouvel has placed windows which all differ architecturally and show different aspects and angles of the museum – almost like landscape art in constant motion.

As you round a corner or pass from one room to another, it isn’t until you walk into the domed courtyard with all its different outlets onto the sea that the spectacular play of light and the richness of the reward hits you. Nothing else really matters, even if all the heat seems to have gathered under the dome – and I still don’t know if we were particularly sensitive or whether its an issue that needs to be addressed. We certainly could have done with those cooling water mist systems so popular locally at that point.  Yet nothing detracts from the spectacle or the dramatic effect of finally walking into this imaginative play of light.

All of this is a majestic work of art, but then, so is the collection of art inside the different rooms and galleries. What makes it so fascinating is the breadth of the exhibitions and the way Western, Arabic and Asian art come together in such unique fashion. This is about viewing different masters from different parts of the world and how they made art in the past and today, who influences whom and what they have to say about their world.

We often speak about the usual suspects in the art world locally and that can also be said of Western art, and this is what makes this such an enriching experience and worth witnessing. It’s not that we don’t see these types of art in other museums, it’s the coming together that makes the difference especially in our diverse world today. Bring it on, lets share and grow with the diversity and difference.

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The magnificence of the Louvre Abu Dhabi dome with its play of light.

Louvre Abu Dhabi has announced a full season of programming for the 2018-2019 season under the theme World of Exchanges.

International exhibitions will include Japanese Connections: The Birth of Modern Décor (until 24 November 2018), which explores links between Japanese aesthetics and modern French decorative arts; Roads of Arabia (until 16 February 2019), the acclaimed touring exhibition exploring the archaeological and cultural heritage of Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula; Rembrandt and the Dutch Golden Age: The Leiden Collection and the musée du Louvre (14 February – 14 May 2019) presenting 17th century masterpieces by Rembrandt and artists of his time; and Opening the Album of the World (25 April – 30 July 2019) in collaboration with Musée du quai Branly – Jacques Chirac, tracing early photographic methods from around the globe. The Children’s Museum – also part of the premises – has opened its second exhibition, which looks at real and imaginary animals throughout art history.

Louvre Rain of Light
Louvre Abu Dhabi’s ‘rain of light’ © Louvre Abu Dhabi, Photography: Mohamed Somji

The cost of a ticket is approximately (depending on the exchange rate), R230 per person and if you want an audio guide, that will be another R80 but I felt the information on the work all around the museum was more than adequate and the guide for me personally, removed me rather than brought me closer to the work. So altogether, stopping over, the visa (R800) and the transport (R500) would cost in the region of R2 700 for two people. That doesn’t include any refreshments and you do need some, not at the museum for those on budget but you could indulge in an Abu Dhabi meal if food is a passion and then do some more investigating of the city.

Hotels, especially luxury ones, are also plentiful and to make the excursion more meaningful you could stay over, take a trip to the old city of Dubai (which is about 75 minutes away by car), but this would all take more money and time.

For me, for now, the exceptional art and exquisite building was more than enough and something I wanted to savour. And in the future, there are plans to further expand the galleries to include a Guggenheim and more.

I can’t wait.