5 reasons to explore Groot Constantia
1. The Manor House
Old Homesteads make me feel like an uncultured philistine.
I can appreciate the visual appeal of the architecture and the craftsmanship of the furniture displayed but I don't really want to read all the dates, details and jargon of each piece.
I prefer to wander around and try to imagine how the people lived in those days. This often raises more questions than answers, but it is this that makes the experience so appealing to me.
It is said that Anna De Koningh, the daughter of a slave brought to the Cape from Batavia, was a strikingly beautiful woman. She married well and after the death of her husband, Captain Oloff Bergh, in 1724, became the first woman to own Groot Constantia.
Most women bemoan the lack of cupboard space and I am sure that Anna was no exception. Her cupboard stands at about 2.3 meters high and is made from Satinwood, a hard, lustrous, fine-grained wood with a rich golden orange colour. It sits on a heavy solid base and the lower section has eight huge ornately carved drawers, four on each side. Above that are two huge doors that conceal multiple shelves. A highly detailed canopy on the top sits solidly above the doors.
What is remarkable about this cupboard is that it can be dismantled into eight sections; yet no discernible joins can be seen. This is a sign of highly skilled craftsmanship.
The canopy alone requires at least six men to bear its weight when dismantling the cupboard into its separate pieces.
The reason that much of the furniture is built in this way, is to facilitate transporting the furniture on an ox wagon. Each piece must be no bigger than a meter in width or depth to allow safe packing on the wagon.
The gate leg table in the dining room is another example of cleverly designed folding furniture.
The drawing room houses another huge cupboard that has a secret compartment. I wonder what has been hidden in there over the last 300 years.
The bedroom of the East side of the Manor House is a spacious room. The double bed is a four poster, but very narrow, so couples were either incredibly loving or they slept in separate rooms. A beautifully carved crib on the stand is placed right next to the bed. This would enable a tired mother to rock her baby without getting out of bed. A leg or an arm reached out to give the cradle a push would do the job. However, I wonder if they got up in the night to soothe a crying baby, or was a slave assigned to do night duty?
The bedroom on the west side of the homestead is an old fashioned version of an en suite bedroom. In the middle of the room, set in a heavy wooden frame is a Chinese stoneware bath. It is an odd size. Oval in shape and about a meter deep, it could allow one to sit in it with bent knees. There is no hole to drain the water out so I imagine a servant would have emptied it with a jug. Fortunately for the servants, the folks in those times were not known for their personal hygiene, and bathing weekly was the norm.
Both bedrooms housed more than one uncomfortable looking chair. I wonder if they were used as they are today, for throwing clothes over, rather than sitting on.
3. The Historical Bath
A five hundred meter walk up the slope of Table Mountain along an oak lined path leads you to the ornamental bath. It is an early version of a secluded swimming pool, oval in shape and about 12 x 8m in size, certainly deep enough for a swim in. It is easy to imagine the residents of the house relaxing here in the height of summer. The trees would provide welcome shade and the views of the vineyards with the ocean in the distance are magnificent.
I wonder if they swam there, back in the 1700's. If so, did men and women swim together? I am sure the children of the estate would have sneaked up there, stripped off, and splashed happily in the hot summer months.
4. The Hollow Tree
The Oaks trees planted by Simon van der Stell although not suitable for the warm climate here are still standing some 330 years later. One of them is completely hollow from the base to about 3 meters up. It has other smaller hollows that are like windows in a secret cave. Amazingly, around the hollow area are tiny little shoots, and the rest of the tree is lush with leaves and branches reaching up to the sun. This tree begs you to climb inside its woody shelter and it is a magnet for children and their imaginative play.
5. Simon's Deli and Jonkershuis Restaurant
After losing yourself in days gone by, came back to modern times and treat your taste buds to a picnic from Simon's. Tables and chairs inside or out, or even better sit on the benches or the grass under the willows and have a feast. The cheeses, meats and salads can all be washed down with a choice of Groot Constantia wines, but beer and soft drinks are also available.
At Jonkershuis expect to experience traditional "Kaapse" cuisine like bobotie and curry. Or sit under the old oak trees and sip on a great cappuccino.
Thanks to Groot Constantia for hosting me. Di Brown - the Roaming Giraffe.
Groot Constantia has won the Heritage Award for the most Welcoming Cellar Door Experience in this year’s Klink Awards. Read more about this here.