Three centuries ago, just ten years after Jan van Riebeeck set foot on the Cape, Catherina Ustings Ras from Lübeck, Germany braved the loss of her husband, a formidable ocean crossing, and the indigenous dangers of the Cape to establish a new life for herself very far from where she had come. She made the journey alone, which was virtually unheard of for women at the time, and – by all accounts – did so disguised as a man. What a woman! In the ensuing decades, Catherina Ras, lovingly known as “Tryn”, settled in the Constantia Valley of the Cape, outliving several husbands, two of whom didn’t have the good enough sense to stay away from the local wildlife (one was killed by a lion and another trampled by an elephant while hunting hippos at Zeekoeivlei.)
20 Years after her arrival on African soil – and several hapless husbands later – Catherina Ras was finally awarded the grant to her Constantia property. And it was here that she built a stately farm that today stands proudly as a hotel, spa, wine tasting centre, winery, two restaurants, golf course, and housing estate, all embraced by vineyards. Established in 1682, Steenberg is the Cape’s very oldest farm and is a monumental testament to the courage, resilience, and indomitable spirit of Catherina Ras and of women in general, who just weren’t permitted to show their mettle at the time.
With such a beguiling story behind the farm, we packed our bags with much anticipation for our overnight stay at Steenberg’s luxury boutique hotel, which has so recently undergone a major upgrade that the varnish has barely dried on the centuries-old windowsills! Now, I don’t have the stomach for spooky spectres, but if there were ever a ghost I wouldn’t mind meeting, it would be Catherina Ras’.
A tour of the Steenberg Hotel & Spa
Since its original build, Steenberg Farm has been a bastion of hospitality, serving as a stopover for passengers en route from the winter harbour of Simon’s Town to the burgeoning settlement in Cape Town. The original farm homestead (werf) remains the heart of the hotel with the manor houses and barn rooms having been refurbished and updated, but with their original bones, thick walls, and high, wide timber ceilings providing atmospheric accommodations for 24 luxury rooms and suites.
The rooms themselves are luxuriously appointed with unique, personally chosen pieces that are a mix of modern and antique. While elegant and contemporary in interior design and décor, the history of the buildings is permitted to percolate through, and the result is a heady, wholly enchanting cocktail of old world charm and new world luxury. Textured, organic patterned wallpapers are also popular throughout, as are classic chandeliers, designer furniture, and a beautiful colour palette of soft blues and greens and warm pinks.
“The redesign allows each room to offer an utterly relaxing experience for our guests, with every moment considered,” says Catherine Schulze, the General Manager of Steenberg Hotel & Spa, and whose personal touch is evident down to the finest detail of every individually decorated room.
Even more beautiful to behold are the views from each and every window and glass sliding door. There isn’t a vantage point from Steenberg’s hotel rooms – or at least none that we peered from, and we went on a fairly extensive tour of the grounds – that doesn’t afford the guest sweeping views of vineyards, the rugged Constantia Mountains, or the emerald, manicured grounds of the farm or golf course.
Our own suite proved no less stunning than those we had wandered through on our tour, and we were delighted to find welcome gifts of the estate’s award-winning Steenberg 1682 Pinot Noir Brut NV and an organic cedar wood scented essential oil roller, allegedly for soothing feelings of anxiety, irritability, and stress. How anyone could experience anxiety when embraced by vineyards and the hotel’s tranquil surroundings is beyond me.
Wine tasting and cellar tour
After gawping at our accommodations for the evening, we hopped on a golf cart and sped away through vineyards peppered with art installations to Steenberg’s wine tasting centre, which is also where its tried-and-tested restaurant, Bistro Sixteen82, is to be found. Here, Steenberg’s wine ambassador Johann treated us to a tour of the cellar (can be arranged beforehand) and a wine tasting of Steenberg Estate’s extraordinary flagship wines: the green pepper and passion fruit-laced Steenberg “Black Swan” Sauvignon Blanc 2018 (rated South Africa’s best Sauvignon Blanc by the John Platter Guide); the rich apricot and vanilla Steenberg Semillon 2018; the elegant and smooth, yet spicy Steenberg Nebbiolo 2015 (my favourite); the Steenberg Catherina 2016, a Bordeaux style blend; and finally the honey-sweet Steenberg Constantia Natural Sweet Semillon 2017. If possible, the golf cart ride back to the hotel was even more fun than the one there!
Dinner at Tryn
That evening, we donned our heels and walked from our hotel suite to Steenberg Hotel’s new flagship restaurant Tryn, located just across the lush lawns. En route, we stopped dead in our tracks to gawp at a spotted eagle owl perched on the Dutch gables of the hotel reception. Is there a more quintessential Cape Winelands sight than the silhouette of an eared owl perched on a Dutch gable against the failing light of day? I dare say there isn’t!
Tryn Restaurant, named after Steenberg’s indomitable founder, was opened on 2nd September 2019 and is defined by fresh, local ingredients, honest flavours, and intuitive service. It’s also headed by Chef Kerry Kilpin, whose stratospheric culinary calibre is yet to be topped in my books. Previously home to Catherina’s Restaurant, the space is refined, vibrant, and charming with décor and the use of colour adding much personality.
A flute of the Steenberg 1682 MCC Brut Chardonnay NV for me and the Steenberg “Black Swan” Sauvignon Blanc 2018 for my partner served as welcome drinks before we dove head-first into Chef Kerry’s usual mouth-watering menu.
We both decided on the scallops, sweet and cooked to tender perfection, with pea purée, cumin fritters, tender greens, and toasted almonds swimming in a vanilla bean velouté. For mains, I chose the ABALOBI ethically sourced fish, which was Cape Bream that night, served with crispy aubergine parcels, coriander, butternut nuggets, and rich lashings of harissa and rose petal sauce. For wine, I chose the rich, peppery, and fruity Steenberg Syrah 2016. My partner opted for the risotto of the day: garden peas, prawns, Sauvignon Blanc, Parmesan cheese, and micro herbs; in other words, the perfect ode to spring.
That night, I got through three sentences of my book before falling asleep in swirls of crisp white sheets.
A word on ABALOBI
As I mentioned, the magician behind the magic is Chef Kerry Kilpin who heads both kitchens on Steenberg Estate. Not only is she a superlatively talented and visionary chef – I am yet to eat a meal of hers that has not blown me away – but she is also the first ever to work with ABALOBI, a non-profit community driven initiative that provides a direct link between small-scale fisher folk and restaurants in and around the Cape. ABALOBI, which is derived from the isiXhosa word for “small-scale fisher”, allows restaurant-goers to discover the incredible story behind their meal and the face of the person who made the catch. And by supporting this ground-breaking initiative, the restaurants at Steenberg are empowering small-scale fishers, protecting the culture of South Africa’s quaint fishing villages, delivering incredibly fresh and delicious seafood to its patrons, and doing its bit to protect the sensitive marine environment from ruthless overfishing.
Tryn Restaurant is open Monday to Sunday, 07:00 to 10:30 for breakfast | 12:00 to 15:00 for lunch | 18:00 to 21:30 for dinner. For bookings and enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +27 (0) 21 713 7178.
Couples massage at the Steenberg Spa
After breakfast at Tryn (smoked salmon omelette and French toast with crispy bacon, camembert cheese, and honey) we swooned into the loving arms of the Steenberg Spa for a 60-minute “Inner Peace” massage. Enveloped by strong hands and the sedative fragrances of essential oils, we emerged an hour later feeling, in all likelihood, like a bear does after spending six months in hibernation. It’s quite a miracle that we were able to pack our backs without leaving something essential behind like, oh I don’t know, our heads. Needless to say, checking out was a solemn occasion indeed and we took a moment of silence on the drive out to grieve.
Thankfully, we were invited to make a pit stop at Steenberg’s long-loved eatery, Bistro Sixteen82, for an absolutely exquisite lunch of pulled pork and ricotta gnocchi with broccoli, peas, and thyme velouté, enjoyed with a glass of my favourite, the Steenberg Nebbiolo 2015 and, for my partner, the Merlot 2016.
Bistro Sixteen82 is open Monday to Sunday, 09:00 to 20:00. For bookings and enquiries, please email email@example.com or call +27 (0) 21 713 2211.
P.S. There are various outdoor activities on offer for guests at Steenberg Farm, including the 5 km or 2.5 km Steenberg hiking trail, a pool for swimming, bicycle rides around the estate (available on a complimentary basis), or even just a meander around the gardens. Unfortunately, we awoke to a Cape storm tearing through the peninsula and so we were forced to languish in bed. Forced, I tell you.
A timeless, elegant, and beautiful Cape Winelands destination
There isn’t a more verbose or erudite combination of words I could use to endorse our experience at Steenberg Farm, its hotel and spa, restaurant, and wine tasting centre than those I’ve already used throughout this article. Quite essentially, Steenberg is a spellbinding Cape Winelands destination for locals and tourists alike and I have no doubt that were Catherina Ras to return from her eternal sleep to take one last look around, she’d be brought to tears by the timelessness, elegance, and sheer beauty of her living accomplishments.
For Steenberg Hotel & Spa bookings and enquiries, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +27 (0) 21 713 2222.
Steenberg Road, Tokai, Cape Town