Rovos Rail- the train trip of a lifetime

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

I have always wanted to travel by train. There’s an old time romance about it. I love the idea of slowly watching the world go by and living beautifully while en route to your destination. It doesn’t hurt to have a cold glass of the finest Chardonnay in hand and still get from A to B. How very civilized!

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

Our journey to Cape Town started off at the gorgeous Rovos Rail station in Pretoria. Our luggage was tagged and whisked away and we were greeted with a glass of cold bubbly and snacks. We had a fascinating tour of the workshop led by Rohan Vos himself. This is the hub of operations and home to a massive team of extremely talented individuals who work on turning old reclaimed carriages into the magical moving hotel we know and love today.

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

After a handshake from Mr Vos it was finally time for the journey to begin! Hopping on board the Rovos Rail is like stepping into a different time. A time of vintage silver cutlery, monogrammed crystal glasses and cocktail dresses. I experienced a sense of wonderment as I walked down the immaculately restored hallways of the train cars in search of our cabin. Everything is in impeccable condition. It is truly a triumph.

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

We stayed in a Deluxe cabin as guests of Rovos Rail. The mahogany lined cabin was fully equipped with everything you could possibly need or want on the trip. A super comfy double bed, mini bar, tea and coffee station, swag bag of toiletries, a little lounge area and the best part- a gorgeous en suite bathroom. Loo with a view takes on a whole new meaning on board!

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

Afternoon high tea is served in the lounge cars in between meals. We sipped and nibbled on delicious things while watching the beautiful scenery like an ever changing painting. Then back to our cabin to get ready for the main event- dinner! I just adore that everyone is required to dress up for dinner. It adds such marvelous atmosphere and glamour to the evenings. What I will say though is applying liquid eyeliner while on a moving train is an experience and a half!

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

Every meal on the Rovos Rail is a feast. So come hungry and thirsty when you book! I was totally blown away at what the chefs were able to prepare on a moving train in a tiny kitchen. From seared scallops and fluffy omelettes to the most perfect ooey gooey molten chocolate fondant. The meals are expertly paired with some of the finest wine our country has to offer. You can choose to stick with your favourite or leave the choice in the hands of the supremely capable sommelier and you will be dazzled with top notch wine choices from course to course.

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

Not only is the food excellent but the service is world class. The staff are just incredible and really make the experience what it is. We were spoiled by so many individuals looking after us non stop, from making sure our drinks were never empty to the most OTT turn down service including a pillow extravaganza and a bottle of bubbly on our bed.

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

The best part about waking up in your extremely comfy bed while the train is gently rocking from side to side is opening the shutters and discovering the new scenery outside your window. Then it’s time for a hot luxurious shower and the promise of a hearty breakfast. (I mean- can I just live on this train forever?!) The breakfast spread on board is impressive. From a beautiful selection of fresh fruit, cereal and pastries to freshly made hot options that will satisfy everyone’s foodie cravings. The omelettes were particularly delicious. I had one both mornings and it was served piping hot and extra fluffy. So much yum!

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

We had two excursions on our trip from Pretoria to Cape Town. The first commenced as we pulled into the beautiful Kimberley station. We were whisked off with incredible efficiency in mini vans to visit The Big Hole. Rudely the husband didn’t buy me any diamonds but it was a very interesting excursion led by a wonderful guide and also lovely to stretch one’s legs and explore the mine and the museum.

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

The next day our excursion was to the charming town of Matjiesfontein. I have wanted to visit this adorable town and heritage site hotel, The Lord Milner, for years. It is a teeny tiny little one horse town and the train stops right in front of the hotel. We had a wonderful walk about the town, museums and hotel. I can’t wait to return and spend a night at the hotel one of these days. It is a truly special place that has been so beautifully preserved.

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

The scenery as we approached Cape Town was breathtaking. I am grateful every single day for this incredible country we live in. We are so lucky. The observation deck on the back of the train was definitely my favourite place to be. What a massive treat to have a completely open carriage with beautiful built-in wooden benches where you have the opportunity to literally have the wind in your hair and watch the countryside glide past. It is also directly next to the bar so a fresh G&T is a few steps away! As the train turned each corner winding into the Winelands we were met with picture after picture of the most magnificent landscape. I highly recommend ending off your journey in Cape Town. The sun setting over the mountains was the perfect end to a perfect journey.

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee
Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

As the train pulled into the Cape Town station I was filled with so much happiness and gratefulness for the incredible time we had just had and at the same time totally devastated it was all over! We met the most incredible people from near and far, made friendships for life and saw our country in the most beautiful way.

Rovos Rail | The Secret Life of Bee

I am so grateful to the Rovos Rail team for giving me the gift of a lifetime. I will treasure these memories. It was a truly spectacular experience and I cannot recommend it highly enough!

To book your trip on this life changing loco click here!

Luddite & Genevieve in Bot River

Genevieve MCC

I was recently invited to the most special day to sip on some Genevieve MCC & Luddite wines. Both farms are based in Bot River which is a little town I have fallen totally in love with. Having visited the area a few times now I can safely say there is something very special about it. The wine produced in the area is exquisite and the people are an incredibly passionate bunch that support each other and celebrate each other’s successes. It is a beautiful warm family feeling that I associate with this region and its wine makers.

Genevieve MCC

Genevieve MCC: The first time I tried Melissa’s MCC was at a wine festival in Franschhoek. My mom and I instantly fell in love with Melissa and soon after that her bubbles. We kept buying bottles to take home with us after the festival but they just kept evaporating! This MCC is incredibly delicate and has aromas of lime blossom, white peach and honeydew melon. Basically- it is delicious.

Melissa Nelsen
Photo by Tasha Seccombe

Melissa Nelsen had always had a love for bubbly and when the opportunity arose to make it, she jumped. Genevieve is her second name and the patron saint of Paris, making Genevieve MCC the perfect link between great South African MCC made in the style of French Champagne.

The first Genevieve MCC was released in 2010, a product of the 2008 vintage. “The initial decision on how much to make on a maiden vintage was decided in a very basic way,” says Melissa. “Make more than we can drink ourselves and friends so I’d be forced to go sell the rest!” The result was 5 000 bottles – “Quite a lot more than we could drink ourselves!”

Genevieve MCC

There are two cornerstones to her wine: that only a healthy vineyard can produce quality; and, that maturation is essential to adding texture.

The latter realisation came in 2011, when production was doubled to 10 000 bottles. “I realized as much as I loved seeing my bubbles in wine shops and top-rated restaurants, I was not presenting the Genevieve MCC at its most favourable release time. “I made the decision to stop selling my product for eight months. It was financially unwise but created next-level quality,” she says. The result realised export to Europe and the first to export to Canada this year.

Genevieve MCC

In 2017, Genevieve MCC achieved another milestone – the wine found a home. Until then, grapes came from pockets of Chardonnay across the region, albeit always from Bot River. This changed when she discovered a working farm where her dream for a space to give visitors the “MCC experience” became a reality. Today, there are self-catering cottages alongside the vineyards and a renovated barn where visitors can enjoy the Genevieve MCC and take in the Overberg air.

Genevieve MCC

Melissa’s latest release is the Genevieve MCC Zero Dosage, which is only produced when the vineyards show exceptional quality. The year 2015 was such a vintage and was selected as only the second release of the Zero Dosage extension. “Only first-pressed cuvée juice is used and kept for a minimum of four years on the lees, with periodical assessments,” she says. “The aim is to show the purest expression of terroir and the cap classique quality without any added dosage [traditionally, the topping up of wine and addition of sucrose].”

Genevieve MCC
Luddite Shiraz
Photo by Tasha Seccombe

Luddite: The first time I tried Luddite wines was at a dinner party a few years ago and I just adored the name and label before I had even tasted the contents. Once that happened I knew it was going to be a lifetime love of these exceptional wines. On this special trip to Bot River the moment I sipped on Niels’ new 2015 Shiraz I knew I had to own some! And seeing as this ain’t your average wine I chose to splash out and get a magnum of it because more is more with something this good! And when I thought the spending was over I tasted Niels’ daughter Alice’s new wine – It’s a Shiraz 2017 and then all of a sudden a case of that came home with us too!

Luddite Shiraz
Luddite Shiraz

Luddite began life in 2000 with the acquisition of a small 17ha farm. “After seeing the potential of Shiraz in the Bot River area, our dream to start something of our own came true,” says Niels. “Penny and I set about transforming the wild slopes into a beautiful farm. “The land was on the slopes of the Houw Hoek mountains and there was plenty of work, but no time to waste. In fact, the release of the first Luddite Shiraz came that year too, from bought-in grapes. Vines were planted the following year. In 2002, a barrel-and-wine storage shed was built.

Niels Verburg
Photo by Tasha Seccombe

It was only thereafter that a house was finally erected and the Verburgs moved in. More Shiraz plantings followed, along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvèdre. The first vintage containing the farms own grapes came in 2004. “2009 was a big year with lots of excitement as our own cellar came to fruition,” recalls Niels. “Before we put the tanks in, we held an indoor hockey tournament to christen the cellar properly”.

“We also used 100% of our own grapes in that year, a requirement for the Luddite label since. “By then, the wines had a reputation. Luddite was the name given to 19th century workmen who destroyed labour-saving machinery. By now, Shiraz-lovers understood the name suited Penny and Niels’ focus on artisanal passion and excellence rather than wine mechanisation.

Luddite Shiraz

It was time to put some away. In 2010, Niels only released 3000 bottles with the balance set aside for release in 2020. In a short time, Luddite has established itself as a producer of great wines made with integrity and minimal interference – a foundation into which Alice stepped into, to work alongside her father in 2017. “The wines have benefitted from a feminine touch”, he declares.

Alice says It’s a Shiraz 2017 was a deliberate attempt to break away from the “seriousness and snobbyness” of wine.

Alice Verburg
Photo by Tasha Seccombe
It's a Shiraz 2017

“It’s an experimental wine for me. I made the decision to make it on the morning the grapes came in – after all, I’d picked up plenty of ideas just watching my dad. “There were about 400kg of grapes from Gabriëlskloof, “so, one bin to play with,” she says. After vinification the wine spent a year in barrel and another in bottle prior to release.

“It’s suitable to drink now, but I want to make wines that age,” says Alice. “There’s aging potential even though it has low sulphur, the good, natural acidity will look after it.”

Her father’s latest wine, the Luddite Shiraz 2015 stems from a harvest that signalled the start of a long, dry spell in the Western Cape. “Due to the dryness and heat towards the end of the growing season, the vintage is our smallest to date – 2.3tons/ha.”We picked both our old block and young block together for the first time and, as depressing as it was to look at, the whole farm fitted into one tank. “A highlight of the actual winemaking was that being a smaller crop, the wine retained “unbelievable fruit intensity”, says Niels. Various wood combinations were part of the process that led to this excellent wine.

Luddite Shiraz

A taste of Porto, Portugal

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

My mom and I went on a mother daughter trip to Portugal last month and we ate and drank ourselves incredibly merry. Porto was an absolute revelation. The food scene is incredible, the people are supremely friendly and the city is gorgeous. It’s the perfect food and wine lovers city. Every few metres there’s something delicious to sample. We promised ourselves not to use any forms of transport apart from our feet in a futile attempt to combat the calories going in! If you aren’t into a lot of pictures of food and wine- look away now!

Port Tasting in Porto | The Secret Life of Bee

Pictured above is Bacchus Vini– a divine little wine bar along the Duoro river. They do splendid wine and Port tastings served with generous cheese and charcuterie platters. We sipped under the sun until it was inevitably nap time.

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

When the clock strikes tapas time one of our favourite spots was UVA wine bar. It’s down a little alley and doesn’t look like much but the tapas was scrumptious. Try the ham and cheese wheel thingy. It’s amazing. They also have a superb wine list full of small production wineries and the staff are very knowledgeable.

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Just an adorable 20 minute tram ride to Foz and you’ll have your toes in the sand and a glass of vinho verde in hand. Praia da Luz is a gorgeous beach restaurant with simple food, cold wine and live music. The service is non existent so if you get a waiter make sure you order enough to keep you going for a while! But it is a marvelous, relaxing way to spend the day.

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

The Mercado do Bolhão is a must visit. There’s the most divine husband and wife team that do wine tastings. Him and his wife don’t speak a word of English but between our terrible Portuguese and a lot of hand gestures from his side we had the very best experience. He gave us a few slices of cheese with our wine tasting. We told him how much we adored the cheese and wanted to know what it was called etc etc. Two seconds later he’s on the phone talking rapidly and tells us to wait. The kind soul called a friend and had an entire WHEEL of the cheese delivered to us at the market! We snacked on that cheese for two weeks! Pictured below is that devilish little wheel of queijo.

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

While we’re on the indulgence train… You cannot say you’ve truly experienced Portugal unless you’ve eaten Santini‘s ice cream. It’s just seriously better than any other ice cream i’ve ever had. Ever. And i’ve eaten ice cream in France and Italy and all over but holy guacamole you need to try this stuff. My favourites were the granadilla, vanilla and chocolate. Just wow.

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

This sweet treat deserves a special mention. The pastéis de nata gets all the glory but the Queijada de Feijão is where it’s really at. This sweet bean pastry has a buttery almond and white bean filling and it’s all encased in a million layers of puff pastry. It’s a winner and I NEED to learn how to make it.

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

To add to the list of things I want to learn to make is tomato rice. I’m sure you’re thinking what is so special about tomatoes and rice? This dish tastes like pure love. It tastes like the warmest hug from every vovo in Portugal. It is much looser than a risotto. A lot more stock is used but the rice is still kept perfectly al dente, not mushy. We discovered this pot of love at one of our favourite spots: À Parte Restaurante. This and their Bacalhau à Bras were two of the yummiest things I have ever eaten. Bacalhau à Bras is a very traditional dish of shredded salt cod, potatoes, onions and eggs. And it’s always topped with olives. The potatoes are grated and then fried crispy before everything is mixed together and then baked in the oven. This recipe will be hitting the blog soon because it’s something everyone needs to experience!

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

What you really don’t need to experience is the seafood soup at The Majestic Café. It’s a tourist trap, over priced and the food isn’t very good. So if you want to go there to take some pics (it’s very pretty) rather order a G&T and do some people watching instead of eating.

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Café do Cais is a great spot along the Duoro River for wine sipping and tapas nibbling. Their blistered Padrón peppers are melt in the mouth delicious. And my favourite part? They serve their coffee with a cinnamon stick! How divine!

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Above all else- if you visit Porto you have to try a Francesinha. It is specifically famous to Porto, it’s basically their official sandwich. The name means “little Frenchie.” It Porto’s version of the French croque. The bread is toasted super crispy and filled with layers of ham, linguiça and cheese. It’s finally served with a flavourful beer and tomato based broth that every chef puts their own spin on. The egg on top is optional much like the croque monsieur vs the croque madame, but it is highly recommended. I also suggest a Francesinha buddy- because you definitely need two of you to tackle one of these babies. The best one we had was from our favourite little cafe just below our apartment, Cafeteria Dona Antónia.

Porto is a magical city. If you ever have the opportunity to visit… do it! I cannot wait to go back. But first gym. Lots and lots of gym.

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee

Porto Portugal | The Secret Life of Bee