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Monday, August 24, 2009


Wines from Asara and five-star accommodation.

The increase in tourism in the Western Cape in recent years has produced a remarkable growth in attractions for visitors to the wine farms: tasting facilities, shops, restaurants, nature walks, children’s entertainments and so forth.

One of the most striking of these developments has been the makeover, to use the modern jargon, of a venerable estate at Stellenbosch into a five-star hotel while retaining the property’s basic function of producing wine.

Asara is a relatively new name in the Cape winelands, but this 180-hectare farm about four kilometres west of Stellenbosch dates back to 1691. It used to be called Verdun, after the town in France that was the scene of a famous battle in the First World War. In 2001 the then owner, a retired Johannesburg businessman, sold the place so that he and his wife could travel the world.

The buyer was another entrepreneur, Markus Rahmann, who is part German and part Namibian. He and his wife Christiane had spent 15 years living in China, and they were keen to return, with their two children, to their African roots, hence his purchase at Stellenbosch.

He renamed the farm Asara, a word which is derived from the African gods of earth, sun and sky, the symbolism being the harmony of nature in the estate’s range of wines. The vineyards were well established, and today they produce 30,000 cases of wine a year, 65 per cent of it red.

Asara now has a range of 16 different wines, some of them with unusual names: Ebony and Cape Fusion, both red blends, Bell Tower, another blend, and Spirit of Chenin, a type of white port.

The big change from the past has been the opening of a 36-bedroom hotel which offers five-star accommodation, wine tastings and gourmet dining in two restaurants, all this in the tranquil setting of the vineyards and the Stellenbosch mountains.

The general manager is Horst Frehse, who was for many years in charge of the Grande Roche hotel at Paarl. The Asara hotel is a member of the celebrated Relais & Chateaux association of 480 hoteliers and restaurateurs in 56 countries.

The hotel took two years to build. African it may be in name and location, but it has an international flavour: classic European cuisine in the Raphael’s restaurant; a whisky and cigar bar named Sansibar after a bar on the island of Sylt (part of Germany) in the North Sea; Mediterranean dishes in a restaurant called Bistro and Tapas; unusual lamps and chandeliers from Markus Rahmann’s export lighting business in China; furniture and paintings from many other parts of the world.

The property includes a tasting centre and shops that sell imported clothing, delicatessen and confectionery items produced on the premises, and kitchen equipment.

And there is a big ballroom, suitable for weddings and conferences.

Asara is about 45 minutes’ drive from Cape Town and is obviously worth a visit if you want to buy wines or are looking for a lunch or a few nights in the Cape winelands. Or, of course, if you want to get married. Phone 021 888 8000. – Michael Green