Arniston – the quintessential seaside town on the Cape’s southern coast – played host to me over an unseasonably stormy weekend. Since my cookbook West Coast Wander is officially in stores, I reckon I can consider myself a connoisseur of that particular coastline – perhaps it’s time for a new landscape? Finding myself growing steadily more intrigued by the aesthetics of the area, I jumped at the chance for a weekend stay at the Arniston Spa Hotel – part of the Cape Country Routes collection.
Embarking on a three hour drive from Cape Town through the most picturesque patchwork of farmland, undulating wheat fields and late Spring sunshine, the journey to the small fishing town is almost as pleasurable as arriving to a view over azure ocean, a chilled glass of Sauvignon Blanc to look forward to. Overlooking the selfsame vista is the hotel – an understated oasis of whitewashed walls, cool interiors and a terrace just begging to be enjoyed over lunchtime cocktails. A comfortably furnished sea-facing room replete with bathtub and balcony had me ready to kick off my sneakers and not move for the rest of the weekend. However, curiosity and a host of incoming fishing boats abolished my laziness and I was treated to the sight of local fishermen coming in with a catch of beautiful red stumpnose. Known in the vernacular as Miss Lucy (also the name of my favourite Springfield white blend), red stumpnose is an appealingly meaty fish – able to hold up well to poaching, frying or even as sashimi – the latter of which I sampled during my last visit to Wolfgat.
While the harbour itself is currently undergoing renovations, visitors are still able to purchase fresh fish and have them scaled, gutted and filleted right then and there. I was pleased to discover that the hotel’s restaurant sources their seafood directly from the harbour to ensure guests are treated to the freshest catch daily. Adjacent to the harbour is Arniston’s historical fishing village – a National Heritage Site and home to a quaint collection of whitewashed cottages overlooking the ocean. An aesthetic dream for any photographer, the village also caters to the culinarily curious with a small restaurant serving local seafood as well as various guesthouses and family-run accommodation.
Speaking of seafood, that evening I was treated to a portion of the South Coast yellowtail – expertly pan-fried and served as part of the Arniston Spa Hotel’s celebrated seafood platter. Catering to two but easily able to feed four (depending on one’s penchant for prawns), the platter comes standard with a selection of shellfish, creamy mussels, crispy fried calamari and Patagonian squid. Choosing to pair this pick of the ocean with a bottle of Bouchard Finlayson 2018 Blanc de Mer that I had bought in Elgin earlier, the unusual but ultimately delicious coupling of fish with the Riesling-based blend complimented our seaside view. Satiated and sleepy, there was nothing left but to head up to bed and drift off to the sound of crashing waves. Utter bliss.
One of the few things to top an ocean lullaby is a buffet breakfast and the Arniston Spa Hotel’s offering doesn’t disappoint. Guests have myriad options of fresh fruit, cereal, cheese, charcuterie and my personal preference – a platter piled high with silky smoked salmon. Eggs are cooked to order and an array of additions like pork sausages, bacon, savoury mince, saucy baked beans and grilled tomato can be included at whim. Fresh juices, coffee and tea and an entire table devoted to sweet pastries meant that lunch probably wouldn’t be required.
While Arniston itself is quite isolated, the towns of Cape Agulhas, Struisbaai and De Mond nature reserve are all within an hour’s drive. We decided to explore the former as I had never braved a climb up a lighthouse. Perched upon the southern most point of the African continent, the Cape Agulhas lighthouse was the third of it’s kind to be built in South Africa and is the second-oldest lighthouse still standing after the Mouille Point lighthouse in Cape Town. Built in the Neo Classical design, the lighthouse was based on that of the Pharos of Alexandria and features distinctive Egyptian architectural details. Although not entirely imposing from down below, the structure contains three floors that intrepid adventurers need to scale before arriving directly under the light itself. Vertiginous views look out to where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet and an unrelenting wind had me clinging to the railings like a limpet. Needless to say, I was ready for a stiff drink after that particular experience!
No visit to Arniston is complete without a venture into the famous Waenhuiskrans cave – unless it was this one. Unfortunately an enormous storm and high tides kept us from taking a tour – a detail that will serve as the catalyst for my imminent return to this jewel of the South Coast.