Darling, Town of Flowers -- Part One
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Sunday, September 25, 2016
By Johan Liebenberg
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We love hearing tales of Johan Liebenberg's travels. Last time we checked in, he tantalized with a romantic encounter. This time, he takes on vacation to the South African town of Darling. -- bw

Have you ever wondered about some British surnames? I have. And I simply marvel at some of them and wonder how they came about: “Halfpenny”, “Winterbottom”, ”Snodgrass”; some others I came across on the Internet are actually not printable.

Sometimes an odd name can be endearing, however – mellifluous even, to the extent that it brings a smile to your lips. Such a name is Darling. Not only is it the name of a little town along the Cape West Coast, but also the name, as it happens, of the Lieutenant-Governor of the Cape, when the Cape was still a British colony.

Anyway, maybe nobody could think of a suitable name for this place which was then called Groenkloof (Green Valley) so they probably thought, what the heck – let’s name it after our governor general, Sir Charles Henry Darling. And that is how, in 1853, Darling got its name.

Darling is about an hour’s drive from Cape Town, and once you have turned off the coastal road it’s another 20 km of driving through some rolling hills. Upon reaching the crest of one such hill, you're suddenly vouchsafed a view of Darling below, nestling peacefully in the valley and your first thought is: it's aptly named for indeed it's pretty and, yes, there's something ‘darling’ about it (is there such an expression?).

Darling is pretty, not only from a distance, but closeup. This little unassuming town is pretty in many ways, and that has very much to do with the fact that there is something authentic about it, unlike some of the other coastal fishermen villages which have become gentrified, the authenticity sucked from them by developers in their effort to create the illusion of Greek fishing villages.

This is not the case with Darling. There are the stoeps (front porches) with their verandas, old wire gates, authentic gables … What I'm trying to say is, Darling, at heart, is still a ‘dorp’ (the Dutch word for a village or a small country town). But it might not remain so for very long, as it's beginning to acquire a ‘cosmopolitan’ feel. The exteriors of houses are beginning to be ‘tastefully’ done. But that’s fine too. And what does it matter when it’s all so very lovely?

Upon entering the town, without fail I remember a line from that wonderful and highly acclaimed film, Monsieur Hire, based on the Simenon novella by the same name. Monsieur Hire, balding, overweight, middle-aged and possibly a murderer, tries to persuade Alice – young, beautiful, sexy and manipulative -- to go with him to Switzerland.

He says, in lugubrious tones -- as if deep down he already senses some impending tragedy -- that she will never join him. Nonetheless, he persists in great earnest, with something like, “They paint their houses in spring.” Hope against hope he adds, ”And in their window sills there are flower boxes.”

No one in the audience ever expected sexy Alice to ditch her hoodlum of a boyfriend. Why do I think he’s a hoodlum? I’m not sure, but don’t nice dames often fall for hoodlums in the movies?

Be that as it may, the words stuck and every time I enter Darling I remember the lines. Why? Because this is what the good people of Darling do. They plant seeds on the verges and wild flowers adorn these verges throughout the year with a dazzling array of colours. And this reminds me of a fictional little village somewhere in Switzerland that may or may not only have existed in Simenon’s mind.

If Darling's beauty astounds, residents will alert, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!” Because in spring, towards the end of August, the earth explodes in a blaze of colour, with tableaux of multi-coloured wildflowers, something which has made the Cape West Coast famous throughout the world. Yes, that’s right – throughout the world. Because nowhere on earth is the arrival of spring greeted so emphatically as here along the Cape West Coast.

The last time I visited, which was some time in March this year, I noticed many foreigners had moved into Darling. They, too, beautify their homes, they plant roses, and the wildflower seeds they sowed on the verges outside their homes have produced the most stunning floral vistas.

At this time, I made a detour, traveling some 8 km on a farm road, which took me to Groote Post (big outpost).

After raids on the cattle by the marauding Namas -- who were actually the original inhabitants of the land -- several guard posts were built in the early 19th century, the largest of them being Groote Post.

These buildings are so typical of the Cape-Dutch style with their thatched roofs, white-washed walls and cool interiors. This was also the original homestead of Hildagonda Duckitt who, over a century ago, wrote the country’s first cookbook with recipes collected from various sources – the wives of Afrikaner Boers to the descendants of Malay slaves.

Hilda’s Kitchen (+27 22 492 2693; www.grootepost.com) was named after her, and was featured in Conde Nast Traveler not so long ago. Today, Chef Debbie McLaughlin presides over the kitchen, which is where she prefers to be, rather than out front in the limelight. I have included some photographs of the dining room to give you an idea of the splendour enjoyed in those early days.

It's no wonder that while I was having lunch, a couple of British tourists, freshly arrived and red in the face from the heat, all but gasped when they entered the gracious dining room. They'd traveled for miles through nothing but flatness. Suddenly, here were cool, commodious rooms with high ceilings, filled with precious heirlooms and antique pieces dating back centuries. All, as I've said, in the middle nowhere.

I had a quiche, followed by the Kitchen’s famous, Old Man's steak roll served with garlic crème and hand cut chips (yes, it sounds like simple fare but don’t be fooled!).

It was delicious, as was the cheesecake, which I would have to taste again, but suspect is the best I’ve ever had.

I paired the meal I had a glass of Groote Post Riesling but more on that in a moment...



Darling, Town of Flowers and accompanying photos are © 2016 Johan Liebenberg



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