Institute of Classical Architecture & Art

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Private South Africa: Houses and Gardens of Cape Town and Beyond

November 1–8, 2014

Tour arrangements by Classical Excursions & Mark Donnelly

Known for its magnificent scenery, the Cape of Good Hope region will open its doors to a hidden world of magnificent art, architecture, and gardens. From the thatched and gabled manor houses of the 17th century Dutch settlers and the influence of the Dutch East India Company, to the mansions of the Rand Lords, this tour will encompass 250 years of colonial architecture. The group will stay five nights at the world famous Mount Nelson Hotel, located below the backdrop of Table Mountain, along with two nights at the renowned Lanzerac hotel & spa in Stellenbosch. We will visit the famous botanical gardens at Kirstenbosch as well as four outstanding private gardens. The tour will take in private wine estates and art collections of some of the Cape’s great families. The tour is led by Graham Viney, renowned international interior designer from South Africa, and author of two books including the landmark Historic Houses of South Africa.


Built c.1665 as a star fortress and the headquarters of the Dutch East India Company, this oldest surviving colonial building houses a collection of national treasures, paintings, furniture, glass, silver, and porcelain.

Donated in 1914 by Sir Max Michaelis, this world-class collection of mostly Netherlands art contains masterpieces by Frans Hals, Jan Steen, Van Dyke, and Jacob van Ruisdael.

This house museum is furnished as a home for a well-to-do Cape family during the late 18th Century. It houses some of the best pieces of Cape furniture and silver in the country, in addition to a priceless collection of ceramics.

The former Cape Town residence of the state president, the gabled Groote Schuur (‘Big Barn’) was originally built in 1667 to serve as the VOC’s granary before it was bought by Cecil John Rhodes in 1893 and converted into a grand mansion and office by Architect Sir Herbert Baker. Rhodes died in 1910 and bequeathed his estate to the nation; an elaborate neoclassical shrine was erected in his memory two years later.

The memorial, which was designed by Sir Herbert Baker, was built in 1912 to honor former Cape Colony prime minister and mining magnate Cecil John Rhodes. The position chosen was Rhodes’ favorite viewing site. Built from Cape granite quarried on Table Mountain, the memorial consists of 49 steps – one for each year of Rhodes’s life. The Doric columns were inspired by Rhodes’s appreciation of classical architecture, and the eight lions were modeled on those at the base of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, London.

Irma Stern (1894-1966), was a major South African artist who achieved national and international recognition in her lifetime. The permanent collection on display shows Irma Stern’s development as an artist whose subject matter included exotic figures, portraits, lush landscapes, and still lifes conveyed in a variety of media. The Irma Stern Museum was established in 1971 and is the house the artist lived in for almost four decades.

In 1685, during an annual visit to the Cape, Hendrik Adriaan van Rheede tot Drakenstein granted the grounds of Groot Constantia to Simon van der Stel the VOC Governor of the Cape of Good Hope.
Van der Stel built the house and used the land to produce wine as well as other fruit and vegetables. Following Van der Stel’s death in 1712 the estate was broken up and sold in three parts: Groot Constantia; Klein Constantia; and Bergvliet. Over the years the land has passed through the ownership of several families, and in 1993, the estate passed into the ownership of the Groot Constantia Trust. The exhibition in the house is managed by Iziko South African Museum, and is particularly focused on rural slavery and the life of slaves during the early Cape colonial period.

In Rhodes’ last years he went to live in his tiny cottage by the sea at Muizenberg, away from the cold and damp of Groote Schuur. Just above his cottage, Rhodes planned with Herbert Baker a house designed to be hidden from the public road with sweeping views of the blue sea and far-off mountain promontories. This dream was never to be fulfilled, as Rhodes had an even more burning desire: that he might save sufficient monies to endow scholarships at Oxford – the Rhodes Scholarships. So the house was left unfinished. However, Sir Abe Bailey completed Rust en Vrede, from the foundations upwards, building it according to the original plan commissioned by Rhodes. Baker’s watercolor perspective drawing shows the house roughly as it was built: white, with tall gables, and twisting chimneys against the soft red-ochre of the roof, all grouped above arcaded loggias. It was the prototype of houses Baker was yet to build in other parts of Africa.

The Hawthorndene Homestead was built by Captain John Spence who owned this part of the original Oude Wijnberg Estate from 1881 until 1888. It was built in the Renaissance manner comprising of more than thirty rooms. This restrained Victorian design includes bay windows, a turret, cast-iron balconies, and a French-type mansard roof. Mining magnate J. B. Robinson bought Hawthornden in 1891. His descendants still occupy this stately home.

Fresh Woods is the private garden of Peter and Barbara Knox-Shaw. It contains a remarkable rose collection, including several species and both old and new hybrids, many raised from seed or from wild cuttings. This garden is particularly valuable for the conservation of old roses from the Cape and for preserving collections of wild roses. Although a private garden, it is open regularly. It is known throughout the world and is a source of propagation material and a center for the exchange of rare and valuable varieties.

Kirstenbosch is the name of a famous botanical garden nestled at the foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town. The garden is one of nine National Botanical Gardens covering five of South Africa’s six different biomes. The most beautiful garden in Africa, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden is acclaimed as one of the great botanic gardens of the world.

Babylonstoren is one of the best-preserved werfs (farm yards) in the Cape Dutch tradition, including the manor house from 1777, and pioneer structures dating back to the founding of the farm in 1690. An ornate fowl house, pigeon loft, leaning bell tower, and historic gates embellish a traditional courtyard surrounded by a low, whitewashed wall. Spanning eight acres, the Babylonstoren garden is at the heart of the farm.  It was inspired by the Company Gardens of the Cape, where for centuries ships would replenish with sweet water, vegetables, and fruit at the halfway station between Europe and Asia. It also hails back to the mythical garden of Babylon. All of the 300 varieties of plants in the garden are edible. The garden is divided into fifteen clusters spanning vegetable areas, berries, bees, indigenous plants, ducks and chickens, and also includes a prickly pear maze.

For 300 years Morgenster has attracted and inspired people through its blend of beautiful surroundings, excellent terroir, and a manor house recognized as one of the great houses of the Western Cape.

The Rustenberg garden is situated next to the Cape Dutch homestead Schoongezicht, which dates back to 1814. In 2001, Rozanne Barlow, wife of the current owner of the Rustenberg Estate, regenerated and restored the garden. The site was transformed into an eleven-circuit Chartres-style labyrinth, laid out in half brick and river stone. A charming pergola, originally built by John X Merriman, supports climbing roses, clematis, and other fragrant climbers. The landscaping and pathways of the formal-style garden bring together the sizeable one-hectare site. The ‘borrowed’ surrounding landscape of vineyards, green pastures, and the majestic Simonsberg mountain backdrop make it a magical place.

In upper Kenilworth stands the beautiful Stellenberg, a Cape Dutch property dating back to original Van Der Stel ownership. Fortunately it has been blessed with sensible and caring owners – starting with the Felthams, who acquired Stellenberg in 1878 and did not succumb to the fashion of the times by removing gables, replacing thatch with corrugated iron, or tampering with the Cape Dutch windows and shutters. Finally the Ovenstones acquired Stellenberg in the 1950s, and today, nearly 60 years later, Stellenberg remains one of the most beautiful Cape Dutch houses in the Cape Peninsula.

When Willem Adriaan succeeded his father, Simon van der Stel, as governor of the Cape in 1700, it didn’t take long before he claimed a modest 30,000 hector piece of land for himself. It took three days by oxwagon to reach Willem Adriaan’s farm on the slopes of the Hottentots Holland mountain range overlooking the Atlantic Ocean; hence its name ‘Vergelegen’, meaning ‘situated faraway’. Six years after he started planting vines, Willem Adriaan had half a million vine stocks. He laid out fruit orchards and orange groves, planted camphor and oak trees, and established eighteen cattle stations with 1000 cattle and 1800 sheep. He built himself a beautiful Cape Dutch homestead, added a corn mill, and other subsidiary buildings. In November 1705, when reverent Francois Valentijn visited Vergelegen he uttered the now well-known words: “I saw this Estate with exceptional pleasure, since everything was laid out wonderfully finely.” Willem Adriaan was considered a genius for his knowledge of farming and his visionary mind contributed greatly to the agricultural development of the Cape.

Visits to Ida’s Valley, a private Cape Dutch farmstead owned by the Erskine family, and La Garonne, an 18th century house & garden, privately owned by the Rupert family and beautifully situated below the mountains in the Franschhoen Valley.

Tour Price & Reservations: Please contact Lani Summerville of Classical Excursions at (413) 446-8728 or to register for this tour. Immediate registration is suggested, as space is limited. Land cost is $5000.00 per person based on double occupancy; a single supplement of $1000.00 applies.

A tax-deductible donation of $500.00 is required, to be made payable to the ICAA by each participant. Click here to make your donation online now.