Please note that this review is more about the man than the place, and Blue Gum is under new management, so you won’t get to meet Basil or have the Fawlty Towers experience here any more. I will be re-visiting and am assured it’s as delightful as always – just a little different style of management!
You may wonder where does a spoilt Safari Tart go for her Christmas holidays 2010? I needed a place to veg out, do absolutely nothing, get up late, read a lot and turn up for breakfast at 10.30am. I also wanted to feel like I belonged and be entertained a little. Sounds good doesn’t it? I found just the place – a real life Fawlty Towers complete with Basil and other crazy characters in the countryside near Cape Town.
Let me set the scene: Blue Gum Country Estate is one and a half hour’s drive east of Cape Town, about 10 km from the cute village of Stanford and about 25 mins from the whale watching capital of Hermanus and the same from the shark cage diving centre of Gans Baai. It’s in exactly the right place to do lots, or if you are anything like me, nothing at all.
I had good intentions to visit Raka Wines just up the road and have a picnic at the cheese factory down the road, or take one of the mountain bikes parked in front of reception, but did I? No!
The most I managed was a downhill stroll through the vineyard and along the lane to see the horses, and on another occasion, a slow walk through indigenous mountain fynbos with views across the 130 acre Blue Gum Estate. The rest of the time I lay on the sun lounger on my private terrace or by the swimming pool and read books.
What kept me particularly entertained at Blue Gum Country Estate, were the Fawlty Towers moments, which came fast and furious. Manager Graham – shall we call him Basil – is a man of such high nervous energy that you could light a fuse off the sparks flying off him.
Drama follows him as sure as day follows night and if there isn’t any, you can be sure he will create some. His chef had to go into rehab just before Christmas due to imbibing too much seasonal spirit and a full house was expected. In true Fawlty style, Basil took to the kitchen (and was extremely capable), but luckily the unflappable sous chef stepped into the breach and produced really superb food. There’s a story to be told here of local lad makes good in 4-star kitchen and shuns fame and fortune in the city for a quiet life in a country kitchen.
But there’s nothing basic about Meagan’s cooking. He can drum up a 3-course meal worthy of being photographed in any glossy magazine, and it tastes as good as it looks. As each dish was served, I become increasingly impressed.
There’s no rushing at Blue Gum, if I made it to breakfast by 10am that was a good day. A full breakfast buffet followed by an English with all the works, was enough to fill me for the entire day. By the time I had finished breakfast, Basil had already been to Hermanus (the whale watching capital of the world) for supplies.
Now back to the Fawlty moments; there was the time when the ‘Colonel’ tried to make friends with Dorrito Doris – the African Grey parrot who loves eating Dorrito chips at the bar. But Doris only has eyes for Basil, and promptly bit the Colonel’s finger such that a trail of blood could be followed all the way to the bathroom. Basil of course scolded the Colonel for being so stupid as to touch the parrot in the first place, but Doris did get a nominal telling off (see pic – Doris on back looking sheepish (or parrotish!).
“When you arrive I won’t be around,” instructed Basil over the phone, “but check in at reception and don’t worry if you can’t tell if it’s a he or a she.” As it turned out He is Manuel and Polly rolled into one, and his name is Ranwell, let’s call him ‘Also Ran Well’.
An indispensable right hand she-man who meets, greets, does everything with great efficiency and is adored by all patrons. Also Ran Well proved to be a wonderful front man; receptionist, waiter and a calming influence on the mayhem Basil leaves in his wake.
Moira also held these roles and took to giggling whenever something was not quite running smoothly behind the scenes – she giggled a lot!
Add to the cast, Basils father in law – a third generation South African sounding more British than I do – who was, as he put it “parked” here for New Year (the women in the family having gone overseas for a family wedding).
“So where are you from?” asked the Major a couple of times in the same sentence.
“From London, but I live in Cape Town,” I replied twice.
“Ah, your work sent you out here did it – hmmm you must be terribly important.” Short silence.
“So where are you from?”
Meanwhile……Basil is booming down the phone while theatrically hopping on the spot and raising his eyes to the sky….
“Which hill are you on?” (aside to us: “the Americans have broken down and the only thing they can tell me is they are on a hill!”)
“Yes, I will fetch you but which (aside: bloody) hill are you on?”
Turned out that a diesel hire car with a stick gear shift proved too difficult and the vehicle went on strike. Lucky Basil didn’t. He thrives on such theatrics (being an amateur Gilbert and Sullivan tenor of dubious talent). He found the hill, rescued his guests and told them off for not being able to drive a car with a gear stick!
Basil (Graham) is an inimitable host and one of the reasons why you MUST seek him out wherever he is. He’s eccentric, generous, funny and crazy all rolled into one good whacky guy!
At Blue Gum, there’s plenty of opportunity for absolute peace and introspection in great comfort, if that’s what you want. But for a touch of entertainment, we followed Basil around for a while to get a little bit of real life guest house drama. We weren’t disappointed. One word of warning though, whatever you do, don’t touch Doris!
Blue Gum Country Estate has twelve rooms plus a private Villa that sleeps ten (for self catering or meals at the lodge). To book a room email email@example.com. Sorry, you won’t find Basil there any more, but when he settles in another place I’ll be sure to let you know.
Sad Footnote: Doris refused to come down from the tree one evening a couple of weeks ago and in the morning Basil was distraught to find feathers but no Doris. Our sympathies go to Basil, RIP Doris.
POSTSCRIPT: Did Doris rise from the dead? I re-visited recently and there was a Doris lookalike wolf whistling at me as I entered the door. At first I thought it was Basil (whistling), but it turned out he was fishing instead of manning the desk. So who was the parrot?
To get the answer to this and to hear the story of the gay wedding (which involved a staff member and a scorpion, a springbok outrun by a boxer and a car that missed the bridge (at 3am) and landed in the stream, you’d better go and spend an evening with Basil!