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It is no small miracle that Glen Dirk, an historic Constantia estate, still exists in an area of the Western Cape that has developed and expanded beyond recognition over 350 years.

Right from when the land was marked out for farming and settlement in the 1600s, civilisation has gradually encroached on much of the surrounding farm lands with the exception of this magical tract of land  on the boundary of Wynberg Hill and the current Alphen Estate. Today, through an avenue of giant camphor trees, silverleaf and oak, the Sir Herbert Baker designed manor house is gradually revealed to a modern day traveller. A tantalising glimpse of white walls and gables gives way to the homestead in the shelter of the Constantia hills and that overlooks fertile vineyards, forests and the sea beyond.

Arguably no homestead in South Africa could claim its colourful history or the extraordinary cast of characters who have lived and visited here. Owned by the Cloete family through generations dating back to Jan van Riebeeck’s time, the property in the heart of the fertile Constantia Valley teemed with wildlife – baboons, flamingos, leopard, civet and hyena. With no fences or barriers from the hills right down to Zeekoevlei, it was not uncommon for a hippo to be found wandering in the area.

The manor house as it stands today was designed by young Herbert Baker and built in 1897, a ‘fine, unpretentious’ house with ample room for nurseries for growing families. The dramatic setting was its strength. From the hallway, across the drawing rooms, and onto the stoep, the valley stretched as far as the eye could see.

History was marked by extraordinary events that shaped the families who lived here over generations. In 1899, war broke out between the British and the Boers and the Cloete family loyalties were divided.   In 1910 the family gathered on the terrace to witness Halley’s Comet burn its gaseous trail through the night sky. The property passed on to Maximillian Michaelis in the 1920s, with Michaelis founding of the prestigious UCT Michaelis School of Fine Art. When the estate passed to a new owner, financier Sir Ernest Chapell in 1928, he consulted with and entertained some of the biggest names in society and politics of the day. .In 1944, the estate was sold to the family that currently owns the property.  .

The sturdy white washed walls have played silent witness to conversations on war, plans for weddings, new diamond mining methods, art, politics, farming and the everyday laughter and loss of the families who have been its custodians for over three centuries. Today, the magnificent house, trees and gardens create an idyllic setting for holidays, weddings and functions, or select film locations, open to those who respect and understand the estate’s heart and spirit.

 

Reviewed by Les Aupiais

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Bishopscourt, Cape Town

It is no small miracle that Glen Dirk, an historic Constantia estate, still exists in an area of the Western Cape that has developed and expanded beyond recognition over 350 years. Right from when the land was marked out for farming and settlement in the 1600s, civilisation has gradually encroached on much of the surrounding

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