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DAYS (AND NIGHTS) IN DARLING

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As I write this the ever-expanding rock – and green – outdoor festival Rocking the Daisies in is full swing near Darling. Not only is this becoming an international event, as claimed by the organisers, but this year’s events caused ructions in the academic world as UCT students requested being excused for exams as they had booked tickets for the fest.  In our era we would have probably been carted off to psychiatrists if we’d tried that one on...

But I digress. A couple of weeks ago I spent a few days with my family in Darling, just ahead of their annual flower festival which marked its centenary this year. While we missed this impressive milestone. we were in good time to wander among fields  of daisies in pastel hues in the tranquil Tienie Versfeld reserve as the bulbs were poking up stems with the promise of blooms to come. Rolling hills  of canola made a golden backdrop.

Darling town is laidback and hospitable, rustic but efficient when it comes to meeting visitor needs. We had booked for a matinee of Adapt or Fly at Evita se Perron, it was a magical hour that finished with the promise of Uys impersonating Julius Malema next time around – I can hardly wait. We spent a happy half hour at Darling Sweet – along with a sizable group of enthusiastic customers – sampling the irresistible toffees produced by the Hentie van der Merwe and Frits van Ryneveld’s staff in a glassed-off section of the shop. This is a success story based on hard work, good marketing and fail-proof recipes for both confectionery and human resources: In a handsome Edwardian building , once the home of Darling’s General Dealer, the partners’ sweet production is in full swing on one side, while on the other free samples of their considerable range of toffees and toffee spreads invite tasting. Then choices are made, and the till rings constantly as happy customers leave clutching their goodies. The enterprise has provided employment for 20 locals, has become a must-see destination on  the tourist itinerary, and, best of all, these handmade toffees contain no artificial flavourings, or colorants and cont no preservatirves. What, I asked Fritz, do you use for the fat ingredient? Butter, of course, only butter” came the answer. I am hooked!

We went to sample local artisanal beer and agreeable fare at a evening show in the industrial area, and by way of contrast, joined an elegant midday wine and olive tasting at Ormonde farm Their recently released NJB sauvignon blanc 2017, only available from the farm is a tribute to a former patriarch and is a classy, if fairly pricy, wine.

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For me, a highlight was a visit to The Darling Wine Shop, the little emporium of well-known négociant Charles Withington, and stocked with a delicious mélange of vinous delights. I was sorry that the owner was not there, having met him previously years ago, but as we left the shop, he and his wife Janet arrived. As it was closing time, there was little time to talk, but we have since corresponded on email, while savouring two of Withington’s wines, which I have reviewed separately. See WITHINGTON DUO – Winning wines of Darling

We ordered takeout pizza, and ambled through streets lined with both Victorian and Edwardian homes, - gentle, unshowy architecture in keeping with the atmosphere prevailing in the town. When the international sophistication of glamorous wineland destinations threatens to overwhelm, turn tail and head for Darling, an inexpensive and soothing remedy presided over by real people. As a bonus, you may discover some fine wines.

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