Setting the stage with the fab team from Villa Avianto

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On the outskirts of Bloemfontein lies a hidden gem that offers true hospitality and  tranquillity. We drew inspiration from the Villa Avianto owners setting a beautiful feast table, preparing a hearty winter menu and landscaping the most heavenly gardens.

Villa Avianto, situated at Quaggafontein next to the N8, truly lives up to its name. Translated as “House of the Heavens”, it offers a unique Tuscan ambiance with formal gardens and fountains blending seamlessly with the environment. It’s truly a “wow” moment when you follow the meandering cobble stone path past the greenery and breath-taking rose bushes, to the main house.

It’s home to the very popular French Market held once every quarter. Here, you’ll also find the most beautiful coffee shop, Villa Café, which is open every Saturday morning. Owner, Suretha van Heerden, is all smiles when she tells you about her plans with the café – to make it a haven for the elderly and forgotten people to enjoy a cup of tea and a slice of cake. “We also roast our own coffee here, and we’re passionate about creating a space for the whole family to come and relax. We’ve got plenty of space for children to play and parents to enjoy each other’s company.”

If there’s anyone who truly understands the art of décor, gardening and the creation of a scenic environment that speaks to your senses, it’s Suretha. In 2004, she and her husband, Christo, bought the land with only an empty house and a dream. She has been at the forefront of the conceptualising, landscaping, building and planning of Villa Avianto.
The fruit of her hard work stands in all its glory today, and the couple’s plans for the future are even more beautiful. They’re using the venue for concerts (most recently the Musiek soos Grond music festival took place there), a wedding venue (the first wedding taking place in October), and their Spice Route, which is gaining momentum. Every Saturday,
people are welcome to take on one of the three different routes on the Spice Route on foot. “We want people to enjoy the beauty that nature has to offer on their way to a healthy lifestyle.” They also offer amazing options for private parties and functions.

Table, flowers and décor

Suretha and Villa Avianto events coordinator, Jansie Malan, believe that a feast table should be decorated from your heart and from your garden. These colours are autumn inspired, and create a feeling of warmth and beauty. When asked about her ideas for table decorating, Jansie replies, “I always say, if your flower or plant arrangement on your table attracts bees, or if a butterfly can easily fl y in between the leaves, you’ve done a good job,” Suretha adds, “Use what you have. Your grandmother’s cutlery, mismatched plates and linen serviettes. Find inspiration in your surroundings. Don’t fuss with table cloths and too many trinkets. Exposed wood and greenery are beautiful.”

Garden and grace

Suretha has a passion for landscaping. She has next level green fingers. Her advice for creating a dreamy rose garden from cuttings is worth listening to. The roses in her gardens are larger than life and smell like pure perfume. It’s actually quite intoxicating. Another thing that gives her gardens fairy tale status? “Prayer. I pray next to my thorn tree every day. I believe God lives here – His blessings are abundant upon Villa Avianto. I never let
revenue lead my thoughts and planning processes. I’ve always let God lead the way – and this is what has transpired.”

Food

Christo is the culinary mastermind and foodie creative force at Villa Avianto. With no formal training as a chef, Christo trusts his gut to create the most delicious dishes – from hearty soups and freshly baked breads, to steamy meat pies and sweet treats. He’s got a head for business, but he’s most at home when cooking away in his kitchen. For winter, he suggest
a traditional provincial menu with a minestrone soup as the starter, Shepherd’s pie for mains and a fig pie for dessert.

(We asked him for these recipes – find them online at bloem.getitonline.co.za). “We pair our food with wines from the Hermanuspietersfontein range. They are absolutely delicious,” says Christo. “Trust you gut when cooking. Use recipes as a base to understand the basics, but free your mind to experiment with new tastes and taste combinations.”

Christo’s Minestrone soup

2 onions
2 sticks of celery
Olive oil
600g green vegetables, such as courgettes, fennel, broccoli, asparagus, chard, kale, peas, broad beans.
200g Risotto rice
2 litres chicken stock
1 bunch fresh rosemary and thyme
2 cloves garlic
50g Parmesan cheese
1 lemon
Extra virgin olive oil

Peel the onions and celery, then finely chop both and place in a large pan on medium heat with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. This is a good time to prep your green veg, chopping courgettes and fennel into ½ cm chunks, and finely
slicing broccoli, asparagus, chard and kale. Put the veg aside. Stir the rice into the pan for 2 minutes, then pour stock in. Tie the herbs together and add to the pan. Bring to boil, then simmer gently for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, peel the garlic and pound into a paste with a pinch of sea salt. Finely grate in the Parmesan and lemon zest, squeeze in the juice and muddle in 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Stir the veg into the soup and simmer for a final 10 to 15 minutes, ensuring
that the veggies retain their vibrancy. Season to perfection, then divide into warm bowls. Spoon a generous amount of the pesto onto you soup, and enjoy!

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