Why go to Cape Winelands?
Any tourist office or guidebook will tell you that the Cape Winelands are a must do for every visitor. And I couldn’t agree more, given the wealth of gorgeous estates, fabulous eateries and interesting places to visit. What I can say is that with hundreds of estates out there - from great big historical properties with centuries-old Cape Dutch manor houses and vines to little boutique setups where grapes are pressed the old-fashioned way and yields are small - there are rich pickings to be enjoyed and imbibed. Strapped for time? Hit Spier (www.spier.co.za) where award-winning wines, great eateries and even a wildlife experience can be experienced in one place. Sure, it’s a little Afro-Disney in parts, but there’s a level of authenticity too and kids love it - especially if you opt for a picnic on the lawns overlooking the lake.
The first rule of thumb is that if you’re planning on enjoying yourself and want to make it to more than two estates with a lunch in between, book a driver or a ticket on an organised excursion. The second rule is not to plan to go to too many estates in one day as you’ll suffer from burnout. I’d suggest a minimum of two and a maximum of five estates in a day and definitely a lunch in between. You can plan your wine estate experience by following any of the five routes on the official Stellenbosch Wine Route (www.wineroute.co.za). And if in doubt, sleep over - see my Cape Winelands hotels page for some suggestions.
Step back in time
Secondly, a visit to Stellenbosch, as in the town proper, is essential. Situated an hour's drive from Cape Town, I spent four years living there while studying at the university and I love it as much now as I did then. It’s the second oldest town in South Africa and it’s resplendent with original Cape Dutch buildings, oak tree-lined avenues and a soundtrack of running water thanks to the original canal system that winds its way through the town. Oozing charm and small town appeal, I love how a pavement café culture has developed here over the past few years - it’s really visitor friendly too, with loads of interesting boutiques selling local crafts and a museum or two thrown in for good measure. Plus it’s all absolutely walkable (well, the most interesting parts anyway).
A corner of France
Franschhoek is a further half hour’s drive form Stellenbosch and it’s really pretty. It’s name means ‘French corner’, so named for the French Huguenots who fled persecution to start up a new life in the new world. The European heritage is a large part of what is so charming about this little village and though it has gentrified enormously over the past decade, it’s still a must do. Bijou bistros spill out onto the street, there are gift stores galore and often a festival (from Bastille Day to the Magic of Bubbles festival celebrating the bubblies made on farms in the region) to make a visit even more interesting.
Food is a major draw to the region which has become known as the gourmet capital of South Africa - there are award-winning restaurants within kilometres of each other and many of them are situated on wine estates too, which is a help if cellar tastings are on your agenda. I’m a big fan of Terroir , where French country cuisine is given a South African twist by award-winning chef Michael Broughton - the fact that the wines from the estate's cellar are simply superb only adds to the appeal.