Things to see & do in Winelands, South Africa
Behind Table Mountain, beyond the sprawling townships of the Cape Flats, lies South Africa’s winelands, just over an hour from central Cape Town. This is a region of lush mountainsides lined with vines, interspersed with botanical gardens and colonial Cape Dutch architecture, where the tradition of wine-production dates back to the 17th Century. A staple stop on most tailor made and small group tours, no holiday to the Garden Route is complete without a couple of days spent sipping a glass or two of uniquely South African Pinotage, in one of the world’s leading wine regions.
Traditionally an industry dominated by white Afrikaners, South Africa’s wineries are, like most of the country, making moves to release the grip of Apartheid. Don’t miss visits to some of the first Black-owned vineyards clustered around Stellenbosch, after a wander through its pretty oak lined streets. Alternatively, jump on the hop-on hop-off wine tram through the Franschhoek Valley, let a local guide take you on a tour of some of South Africa’s best wineries or take to the roads and self drive for ultimate independence.
One of South Africa’s oldest colonial settlements, Stellenbosch sits pretty with oak lined streets lined with whitewashed Cape Dutch architecture against the spectacular backdrop of the Hottentots Holland Mountains. Guided tours of the town are available, which delve deeper into its colonial history, or you can simply soak up the ambience and views at one of the town’s plethora of cafes, restaurants and bars – for most the use of local produce is a point of pride. If you fancy a hike to walk off the wine, then the nearby Jonkershoek Nature Reserve will be happy to oblige. Here, scenic easy walks through indigenous forest and colourful Cape fynbos unveil spectacular mountain views.
FranschhoekHop aboard the hop-on hop-off vintage tram (or bus and tram) through the Franschhoek Valley for the perfect combination of guided and independent adventure. You’ll have the freedom to choose which estates you disembark at – it could be for a wine tasting, a cellar lunch or just a wander round the vineyards – before jumping back on the next tram to continue your journey. On board, a guide will give you the lowdown on the 300-year history of wine making in the valley, and its cultural significance in South Africa. All the while you’ll be enjoying some of the Western Cape’s most dramatic scenery, where lines of vines stretch towards towering mountains.
Many of the vineyards in this region open their tours for tastings – often with restaurants and guided tours available. Small group holidays may see you booked in for a private look-around and lunch, although some may simply give you some free time in the region. On self drive tours you’ll have the freedom to simply pick and choose which wineries you visit, what you taste and where you stop for a bite to eat. Your South Africa specialist, as well as your local Winelands accommodation, will be able to give you advice on which vineyards to check out. For a taste of the future of South African wine, don’t miss the burgeoning number of Black-owned vineyards blossoming in Stellenbosch.
Local produceThe Winelands may, unsurprisingly, be best known for their wine, but this verdant, fertile region of the Cape also produces an abundance of fruit, vegetables and cheeses on a selection of old Cape Dutch farms. Some wine estates will offer cheese or chocolate tastings alongside their own tipples, while Stellenbosch hosts a variety of markets showcasing local goodies, both fresh produce and homemade savoury and sweet treats. The weekend Root44 market just outside Stellenbosch is one of the best, with live music and a family friendly vibe making this a weekly festival of fruit, veg and food stalls, alongside drinks and handicrafts. Alternatively head to the Stellenbosch organic farmer’s market on a Saturday for all things organic.
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If you’re self driving, getting to the Winelands is a doddle. It’s only an hour to 90 minutes from central Cape Town, along well maintained roads. Alternatively, a tailor made specialist can arrange a transfer for you, and a small group tour will include your transport out of Cape Town.
Once in the region you may have a few tastings or tours already booked for you, or you may simply be given some advice and suggestions and some free time to explore at your leisure. Usually you’ll spend one to two days in the Winelands before heading off – perhaps into Cape Town, to Oudsthoorn in the Little Karoo (four hours away across the spectacular Swartberg Pass) or to Hermanus for some whale watching after your wine. Some tailor made holidays include accommodation on a wine estate, where the emphasis is on organic, homemade food and local wines, or in a hotel with outdoor pools and a spa.
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