South Africa: celebrating the beauty of the cape
South Africa’s long tradition of winemaking dates back to the 16th-century, and an exploration of the great historic estates of Stellenbosch and Constantia are a big part of the appeal of any visit. But with fine wine also being made along the coast and further inland, often by exciting new-wave producers, and with some of the world’s finest hotels and restaurants, there’s never been a better time to explore the Cape’s beautiful winelands.
Few visitors come away from South Africa’s winelands without being wowed by their sheer natural beauty. The famously graceful Cape Dutch architecture and immaculately tended gardens of the farmsteads; the color-bursts of wild flowers and fynbos; and the spectacular mountain backdrop. This would be enough in itself to provide a memorable experience. But factor in some genuinely world-beating restaurants (including several winners in WFW’s World’s Best Wine Lists Awards), many stylish and luxurious hotels and guesthouses, an excellent road infrastructure, and a currency exchange rate that favors most international visitors, and you have one of the wine world’s most attractive destinations.
South Africa’s winelands are actually quite small, comprising little more than 100,000ha (247,000 acres) of vines. Yet these are divided into more than 100 official appellations which, believe it or not, isn’t bureaucracy gone mad: the slopes, aspects, and altitudes of the different mountain ranges really do result in a huge variety of mesoclimates, with soils varying even within a single vineyard.
To simplify this diversity for wine tourists, there are now 18 official wine routes, all within relatively close proximity to the so-called “Mother City”—Cape Town—and to one another, making it easy to dip in and out, plotting a trip according to your personal interests, whether these include art, nature, adventure activities, or simply relaxing in the sun.
Cape Town’s “own” spectacular vineyard is Groot Constantia (www.constantiawineroute.com), considered one of the city’s “Big Six” “must-dos” along with Robben Island, Table Mountain, the V&A Waterfront, Kirstenbosch, and Cape Point. The cradle of the country’s wine industry, Constantia dates back to 1685 when Commander Simon van der Stel’s vast estate covered virtually the entire valley. Although Constantia has been subdivided countless times over the centuries, the original farmstead still exists as a museum at Groot Constantia.
Revived in recent times, most notably by Klein Constantia with its Vin de Constance (www.kleinconstantia.com), the sweet wines of Constantia were legendary during the 18th and 19thcenturies. Today, dry and sparkling wines feature prominently, too, and City Sightseeing's “Wine Tour” (www.citysightseeing. co.za) offers a good introduction, stopping at Beau Constantia (first choice for lunch) and Eagles’ Nest, as well as at Groot Constantia. Every February, all of the producers come together at Buitenverwachting to host the “Constantia Fresh” festival.
Also on Cape Town’s doorstep, happily, is Durbanville (www. durbanvillewine.co.za) with picture-postcard views across Table Bay to Table Mountain. Its 12 producers have made a name for themselves with Sauvignon Blanc, hosting a “Season of Sauvignon” festival every October (which also offers beer-and-biltong pairings), declared open with the firing of the cannon at Signal Gun. “The Feast of The Grape” takes place toward the end of harvest every February, complete with grape-stomping and tutored tastings.
Established in 1971, Stellenbosch is South Africa’s “original” wine route, now unilaterally promoting five sub-regions (www. wineroute.co.za). Representing some 200 wine producers, with a pretty, tourist-friendly university town at its heart, it lays claim to some 70 percent of the awards won by South African wines in local and international competitions each year. The three-day Stellenbosch Wine Festival takes place every February, showcasing hundreds of wines while offering activities that include a golf challenge and mountain-bike race.
The drive from Stellenbosch to Franschhoek via the Helshoogte Pass is spectacular (www.franschhoek.org.za). This is where many French Huguenots settled in the late 1600s; there’s a monument and museum in their honor, and Bastille Day (July 14) is celebrated annually. Boasting several of the country’s top restaurants,
Franschhoek also hosts an annual literary festival in May, not to mention the “Magic of Bubbles” Cap Classique and Champagne Festival in early December, with a hop-on/hop-off wine tram to take you from one farm to the next (www.winetram.co.za). Franschhoek is a jewel in the crown of the greater Paarl district (www.paarlonline.com), which offers everything from true country hospitality to a crocodile farm. Paarl also happens to be one of the first stops along Route 62 (www.route62.co.za), recently included in CNN’s list of “The World’s Top 10 Road Trips.” Meandering 460 miles (750km) from Cape Town along the Garden Route (including the “new” vineyards of Plettenberg Bay) to Port Elizabeth, it’s the longest wine route in the world: “Over 65 wineries along the way will have you wishing you were a passenger rather than the driver,” said CNN’s Jade Bremner and Peter Shadbolt.
Route 62 takes in wine towns including Wellington, Tulbagh, Worcester, and Calitzdorp (the latter in the Little Karoo, most famous for fortified wines), but must-visit subroutes are the Breedekloof (www.breedekloof.com), with 18 wineries against an almost alpine backdrop (visit in July for snow-capped peaks and a sweet-wine and soup festival); and Robertson (www.robertsonwinevalley.com), which attracts 14,000 visitors to the “Wacky Wine Weekend” every June, when 50 wineries offer 250 “fun side of wine” activities. The success of this, South Africa’s largest wine-tourism event, has inspired the launch of three additional events: “Robertson Slow” in August, “Wine on the River” in October, and “Hands-On Harvest” in March.
Should you prefer a coastal wine holiday, leave the N2 highway near Somerset West (home to the likes of Vergelegen, Morgenster, and Waterkloof), and take breath-taking Clarence Drive to Hermanus, the seaside village offering the best land-based whale watching in the world (between July and November) and also the gateway to the Hemel-en-Aarde wine wards, which specialize in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (www. hermanuswineroute.com). At the beginning of this route, Whalehaven offers an innovative wine-and-perfume pairing; at the end, Creation specializes in gourmet food-and-wine matching, with Hermanus Wine Hoppers available to take you to all 10 wineries (www.hermanuswinehoppers.co.za).
From Hermanus, via Stanford—the country’s “newest” wine route (www.stanfordinfo.co.za)—you’re within easy reach of “shark-diving capital” Gansbaai, as well as Elim and Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa, which is famous for shipwrecks but also, latterly, for its mineral Sauvignon Blanc and peppery Syrah, with a wine festival taking place every November (www.elimwines.co.za).
Looping back inland to Cape Town, it’s well worth visiting the unspoiled, back-to-basics Bot River “where real people make real wine” (www.botriverwines.co.za), as well as Elgin (www.winesofelgin.co.za). Both fall along the Green Mountain Eco Route, the world’s first biodiversity wine route, situated in a biosphere reserve boasting more plant species than the Amazon rainforest (www.greenmountaintrail.co.za). Explore it by mountain-biking, hiking, quad-biking, horse riding, or 4x4-ing between the wine farms in this cool, upland, almost continental wine ward, which is even suitable for aromatic Riesling and Gewürztraminer, with the Elgin Cool Wine and Country Food Festival celebrating the end of harvest every April.
While very hospitable—from its tiny B&Bs, to its well-appointed guesthouses—the Swartland remains less “touristy” than other wine areas, which is precisely why some travelers might prefer it. Home to South Africa’s first “cult” winemaker, Eben Sadie, and Wine Enthusiast magazine’s “Winemaker of the Year 2016”, Andrea Mullineux, the focus is very much on a more natural, minimal-intervention approach in this “Mediterranean of the South,” with its fruit orchards, vineyards, and olive groves (www.swartlandwineandolives.co.za).
Stellenbosch, South Africa
TOKARA Wine and Olive Estate is situated in a magnificent setting near the historic town of Stellenb...
Franschhoek, South Africa
Luxuriously at one with nature
High-end, boutique accommodation, world-clas...
Franschhoek, South Africa
A modern Cape legend in beautiful Franschhoek
The vineyards of Boekenhoutsk...
Near Constantia, this is one of South Africa’s oldest wine farms (established in 1682) and boasts two restaurants—fine dining Catharina’s and the less-formal Bistro Sixteen82—as well as a golf course, spa, and boutique hotel with luxurious furnishings, modern amenities, and beautiful art.
Steenberg Road, Constantia Valley, 7945 | +27 2 17 13 22 22 | www.steenbergfarm.com
L’Avenir Country Lodge
As well as being a working winery a mere 3 miles (5km) from Stellenbosch, the comfortable lodge accommodation is surrounded by vineyards at the base of the Simonsberg mountains, and offers a complimentary wine tasting and cellar tour.
Klapmuts Road, Stellenbosch, 7599 | +27 2 18 89 50 01 | www.lavenirestate.co.za
Known as “the cellar in the sky,” Waterkloof has a fine-dining restaurant where Nadia Barnard’s biodynamic wines are matched with chef Greg Czarnecki’s contemporary dishes. Housed in a glass promontory, the restaurant has sweeping views of False Bay.
Sir Lowry's Pass Road, Somerset West, 7129 | +27 2 18 58 12 92 | www.waterkloofwines.co.za
Based in Stellenbosch, this was one of the first wine farms to have a signature chef, George Jardine; or there’s The Bakery for more relaxed dining. Both boast beautiful views, as do the individually decorated Luxury Suites.
Stellenbosch Kloof Road, Vlottenberg, Stellenbosch, 7604 | +27 2 18 81 30 48 | www.jordanwines.com
This small, boutique, five-star hotel is surrounded by its own vineyards and is ideally situated just five minutes’ drive from South Africa’s foodie capital Franschhoek’s main strip, home to many of South Africa’s best restaurants, such as Le Coin Francais, Foliage, and La Petite Colombe. The open bar is the perfect setting to watch the sunset over the Middagkrans Mountains.
Middagkrans Road, Franschhoek, 7690 | +27 2 18 76 47 90 | www.laprovidence.co.za
Here, near Paarl, biodynamically produced premium wines are best enjoyed at chef Eric Bulpitt’s sustainability-driven restaurant, Faber, focused on supporting organic, free-range and low-carbon producers. A sensational blend of nature’s goodness, crafted with deep human creativity and care.
Klein Drakenstein, Lustigan Road, Paarl, 7624 | +27 2 18 63 19 76 | www.avondalewine.co.za
Acclaimed Swartland wine growers Chris and Andrea Mullineux, of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, now have a Franschhoek showcase at an exclusive five-star boutique hotel, winery, and wellness spa—the only South African property in Condé Nast Traveler's “Hot List 2017.”
Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek, 7690 | +27 2 14 92 22 22 | www.leeucollection.com
Grand Dédale Country House
At Grand Dédale Country House, an elegantly restored homestead on this estate in Wellington, five-star accommodation is offered in six bespoke suites. The resident chef specializes in imaginative Cape-style dishes, highlights being the “Cap Classique” breakfast and a four-course table d’hôte menu.
Bovlei Road, Wellington, 7654 | +27 2 18 73 40 89 | www.granddedale.com
For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.
Situated in Constantia, Cape Town, this remains a favorite with tourists (over 400,000 visit annually). A single “Visitor’s Route” ticket allows admission to the museum, historic Cloete Cellar, a self-guided cellar tour, and a tasting. Two restaurants (Simon’s and Jonkershuis) complete the package.
Groot Constantia Road, Constantia, Cape Town, 7806 | +27 2 17 94 51 28 | www.grootconstantia.co.za
Somerset West winery boasting rich arts and culture offerings, historic buildings, meticulously maintained gardens, two restaurants (fine-dining Camphors and the laid-back Stables), and award-winning wines grown on 21 soil types at altitudes of 460–980ft (140–300m) above sea level.
Somerset West | +27 2 18 47 21 00 | www.vergelegen.co.za
Ken Forrester Vineyards
One of the great names of modern South African wine, and with a particular talent for Chenin Blanc, Ken Forrester also has a justified reputation for hospitality at his Stellenbosch estate, with a guesthouse and excellent food at his 96 Winery Road restaurant.
Scholtzenhof Farm, 96 Winery Road, Stellenbosch, 7599 | +27 2 18 55 23 74 | www.kenforresterwines.com
This Stellenbosch winery pioneered wine-and-chocolate pairings and now also offers a “Wine Drive Safari”—a game drive-style tour of the biodiverse estate followed by a tasting in the vineyards.
Upper Blaauwklippen Road, Helderberg Rural, 7600 | +27 2 18 80 53 00 | www.waterfordestate.co.za
This Paarl producer promises “a sensory journey of discovery for the modern-day explorer”— from its wines, brewery, and distillery, to the chocolatier, glassblowing studio, art gallery, trading store, deli, bistro, restaurant, and children’s play area.
Suid Agter Paarl Road, Suider Paarl | +27 2 18 63 52 00 | www.spiceroute.co.za
At its Museum van de Caab in Franschhoek, this enterprising producer gives a voice to the indigenous people who have lived there since the Stone Age, while edible plants used by the Cape’s first residents, the Khoe-Sān, are used at Fyndraai Restaurant.
Delta Road, Groot Drakenstein, Franschhoek, 7680 | +27 2 18 74 39 37 | www.solms-delta.co.za
At this increasingly organic Franschhoek producer, the restaurant specializes in traditional Cape dishes “with a twist.” There’s also a Sculpture Walk, a Historic Walk, and a Sustainable Hike through wildflower meadows; not to mention a permanent display of art by Jacob Hendrik Pierneef.
R45 Main Road, Franschhoek Valley | +27 2 18 76 80 00 | www.la-motte.com
One of South Africa’s finest, pioneering producers of cool-climate wines (notably Pinot Noir), Bouchard Finlayson welcomes visitors to a gorgeous setting just an hour-and-a-half from Cape Town.
R320, Hermanus, 7200 | +27 2 83 12 35 15 | www.bouchardfinlayson.co.za
Beaumont Family Wines
This Bot River producer has the region’s oldest wine cellar (specializing in Chenin) and a 200-year-old watermill still grinding flour. For authentic Overberg hospitality, stay in a quaint self-catering cottage—preferably during the “Annual Port Stomp” or “Field to Loaf Day”.
Main Road, Bot River, 7185 | +27 2 82 84 91 94 | www.beaumont.co.za
Vergenoegd Löw Wine Estate
A Stellenbosch winery offering various blending experiences (wine, tea, coffee, and olive oil), gourmet picnics, great children’s entertainment, and a twice-daily parade of ducks as they head to and from pest-control duty.
Baden Powell Drive, Faure, Stellenbosch, 7131 | +27 2 18 43 32 48 | www.vergenoegd.co.za