If planning travel to South Africa some of the first things you might mention to your travel professional are that you wish to explore Cape Town and book a safari. There is something else worth your consideration especially if you love wine and good food – touring the Winelands.
The Winelands are a defined region and a named district in the Western Cape province of the country and well worth a day trip (and longer if possible) from Cape Town. Back when South Africa was first being settled a few hundred years ago by emigrants from Europe, principally the countries known today as the Netherlands, Germany and France, it was soon recognized by these early settlers that the land was perfect for vineyards such as those they had left behind. Today this district contains over 550 wineries catering to four and a half thousand vineyards of various sizes scattered over four different regions: Breeds River Valley, Coastal, Olifants River, and the Little Karoo. This is perhaps one, if not the best, wine-producing area of the world.
Your Tour Options
Whether you have booked a tour, hired a private car, or decided to bike or hike you are in for a treat. The scenery is stunning with views of vineyards, fields of blooming lavender (dependent on your time of visit), far-off mountain profiles, and sweeps of grasslands and skies. An excellent option is a Franschhoek tram ride which operates on several routes on a hop-on-hop-off basis – perfect for wine tasting en route, an option at most wineries. Be sure to include the quaint towns of Franschhoek itself and Stellenbosch (second oldest settlement in South Africa) on your Wineland travels. Stroll streets lined with restaurants, sidewalk cafes, art galleries and shops. The town of Franschhoek and surrounds were settled by French Huguenots and is strongly reminiscent of Provence even down to the names of the local wineries.
The Wine Routes
For ease of touring, there are five different wine “routes”. The Franschhoek (French Corner) Route is only about an hour from Cape Town. The most efficient way to travel is the aforementioned tram. Here you will see the French influence in names, festivals, cuisine, and hopefully taste the Cap Classique, a French-inspired champagne. This is purportedly the most beautiful part of South Africa.
The Stellenbosch route boasts at least 148 wine farms, Cape Dutch houses, beautiful gardens and fine hospitality in its accommodations and eateries. The Helderberg route is suitable for a day trip from Cape Town. It is cooler, set as it is near the mountains and sea. Here you will delight in the superb white wines. The Durbanville route is closest to the city centre with a baker’s dozen of wine farms and also those producing craft beers, a popular addition to a tour.
Also close to Cape Town is the Constantia route. Grapes have been grown here and produced into fine whites and reds since the mid-seventeenth century. You will find the oldest wineries in South Africa along this route. Vineyards climb the slopes of the Constantiaberg mountains and the grapes are cooled by the winds from the nearby False Bay.
Best Time to Go
When should you visit to get the most out of the Winelands? As with any wine-themed travel, autumn is the best because that is harvest -time. (Remember autumn in South Africa is the Northern hemisphere’s spring.) It is still warm but fresh. Escape our harsh winter for their summer, another optimum time. Avoid June through September as it can be cool (actually cold at night) and wet.
Here are a few other sights to see in the Winelands:
- Huguenot Memorial Monument is a tribute to the French and Belgian Huguenots who fled religious persecution to settle in the area around Franschhoek.
- Jonkershoek Nature Reserve is a great area to bike or hike with stunning mountain scenery, waterfall, and wildlife.
- Rupert Museum is a great showcase of African art and more in Stellenbosch.
- Jan Marais Nature Reserve is a small protected area near Stellenbosch and is suitable for hikes, biking, picnics, etc. Offers gorgeous views of the mountains, indigenous trees, and bird-watching.
Be sure to ask your travel expert to include a tour of the Winelands on your visit to South Africa.