The stunningly beautiful Cape Winelands region consists of 5 main wine-producing areas; Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschhoek, Wellington and Helderberg. These fertile valleys were recognised by Dutch and French Huguenots as far back as the 1680s as ideal for wine making, and they applied their vast knowledge of viticulture and vinification to create what is today one of South Africa’s largest industries.
Due to oversupply and the establishment of cooperatives in the early 1900s the local wine industry suffered, however, following the launch of South Africa’s Pinotage varietal in 1961, the making of quality wines has improved to a point where Cape Winelands products are now sold and enjoyed around the world.
But the Cape Winelands area is not only about the nectar of the Gods, this region is renowned for its natural beauty and a magnet for outdoor leisure seekers. Visitors and residents frequent the open air markets, dine at the sprawling and modern wine farms and swim, hike and cycle amongst the mountains and valleys that make up the Cape Winelands.
Top 10 reasons to visit the Cape Winelands
1. A Wine tasting tour should top your list. Begin by travelling the wine route where it all started in 1971, via the Spier, Delheim and Simonsig wine estates and the many others in between. Several estates offer unique food pairings with their range of wines.
2. Take a trip along the scenic Helshoogte pass from Stellenbosch to Franschhoek. Stop at the berry farm on the ridge to sample their farm fresh produce then visit the Pniël Moravian mission station before entering Franschhoek.
3. While in Franschhoek, take the wine tram to enjoy wine tasting and a superb lunch at one of the wine estates. Spend time walking through the pretty town to reach the interesting Huguenot memorial.
4. Join a tour on the Paarl historic walk that takes the visitor through the town’s streets lined with magnificent Cape-Dutch homes and churches. Hike up to Paarl Rock, a huge round granite structure that overlooks the town.
5. Stock up on dried fruit from the Wellington factory shop before travelling through the majestic Bain’s Kloof to reach the Tweede Tol resort. Find a shady spot under the trees to enjoy a picnic and a refreshing swim in the cool White River waters.
6. Saturday is Market Day, depending on where you are, you can visit the popular Slow Market or Root 44 Farmer’s Market in Stellenbosch, the Lazy Days Market in Paarl, the Franschhoek Village Market or the Lourensford Market in Somerset West.
7. A popular wine estate worth visiting is the Spice Route Destination where individual biltong (dried meat), chocolate, craft beer, wine and grappa tastings are on offer. Also on the farm is a glass blowing factory, an art gallery and two restaurants.
8. The proprietors of the Fairy Glen Private Game Reserve will collect you and supply a hearty breakfast before taking you on a 2-3 hour game drive. The reserve has the Big 5 – lion, rhino, leopard, elephant and buffalo – along with several other mammals. Lunch is offered followed by a relaxing afternoon around the pool and a return trip to your residence.
9. The Drakenstein Prison is where Nelson Mandela spent the last few years of confinement prior to his release in 1990. Ask your host to phone in advance for a viewing of the house he occupied while there. The large statue of a smiling Mandela outside the prison is a popular photo stop.
10. The renowned Cape Epic mountain bike stage race has been running for 12 years through the Cape Winelands (the routes change every year), be there to participate or to watch and possibly catch a glimpse of a famous personality. Ex-Formula 1 driver Alain Prost OBE is a regular participant.
Depending on where you are situated, the nearest airport is Cape Town International Airport, between 35km and 75km away. Car rental agencies are located in all major towns and at the airport or order a rental online and collect at a convenient location. Shuttle service companies, tour operators and metered taxis offer drives through the winelands but a rental is the most practical option.
Did you know?
As per an agreement with the EU, South African wine and spirits exporters must label their port products as Cape Pink, Tawny, Ruby, Red or Vintage and their champagnes as Méthode Cap Classique. The grappa and ouzo names may not be used either.
According to the International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) 2015 stats, South Africa was the ninth largest wine producer worldwide, producing a quarter of what the top countries, Italy and France, put out.