One of the most popular South African experiences is wine tasting in the Cape Winelands. The most popular winemaking towns are Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl, and the beauty of how the wine farms are situated is that it’s easy to visit a number of different regions all in one day with most scheduled wine land day tours including a taste of all three. Some of the lesser-known wine farms are found in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley and along the famous Route 62 which is easily one of South Africa’s most beautiful and scenic drives and the world’s longest wine route.
In the early days of the Cape Colony, the Cape Winelands was known as the “The Boland”. In the Afrikaans language, Boland means “the land above” (as opposed to the lower coastal areas of the original Dutch settlement. This sandstone mountainous region boasts valley after valley of fertile wine farms home to some of South Africa’s finest and most established vineyards in some cases over 300 years of wine-producing.
The closest wine tasting to Cape Town is Constantia an exclusive suburb just 25 minute- drive from Cape Town centre and close to the magnificent Kirstenbosch Gardens which are well worth a visit. Its home to sprawling elegant luxury homes that usually come complete with a tennis court and swimming pool, and set amongst established vineyards. This wine producing area was first cultivated in 1685, making the Constantia Wine Valley the Cape’s most historic wine-producing region. The wines of the Constantia Vineyards are largely happy in cool climate offerings thanks to the Mediterranean climate with hot, dry summers and hot and cool, damp winters. Expect sauvignon blancs, juicy reds and the famous Constantia dessert wine.
Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia, are the grand dames of Constantia wine estates featuring classic Cape Dutch architecture and pairing fine wines with gourmet food and heritage. Other firm favourites include Eagles Nest, Beau Constantia which also features the trendy Chefs Warehouse restaurant – one of our favourites! Also popular are Silvermist, Constantia Uitsitg and on the cusp of Constantia and Tokai you will find Steenberg Farm and Vineyards.
Boasting nearly 200 wine and grape producers, Stellenbosch is the second oldest settlement in South Africa after Cape Town itself. It was also the first region to establish a formal route among the wineries. Many of these farms have daily wine tours and tastings and restaurants that feature staggering views over classic vineyard and mountainous views. If you prefer something more casual you can book a picnic basket and sprawl out on expansive manicured gardens and lawns with gracious Cape Dutch manor houses steeped in history as the backdrop to your day.
Stellenbosch itself is also well worth exploring. A lively town thanks to Stellenbosch University and its fun-loving students who frequent the many bars and pavement cafes set under the shade of three hundred year old oak trees. Dorp Street is the historic heart of the town with a gracious display of Old Cape Dutch and Victorian architecture and some lovely shops all easily accessible on foot. Stellenbosch also has a wide range of hotels, boutique guest houses and fine-dining restaurants.
The tiny but beautiful town of Franschhoek is set in one of the prettiest Cape Wineland areas with mountains and valleys literally all around the town. Home to some very discerning luxury hotels and boutique guest houses as well as elegant wine farms and an outstanding selection of restaurants this region is best explored with at least 2 days. The Franschhoek Wine route features some of the best wine estates in the country and due to the French Huguenot heritage, you can expect a French influence in the wines and food. The main street in the town features some lovely boutique shops, street cafes and bistro’s as well as a great selection of art galleries.
Well respected as the gourmet capital of South Africa, Franschhoek is a mecca for all foodies and is a must-do on a food and wine holiday with some outstanding top awarded restaurants where the pairings all feature wines from the region.
The great thing about South Africa is it’s a vast county with lots of off the beaten track offerings. The Hemel-en-Aarde Valley is one of our favourite experiences and offers some lesser-known wine offerings. The proximity of the ocean in the Heme-en-Aarde Valley provides ideal cultivation conditions for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varieties. This is a very relaxed and casual wine route offering good value but never the less award-winning wines and decent food offerings away from the trendy established wine regions of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.
Another bonus of this valley is it’s easy to combine with some of the best land and boast based whale-watching in the nearby whale-watching town of Hermanus between July to November which is whale season. We highly recommend a whale watching food and wine holiday – what a unique combination of experiences and just one of the reasons why South Africa is so unique!
There are also some alternative wine estates to sample along the famed Route 62. Here the Robertson Valley is a firm favourite on our wish list and is home to a number of fine wine estates with some established brands such as Graham Beck and Bon Courage. Route 62 offers amazing scenery with rolling mountains as quirky little farm stall stops before you get to the Karoo which is the start of the semi-desert region home to relaxed little farming communities and flat wide-open spaces that feature incredible star gazing at night. For those wanting to do a self-drive holiday up the beautiful Garden Route, these are all great inclusions.