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By Will 17 June 2019

The Winelands… It’s All in the Name – or Is It?

Although YZ expert Will is predominantly a beer-drinker, he travelled to South Africa’s famous Winelands to see what there is to do in Franschhoek if you don’t drink wine.

I must confess, when I was told that I would be visiting the Winelands of South Africa as part of my Yellow Zebra familiarisation trip this year, I couldn’t help but feel sceptical. My perception of this part of the Western Cape – the lush, temperate valleys around the towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Paarl – was of a stomping ground for South African wine aficionados, foodies, and the cultural elite. As a person who has always preferred the grain to the grape, and who is much happier in a tent in the bush than in a swanky Cape Dutch manor house, I was concerned that I would be immediately exposed as an imposter. I imagined standing in a bustling bistro – surrounded by refined and sophisticated people cooing and gushing about the ‘bouquet’ and ‘rambunctious notes’ of this and that – and ordering a beer only to induce sharp mass-inhalation, disapproving tuts, and mutters of ‘philistine!

I was wrong – but not entirely. The connoisseurs of fine wine, dining, art, and culture are all there, but I was pleasantly surprised by how well my tastes were catered for too. By the time I arrived, the craft beer and botanical gin revolution was in full swing and the quaint but bustling village of Franschhoek had already become home to two craft microbreweries, with one more on the way.

Non-wine activities 1: enjoy the local botanical gins

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One evening I sat at the bar of my guesthouse, Avondrood, watching the local Stellenbosch University Rugby Team – the Maties – take on a regional rival in the Varsity Cup. The owner of the guesthouse was hosting at the bar, giving insightful dinner recommendations and pouring drinks for the residents. I listened to him recommend a bottle of botanical gin that had been filtered through elephant dung to a rapt audience of unbelieving tourists. Word spread fast, and before long he had offloaded almost the whole bottle of the amber liquid – I was witnessing a true salesman at work! I managed to abstain from the gin, but I was well looked after nonetheless with a large selection of Pilsners, Pale Ales, and Blondes from the exceptional Franschhoek Beer Co.

Non-wine activities 2: visit the Tuk Tuk Microbrewery

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The guesthouse manager suggested that I try the Tuk Tuk Microbrewery, a great spot for some casual dining where I could further sample the regional beers and catch the end of the game. Owned and operated by the Leeu Collection, Tuk Tuk Brew occupies pride of place on Huguenot Street, the main thoroughfare through the village. It’s sandwiched between two more of Leeu’s properties – Le Quartier Français and Leeu House.

Non-wine activities 3: take a look at the artworks within the estates in Franschhoek

The Leeu Collection is named after its owner, Indian entrepreneur Analjit Singh (‘Singh’ is a derivation of the Sanskrit word for lion, and ‘Leeu’ is its Afrikaans equivalent), whose experience of visiting the Winelands during the 2010 FIFA World Cup led him to establish the ever-growing collection of hotels and restaurants in Franschhoek.

These exquisite boutique hotels bring yet another element of culture into the mix in Franschhoek, by showcasing local artwork throughout. The interiors are bedecked with colourful African paintings and prints, bespoke furniture, and sculptures that spill out into the main street. So abundant is the offering from the Leeu Collection that it has extended into the buildings on the opposite side of the street, using these as a gallery to house Mr Singh’s expanding collection of local art.

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In the end I spent my time in the Gourmet Capital of South Africa mostly eating humble pie. My reverse snobbery had led me to have certain preconceptions of the region that were, thankfully, proven very wrong. After the hustle and bustle of the Mother City, I revelled in the provincial setting. The stunning mountain scenery criss-crossed with vineyards and fruit groves, the great food and beer that I was able to enjoy in a relaxed and informal setting, and the rich offerings of local African artwork were all I needed to dispel my fears. All in all, I found my short stay in the Winelands to be the most relaxing and enjoyable part of my whole trip – and if I can find things to do there, anyone can!

If you’d like to know more about Cape Town and the surrounding Winelands, please don’t hesitate to contact our South Africa experts here. Alternatively, take a look below at our favourite South Africa destinations and adventures for more inspiration: