Blessed with a Mediterranean climate, this area is simply great for growing grapes. Vast vineyards stretch for miles between mountains, yielding incredibly high numbers of black, red, and white varieties for wines, ports, brandies, sherries.
The Cape Winelands begin just half an hour’s drive from Cape Town and stretch up past Robertson into the Overberg. It is an area where you can relax and soak up the atmosphere. You can even combine an interest in wine with a penchant for cheese or chocolate! Local operators are well able to set you up on this very exclusive experience.
Our favourite part of the Winelands is the area closest to Cape Town, around the towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek. The Winelands are also fabulous for foodies, with towns such as Franschhoek and Stellenbosch providing plenty of first-rate restaurants for you to visit during your stay. In fact, Franschhoek, ‘French corner’, is considered South Africa’s culinary capital! Whether your tastebuds are tantalised by Dutch, French, Italian, Greek, or superb South African cuisine, we guarantee you will find something to suit you here.
Franschhoek is a little gem of a town, one of the smallest in the region and located at the end of a verdant valley. As well as its world-class restaurants, it boasts a selection of cafés – and various art galleries too. For example, Galleria Gibello showcases the excellent wildlife photography of Caroline Gibello, while the Holden Manz Collection is host to an inspiring portfolio of contemporary African art. Up-and-coming artists are also represented, in new gallery Art in the Yard, which has lovely views over Franschhoek to add to your art experience! There is also a museum, the Huguenot Memorial, which presents the town’s past in a very engaging manner. Franschhoek also has a good range of boutique-style shops, perfect for purchasing souvenirs.
About 40 kilometres to the west of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch has ample attractions too. Founded in 1679 by Dutch governor Simon van der Stel, it is the second-oldest settlement in South Africa, after the Mother City. If you are interested in architecture, you will love simply wandering the streets and marvelling at all manner of buildings from the Cape Dutch, Georgian, and Victorian periods! One whole street – Dorp Street – is a national monument and a glorious sight to behold. The town also has a good range of museums, with exhibits from olde-worlde artefacts to modern art, from weaponry to toys and miniatures. Art galleries include the Sasol, with its intriguing anthropology section, and the De Loude Libertas, which features a new exhibition every month. Like Franschhoek, Stellenbosch has some charming cafés and shops. In their different ways, both towns are pretty special!
Days in the Winelands can also be spent hiking or biking up, down, and around the majestic mountains. Large areas of the region are nature reserves, full of all sorts of trails. Whether you fancy a brief stroll or a full-on three-day excursion, there is something for every level of fitness here. Cycling is a popular activity too, with operators offering mountain bikes for hire and an exhilarating range of tours. By hike or by bike, it is wonderful to ascend the mountains of the Cape and look down over all those rows of vines, shimmering in the Mediterranean haze!
Winelands golf is an awesome experience too. The region’s De Zalze Winelands Golf Estate consists of 300 hectares! Here you can start with a hearty breakfast and perhaps relax in the club lounge before stepping out onto the green. Designed by Peter Matkovich, the course has 18 holes spread over a beautiful landscape that is not without a few challenges – for example, the oak-lined Blaauwklippen River, which winds its way around the estate! It is possible to visit the Winelands from Cape Town, but we include a couple of nights in the Winelands themselves wherever possible. Franschhoek is our destination of choice, the most attractive of the area’s towns and home to the best restaurants.
Where to stay
The Last Word is the entrance-level hotel that we recommend. Located on the main street of Franschhoek, this little property has a charm and character that is hard to beat. Step up a level and the nearby Le Quartier Français is exceptionally good, while La Residence is truly the most luxurious, and probably the most memorable, hotel in the region.
In peak season, it is hugely important to book the best restaurants in advance. It is not uncommon to find all the best places booked when you travel.