The fertile green valleys of the Cape Winelands are surrounded by proud mountain ranges. Towns and villages have many historic homesteads and monuments, and every so often fruit orchards are to be seen, whose produce may be found in all corners of the world. It is the Mediterranean climate and winter rainfall of the south-western Cape that produces some of the best wines in the country.
The rich, fertile soil of the Breede River valley and especially the areas of Somerset West, Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, have become world famous for their whites, reds, sherries, ports and brandies.
The French corner of the Cape, Franschhoek lies in one of the most beautiful wine valleys in the world, just 45 minutes from Cape Town. This traditionally French town is the food and wine capital of the country and one would be hard pressed to dispute this claim. Eight of the top 100 restaurants in the country are found in Franschhoek, there are nigh on 30 wine cellars and over 28 restaurants from which to choose for your gastronomic experience. The Franschhoek Valley has recently launched a Cap Classique route that includes nine cellars, all within a distance of 4km, in a combined marketing initiative. The sparkling wine tour includes teaching visitors about the methods of making Cap Classique in a unique attempt to add value to wine consumption.
A mere hour’s drive from Cape Town brings one to a giant granite outcrop with three rounded domes, the prominent one of which was initially called Peerlemountain or Pearl Mountain by Abraham Gabemma. Abraham stumbled on the rock in 1657 en route to find meat for the Cape of Good Hope settlement. This solid rock was to become the name of a town, which today is renowned for its very beautiful countryside, excellent wines and some incredible architecture.
The town of Paarl has a unique character, not least because vineyards still grow in between residential neighbourhoods maintaining a country feel to a town virtually the size of a small city, but also because it is here that the struggle to gain recognition for Afrikaans as a written language was achieved. Today the Afrikaans Language Museum bears testament to this accomplishment and there is a monument to this unique language on the slopes of Paarl Mountain.
The beautiful little town of Stellenbosch, roughly an hour from Cape Town, lies surrounded by the Stellenbosch Mountains in the Jonkershoek River Valley in one of the most picturesque settings in the Cape. The second oldest town in South Africa has fondly been called ‘Eikestad’ or city of oaks and its streets are lined with some of the most beautiful surviving examples of Cape Dutch, Georgian and Victorian architecture in the Cape. Dorp Street is a national monument and taking the time to walk around this cosy old part of Stellenbosch, with its secluded lanes, water furrows, cosmopolitan restaurants and coffee bistros, with superb views of mountain, vineyards and orchards, is an idyllic morning venture.
Wellington lies on the banks of the River Kromme at the foot of the Groenberg Mountain in a glorious valley just 45 minutes drive from Cape Town. To the east are the majestic Hawequa Mountains and together these quiet monoliths watch over a valley that is quite literally home of the vines – almost 90% of the country’s vines are grown in vine-cutting nurseries (stokkieskwekerye) before they are transported elsewhere for planting.
Wellington once served as the last outpost of civilisation in the Cape before entering unfamiliar territory and was known as Limiet Vallei (frontier valley) and Val du Charron or Wagenmakersvallei (valley of the wagon maker) as it was here that wagons could receive attention before the start of a long and difficult journey.
Cape Winelands accommodation we recommend:
Franschhoek: Le Franschhoek Hotel & Spa, Klein Genot, The Franschhoek, Le Quartier Francais
Paarl: Grande Roche, Roggeland Country House, Palmiet Valley Estate
Stellenbosch: Delaire Graaff Estate, Summerwood, 22 Die Laan
Wellington: Grande Dedale, Diemersfontein