Wine Lover's Guide to South Africa
Thanks to a unique climate—similar to the Mediterranean—the Western Cape is extremely fertile, making it prime real estate for expert vintners and farmers alike. South African wines are quickly becoming world-renowned, (especially the country's own varietal, Pinotage), and because wine and food belong together, the region is turning into a foodie destination as well. Replete with picturesque vineyards that extend as far as the eye can see, sunsets that beg you to linger awhile, and gracious accommodations ranging from quaint to luxurious, the Cape Winelands are not to be missed. Here's our guide to exploring the best of the region.
Sample Some of the Country’s Finest Wines in Stellenbosch
Stellenbosch is undoubtedly the heart of wine country and a great place to start your adventure, as many of the country's leading estates are located here. About 30 minutes east of Cape Town, you'll feel like you've stepped straight into the South of France; stroll down tree-lined streets and enjoy the gorgeous Cape Dutch architecture. Because Stellenbosch is the most popular region, it's often crowded, so be sure to book your tastings and tours in advance.
Vineyards to Visit: Kanonkop is renowned for serving up some of South Africa's finest reds, including an award-winning Pinotage. Tokara offers a wide variety of quality wines, sweeping views of the valley, and a fabulous art gallery. Waterford Estate is another excellent option.
Where to Stay: Delaire Graff Estate offers over-the-top luxury amidst picturesque perfection. Perched on Helshoogte Mountain Pass, this exclusive lodge offers some of the most spectacular views of the Stellenbosch Valley and Table Mountain. The guest houses offer impeccably chosen contemporary furnishings and every modern amenity you can imagine, from private infinity pools, to heated bathroom floors and high-tech toys. The property also boasts an incredible contemporary art collection featuring pieces handpicked by the owner. Unsurprisingly, there are excellent wine tastings and on-site dining at Indochine and Delaire Graff Restaurant.
Where to Eat: Jordan is a top-rated restaurant with stunning views of the valley.
Eat Your Heart Out in Franschhoek
Franschhoek is renowned as the culinary capital of the Cape Winelands with a laid-back, charming, free spirit. Located 45 miles east of Cape Town, Franschhoek was originally established by French Huguenot refugees, who helped found the South African wine industry. Unwind as you meander through the tiny town of Franschhoek, which features adorable shops, art galleries, and bakeries. Also check out the Franschhoek Motor Museum and its impressive collection of vintage vehicles.
Vineyards to Visit: La Petite Ferme offers a thrilling combination of great wine, stunning views, and gourmet cuisine—lunch here is a must. A cellar tour at Haute Cabrière with its quirky owner and local celebrity Achim Von Arnim is an unforgettable experience. Môreson is a magical estate featuring a babbling brook, an orchid greenhouse, and a wishing fountain. For something a little different, the Franschhoek Wine Tram is a hop-on, hop-off tour that offers a nice way to see several vineyards in one day without having to hire a driver.
Where to Stay: The most opulent hotel in Franschhoek (and, it has been argued, in the world) is La Residence. Each suite is uniquely themed and decorated with ornate antiques, eclectic treasures, and artwork the hotel's owner has collected from around the world. The extravagant grounds feature an infinity pool, panoramic views of the mountains and vineyards, a magnificent lobby, and even a couple of roaming ponies. Don't be surprised if you find yourself rubbing elbows with a celebrity or two who often frequent this gem.
Where to Eat: The Tasting Room, located at Le Quartier Francais, is ranked among the best fine-dining establishments in the world. While elegant, it's extremely casual, and gregarious staffers make diners feel right at home. The restaurant serves a tasting menu for dinner that you can pair with some of the region's best wines. Prepare for plenty of surprises from Grande Chef Margot Janse, both in the originality of the food as well as its presentation. Bread & Wine restaurant is located at Môreson wine estate and is the perfect spot for a lovely lunch.
Relax and Unwind in Paarl
Paarl is renowned for its unique charm and tranquility. When not sampling the region's best wine, check out the award-winning golf courses and several great hiking and biking trails.
Vineyard to Visit: Paarl is home to KWV Cellars, one of the largest in the world. Its Cathedral Cellar boasts an amazing history, and you'll get taste some of the country's best wines and brandies here.
Where to Stay: The Grande Roche Hotel is a beautifully restored Cape Dutch home that offers all the modern amenities you have come to expect with plenty of charm. Guests will enjoy tranquil surroundings and excellent service.
Where to Eat: Bosman's Restaurant, located at the Grande Roche Hotel, is recognized as one of the best restaurants not only in South Africa, but in the world.
See Where it All Began in Constantia
Located on the Cape Peninsula, this region is the closest to Cape Town, just 20 minutes south of the city. The Constantia Valley is considered the birthplace of the wine movement in South Africa. This region's vineyards are nestled on the slopes of Constantia Mountain, where you'll enjoy seaside breezes and excellent Sauvignon Blanc.
Vineyard to Visit: Groot Constantia is the oldest wine-producing estate in South Africa and is recognized as a national monument. In addition to cellar tours and wine tastings, visitors can explore the grand estate on foot as well as visit its museum, which showcases the estate's early years.
Where to Stay: Steenberg Hotel, another national monument and the Cape's oldest farm, is an excellent option for its legendary luxury, breathtaking views of the bay, award-winning golf, refined dining, and a lovely vineyard.
Where to Eat: La Colombe offers an elegant, yet unpretentious take on gourmet South African food with Asian and French influences. The Greenhouse, located inside The Cellars-Hohenort, (a Relais & Châteaux hotel) boasts stunning views and delectable, modern cuisine inspired by South African ingredients, and presented in a tasting menu (with optional wine pairings).
If you only have time to visit one area, we recommend Franschhoek. If you're pressed for time, book a tour with Escape to the Cape, which offers professional, affordable, and luxurious private tours.
Experience Fabulous Wine, Even in the Bush
If you don't have time to visit the wine country when visiting for a safari, but still want to experience the joy of South African wines, be sure to stay at a Singita property or at the Royal Malewane, where well-versed sommeliers can choose from impressive wine lists and craft personal tastings for guests.
Getting there: South Africa Airways offers a direct flight from Johannesburg, which connects to Cape Town.
Katie Goldstein is a freelance travel journalist based in New York City. In addition to Fodor's, her writing and photographs have appeared on The Huffington Post, Forbes and CBS.com. Keep up with Katie's adventures on her travel blog Travelingpanties, Twitter, and Instagram.
Photo Credit: © Bigpressphoto | Dreamstime.com (South Africa wine country); Courtesy Grande Roche Hotel (Paarl); Courtesy of Groot Constantia (Groot Constantia cellar); Courtesy of Singita-Lebombo (cellar)
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