Wine lovers are spoiled for choice in buzzy Stellenbosch and French-flavoured Franschhoek, with excellent wines and gourmet restaurants. Read Lonely Planet's travel guide, from their new book Wine Trails.
Tasting the exceptional wines that South Africa’s Cape region is now producing while in the actual vineyards themselves is a unique experience. Just half an hour’s drive from Cape Town and the iconic Table Mountain are the immense open landscapes of Africa, where vast estates with hundreds of hectares of vines blend in with towering mountain ranges, lakes and wild vegetation.
The heart of the Cape winelands is the buzzing town of Stellenbosch, a wine lover’s paradise of bars and bistros, the perfect place to be based for a few days of serious vineyard visiting. Grapes have been cultivated around Stellenbosch for more than 350 years, and wine tourism is a highly developed business: every winery seems to offer everything from guesthouses and restaurants to wine-paired picnics, and kids’ playgrounds so parents can enjoy a serious tasting.
For many years, Stellenbosch has dominated wine awards, especially for South Africa’s signature Pinotage, a hybrid of the Pinot Noir and Cinsaut grapes that was bred in the local university back in 1925. But more recently, attention is turning to nearby Franschhoek, which draws on the French heritage of its original Huguenot settlers, who brought vine seedlings with them on their perilous voyage from France. You could almost be in a Provencal village, with names such as ‘Le Bon Vivant’ and ‘Quartier Francais’, though in reality no one here actually speaks French any more. The restaurant scene in Franschhoek is definitely gourmet, the resort hotels luxurious and young vignerons are making sensational wines – not just classic Chenin Blanc and Pinotage, but intense Syrah, complex Pinot Noir and Sauvignon. And most importantly, estates are finally, though slowly, implementing inclusive ownership programmes for their black workforces.
Cape Town is the nearest major airport, 35km from Stellenbosch. Car hire is available.
Franschhoek and Stellenbosch: Where to stay
Just outside Franschhoek, the modern boutique winery and restaurant contrasts with the irresistible old-world charm of this property, housed in a romantic 17th-century Cape Dutch thatched manor.
www.holdenmanz.com; tel +27 21 876 2738; Green Valley Rd, Franschhoek
Rickety Bridge Country House
Dating back to 1792 when it was part of La Provence, one of Franschhoek’s original Huguenot estates, Rickety Bridge, is a boutique winery with three sumptuously furnished guest rooms.
www.ricketybridgewinery.com; tel +27 21 876 2994; R45, Franschhoek
Perfectly located in the downtown heart of bustling Stellenbosch, this stately Victorian guesthouse is decorated with a mix of contemporary and Cape Dutch styles.
www.middedorp.com; tel +27 21 883 9560; 16 Van Riebeeck St, Stellenbosch
Franschhoek and Stellenbosch: Where to eat
Cafe des Arts
Favourite hangout for local winemakers, serving simple comfort cooking, such as lamb’s liver with chilli-roasted potatoes, onion and bacon, and the freshest yellow-tail tuna delivered straight from the Indian Ocean.
www.cafedesarts.co.za; 7 Reservoir St West, Franschhoek; tel +27 21 876 2952
Pierneef a la Motte
La Motte is one of the oldest and still most important Franschhoek wineries, and in its flagship gastronomic restaurant, chef Michelle Theron creates tantalising dishes.
www.la-motte.com; tel +27 21 876 8000; R45, Franschhoek
Dutch East Restaurant
Pasch Duploy is a gregarious butcher/ chef, smoking and ageing his own meats, and his buzzing bistro is the place to feast on wild game such as springbok, eland and ostrich.
www.dutcheast.co.za; tel +27 21 876 3547; 42 Huguenot St, Franschhoek
Franschhoek and Stellenbosch: What to do
A favourite activity in Cape Town is learning to cook like a Cape Malay mama. Gamidah Jacobs of Lekka Kombuis will show you how to make perfect samoosas, dhaltjies (chilli bites), rootis (flat breads) and chicken curry at the classes she runs in her historic turquoisepainted Bo-Kaap home.
Franschhoek goes back to its French roots with a huge 14 July party to celebrate Bastille Day.