SA Itinerary 3: The Cape Winelands & Walker Bay

South African wines have had amazing success since access to international markets returned after the elections of 1994. High quality wine is now produced in many regions of the Western Cape — from Lutzville in the far north of the Oliphants River Valley to Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of the continent. Many regions are now capitalising on these developments by promoting 'Wine Routes' for tourists and wine enthusiasts. SA Itinerary 1 has details of the Constantia wine estates and SA Itinerary 2 makes mention of estates around Tulbagh and Wellington. Here we consider the concentration of properties around Franschhoek/Paarl/Stellenbosch; Robertson/McGregor in the Breede River Valley and the Hemel-en-Aarde valley near Hermanus on Walker Bay.

Franschhoek/Paarl/Stellenbosch

Wine estates surround the three communities most associated with wine production beyond the Cape Peninsula, but each community has a different personality: Franschhoek is very much a tourist oriented enclave, with a main street of boutiques, hotels/guest houses and restaurants plus further accommodation in the surrounding wine estates; whereas Paarl has a considerable industrial and commercial sector in addition to it's architecturally diverse 12 kilometre long Main Street featuring cafes, bars, restaurants and up-market car showrooms too. Historically importantant as the second town established by Dutch settlers to South Africa, the tree lined streets of Stellenbosch shares it's attractions between national and international businesses, tourists and the 26 thousand students of the University of Stellenbosch.

Robertson/McGregor

The communities of the Breede River Valley have capitalised on the success of the wine industry to develop their attraction as tourist destinations. Marketed as part of the Route 62 alternative to driving the N2 Garden Route, the R60 at Robertson now has a smart new shopping precinct and numerous buildings converted as tourist attractions, including a 'wine boutique', gardening nursery and cafes and clothes shops. The jacaranda lined streets of the town off the R60 contain many attractive properties, including the Robertson Small Hotel with Rueben's Restaurant — a beautifully coverted Victorian house with modern additions; plus all the amenities required for small town living. McGregor is a 19th century village of white-washed thatched cottages with gardens irrigated by water from lei —old stone channels. In a quiet valley at the end of a road going nowhere, it is home to artists, craftsmen, healers and colourful characters. It's quaintness draws many visitors and so supports some very good cafes and restaurants. Following the Breede River beyond Robertson, the next large town is Swellendam, possessing a number of exclusive accommodation options.

Hermanus and the Hemel-en-Aarde valley

Southern Right Whales interact in Walker Bay between May and December attracting many tourists to Hermanus to view the spectacle. Thus Hermanus has many accommodation options, cafes and restaurants for tourists, plus access to the vast Grotto Beach and is close to the Hemel-en-Aarde valley wine growing area.

Accommodation in the Cape Winelands

In our experience all accommodation options in the winelands are very high quality and often beautifully designed. Just a few minutes from the centre of Stellenbosch is Bon Esperance B & B Guest House. A Victorian style house with accommodation in the main house and in the converted coach house. We stayed in a charming room with a black and white decorative theme and direct access to the garden and pool. Near the Rustenberg Estate is Wedge Farm on the outskirts of Stellenbosch. It offers 2 well designed apartments above the garages, with access to the large garden and shared pool for guests and is well placed for visiting the surrounding wine estates [for 2013 we've booked Chestnut Cottage at La Chataigne in Franschhoek].

Near Robertson, the Bon Cap Estate offer very economical cottages to rent. Pinotage Cottage was simple and confortable. In McGregor are a number of thatched roof cottages to rent: Hoopoe Cottage was spacious and had a very pretty front garden [for 2013 we've booked Mosesberg Cottage at Orange Grove Farm between Robertson and Worcester]. We've also checked out the Fraai Uitzicht 1798 hotel that offers lovely rooms, a beautiful garden and pool and gourmet restaurant.

In Swellendam the Augusta de Mist Guest House is a charming property with rooms in the manor house and a number of cottages in the grounds. The evening meals are not to be missed — a gourmet delight.

Anchors Rest offers self-catering accommodation in the West Cliff part of Hermanus. Seagulls is a light and airy large room above the garages accessed from the garden with pool and loungers [we've booked it again for 2013].

Things to do in the Cape Winelands/ Part 1

Obviously, visit the wine estates! We've been to quite a few, but there always more recommendations we have yet to visit. For suggestions for other activities, see the end of this section.

Franschhoek/Paarl/Stellenbosch
On the outskirts of Franschhoek is the beautiful Boschendal Estate. The entrance to the Manor House is a beautiful avenue of oak trees between parallel outbuildings housing tastings and various dining options including a daily buffet lunch and picnics. Solms Delta offers innovative wines, a restaurant for lunch and a picnic offer, plus very popular jazz evenings and a museum tracing the development of the farm. The estate offers support for workers who help with presenting the wines at tastings.

In Paarl, the Laborie Estate runs wonderful markets on summer Saturday mornings. Acrobats, artifacts, food, live jazz and Laborie wines [including Cap Classic] can be enjoyed on the lawns around the winery. The Nederberg Estate has a charming old manor for special events contrasting with a very modern tasting room with a museum and information panels tracing the history of the farm.

Near Stellenbosch, the modest Bartinney Estate is at the very top of the Helshoogte Pass. We met winemaker Therese de Beer, who explained her work over a tasting in the quirky decorated tasting room. Nearby is Delaire Graaf, possibly the most lavish estate in South Africa: wines, state-of-the-art cellar, tasting lounge, dining, lodge and spa, boutiques, gallery art and landscaped gardens — yet the wine tasting experience is very civilised and easy-going overlooking the vines. On the other side of the Helshoogte Pass road, Tokara and Thelema are both great. The former has a lavish tasting and gourmet dining room, plus a delicatessen and cafe, all surrounded by fabulous contemporary landscape gardens. Thelema is a more modest offer, but has a tasting room with big windows overlooking the vines and some very attractive prints. They also own land at Southerland in the Elgin valley for white wine production. At Dornier the dramatic contemporary curved winery roof beyond the rectangular dam contrasts with the Cape Dutch tasting and bistro/restaurant building with aeronautical pictures reflecting the estate name. Laid-back free tastings on the terrace. The Rustenberg Estate has a contemporary tasting facility in the interior of an old Cape Dutch building, surrounded by lawns leading to a fabulous English style garden, bursting with a profusion of plants benefitting from the warmth of Cape summers. In the Jonkershoek Valley, beyond the Lanzerac Estate with it's beautiful hotel is Starke-Conde, where you can sample the wines in a pavilion accessed by a bridge in the landscaped dam. is At Simonsig one can taste the range of Cap Classic fizz and/or enjoy an excellent lunch on the terraces surrounding the dining room. Vergelegen, nearer Somerset West, is a beautiful old property that, apart from the tasting and formal dining, offers a gourmet picnic, set up under old camphor trees. A wonderful experience. Very different architecturally is Mancunian Paul Boutinot's Waterkloof, a huge glass box overlooking False Bay offering a contemporary cuisine dining experience to accompany the wines. Just off the N1, between Paarl and Stellenbosch on Suid-Agter Paarl Road, Suider-Paarl , the Fairview Estate offers a range of visitor attractions — most prominent being the goat and goat-tower featured on their wine bottle labels. Although a big tourist attraction with a restaurant, conference dining, cheese and bread shop in addition to the wine tasting and purchasing facility, it has a very friendly atmosphere and knowledgable staff. Unfortunately the attractive T shirts displayed on the walls are no longer for sale!

Robertson/McGregor
The Bon Cap wine estate in the Eilandia valley, just outside Robertson. Michelle du Preez, the owner’s wife and estate tour-de-force conducts an excellent tasting of their organic wines, with an accompanying cheese board in the Bon Cap Bistro, open all week except Saturdays as they host weddings virtually every week of the year. Nearer Robertson, the Graham Beck estate has a dramatic, contemporary tasting facility for their range of Cap Classic wines, overlooking a large water feature and beyond to the vines. The road to Bonnievale is bordered by thousands of Canna Lilies — at Springfield brother-and-sister team Abrie and Jeanette Bruwer recently enlarged their modest tasting room to cater for their increasing popularity. The De Wetshof estate is very imposing with award winning wines avialable for tasting in the georgian style tasting room. Viljoensdrift Wine Cellar offers tastings and river cruise picnics too.

Hemel-en-Aarde
Up the R320 [see new website: hermanuswineroute.com] from the coast road near Hermanus are 15 wineries, benefitting from the cooling coastal breezes and unique terroir. Hamilton Russell Vineyards only produce two wines: a Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and are expensive too. They have a tasting room in a little thatched cottage overlooking the dam. At Bouchard Finlayson visitors can experience a comprehensive tasting of chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc wines. The distinctive, swooping thatched roof of the tasting facility is a trademark feature on the bottle labels. Further up, the Newton Johnson family produce three ranges of wines in their modern winery and the Heaven restuarant is very popular with dramatic views down the valley to the Atlantic Ocean.

Things to do in the Cape Winelands/Part 2

Franschhoek/Paarl/Stellenbosch
There are various special events throughout the year at Franschhoek wine farms, restaurants and shops. The Museum van de Caab houses the Drakenstein Valley Social History Museum at Solms-Delta and has music on Saturday evenings in February and March.

Franschhoek also hosts the annual Bastille Festival over the weekend of the 14th and 15th July [2012], where locals and visitors will be celebrating the valley’s centuries-old French Huguenot heritage. There is also a Wine & Food Route Map available and online [http://franschhoek.org.za] listing all the venues available to visitors.

As mentioned, the Saturday Market at Laborie Estate in Paarl is incredibly popular, although the town itself is less amenable to strolling round than it's near neighbours, it does have a number of specific attractions including the Africaans Language Museum. In Stellenbosch the numerous historical buildings are often accessible and well maintained. Art and craft galleries, fashion boutiques and 'artisanal' provision stores attest to the buying power of tourists and wealthy local citizens. The University Botanical Gardens near the centre of Stellenbosch provide a shady respite for plant lovers. Also at Stellenbosch walking along the Eerste River takes you through the many sports facilities at the University Campus. The surrounding mountains have many walking options. At Jonkershoek Nature Reserve you can cycle, drive or walk round a circular route either side of the Eerste River to admire the mountain fynbos, birds and the occassional sighting of mammals. If walking beware of snakes. 

Robertson/McGregor
There's a farmer's market every few weeks at Robertson and a modest event every Saturday in McGregor. The wine estates have numerous attractions: book in advance for the Viljoensdrift River Cruise and Wine Tasting during the summer season. Robertson attracts visitors at other times with wine events including the Hands on Harvest in February, Wacky Wine Weekend in June and Wine on the River in October. The Vrolijkheid Nature Reserve near McGregor has hiking trails through the fynbos and hides around a dam to view water fowl. The Boesmanskloof Day Trail is a famous 14km hike connecting Greyton and McGregor through the Riviersonderend Conservation Area [beyond our abilities!].

Hermanus and the Hemel-en-Aarde valley
We love the Hermanus Country Market at the Hermanus Cricket Grounds on Saturday mornings: organic produce, eggs, bread, pies and wraps, meringues, ready prepared salads were excellent buys, plus excellent pottery and plants, plus local musical entertainment too. We must visit the Food and Wine Market at the Hermanuspietersfontein Wine Cellar, Hemel-en-Aarde Village also on Saturdays too. Part of the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, the Cliff Path meanders between Hermanus and the Atlantic Ocean for more than 1Okm from the New Harbour in the west to the mouth of the Klein River in the east. The larger part of the nature reserve is in the mountains north of the town, with wheelchair access to some areas. Further along the coast, the Walker Bay Nature Reserve stretches along the coast from the Klein River estuary to De Kelders at Gansbaai. Walk along the beach or get a permit from either vehicle entrance.

Dining and drinking in the Cape Winelands

'Spoilt for choice' is almost an understatement: both in the towns and on the wine estates, dining is a wonderful experience and usually very reasonable for the care, preparation and time expended. In Stellenbosch, we tend to gravitate to Java Cafe for comfort food: pastas, wraps or just some wine and Col Cacchio for it's ever changing range of very large pizzas. We also love the Tokara Estate Delicatessen for it's amazing contemporary environment and the restaurant at Simonsig is very good too.

In McGregor the Karoux restaurant is a good choice and very friendly, as is Tebaldi's opera themed restaurant at the Temenos Retreat [open for dinner Thursdays-Saturdays]. We've had dinner and a good New Year's Eve celebration at the Kingsriver Estate restaurant, hosted by owner Ruud de Clercq. At the Bon Courage Estate, the Cafe Maude is very popular for lunches under the trees and at Viljoensdrift Wine Cellar you can select a bottle of wine and a picnic ingredients from their deli for River Cruise Picnics that last about an hour.

In Hermanus, the branch of Ocean Basket has great views across Walker Bay, as has The Harbour Rock restaurant at the New Harbour. It offers high quality seafood plus sushi and a thai food offering too! Sharing the premises — including the kitchen — is the Gecko Bar very laid-back: it advises clients not to bring children after 9.00pm as it can get rowdy! Regular live music too. Below on the harbour is the Quayside Cabin, with a kitchen formed from a steel shipping conatiner. Incredibly popular [bring your own wine] and very cheap too. At Grotto Beach, two Dutch ladies run Dutchies Restaurant. Great for a cold beer after a day on the beach, plus full meals and dutch snacks like bitterballen. In town, the Burgundy Restaurant has an attractive outdoor space and nicely designed interior. Food is good and generous 'redesigned along the lines of Jamie Oliver and Nigel Slater’s style of cooking.' As mentioned, Heaven at the Newton Johnson estate is an excellent dining offer for breakfast and lunch, with wonderful views. Advance booking advisable!