Here are my insights on where to stay, the places to eat and some of the finest wineries in South Africa’s Cape Winelands…
Dating back to the 17th century this farm captures the very best of South Africa’s stylish Cape Winelands. For a start it’s close to the wine towns of Stellenbosch, Francshhoek and Paarl. It brings together classic Cape Dutch architecture (those charming white gabled buildings); together with super-stylish hotel accommodation in private cottages; a farm-to-fork restaurant called ‘Babel’; a cool vintage style informal eatery, the ‘Green House’, and yes, some great wine.
The extraordinary fruit and vegetable garden can be explored during daily walking tours. But of course this is the Winelands, so don’t forget the vineyards – the new Cellar Tour offers insights into how Babylonstoren has rapidly become recognised for its new range of wines, from the easy-drinking Babel red and a crisp white Chenin Blanc – to a gloriously intense Shiraz, an elegant Viognier, a modern Chardonnay, as well as the farm’s flagship Bordeaux style red, ‘Nebukadnesar’.
Delaire Graff Estate
Impeccable luxury is what one can expect at this magnificent wine estate, where superlatives are entirely justified. It’s a seductive destination for day-visitors, as well as for hotel lodge guests with a number of attractions including wine tastings; informal and fine-dining; shopping at the Boutiques, including of course, jewels from Graff Diamonds; the Delaire Graff Spa; and outstanding landscaped grounds by Keith Kirsten, punctuated by original solid bronze sculptures by eminent South African artists Dylan Lewis, Anton Smit, as well as works by Deborah Bell.
For those with the means, a stay at the private lodges is truly world-class, offering immaculately presented residences with private heated plunge pools overlooking the Stellenbosch vineyards; tranquil exterior terraces, and living spaces furnished with exceptional taste. Guests have access to the Lodge bar and private cinema, the estate’s gourmet restaurant ‘Indochine’, as well as the private guest Spa and gym.
Secluded in a chic neighbourhood just a few minutes’ drive from the Winelands town of Stellenbosch is this French-owned, 5 star, small luxury hotel. With a bold, creative, highly individual style, this spa hotel with secluded gardens makes for a special escape. Expect a warm welcome and striking accommodation – choose from amongst 12 individually presented rooms, 7 suites and a private villa. Even if you choose not to stay, the hotel’s French-inspired Makaron Restaurant should definitely be one of your destinations for a great meal out. Executive Chef Tanya Krugar and her team offers a la carte and tasting menus paired with local wines.
La Motte, in the Franschhoek Valley, is a historic estate, with some glorious historic architecture, that has like many other wineries, diversified from wine making into hospitality with wine tastings; a cultural museum; summer classical concerts in the grounds; and a delightful farm shop. As well as for the wine tastings, most visitors come to try the notable restaurant, ‘Pierneef à La Motte’, named after the South African artist Pierneef who captured the beauty of the country’s landscapes. Chef Michelle Theron takes heritage recipes using traditional ingredients and presents them in a thoroughly modern and creative way. Try the warm octopus terrine as a first plate,
and I can recommend the cider-braised pork. The restaurant team will recommend a glass of wine for each course from the La Motte collections. Thanks to the present favourable exchange rate for the Euro and Sterling, eating well is excellent value here.
Opened by Chef Michael Broughton in October 2004, Terrior, the restaurant at the Kleine Zalze winery near Stellenbosch has over the past 10 years attracted international acclaim. I enjoyed a memorable lunch prepared by his sous-chef Ruan Pretorios.
The unfussy, informal chalkboard menus give little indication to the sophistication and complexity of the dishes. Even a garden salad is presented like a piece of art, a flourish of textures, colours and flavours. If you’re looking to discover the South African experience of pairing local food and wine, truly capturing the terroir of the area, then this is the place. The friendly team and informal atmosphere make it an ideal place to eat with friends or family.
Although the overall experience in the Cape Winelands is upscale and sophisticated, it is also generally informal (and surprisingly good value) making it popular with families. Youngsters are made to feel at home. The Deli at the modern Tokara winery is a great example of this, where fun and style come together to create a great place for families to enjoy breakfasts or lunches in a relaxed environment. There’s a large outside terrace, gardens and a sculpture walk. The deli and shop sells homemade products, kitchen cupboard essentials, gourmet food, and treats – ideal if you are on a self-catering holiday.
One restaurant stood out for its celebration of contemporary South African cuisine and that was ‘Ryan’s Kitchen’, found at the beginning of main street that runs through the winelands town of Franschhoek. The restaurant’s menu, reflecting South Africa’s melting pot of culinary cultural influences from Asia, Europe and of course Africa, is divided into small plates and bigger which can be ordered individually or as a selection for sharing.Dishes include seared tuna with cumin, saffron and picked carrot; crayfish tails, granadilla atchar and sweet potato; and lamb ‘Bobotie’ (a traditional mince dish), with oven baked celeriac and quince. Remember to order Ryan’s renowned guava soufflé, with buffalo yogurt ice cream. This is exquisite, world-class dining at bistro prices – with the present exchange rate first plates vary in price from less than 5 euro to almost 10 euro and main plates were less than 14 euro.
Paarl is the Winelands largest town, found to the west of the region, and one of the main visitor hubs for exploring the vineyards and estates. At the foot of Paarl Rock is the Grande Roche Hotel. The property is surrounded by a working wine and fruit farm, so almost immediately one feels embraced by the local area’s wine culture. The hotel’s Bosman’s Restaurant is in the hotel’s original Cape Dutch Manor House; it has a classic elegance and in the evenings it is lit by crystal chandeliers and candles. Thursday to Sunday is Executive Chef, Roland Gorgosilich’s fine-dining menu, so expect creative and imaginative international dishes including starters of ceviche of Mozambican prawn, Crayfish & Seafood Panache, or Saldanha Bay Oysters; main plates of slow braised Chalmar beef short rib, Lamb from the Karoo, Poached veal, or roasted Seabass.
This is a 5 star hotel, so if fancy enjoying some local wine, you can stay the night in one of the thatched-roof terrace or garden suites overlooking the vineyards and the mountains beyond.
During the day and in the early part of the week, the restaurant offers an informal and well-priced bistro style menu – great if you are on the road, and just want to stop off for lunch.
What’s more, with the favourable exchange rate, a three course gourmet meal might only set you back around 25 GB pounds or 30 euro (before drinks and gratuity).
If you like your winery visits served with a little theatre and sparkle then consider this Franschhoek winery where Cellar Tours, with the charismatic cellar master and production director Takuan von Arnim, start with some classic ‘sabrage’. With a glistening French cavalry sabre, a bottle of sparkling Pierre Jourdan is opening with flair and then offered to guests try.
Named after the 17th century French founder of this wine area, Pierre Jourdan, (a Huguenot who migrated from France), the winery’s flagship sparkling wine is made in the classic méthode champenoise (French champagne method) which in South Africa is called Cap Classique.
Takuan’s father Achim von Arnim founded the farm in 1982, and his children continue the family’s wine making tradition. The estate’s different soils and orientations ideally suit chardonnay and pinot noir, (the famous varieties of France’s Champagne region). The resulting wines are a real pleasure to taste for novices and wine aficionados alike – I mean, who doesn’t like bubbles? In addition to the sparkling wines, try their Chardonnay Pinot Noir, Pierre Jourdan Tranquille and the Haute Cabrière Unwooded Pinot Noir – a real surprise.
After the morning tour and tasting enjoy lunch at the Haute Cabrière Restaurant & Terrace, offering Franschhoek valley view. The menu offers half servings of dishes, so if you fancy trying more than one main plate, you can order them as smaller portions, or simply enjoy a lighter lunch.
When heading out the charming and sophisticated Winelands town of Stellenbosch, on the Helshoogte road you embark one of the country’s great wine routes. It starts almost immediately with the Glenelly Estate. Owned by May-Eliane de Lencquesaing from a renowned French Bordeaux estate, the winery continues a history of French-influenced wine making in South Africa that dates back centuries. By appointment visitors can book an in-depth tasting with the estate’s acclaimed wine maker, Luke O’Cuinneagain, or with his assistant Jerome Likwa, and a tour of the contemporary winery. In addition to trying the award-winning wines including the ‘Lady May’, Glenelly’s Flagship Estate wine, visitors have the opportunity to view May de Lencquesaing’s extraordinary crystal and glass collection.
A relatively newcomer, this boutique Stellenbosch winery really is in the most stunning area, surrounded by mountains. A visit here is as much about wines as it is the beauty the estate and countryside. Although a historic wine growing area, the vineyards were completely replanted in 2004; and by 2007 Oldenburg had produced their maiden vintages. Winemaker Philip Costandius is positioning Oldenbery has one of the finest boutique wineries in South Africa.
What’s more, it’s a wonderful place to call home whilst in the area – the original 200 year old homestead, fully restored with fabulous interior design, is available for short term rentals.