You don't have to limit yourself to a single destination when visiting the Cape Winelands: the popular wine-making towns of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl all lie within easy reach of each other and most scheduled Wineland day tours include a taste of all three.
Even closer to Cape Town, the leafy suburb of Constantia is where to go in the Cape Winelands for the birthplace of South Africa’s wine-making industry and to visit some of the country’s oldest and most beautiful estates which lie conveniently close to other places of interest such as the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
For those who prefer to wander off the beaten track, we’d recommend the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley near the whale-watching town of Hermanus or the wine estates of the hugely scenic Route 62. Although not as well-known as Franschhoek and Constantia, these alternative wine routes are equally pleasing to both eye and palate, and can easily be combined with a self-drive holiday along either the Whale Coast or the beach-lined Garden Route.
Set against a backdrop of orchards, vineyards and mountain peaks, the little town of Franschhoek ('French Corner') is arguably the prettiest of the Cape Winelands regions. The appearance and atmosphere is that of Provence, and the mood is further reflected by elegant wine estates such as Le Petite Ferme, Chamonix and Mont Rochelle – their names testament to the early French Huguenot influence in the area.
Franschhoek has just one main street but it is lined with art galleries, boutique shops and a number of excellent restaurants. Known as the gourmet capital of South Africa, Franschhoek is a top choice for a food and wine holiday; dine on flavours ranging from traditional Cape fare to French haute cuisine – and the accompanying wine will of course come from the vineyards around you.
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The second oldest settlement in South Africa after Cape Town, Stellenbosch is famous as the capital of the Cape Winelands - indeed, there are a staggering 200 wine estates in the immediate area! Many of these farms are open to the public and have daily wine tours and tastings, not to mention restaurants with vineyard views or picnic baskets to be enjoyed on their expansive lawns.
Don’t forget the town itself - Stellenbosch is the perfect place to wander around on foot and you can do a little shopping before enjoying a meal in the shade of its famous 300-year-old oak trees. Head for Dorp Street, the historic heart of the town and a national monument, thanks to its grand display of old Cape Dutch, Georgian and Victorian buildings. Meanwhile, famous Stellenbosch University adds a lively atmosphere to the town, its students filling the many bars and sidewalk cafés.
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The Paarl Wine Route is renowned for its award-winning reds and is especially appealing if you’re looking for something a little extra to accompany your wine tasting. Visit the Fairview Estate for wine pairing with their famous cheeses; learn about organic and bio-dynamic wine farming practices on the Avondale Estate; or try the brandy and chocolate tasting at KWV before a tour of their famous Cathedral Cellar – the largest cooperative wine cellar in the world.
The name Paarl means pearl in Dutch and refers to the massive granite outcrop that towers over the town - said to glow like a pearl at sunrise. Originally an agricultural town and heavily dependent on the wine industry, Paarl has reinvented itself as a place of cosy bistros and fine cuisine. Although still not quite as attractive as Franschhoek or Stellenbosch, a walk along Paarl's main road will take you past worth-a-browse antique shops, beautiful old buildings, national monuments and lively restaurants.
Most visitors to Cape Town never suspect what sits on the cooler, wetter south-eastern slopes of Table Mountain: just a half-hour drive from the city centre will take you to the exclusive suburb of Constantia, home to palatial houses set on sprawling green lawns, imposing ambassadorial residences and expansive vineyards.
This area was first cultivated in 1685, making the Constantia Wine Valley the Cape’s oldest wine-producing region. Visit Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia, both grand old estates with classic Cape Dutch architecture and offering plenty of opportunities to taste their excellent wine and gourmet food. To work off the calories, you could play a round of golf, explore Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, go hiking on one of the many nearby mountain trails, or hit the beach - it's not far to either the Indian Ocean of False Bay or the colder waters of the Atlantic.
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Not only is Route 62 one of South Africa's most scenic drives but it is also the world's longest wine route. Starting about an hour's drive out of Cape Town, Route 62 runs through vineyard-sprinkled valleys, over dramatic mountain scenery and past sleepy farming towns before entering the Karoo, the great expanse of semi-desert that covers much of the Western Cape's interior.
Our favourite wine stop on Route 62 is the Robertson Valley, home to more than 50 estates and boasting big names such as Springfield, Graham Beck and Bon Courage. This valley is also where to go in the Cape Winelands for outdoor activities ranging from vigorous hikes in the local Langeberg Mountains to lazy river cruises complete with a packed picnic basket and (of course) a chilled bottle of wine.
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Set just outside the seaside town of Hermanus, the scenic Hemel-en-Aarde Valley benefits from cool ocean breezes which create perfect growing conditions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines. Little-visited and well off the main wine route, this region has a relaxed, casual atmosphere so take your time, soak up the ocean and mountain views, taste award-winning wines, and have a late lunch on one of the estates.
We’d particularly recommend visiting the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley during the July to November whale season and rounding off your time in the vineyards with a stay in Hermanus on the Whale Coast - home to the best land-based whale watching in the world.
One of the oldest towns in South Africa and only an hour’s drive from Cape Town, Riebeek Kasteel lies at the heart of the Swartberg, a tranquil farming region that is home to rolling wheat fields punctuated by fruit and olive plantations. But it is the vineyards of the Riebeek Valley, and in particular the many excellent red wines they produce, that have put this otherwise rather sleepy town on the map.
Riebeek Kasteel is the perfect spot to head for on a day excursion from Cape Town. Chat to the friendly locals, sample some local wine, olives and cheeses, and spend an afternoon exploring the shops, cafes, art galleries and restaurants in the town centre.
At a Glance
Indulge in gourmet dining and award-winning wine in the alpine valleys of the Cape Winelands – conveniently located just an hour’s drive from Africa’s favourite city, Cape Town.