A trip to Cape Town in South Africa wouldn’t be complete without heading out of the city and into the winelands. After Cape Town, Stellenbosch is South Africa’s oldest settlement, dating from 1679. French Huguenots, Protestants fleeing from religious persecution, arrived in the 1690s, giving their name to Franschhoek (meaning French corner) and – most advantageously for today’s wine lovers – planting vines.
As you might expect, you will find plenty of South Africa’s signature grape Pinotage (a cross variety of Pinot Noir and Cinsault) as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Shiraz. White lovers will find mainly Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blanc.
What to do
While your main reason for visiting is likely the wineries and their beautiful settings, the small towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are pretty enough in their own right to deserve a wander for a few hours.
In Stellenbosch take a stroll around the botanical garden, have a coffee and some cake at The Blue Crane & The Butterfly and do some curio shopping.
In Franschhoek visit the Huguenot monument and museum, mooch in the art galleries along Huguenot Road, indulge your love of vintage cars at Franschhoek Motor Museum or head out to the walking trails in Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve.
Where to eat and drink
Constantia Glen is a lovely place to while away a few hours sharing some wine over charcuterie and cheese platters and enjoying the views (see top photo).
Sit out on the lawn under some shady umbrellas to try the wines from the tasting room at Eagle’s Nest in Constantia.
Guardian Peak has great views from its position on the mountain, enjoy a glass of white on the terrace and then tuck into the venison of the day (Gemsbok maybe?) in their modern restaurant with floor to ceiling windows.
The Table at De Meye is a lovely relaxed setting for excellent locally sourced food. With tables spread far apart under the trees on the lawn, you feel you’ve been welcomed for an extended family meal. Make sure to book ahead.
Rust en Vrede specialises in red wines only and the critically acclaimed restaurant offers fine dining tasting menus.
At Tokara grab a coffee in the deli and do an olive oil tasting before wandering through their sculptures to the wine tasting room.
At Waterford Estate sip Cellar Master Kevin Arnold’s wines in front of the fountain, choose a wine and chocolate tasting in the shade of the verandah or splash out on a 3 hour wine drive safari tasting Waterford’s wines high up amongst the vineyards.
For a different perspective looking up at the mountains from the valley grab a relaxed lunch at Postcard Café at Stark Condé and then taste wine under the weeping willows on the island on the lake.
In town head for a traditionally South African steak dinner at The Hussar Grill (don’t forget to try their chocolate martini) or Fat Butcher, or grab some sushi at Genki.
Haute Cabrière is the place to try some of South Africa’s traditional (champagne) method sparkling wines, Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) while taking in the views over the valley.
La Petite Ferme has a lovely restaurant looking out at their gardens. If, like us, you decide to walk from Haute Cabrière, be prepared for a few strange looks, it may be only a few hundred metres but this is South Africa!
Môreson has good wines and nice shady garden for sharing platters for lunch at Bread & Wine.
Maison wine estate houses a Franschhoek outpost of acclaimed Liam Tomlin’s Chefs Warehouse serving a global tapas menu.
Dieu Donné has amazing views, and is worth a visit just for that (perhaps more so than their wines..!)
Chamonix is almost next door and has both inside and outside space for tastings. If it’s not great weather, inside is very cosy, Swiss chalet style and a relaxed atmosphere with some shared tables.
La Motte has quite a big tasting room as well as a shop. Have a little nose at their barrel cellar and then peruse the permanent art collection of founder JH Pierneef.
We hadn’t really planned to go to Eikehof but loved it. Eikehof is a really cute little estate and if arriving on the wine tram the owner will come out and give you a talk about the farm and wines.
Babylonstoren out towards Paarl is a very modern instagrammable wine farm with acres of cultivated gardens, a popular restaurant serving home produce, and a spa. They also offer accommodation in the farmhouse and cottages.
In town, book a table at Foliage where chef Chris Erasmus combines fine dining with his love of foraging, with better results than that may sound! Reuben’s specialises in South African food in a laid back setting. Monneaux serves high quality French sharing plates in their formal dining room or on the shady terrace.
Where to stay
De Oude Werf is South Africa’s oldest still running hotel, in the centre of Stellenbosch, with a tranquil garden and small outdoor pool.
In Franschhoek Ashbourne House is very close to the main street and has a small pool and small dining room with an open fire for any chilly days.
Le Quartier Français is a 5 star hotel on the main street in Franschhoek with manicured lawns, a spa, and upmarket restaurant La Petite Colombe.
It’s also worth checking any wine farms you like the look of as some offer accommodation – try boutique La Petite Ferme or swanky Delaire Graff.
How to get around
If you would rather be more independent than booking an organised wine tour, Ubers between Stellenbosch town and the wine farms are easily available and cheap, and of course mean no one has to be a designated driver and can fully enjoy the wines instead!
Being a bit further out from Cape Town, there aren’t as many Ubers in Franschhoek so the Vineyard Hopper worked well for us and was very reasonable. Just the two of us in a minibus, the friendly driver would drop us wherever we’d like and then we’d either give him a missed call 10-15mins ahead of time or arrange a time for pick up. We were able to fit in around 6 wine farms in one day this way as you’re not tied to timings of the tram or stuck with a group. The only thing to bear in mind is they don’t go to the farms slightly further out of town.
We also hopped on the Wine Tram one day – for us it was mainly for novelty value so we made sure we did the actual tram bit on it – lots of it is in fact served by buses, so check out the routes on their website.
What you should know
Make sure to check ahead for opening hours, as not all wine farms have permanent tasting rooms – see if you can buy or borrow a Platter’s guide for info on the wine farms and opening hours.
Most wine farms will charge a tasting fee, this is usually a small amount for 4-6 wines. If you like what you try, glasses of wine produced at the farms will be very reasonably priced, and of course you can buy a bottle or two to take with you, or even arrange for larger orders to be shipped home. Some of the larger wine farms will also have shops offering local produce and gifts.
Flight time from UK: Around 12 hours
Currency: South African Rand
Plug adaptors: 3 large round pins set in a triangle
Time difference from UK: + 2 hours
Language: At least 35 languages are indigenous to South Africa, and there are 11 official languages. Although only the fourth most common first language in the country, English is widely used, being the second language of many South Africans.