South Africa : The Winelands
The Winelands are just a short drive from Cape Town, but it's definitely worth doing more than just a day trip here. A longer stay allows you to savour not only the world renowned food and wine but the beautiful landscape and lovely historic towns with their classy boutiques and excellent restaurants. You can either stay in one of the towns of Stellenbosch, Franschhoek or Paarl, or one of the wine estates themselves. Wherever you stay, there’s a huge variety of vineyards within easy reach where you can enjoy cellar tours and taste their wine from small, owner-run vineyards to larger cellars with the better-known names. There is also trout fishing, mountain biking, horse-riding, hiking trails and golf in the area.
Palmiet Valley is a great owner-managed guest house on a working wine estate at the foot of the Drakenstein Mountains between Franschhoek and Paarl. Originally built in 1692, the historic Cape Dutch homestead has been restored to its former glory and is a lovely, peaceful base for exploring the Winelands. There are 13 romantic guest rooms filled with antiques and old fabrics, and a pool in the garden. Sundowners are enjoyed with sensational views of the sun lowering over the vines, and there’s lovely dining spaces indoors and out where the chef produces amazing multi-course meals. You are hosted by a charming elderly German which only adds to the character of this place.
Le Quartier Francais is a peaceful retreat set among pretty gardens in the heart of the French Huguenot town of Franschhoek and is famous for its excellent cuisine. As a Relais & Chateau property, it is luxurious and you are well looked after. There’s a variety of accommodation including colourfully and stylishly decorated en-suite rooms and suites in the main auberge and the more exclusive Four Quarters Suites with their own shared pool. There is a main swimming pool in the garden courtyard, a small spa offering a variety of treatments, and both a fine dining and a more relaxed informal restaurant. Being in Franschhoek itself you can explore the town’s many well-known restaurants as well as antique shops, galleries and nearby wine estates.
Rusthof Country House is a lovely country-style retreat on Franschhoek’s main street. The eight rooms are built around the courtyard garden and are all individually and stylishly decorated with luxury traditional country fabrics and paintings, which give them a homely feel. There’s a small pool in the garden surrounded by loungers, and in the main house there is a lovely genteel sitting area where you can relax. The restaurant has an open kitchen and is decorated in French Provencal style. The chef is currently ‘the guy’ in the village and he serves a mouth-watering menu using local produce at both lunch and dinner.
For a town stay in a hotel with a comfortable country feel, River Manor is ideal. The stylish 18-bedroom hotel is set in two historical houses with National Monument status in Stellenbosch, and is just a two minute stroll from the town’s museums, street cafes, restaurants and galleries. There are two swimming pools as well as an exclusive Health and Beauty Spa set within the gardens.
Bartholomeus Klip Farmhouse is a lovely country house hotel off the tourist trail, in an under-explored area just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town. The estate is both a working wheat and sheep farm and a nature reserve with a spectacular mountain backdrop. There are only five bedrooms in the original homestead, which has been meticulously renovated. Rose-filled gardens and ancient oaks surround the house, with benches tucked away in quiet places. Nearby, the deck of the salt-water swimming pool is ideal for sunbathing or sundowners, and the boathouse, where the wonderful brunches are served, has a spectacular view over the dam. There are twice daily game drives, walks, biking, boating and windsurfing on offer, and you can visit local wine farms.
The well-known Constantia Uitsig Country Hotel offers gracious seclusion to the discerning traveller and only a stones throw from Cape Town. With only sixteen individually appointed garden rooms, guests are assured of personal attention and Cape hospitality in a rural setting. Constantia Uitsig, which means Constantia View is aptly named for its unique position, which offers wide vistas of the Table Mountain range, sea and vineyards. Enjoy peace and tranquillity on a working wine farm a mere twenty minutes from the city centre. There are many activities on offer within the area including some fabulous walks, swimming and adventure activities, which can be arranged at the hotel. There are two excellent restaurants, Constantia Uitsig and La Colombe, popular with the local public and rated amongst South Africa's Top Five, serving both Italian and French Provençale cuisine with a distinct Cape flavour in a relaxed atmosphere overlooking the swimming pool and gardens. Constantia Uitsig offers a selection of Cape wines from close to seventy different estates as well as vintage and rare wines.
Lanzerac Manor and Winery is a 5 star hotel set on a private working wine estate on the outskirts of the university town of Stellenbosch, in the heart of the famous South African winelands. All the bedrooms, dining and facilities are set in the estate's 300 year old Manor House, out-buildings and its award-winning landscaped gardens. There are 48 bedrooms decorated in traditional country style, each with a private patio overlooking the vineyards or sculpted gardens. Some of the suites have their own private pool. From the hotel you can visit the many vineyards, and it is very close to numerous golf courses and within easy reach of the beaches of the Strand, Gordon's Bay and Cape Town.
A 3 hour drive north of Cape Town takes you through some of South Africa's most beautiful yet least explored countryside up to the Cederburg Mountains and here lies a unique ecological oasis - Bushmans Kloof. The area is characterised by immense open plains, ravines, waterfalls and prehistoric rock formations. The 7,500 hectare reserve is a priceless sanctuary nurturing wildlife. The botanical diversity of the region and the history and culture of the San Bushmen who thrived in this area some 6,000 years ago, whose art is featured in some 125 remarkable rock painting sites. The reserve has also reintroduced many species of wildlife to the area such as the rare Cape mountain zebra, eland and black wildebeest. The lodge itself is set in rolling hills and has 14 rooms each with en suite bathrooms and private terraces. Delicious meals are served and in the evenings guests can enjoy dinner under the stars or a barbecue around the pool. There are plenty of activities to keep even the most adventurous happy from mountain biking to abseiling, mountain climbing, fly fishing, bush and river walks and swimming in crystal clear rock pools and in waterfalls. The reserve borders with the famous Biedouw Valley, which is renowned for its wild flowers in the spring.