It was a bit surreal as I stepped off the plane, achy and tired, instantly feeling the warm breeze kiss my face. What was once a dream destination was turning into a reality. South Africa has always been on my travel list, specifically, the Western Cape where 90% of the wine farms are located. Was it worth the
24+ hours of travel to get here? It certainly was.
The first few days of the trip we wanted to explore Cape Town and the surrounding areas. After researching destination spots, we decided on Camps Bay, a quaint beachfront town not far from Cape Town, located right on the Atlantic Ocean with spectacular views of Table Mountain just off in the distance. We stayed at a guest house, called Villa Surprise that had a spacious deck off our room where we were able to enjoy panoramic views of the ocean and Table Mountain. The perfect setting for relaxing with a glass of wine. The hospitality was great. We were able to enjoy breakfast each morning with coffee, pastries, cheeses, yogurt and fresh fruit.
Our first tourist activity started at Table Mountain. There is a tram that takes you to the top of the mountain, once there you can spend hours exploring the paths while taking in the scenic views. It is a little nerve racking going up, but those nerves quickly fade once you get a glance of Cape Town and surrounding areas. Table Mountain gets its name because of its flat top and is known as one of the oldest mountains in the world. The highest point is 3,563 feet above sea level and if you are looking for some exercise, there are over 350 trails to get to the top. There are times the tram is closed due to high winds so take that into consideration when planning out this adventure.
After Table Mountain we had the opportunity to visit the closest wine region to Cape Town, Constancia. Groot Constantia is a beautiful estate filled with endless vineyard views, towering oak trees, gift shops, restaurants and of course, wine. It was established as South Africa’s first wine farm in 1685, embodying a rich history and magnificent scenery. If you get a chance, take a tour of their historical building and museum, where you can appreciate antiques from the original property. Lunch here was superb. The mussel's appetizer was a favorite and paired nicely with the rosé we selected.
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens isn’t too far from Groot Constantia, so we snuck in a quick tour before heading back to our guest house. Honestly, I wish we wouldn’t have been so tired and cut things short here, realistically we could have spent a whole day exploring. It is internationally acclaimed as one of the seven most magnificent botanical gardens in the world, displaying an array of South African plants, including many rare and endangered species. You can also grab a bite to eat at one of the restaurants and lounge around the gift shop or bookstore.
If you are looking for a fun “safari day”, check out Aquila Game Reserve. It is considered one of the closer spots to Cape Town, about a 2 ½ hour drive from the city. The Reserve is not an animal park but rather a group of several extensive properties in Africa that take in animals that have been displaced. The tour we did was about 3 hours, we toured the mountain range in a jeep style vehicle and were able to see elephants, hippos, African buffalo, white rhinos, lions, giraffes, zebras and a couple baboons.
Before heading to Stellenbosch to start exploring the wine country, we headed down the coast to visit the Cape of Good Hope. Another tourist destination I would highly recommend. The drive alone was worth it, driving through several small villages and towns, many known for their incredible surfing. We enjoyed another tram ride, this time taking us up to the original lighthouse at Cape Point. This area is commonly referred to as the southernmost point of Africa, which is actually Cape Agulhas, but near here is where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean. On our way to our hotel in Stellenbosch, we stopped into a picturesque restaurant, the Harbour House, in Kalk Bay where we enjoyed seafood appetizers and sushi while getting a performance from the local seals on the pier. Once settled in at our new accommodations, we popped open a bottle of wine and relaxed at the pool outside our room. Still adjusting to the time change, we were in bed by 8:30 PM. Anticipation for the next few days of wine tasting was taking over my thoughts as I quickly fell asleep.
Stellenbosch! Let the wine tasting begin. Our first stop was De Toren Estate. Situated on an awestruck hilltop, De Toren benefits from the cool ocean breezes and focusses on the ancient granite soils, inspiring Bordeaux-style wines with a South African flare. The wines are truly exceptional. We had the opportunity to explore the grounds and facilities with Cellar Master, Charles Williams. Over the last couple of years, they revamped the property and have a new, luxurious tasting lounge that includes a terrace area overlooking grape vines and Stellenbosch in the distance. I especially enjoyed our time in the cellar and barrel room where Charles went into detail on their winemaking philosophies, specific soils and detailed care the individual vines receive to ensure each wine reaches its true potential. The Book XVII, which is a Bordeaux-style blend was my favorite with the Fusion V, a Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Bordeaux Blend coming in as a close second. Put this winery on your itinerary for sure. It had it all; amazing wines, a chic yet relaxed ambiance and magnificent views.
The second tasting of the day took us to Glenelly. Similar to De Toren, they produce esteemed wines with a French touch. We were able to explore their world-class estate with Cellar Master, Dirk Van Zyl. Not only do they have a stunning tasting room, overlooking the Simonsberg Mountain but the estate also offers an exhibit of Madame De Lencquesaing’s glass museum. There is also a classic French bistro, offering a modern twist using the best local ingredients available. We sampled through everything from Chardonnay, Rose, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon and the Lady May blends which are the estate’s flagship wines. I can honestly say I liked every wine for its own uniqueness but found the Unoaked Chardonnay, Syrah, Cabernet Franc and Lady May to be my favorites. Can’t forget the bubbly! We enjoyed a glass of their Brut with lunch, which we paired with the oysters. The atmosphere here was invigorating. Another winery I would highly recommend visiting.
Our final tasting of the day was at Raats Family Wines, a boutique family-owned winery that specializes in Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. Raats is highly regarded as a leader in South Africa for these varietals and continually receives local and international accolades for the quality of their wines. We were quickly greeted by their two golden retrievers as we entered the tasting room, making me miss my little pup back home. Looking for the standard when it comes to South African Chenin Blanc? Visit Raats Family Wines, you will not be disappointed.
We ended the day with dinner in downtown Stellenbosch. A quaint college town filled with shops, restaurants and art galleries. It was quite busy, as it was a Friday night, so we struggled to find a restaurant without a reservation, but were lucky to stumble upon a Lebanese restaurant, Man’oushe, which ended up being delightful. We followed up dinner with a nightcap at the nearby Stellenbosch Wine Bar.
Day two in the wine country started off with a relaxing breakfast at our guest house, Lauradale Accommodation. Their breakfast nook in the main house overlooks a grassy common area with hillside vineyards just off in the distance. Similar to our place in Cape Town, there was always fresh fruit, granola and yogurt available, plus we had the option of ordering a hot breakfast from the kitchen. I would definitely stay at this place again. We loved our spacious kitchen and living room with a separate bedroom and open bathroom area. We also had a nice deck off the back where we enjoyed coffee in the morning while taking in the view. They have two swimming pools available for guests, which we ended up using more than we thought we would. We booked through TripAdvisor, but I believe you can find it on other travel sites as well.
Our one and only tasting of the day was at Boschendal, which ended up being one of our favorite experiences from the trip. This is one of Western Cape’s oldest wine farms and is a sprawling estate with multiple tasting rooms, restaurants, an art gallery and various gardens and walking/biking paths. There are a range of tastings you can choose from, I chose to do their Premium Tasting, which included two white wines and three reds. My husband elected to go with the Sparkling Wine tasting that came with oysters. Favorites included the Brut NV, Grande Cuvée Brut, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and the Black Angus red blend.
We followed up the tasting with a Werf picnic on their beautiful grounds, encircled by the mountains, a nearby pond and big oak trees which provided much needed shade from the warmth of the day. It was so enjoyable to relax on a picnic blanket, lawn chairs included, listening to live music as we noshed on a basket full of local seasonal produce, fresh baked bread, green salad, and handmade charcuterie cuts from the Boschendal Butchery. A bottle of Chenin Blanc was the perfect companion to the meal. You really could spend an entire day exploring this place or make it easy and stay in one of their cottages and make a weekend out of it.
Once back at our place, we had some time to relax before dinner, so we slipped on our swimsuits, poured a glass of wine and made our way to the swimming pool. Dinner was once again in downtown Stellenbosch. Saturday night didn’t seem as busy as the night before. We walked around, slipping in and out of boutique shops and art galleries before settling in for dinner at Hussar Grille. Many of the restaurants offer outdoor seating, which we preferred, allowing us to take in the bustle of the city while enjoying dinner. Topped off the night with some gelato before calling it a night.
Our final day in South Africa was bittersweet. I love having a vacation fly by because of all the amazing experiences but I also start missing home. The destination for the day was a new area, Franschhoek, a cute little town about 30 minutes from Stellenbosch. Our first tasting was enjoyed at Delaire Graff. The grounds and views are stunning. A winding road leading up to the winery is bursting with lush gardens on each side of the lane. Once at the top, it opens to sweeping views of the rolling vineyards and glorious mountains of the Banghoek Valley. We chose to sit outside on their wooden terrace, shaded by oak trees, to embrace the ambiance as we decided on what wine tasting to try. I decided to go with the Luxury and Premium range which included a Cabernet Franc Rose, Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and a red blend. My hubby opted for the Icon Collection which included a Brut, Merlot, White Reserve and Cabernet Sauvignon. Favorites included the Brut, White Reserve, Shiraz and Red Blend.
Next stop was lunch in the town of Franschhoek, Afrikaans for “French Corner”, a small town with a charming Main Street filled with art galleries, restaurants, boutiques, and multiple bed & breakfasts. Time Magazine mentioned this beautiful area as a ‘top 50 places in the world to visit for 2022.’ We enjoyed lunch at The French Connection where we once again ordered mussels, which were the highlight of the lunch plus the Buffalo Mozzarella and a tomato salad with basil. After lunch we spent some time roaming in and out of the shops. I found a local home goods store with darling, handmade cheeseboards. The perfect memento from our brief time here. If we do make it back to South Africa, this is an area I would certainly spend more time in.
The last tasting of the trip was coordinated by a friend I met via Instagram, Johan. He works in the wine industry in South Africa so we thought it would be fun to connect while I was in town. We met up at Zorgvliet Winery and had the pleasure of meeting the granddaughter of the founder. She was kind enough to take us on a brief tour, telling us a bit about the family farm history and how her Dad revamped it, creating a stunning estate which now includes a restaurant & picnic area, country lodging and a tasting room with panoramic views of the mountains. We took our time with the tasting, choosing to savor the wines in the picnic area in front of the tasting room. We had the pleasure of trying an array of wines. The Cabernet Franc Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc and the 100% Petit Verdot were the wines that really stood out. I know I keep saying this, but seriously, put this one on your list. Everything about it was serene and enjoyable.
We capped off our trip with another walk around downtown Stellenbosch, dinner on an outside patio where we were able to relax, and people watch as we enjoyed a delicious charcuterie plate with a glass of bubbly. We toasted to a wonderful trip before dashing off to the airport for a late-night flight back home.
A couple things to keep in mind if you are planning a trip here; South Africa has power cuts, known as load shedding, where the electricity is supplied by the country’s state-run power company and is turned off multiple times a day, usually in 2-hour increments. This can be quite an inconvenience and has been very hard on wine producers as they struggle to irrigate and press grapes during harvest. Lastly, if you are looking for a driver for your trip, I highly recommend Frank Mc Donogh, with Tours by Frank. He is very knowledgeable about the country, we learned so much from him. He was also very helpful taking pictures and we never felt pressure to hurry along to our next destination. South Africa was magical is so many ways. An experience I will never forget, filled with memories that will last a lifetime. I hope to visit this extraordinary place again someday, nine days was simply not enough time to take it all in.