By Darlene Clarke, Under An Orange Sky Contributor and Family Member
Of the many side trips from Cape Town, the Cape Winelands tour is a treat to the eye as well as the pallet. You don’t have to be a wine aficionado to enjoy this enchanting region of jagged mountains, fertile valleys and slopes planted with orchards and vines. While you can rent a car and travel the route at your leisure, perhaps the most educational and entertaining way to see this area is to take advantage of one of the many coach tours available from Cape Town, and since many, if not most, of the vineyards you’ll encounter offer free wine tastings, leaving the driving to another isn’t a bad idea.
When the first settlers arrived in Cape Town in the mid-1600s, the governor, Simon van der Stel awarded them tracts of land, together with implements and oxen to help them establish farms. More and more settlers arrived from Germany, France and the Netherlands, many of them experienced winemakers, who discovered that the hills in this region were perfect for growing vines. The temperate Mediterranean climate of the Cape ensured the survival of the early wine-making traditions. The cool mountain and sea breezes create the diverse conditions to ensure a wide range of superb wines, both red and white, making South Africa the world’s ninth-largest wine producer.
Most of the historic wine estates have been lovingly restored, and it sometimes feels like you’re time traveling as you pass fascinating varieties of architecture, including Cape Dutch, Georgian and Victorian styles. Picture yourself seated on the patio of a sprawling Dutch Colonial estate, shaded by giant oaks, with rows of vines running as far as the eye can see and glasses with an assortment of delicious wines laid out on a table in front of you.
Stellenbosch was the first of the wineland towns to be established by our friend Simon when he became governor in 1679. Walking is the best way to explore this university town – turn down streets as whim strikes you or grab a “Stellenbosch on Foot” brochure from the tourist information center. You’ll see why Stellenbosch came to be known as the City of Oaks due to the large number of these timeless trees planted by our friend Simon to grace the streets and homesteads.
Continuing Northwest from Stellenbosch you’ll come to the old, scenic village of Franschoek, founded near the Drakenstein Mountains in 1688 by French immigrants whose descendants eventually supplied highly sought after wines to Napoleon, Bismarck and even Edward VII. Once a sleepy country retreat, the village experienced a boom in the 1990s. Franschoek is noted not only for its strong wine culture but for its pristine natural and architectural beauty which has made this city into what many describe as the “food and wine capitol” of South Africa.
After a day of beautiful scenery and lovely wines, you’ll have the pleasure of traveling through some of the most beautiful scenery in South Africa on you way back to Cape Town.