The Cape Winelands region is a breathtaking destination celebrated for its extraordinary wines, captivating history, scenic landscapes, and delectable cuisine. Expansive vineyards and historic Cape Dutch homes grace the area, framed by majestic mountains, with exceptional wine always within reach.
While guests typically relish tasting the globally acclaimed wines and savouring the top-notch local fare, an array of additional activities awaits. Leisurely drives through the picturesque countryside, exploring quaint towns, and enjoying family-friendly activities, like strawberry picking and visiting local farms, are all popular choices for travellers.
Three of the most prominent towns for visitors to discover are Paarl, Stellenbosch, and Franschhoek, each exuding its unique character. Reserve accommodations in one of these towns and use it as your home base to experience the surrounding regions.
There's a wide range of wine grown in the Cape Winelands. If you enjoy reds, you can try the local Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Merlot, and there are some great blends as well. White options include Chardonney, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc, and JC Le Roux, South Africa's best known sparkling wine, is also grown in the region.
The Cape Winelands are one of those places you can visit all year round. The Summer months are warm with clear, blue skies, while the Winter brings cosy dinners and glasses of wine by the fire. Autumn and Spring are also both beautiful with colourful foliage.
Saying that, if you intend on exploring more of the Western Cape, then you'll probably want to visit visit between November and April. Cape Town is at its best in late summer and autumn, and the warmer weather means you can enjoy the beaches of the Garden Route, if that's part of your itinerary.
Situated approximately 50km east of Cape Town, Stellenbosch is the second oldest European settlement in the country. The vibrant university town is a picturesque place, with its oak-lined streets and Cape Dutch architecture, and it makes an ideal base for exploring the wider Winelands region.
Wine is undoubtedly the star of the show in Stellenbosch, with over 150 wine estates in the area. Visitors can indulge in guided wine tours and tastings, often accompanied by informative talks on the history and production methods of the region's finest vintages.
Signature grape varieties such as Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot are grown in the fertile valleys, creating exquisite wines that are renowned across the globe. Stellenbosch is also home to the Wine Route, a collection of wine estates that offer a range of immersive experiences, from cellar tours to gourmet dining.
You’ll find several excellent restaurants in the area, many of which are found on the wine estates themselves. The region's rich culinary offerings are inspired by its diverse cultural heritage, with traditional South African dishes given a contemporary twist.
Beyond its food and wine, Stellenbosch has many cultural attractions that cater to various interests. The town features a well-preserved collection of Cape Dutch, Georgian, and Victorian architecture, reflecting the region's European roots. The Village Museum, an open-air exhibit comprising four meticulously-restored homes, that shows the evolution of Stellenbosch's architectural styles over the centuries.
Art lovers will appreciate the numerous galleries and studios that display works by both local and international artists. The Stellenbosch University, a prominent institution in the region, is also home to the renowned Stellenbosch Art Gallery, featuring a diverse range of pieces from various African artists.
Nature enthusiasts will not be disappointed either, as the area offers an abundance of outdoor activities such as hiking, mountain biking, and birdwatching, including the nearby Jonkershoek Nature Reserve.
Established by French Huguenot refugees in the late 17th century, Franschhoek – meaning "French Corner" – retains a distinct Gallic charm, evident in its architecture and culinary scene.
The Franschhoek Wine Valley is home to more than 50 world-class wineries. The region's unique terroir results in diverse and exceptional wines, including renowned varieties like Chardonnay, Shiraz, and Semillon.
Franschhoek's Wine Tram, a popular tourist attraction, offers a unique and leisurely way to explore the valley. Visitors can choose from several routes that take them through picturesque vineyards and allow them to hop on and off at different estates for tastings, cellar tours, and exquisite dining experiences.
Culinary excellence is at the heart of Franschhoek, as it is often regarded as the gourmet capital of South Africa. Franschhoek's rich food culture is influenced by its French heritage, with chefs crafting innovative dishes that incorporate local ingredients and modern culinary techniques.
For those interested in the town's past, a visit to the Huguenot Memorial Museum is a must. The museum offers insight into the French Huguenots' journey to South Africa, their contribution to the region's wine industry, and the development of the town. The Huguenot Monument, a striking structure dedicated to the early settlers, is also a significant landmark that should not be missed.
Franschhoek's natural beauty is another highlight, with the surrounding mountains offering a variety of outdoor activities. Hiking trails, mountain biking routes, and horse riding excursions are available, giving visitors ample opportunities to immerse themselves in the breathtaking landscape.
Throughout the year, Franschhoek hosts a range of festivals and events, such as the Franschhoek Literary Festival and the Bastille Festival, which celebrate the town's cultural and historical heritage. These events draw visitors from around the world, showcasing the best of Franschhoek's art, cuisine, and wine.
Paarl is the third oldest European settlement in the country and offers a fascinating blend of history, culture, and award-winning wines.
The Paarl Wine Route, one of the oldest and most esteemed in the country, features over 30 wine estates, each with its own unique character and charm. Visitors can explore these estates through tastings, cellar tours, and vineyard walks, learning about the region's viticulture and winemaking traditions.
The region's Mediterranean climate, along with the fertile soil of the Berg River Valley, produces outstanding wines, including notable varieties such as Chenin Blanc, Pinotage, and Shiraz.
Paarl is more than just a wine lover's paradise; it also offers an array of culinary delights. The town's restaurants are known for their farm-to-table approach, utilizing fresh, local ingredients to create mouthwatering dishes. Whether you prefer casual bistros or elegant fine-dining establishments, the diverse array of eateries will satisfy any palate.
The town's rich history and cultural heritage are evident in its well-preserved architectural landmarks, including the Taal Monument, a striking structure that celebrates the Afrikaans language. Paarl's Main Street, lined with magnificent oak trees, is home to an impressive collection of Cape Dutch, Georgian, and Victorian buildings. Visitors interested in the town's history can explore the Paarl Museum, which showcases local artifacts and delves into the area's fascinating past.
Outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to do in Paarl, as the town is surrounded by breathtaking natural landscapes. The Paarl Mountain Nature Reserve is a popular destination for hiking, mountain biking, and picnicking. The reserve boasts unique granite rock formations, indigenous fynbos vegetation, and a wide array of birdlife, making it an ideal spot for nature lovers.
Throughout the year, Paarl hosts various events and festivals - look out for the annual Paarl Harvest Celebration and the Proe Paarl Food and Wine Festival, if you enjoy food and wine.
If you haven't spent much time in Cape Town, now would be the time to go. The Mother City has a huge amount to see and do and visiting is a must on your South African trip.
Otherwise, spend the next week or two following the Garden Route up the coast, stopping in at all the little towns along the way. If you want a quiet beach break, Knysna is a firm favourite.
Last Updated 12 September 2023