The magnificent Winelands region just outside of Cape Town is a delightful area to explore and enjoy on a day trip away or even a weekend away. Immerse yourself in rich history and experience stunning landscapes all while learning about the finer art of viticulture and sampling delicious wines. The three main towns that make up the region are all historically and culturally fascinating but each provides a unique flavor that needs to be experienced to be felt. Stellenbosch combines Cape Dutch history with education, art, and innovation. Franschhoek is the ultimate in luxury and refinement in a breathtaking setting. Paarl has a distinct countryside feeling and with excellent examples of historical architecture. It’s possible to visit all three towns on a Cape Town Safaris Cape Winelands Tour, read below to find out each uniquely charming town’s specific highlights.
Stellenbosch – Wine, Food and Art Capital of South Africa
Stellenbosch is completely surrounded by wine farms on all sides, with some hugging the slopes of the mountains and others sprawled out over rolling hills. With over 150 wine estates, there are vineyards as far as the eye can see. In the centre of this wine tasting mecca is a quaint historic little town that has more to offer than just boozy grapes and decadent wine tasting. Stellenbosch is the 2nd oldest town in South Africa, and the centre of the town is full of beautiful historical buildings tastefully combined with more modern styles.
No trip to the region is complete without a leisurely wander down Dorp Street which is renowned for having one of the longest rows of old buildings surviving in any major town in southern Africa. Walking through the town is itself an attraction, with oak tree lined avenues, a beautiful botanical garden, and mountains in the distance. The architecture is predominantly Cape Dutch and the walls are all a crisp white, providing a perfect backdrop to all the interesting sculptures on almost every corner that is part of an initiative to fill the town with art in public spaces.In the Winelands, Stellenbosch has the unique distinction of being a student town, providing an arty and slightly bohemian vibe with the added benefit of low budget eateries and lively bars. There are amazing restaurants to be found on the wine estates but the town itself also has a wide offering of dining options that can fit all tastes and budgets. For fine-dining Wijnhuis and Jardine are highly recommended and booking is strongly suggested. Basic Bistro, Oppie Dorp, and Java Café are fantastic medium range options dripping with charm. Schoon de Companje and De Warenmark are two eclectic eateries capitalizing on the town’s Dutch heritage combined with a quirky and modern feel.
Franschhoek – South Africa’s Culinary Capital
Franschhoek is loosely translated to “French corner” and is known as the valley where French Huguenot refugees settled in the 17th and 18th centuries fleeing religious persecution in France. The Huguenot Monument is a beautiful site to visit and the nearby Huguenot museum provides more information on their culture and history. The charming little town nestled in this beautiful corner of the Winelands has taken its French heritage and run with it. Almost all the streets, restaurants and wine farms have Francophone names.
Wine and fine food are the main attraction in this beautiful village tucked neatly into a corner of majestic mountains. Eight of the top 100 restaurants in South Africa can be found in Franschhoek. Renowned restaurants such as Foliage, Reuben’s and Le Quartier Francais are all highly recommended, but booking is absolutely essential. More informal, but still excellent dining options can be found all along the main road, some interesting ones are Café des Artes (just off the main street), Tuk Tuk Microbrewery, and Lust Bistro & Bakery. If you happen to be there on a Saturday there is a lively village market where you can sample delicious morsels of local and international cuisine as well as support the local craftsmen.Franschhoek is the smallest of the 3 towns, but what it lacks in size it more than makes up for in beauty, landscape, and charm. The towering mountains enveloping the town change in hues from green to purple depending on the position of the sun. Besides world-class restaurants, the streets are dotted with wonderful art galleries and boutiques that are well worth browsing through and there are some excellent coffee roasters and chocolatiers as well.
Paarl – The Pearl of the Winelands
Paarl is the 3rd oldest town in South Africa and is named after the impressive granite outcrop on the mountain it lies beneath. In the 17th century an explorer viewed the smooth stone atop the mountain, glistening in the sun after some recent rainfall and compared it to the beauty of a pearl. It is geologically interesting as the 2nd largest such outcrop in the world but what provides more of a touristically interesting experience is The Taal Monument built on the famous rock also out of smooth granite and is a remarkable place to wander through, the site is a celebration of the Afrikaans language, an official language of South Africa.
This historic town is known for having one the longest main streets in the world and is the largest settlement in the Winelands, providing a variety of charming restaurants and cafes to pop into for refreshments. The town has the unique distinction of retaining a countryside feel while being located only 40 minutes from Cape Town. The KWV Wine Emporium was originally the headquarters of all wine production in the Cape and is now an enlightening place to visit with its stunning high vaulted ceiling and innovative tasting activities. It is also possible to taste high quality South African Brandy here. Some of the oldest and most established wine estates are in this region and winemaking has a rich history in this region.
Just outside the town lies the Drakenstein prison where Nelson Mandela served out the rest of his prison term after being moved from Robben Island. It’s through these gates that he took his first steps to freedom and there is a life-sized bronze statue of Madiba commemorating the event. The setting of the working prison is rather incongruous as it’s surrounded by beautiful mountains, rolling hills, and vineyards. But it’s a necessary reminder of South Africa’s dark past and its promising future.