The traditional Cape Winelands – Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Paarl, Somerset West – are within a stone’s throw of Cape Town. These earliest colonial settlements each come with their own wine route, making it easy to travel from one farm to the next sampling wines.
Cape Dutch architecture (do you know the difference between a Holbol gable and a Neoclassical gable) dominates the landscape, whilst the beauty of the countryside is inspiring (all those mountains!), and the cuisine of this core of the wine-producing areas is difficult to beat (award-winning chefs and restaurants).
And that’s before you’ve sampled the wine from over 400 wine estates.
There is another side to the Winelands that has nothing to do with wine and everything to do with exploring the area’s beauty and history. Here are a few alternatives to wine tasting to take you off the tourist track…
Top Things To Do In The Cape Winelands That Aren’t About Wine
Considered one of the finest art galleries in the Winelands, the Rupert Museum houses the private art collection of Anton and Huberte Rupert and includes some of the best Pierneef pieces in the country. You’ll find the museum on the banks of the Eersterivier in Stellenbosch.
The art collection holds over 350 works regarded as the best collection of contemporary South African art from the period between 1940 and 1970. Every art lover should visit at least once.
Where: Stellentia Avenue, just off Dorp Street, Stellenbosch
Right in the heart of the Jonkershoek Mountains the reserve , which includes the smaller Assegaaibosch Nature Reserve, is a popular Stellie outing (locals buy annual permits) and one of four reserves that form part of the Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site.
Jonkershoek’s beauty (despite the 2015 fire damage) is an assault on the senses. It is a great place for day walks, mountain bike trails and hikes to one of three waterfalls.
Where: Jonkershoek Road, Stellenbosch
The oak-lined, leafy avenue, chock-a-block with historical buildings, is old-world charm at its best.
Claiming to be the longest row of old buildings in any major town in southern Africa, a walk down Dorp Street gives you access to architecture, historical landmarks, boutiques, restaurants and pavement culture. It’s a must.
Where: It’s one of the main roads in Stellenbosch.
Nietvoorbij is positively reticent about its beautiful landscaped heritage garden. Not many people know about it. You’ll find the heritage garden in the grounds of the agricultural research council, responsible for research, development and technology on the breeding, cultivation and post-harvest technology of fruit, grapes and other crops, like berries and olives.
Their four hectare garden is a partial wetland in a depression at the mouth of the Jonkershoek valley. The tours are self-guided, after collecting a brochure at the office (week days only).
Where: ARC-Infruitec/Nietvoorbij, Banghoek Road, Stellenbosch
Even if you don’t think you know where Cape Town Film Studio is, you do. Because alongside the sound stages are a couple of historical ships for the pirate series Black Sails, now into its third season, visible from the N2 at the intersection with Baden Powell.
By all accounts the studios are doing so well, they’ve been able to turn down projects they’re so fully booked. Safe House was shot at the studios, as were Chronicle and Mad Max: Fury Road (Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron). No organised tours are available, but it’s only a matter of time.
Where: Just off Baden Powell Drive
This beautiful garden is in the historical heart of Stellenbosch. The themed gardens, glasshouses and collections have belonged to the university since 1922.
It is a fairytale mix of roses, ferns, herbs, medicinal plants, reeds, bamboo, bulbs, trees, shrubs, bromelias, asters, fountains, sculptures, aquatic plants, koi fish, a nursery and a little restaurant that all gently murmurs alongside the water features and the generous number of trees providing respite from the summer heat.
Where: Corner of Van Riebeeck and Neethling Streets
Alongside Paarl Rock on the mountain overlooking the town of Paarl is a monument commemorating the Afrikaans language.
The monument is a work of art by Jan van Wijk, inspired by both the granite rocks prevalent in the area, and the words of NP van Wyk Louw (who writes about how Afrikaans is the language uniting Western Europe to Africa), and CJ Langenhoven. Visit, for its surprising beauty.
Where: Gabbema, Doordrift Street, Paarl
Admittedly this attraction is on a wine estate. But it’s a very low-key wine farm right at the very end of the Franschhoek Valley.
The pretty historical house dates back to the 1700s. It is one of the best examples of a simple T-shaped farmhouse with a wolfsneus (wolf’s nose) gable – the first front gables designed and built in original houses in the Cape – they look a little like eyebrows over the front dormer window. The gable was based on the medieval architecture of the Netherlands. From this basic gable grew the Cape Dutch gables we all recognise today.
Where: Excelsior Road, Franschhoek
We’ve snuck Babylonstoren in here because, despite the fact that it is a wine-producing farm, and now extremely popular (if you want to attend a tour of the gardens and eat at Babel, you’ll need to book months in advance) the gardens are such an incredible experience that this is one place in the Winelands you are obligated to visit!
Where: Just off R44, Groot Drakenstein
Right in the heart of the mountains overlooking Franschhoek, Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve is easy to get to, offers a well marked network of hikes of varying lengths and difficulty, provides an informative guide at the gate, and truly beautiful views. Besides, a vigorous hike is a great antidote to hours of wine tasting.
The reserve is 1759 hectares and forms part of the Boland Biosphere Reserve.
Afterwards: a great choice of restaurants and coffee shops in Franschhoek.
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