Cape Town wine drives
Robben Island and Table Mountain lure most tourists to Cape Town but it’s the Cape Winelands that will convince them to stay, says Lark Ellen Gould
Few travellers go the distance to South Africa without checking out the captivating beauty and culture of Cape Town. The city, guarded from the back by iconic Table Mountain and from the front by the confluence of the Atlantic and Indian oceans, could be considered one of the most riveting destinations in the world. And it is filled with absolute must-dos, beginning with the half-day tour to Robben Island and a visit to the fabulous Two Oceans Aquarium.
But for travellers who have a little time and a thing for wine, a convenient enterprise called Cape Country Routes is happy to oblige.
Cape Country Routes (CCR) was started in 1997 by a group of forward-thinking independent hotel and country inn owners, to encourage visitors to explore the scenic, romantic and historic routes between the two harbor cities – Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. Properties in their portfolio were chosen for character, charm and romance – what ‘CCR’ likes to cast as its hallmark.
Cape Town is much characterised by its famous wine route that meanders through a scenic countryside of farmlands and vineyards anchored by quaint provincial cottages and inns that would look equally at home in Arles or the Cotswolds.
The booking catalogue offers visitors the opportunity to meet the locals and take roads less travelled along safe, self-drive routes that run from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth about 420 miles away between the Western and Eastern capes.
The Winelands Route might be the easiest to manage if time is short, while still providing a fulfilling experience of the Cape Town countryside. The oldest stop on this sojourn is the trip to Stellenbosch winery, only 30 minutes from Cape Town and a jumping off point for the wine region. Stellenbosch is the oldest town in South Africa, after Cape Town, founded in 1679 by the governor of the Dutch East India Compan. Homes here are well preserved, four of them form the town museum and it’s an easy hop to Frankschoek, 20 minutes away and awash in Huguenot history as well as wineries and cafes.
Paarl is slightly north of Stellenbosch at the foot of what is the second largest granite outcropping in the world. Tourism offerings here include exploring the foothills and vineyards on horseback or checking out the sites by hot air balloon. North of Paarl, an hour from Cape Town is the trendy town of Riebeek Kasteel with award-winning wine estates to visit and a bounty of olive groves.
The Winelands Route is only one of six self-drive itineraries Cape Country Routes maps out for visitors. The second is the West Coast to Cederberg; Route Three is Overberg to Klein Karoo to Great Karoo, passing natural hot springs (believed to hold aphrodisiac properties), great nature walks and biking routes, nature reserves, ostrich farms, and estates known for their brands of port wine and brandy.
Route Four takes in Overberg and the Cape Agulhas Wine Route. The road opened in 1958 as a way to access popular tourist destinations on the Whale Coast at the southernmost tip of Africa. The route runs through seaside villages and into the charming backcountry towns of Swellendam and Montagu.
Route Five is considered the Garden Route that goes through Mossel Bay – considered the Eden of South Africa for its lush vegetation. Bungee enthusiasts will find the world’s highest here at some 708 feet up at the Bloukrans Bridge. Knysna is considered the capital of the Garden Route – a seaside town known for the yellowwood forest and freshwater oysters.
Route Six runs along the Sunshine Coast from Plettenberg Bay through Oyster Bay and St. Francis Bay to Port Elizabeth. But a visit to Addo Elephant National Park just north of Port Elizabeth promises the largest concentration of elephants in the world, with big five wildlife preserves only a short drive away.