In my opinion, it wouldn’t be a trip to Cape Town without a visit to the wine region an hour out of the city. So despite there being so much to do in Cape Town itself, we still managed to squeeze in a day trip to sample the wines and soak up the scenery in the Cape Winelands.
With a wine producing history that goes back over 350 years, the gorgeous towns of Franschhoek, Paarl and Stellenbosch are rich in history as well as being surrounded by some of the most stunning scenery in South Africa.
It is seriously beautiful up there.
Trav and I visited Stellenbosch for a couple of days of wine tasting and a night out with the University students back in 2009, so this time around we planned to take a tram between vineyards in nearby Franschhoek, after Trav’s brother raved about his experience doing it the summer before.
I have been fascinated with trams since taking the one remaining tram in Auckland between the Zoo and the Museum of Transport and Technology when I was a kid. So a tram between wineries was especially appealing.
As we drove into the valleys of the winelands, the dusty mountains rose above us and the lowlands spread out before us like a lush green blanket. Rows of vines spread out over the low hills and the unique architecture of Cape Dutch estates dotted the landscape.
We arrived in town with about twenty minutes to spare, parked along the main street and began or search for the Wine Tram office. It took us a while to find it and we got there with about 5 minutes to spare.
It was sold out.
A bit of a bummer but we had our own set of wheels so after looking around town for a bit we set out on our own tour.
Franschhoek is a gorgeous town full of the distinctive bright white Cape Dutch style buildings. Boutiques and trendy cafes lined up along the narrow main street. Trees provided sun dappled shade along the footpath. Despite the number of tourists walking around town it still retained a peaceful and unhurried air. I would have loved to explore more but we had some wine tasting to do!
Our first stop on our mini wine tour was Mont Rochelle, a small vineyard and hotel that was recently bought by Sir Richard Branson. Driving up the long driveway to the grand estate, the scenery left us spellbound. Those mountains! There was hardly anyone around when we arrived as we had beaten the Wine Tram there.
Our wine waiter led us to a long table that dominated the sheltered deck to the side of the Restaurant. We tried a total of five wines, of which I primarily chose reds. I enjoyed all of them but I couldn’t tell you what they tasted of other than red wine. My palate could not be described as complex. The best thing about wineries to me is the surrounding countryside. I find great beauty in the tidy rows of vines lined up on a hillside.
Between tastings I wandered down to look out over the vineyard and the surrounding mountains. Horses were grazing in a field nearby and all was quiet. Vineyards always give off such a sense of peace.
Mont Rochelle turned out to be my favorite with its understated beauty and grace. Not to mention the view.
Next on our tour was the very grand Grande Provence. It was a lot busier than Mont Rochelle but I loved the perfectly manicured gardens and courtyard. There were sculptures on display throughout the garden and small tables and blankets scattered on the rich, green grass.
I chose to taste a trio of rosés while we stood around a small bar table, perched in among the trees. The service wasn’t as good as Mont Rochelle, where we had our own wine waiter. There was a bit of a wait between tastings while our waiter scuttled back and forth between us and the other people she was serving. I could imagine on a quieter day that it would be a peaceful spot.
Rickety Bridge was our last stop for the day and I was about done with wine by then, choosing instead to focus on what food they had on offer at their popular restaurant.
Rickety Bridge is a larger estate than the other two that we visited and was positively swarming with people. Kids were running half naked through sprinklers on the front lawn and there were cars in a mini traffic jam along the driveway.
We sat on the enclosed deck for lunch. It took a long time to get our meals but we were given complimentary bread and dips while we waited. The heat became stifling as the air heated under the circus-type tent that enclosed us.
I checked out the interior while we were waiting for our food; it was stark and under furnished which made it feel clinical to me. I am a big fan of cosy and cosy it was not. Overall, Rickety Bridge didn’t hold the same appeal to me as the smaller Mont Rochelle, although I enjoyed my Butter chicken curry.
Despite missing out on the joy of travelling by tram, we still managed to have a great day out with visits to three wine estates as well as a wander around pretty Franschhoek. In the future I would like to go back and experience the area by bike or by hiking in the mountains, something we couldn’t really do with Trav’s family with us.
The mountains of the winelands beg to be explored.