With its magnificent scenery, world-class vineyards, fabulous food and wide range of boutique luxury accommodation, it's not surprising that the Cape Winelands rank highly on many visitors' South Africa bucket list.
Just a short hop from Cape Town and dotted among sprawling wine estates, the picturesque Cape Dutch towns of Paarl, Franschhoek, and Stellenbosch set the scene for indulgent days, and stays, in South Africa’s premier wine region; it's a setting which today produces some of the world’s most acclaimed vintages.
In a valley first settled some 300 years ago by enterprising French winemakers, this picturesque town sits front and centre of modern South Africa's burgeoning wine industry. It's also a town that, like early season grapes to a vine, has clung tight to its French heritage. It's an influence best seen in the town's widely celebrated culinary scene, showcased proudly in some of South Africa's finest restaurants. Throw in a small but perfectly formed collection of shops, museums and galleries and there's much to entertain during a few days' stay.
If Franschhoek is French, then Stellenbosch is very much Dutch in origin, founded as it was by Simon van der Stel towards the end of the 17th-century. It's colonial heritage can still be seen in a mix of Cape Dutch and Victorian architecture that makes the town a delight to explore. But it's the rich soil here that gives this region its most acclaimed export. Surrounding the town, several hundred estates produce some of South Africa's finest wines, which you'll be introduced to on expert-led tours and tastings. Then, after sampling them once, return to town to try them again, this time paired with the delicious Cape Dutch cuisine served at Stellenbosch's many excellent restaurants.
Perched on the banks of the Berg River, Paarl is the Winelands' largest town. And, while it might often play second fiddle to Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, it's still well worth a few days' exploration. The town itself is home to a wonderful mix of architectural styles, from Georgian and Edwardian to classic Cape Dutch. There are some interesting museums and monuments to explore, not least the Afrikaans Language Monument that stands proudly on the slopes of Paarl Mountain and celebrates the birth of Afrikaans as the world's youngest language. And, just outside the town, the Drakenstein Prison is where Nelson Mandela spent his final years in captivity. The main reason to visit, though, is of course the wine, and the excellent Paarl Wine Routs takes in the best local producers alongside a pair of superb craft breweries.