It's been a while since we've written about South Africa's Cape Winelands, so we thought we'd add a few more recommendations to our previous features on Cape wining and dining. All of the following wine farms are located in and around the fertile valleys of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, around 45 minutes drive from Cape Town. Most have restaurants attached and all offer tastings or cellar tours and magnificent mountain views...
Vrede en Lust
Occupying a prominent position on the eastern foothills of Simonsberg mountain, family-owned Vrede en Lust is rightly regarded as one of the finest wine estates in the Franschhoek Valley. It's also one of the oldest, founded in 1688 by the French Huguenot Jacques de Savoye who immediately set to work on the land, planting 10,000 vines within three years. Today this working wine farm is owned by the Buys family – its 17th owners – who have restored a number of buildings and opened a new modern winery since the estate last changed hands in 1996.
One of the Cape Winelands' larger estates, Vrede en Lust offers self-catering accommodation in the retreat-like five bedroom Manor House, which sleeps up to ten and has a large country kitchen and an upstairs deck overlooking the mountains. A further three deluxe suites are available in the Jonkmanshuis, between the Manor House and the winery. Both share a pool and barbeque area.
Cotage Fromage is Vrede en Lust's country-style bistro and deli, packed with speciality cheeses, oils, preserves and cured meats and offering a wide selection of local dishes to try, including a sophisticated tasting menu designed to complement the estate's wines. A good choice if you want to linger – and who wouldn't – the six-course menu is paired with six expertly selected wines at a cost of R299 (around £22) per person – a bargain! Do reserve in advance though, as it's understandably popular.
Simonsig sits on the Kromme Rhee Road northwest of Stellenbosch, ten minutes south of the main N1 route from Cape Town. The estate was one of the founding members of the Stellenbosch Wine Route and is one of the most popular wineries in the area. Come for a tasting and cellar tour and you'll enjoy a selection of their award-winning wines on a shady, vine-covered verandah during summer or inside the cosy tasting room in front of an open fire in winter.
Simonsig's biggest draw, however, is its highly-regarded restaurant Cuvée, a culinary hotspot where we devoured one of the two best meals of our stay. (The other was at previously recommended Grande Roche in Paarl.) Choose a table in the natural light-filled dining room or out on the decked terrace and let the knowledgeable staff help you pair a selection of estate vintages with your meal – every wine is available by the glass, so experimenting over different courses is easy and encouraged.
The menu is fine dining at its most unpretentious: simple but exquisite Cape cuisine prepared with fresh farm produce from Simonsig's own gardens. The seafood dishes in particular stand out; fresh Saldanha Bay oysters, marinated crayfish with crispy squid, cured salmon with crackling and a perfectly flakey pan fried kingklip. If you've still room, finish with one of the rather decadent desserts, like the salted caramel and milk chocolate tart or vanilla and tonka bean pannacotta – you're on holiday after all. It's surprisingly good value too, by British standards – mains from around R110/£8.
La Bri Wine Estate
La Bri is a much smaller operation without a restaurant but we're including this old Cape Dutch manor house and winery in our list because the setting is so outstanding, bicycles are provided to ride down to the riverbank for a picnic, and the wine is so, so good. In fact, I'd go so far as to say the inky, oaky La Bri 2008 Syrah is the silkiest, most delicious red wine I've ever tasted, so much so I had to discard some items from my suitcase to fit in a few bottles to bring home.
Tastings are available six days a week around a long wooden tabletop resting on barrels in the lofty barn-like tasting room, where a huge floor-to-ceiling glass entrance-way leads to the Barrel Cellar, available to tour either by appointment or on a self-guided route. Just over a mile from Franschhoek village, the estate is easily accessible and the extensive oak-shaded lawns are a wonderful spot to sit and enjoy uninterrupted views across the vineyards to the Franschhoek Mountains.
Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate
Grande Provence is a 300 year old winery set amid 47 acres of Franschhoek Valley vineyards. Another highly-rated fine dining destination, the estate's award-winning restaurant lies beyond the wine tasting area; a cool and elegant gunmetal grey dining room with high-backed white leather chairs and floor-to-ceiling windows. Expect to find a menu offering fine French cuisine with an Asian twist, with no courses to speak of – simply choose whatever takes your fancy, in whatever order you wish. If you'd like the self-saucing chocolate pudding to start, followed by the slow cooked Karoo lamb or carpaccio of springbok, no one will bat an eyelid.
The five bedroom Owner's Cottage is available to rent either by one party (sleeps ten) or per room on a bed and breakfast basis, and comes complete with a private swimming pool and tucked-away spa pool overlooking rows of vines. There's also a state-of-the-art barbeque and spacious loggia for alfresco dining and entertaining. Massages, facials and private yoga and pilates sessions are available for staying guests.
Grande Provence has its own art gallery and has established itself as a leading light of contemporary South African art, featuring everything from painting and the graphic arts to ceramics, glass and jewellery. It's also an extremely popular venue for weddings and private events, with various different spaces available to hire, including a 60-person chapel, a sculpture garden and the stunning Jonkershuis extension. Wine tastings are available every day, with cellar tours on weekdays at 11am and 3pm (except during harvest).
Maison Estate is something a little bit different in the Cape. This three year old winery, founded by Chris Weylandt – the owner of one of South Africa's most successful furniture stores – has a very different look and feel to its neighbours. Contemporary, light and very, very white, the interiors are beautifully minimal and calming, especially in the tasting room and new restaurant The Kitchen which spills out onto a large patio. Filled with comfortable outdoor seating and overlooking manicured green lawns, the deck is perfect for lazing the day away with the pizza of the day and a bottle of Maison viognier, accompanied by Biscuit the dog and Porcini the pig if you're lucky.
Despite their relative newcomer-status, Maison have already won prizes for their 2009 Shiraz and have built on that success by producing a new range of limited edition wines, including a Chardonnay, Port, Staw Wine (dessert wine) and Cap Classique. Tastings are very informal, with samples poured freely and generously. Open Wednesdays to Sundays, 10am-5pm.
Header photo of Vrede en Rust © 2012 Vrede en Rust.
If you're looking for the ultimate honeymoon hotel in the Cape Winelands, check out our previous feature on Franschhoek's La Residence.
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.