Fancy some winter sunshine with your wine? Christine Austin recommends a visit to South Africa.
Just back from my Christmas break and I am already seriously considering an invitation to join a friend at her holiday home in Cape Town. There is something about winter sunshine that not only tops up my vitamin D levels but warms my bones and makes me think that spring must surely be just round the corner.
The great thing about visiting South Africa, and Cape Town in particular, is that it is just 40 minutes’ drive to the heart of wine country. You can lose yourself visiting wineries which these days are so well set up that you can wander around gardens, art galleries, or just sit and admire the view, then have lunch, and taste some wines before heading to the next destination.
If you think that it is a long way to go, think again. Most flights leave in the evening and it takes less than 12 hours to get there. That gives you time to have a glass of wine, eat a plastic tray of plastic food, watch a couple of movies, sleep a bit and by the time they switch the lights on for breakfast you are over the southern Atlantic Ocean and about to commence the sweep to the left as you approach Cape Town. Make sure you get a seat on the left side of the plane (window seat A) and with a bit of luck the day will be clear as you fly in over the Cape of Good Hope then swoop low over the coastline and False Bay before landing in time for a late breakfast. The great thing about South Africa is that there is no jet lag so you can squeeze a visit into a long weekend if you really have to.
At the airport, pick up a car to drive yourself to your hotel or arrange to have a car pick you up. At 18 rands to the pound everything is very affordable.
You should have bought your copy of the Platter Guide (£17.50 on Amazon) well in advance or make time to pick one up at the airport. This little book is chock full of details of wineries, where to stay and where to eat. There are even simple maps showing you where the various estates are.
Much I as love Cape Town for the waterfront, the restaurants and shopping, I generally head out of town towards Stellenbosch, a lovely university town in the heart of the wine region. There are plenty of guest houses to stay in and it is good to choose one where you can walk into the centre of town to eat in the evening. I like to stay at River Manor (www.rivermanor.co.za), a small guest house with a Colonial feel and a reasonable-sized pool in the back garden.
A stay of a week or more will allow you to explore the region and really get to know it. As well as the main hub of Stellenbosch, it is well worth visiting Paarl, Franschhoek, Constantia and Walker Bay. Each has its own style and character. Even Robertson comes within reach if you can spare the time to drive through the mountains. The main enjoyment of South Africa comes from a sensationally beautiful landscape – the rugged mountains, the breath-taking views across the valleys and the glorious sweep down to the coast. Food is fantastic with a touch of Cape Malay cuisine amongst the braais (barbecues) and roast meats. The wines have been improving for years and now stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the best in the world.
Go on, take a power-break; January and February are far too good to waste on the northern hemisphere. Here are my recommendations of where you should stay, see, eat and drink while you are there.
This is the heart of the wine estates. Book lunch at Delaire Graff and enjoy one of the best mountain views in the Cape. Even better, stay at one of their luxurious lodges and wake up to that same view, then take a dip in your own pool. This is the expensive way to enjoy the Cape, but since the owners, Graff, are also in the diamond business, you might expect luxury as standard.
My favourite wine visits include Warwick for its fabulous picnics that can be eaten in the garden or taken up the mountain where you can enjoy the view. The wine is excellent too. Try Beyerskloof for its scrubbed tables, bistro food and fabulous Pinotage or head to Tokara for more breathtaking views and exquisite, elegant food. An excursion to Jordan estate will take you towards the mountains, stunning scenery, great wines and an excellent restaurant while Kleine Zalze has great wines, accommodation, restaurant and even a golf course.
This is the French corner of the Cape, half an hour’s drive from Stellenbosch, tucked between the mountains, and it is packed full of visitors in summertime. Stay at La Petite Ferme (lapetiteferme.co.za) if you can get in, otherwise make sure you eat there. Boschendal (www.boschendal.com) is a wonderful old-style wine estate, idyllically situated against the mountains. Go to Le Pique-Nique at Boschendal for a lunch under the trees and take a small detour to Babylonstoren, an old-style Cape Dutch farm with fabulous gardens, a restaurant and guest suites.
A two-hour drive from Stellenbosch will take you to the coastal region of Walker Bay, famed for its Pinot Noir and its whales. January may be too late to see the whales off the coast at Hermanus, but make sure you taste as many Pinot Noirs as you can. Newton Johnson is one of my favourites from this region, and there is an excellent restaurant so start your tour here. Beaumont is a delightful family property with great wines and cottages to rent. Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Finlayson are the key players in this area but make time to taste the wines from Ataraxia.
South of Cape Town the countryside has a distinct feeling of Surrey about it. There are trees and grand estates, but it also boasts a spectacular coastline and glorious wines. Visit Klein Constantia for the wines, Groot Constantia for the history and Constantia Uitsig , which also has rooms, for the best lunch that the southern hemisphere has to offer (www.uitsig.com).