Wine country: South Africa still offers good value
Most of South Africa’s finest wines are produced in the Cape winelands, within striking distance of Cape Town. This makes it possible to visit a couple of wineries in a day and then return to the delights of the city. A more relaxing experience involves staying on a wine estate and soaking up the sounds, smells and serried ranks of vines that comb the countryside.
Named for the French Huguenots that settled here, Franschhoek (“French corner”) has enormous grace and beauty, and is known for its Cape Dutch architecture.
Vrede en Lust (“Peace and Eagerness”) was founded in 1688, and I certainly found peace in the deep and lovely Bordeaux-style reds produced by winemaker Susan Erasmus; so much peace, in fact, that I slept the afternoon away in my large, airy, old-fashioned suite. As with many wine estates, Vrede en Lust is not a full-service hotel, but more a soigné bed and breakfast, catering for 20 people at most.
Commanding the crest of the Helshoogte Pass linking these two districts, is the Delaire Graff Estate. Laurence Graff is chairman of Graff Diamonds International, but Delaire is no mere trinket.
Graff set out to create the ultimate wine, food and hotel experience, so you will not be surprised to learn that the winery is the most up to the minute in the Cape and turns out an exceptionally elegant Sauvignon Blanc.
South Africa still offers very good value in food and wine, but – as you might imagine from a man of Graff’s carat – Delaire does not come cheap.
Paarl is the largest town in the Cape winelands and the closest to Cape Town, about 30 miles away.
Palmiet Valley Estate is of elegant late 17th-century construction. Its vineyards stretch to the Drakenstein Mountains. I like to stretch by the pool, clutching a glass of award-winning Chardonnay as if someone might steal it.
Accommodation-wise, Palmiet has 13 suites, and its restaurant, where subtle Cape Malay dishes are served, is open only to guests. Fruits other than the grape are grown here: Palmiet is home to the country’s first guava tree.
Though less famous than some other places in the winelands, I love Wellington. Previously known for brandy (meaning, grapes not good enough for wine), a growing band of wine lovers, such as Brits Lee and Abbi Wallis, have been buying up old homesteads and blowing new life into their vineyards.
Their guest house, Bovlei Valley Retreat, nestles at the foot of the Bainskloof Pass, and is the essence of simple chic comfort. Exceptional Merlot and Shiraz wines are produced next door by Abbi’s father, Robert Frith. Production from Dunstone winery, their 2.8 hectare plot, is tiny. A jewel.
On the Green Mountain Eco Route, the world’s first biodiversity wine route, you will find Goedvertrouw wine estate and B&B between Bot River and Villiersdorp on the Van der Stel Pass. Come to access your inner hippie, and to marvel at the energy of Elreda Pillman, who cooks like a dream, and makes delicious organic wines by hand. No website; telephone: +27 28 284 9769.
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