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For lack of a better word, my trip to South Africa so far has been amazing. I spent the first three days in Cape Town at the Westin, exploring, eating and drinking my way through the seaside cosmopolitan city. I still have another weekend to go in Cape Town, so stay tuned for that blog post, but I wanted to share some highlights of wine country thus far.
South African Wine Country
The main wine towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek are less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town city center. I’m a big wine fan, but I’ll be honest that I’ve never been a huge South African wine fan. In my experience, the white wines are a little too bitter and the reds, specifically Shiraz, too smoky. However, after dining in Cape Town, I found the new love of my life: Pinotage (pronounced pinoh- taj) – a delicious blend of Pinot Noir and Cinsaut (known as Hermitage in South Africa, hence the tage!) that pairs perfectly with wild game and steak which got me amped up to visit wine country.
Our first stop was Vergelegen Estate just outside Somerset, which is over 310 years old. The grounds were impeccable and it cost 10 Rand to enter ($1.16) and 30 Rand ($3.49) to taste 6 of their wines (flagships wines cost 10 Rand more). The gardens were spectacular and reminded me of the Tuileries in Paris – especially on such a sunny day – we’ve been blessed with sunny high 70’s summer weather so the grounds looked impeccable. The wines themselves weren’t my favorite – they were a bit acidic and the whites were a little too warm for my tastes, but we still had a nice time.
We tried eating at their restaurant, but were told it was fully booked (a common thing to hear during the peak summer season) so they recommended we go to Lourensford Wine Estate just down the road, which was once again a stunning estate with a farm-to-table type restaurant, Millhouse Kitchen.
They were able to seat us, albeit only inside, but we enjoyed a great meal that included fresh mozzarella and garden tomato, chicken liver foie gras and fresh trout salads. We didn’t do a tasting, but had their signature white blend at lunch, which paired perfectly with the trout and the sunny views of the grounds.
After our tastings, we decided to take a break from wine and head just south of Somerset to the Cheetah Outreach center on a small reserve outside of town where we were shown an educational film about these magnificent endangered cats, met some other African wildlife including jackals and meerkats before actually experiencing a cheetah encounter with a couple of cubs named Harris and Eigg. It was an incredible experience getting up close with these docile and beautiful animals, and well worth the 220R ($26) per person. There are less than 1,000 wild cheetahs in South Africa because farmers routinely kill them (which isn’t against the law), so this center works to educate farmers and even breed them mountain dogs to help protect their flocks from cheetahs. Cheetahs are not vicious by nature- in fact there has never been a reported huma
After that it was time to make the 30-minute drive north through Stellenbosch and into the countryside beyond to our hotel, Hawksmoor House, a gorgeous 300-year-old Cape Dutch farmhouse that’s been converted into a rustic country inn where we were greeted with coffee and cake (and wine from their estate) some wagging tails and licks from the three dogs that live on the property, and help getting dinner reservations during our stay.
We found Hawksmoor House through a friend of ours named Michelle Finkelstein Murré who owns a luxury travel agency called Azurine Travel along with her husband Roderick, and who found us this hidden little gem (along with plenty of winery and restaurant suggestions and our safari lodge which I’ll be covering in a future post) for $138 per person per night, each with our own room and including breakfast each morning.
That evening for dinner, we drove 20 minutes into the town of Stellenbosch to eat at famous golfer Ernie Els’s restaurant, The Big Easy, where I enjoyed mussels and gnocchi for dinner and Eric had Atlantic crayfish.
After a full farmhouse breakfast at Hawksmoor House this morning, we took off for some wine-tasting toward Franschhoek, where we stopped at Babylonstoren, another luxury “farm” with a hotel, spa, gourmet restaurant (fully booked again!) and winery where we tasted through their range of wines from Chenin Blanc to Syrah before heading to another historic winery called Vrede en Lust along the road to Franschhoek.
Tonight we’re off to the critically acclaimed restaurant at uber-luxury hotel Delaire Graff and then tomorrow it’s off to see the penguins and spend the evening at the luxury 12 Apostles resort (using Visa Signature hotel benefits) before going back to Cape Town this weekend. Then it’s Johannesburg for a night and then three nights of safari at Sabi Sabi sands, allegedly the most game-rich area of Kruger National Park, I can’t wait!