Travel South Africa visit - advice needed

Discussion in 'UK Wine Forum' started by Simon Wheeler, Mar 4, 2018.

  1. i know there’s many here who have visited South Africa so I wanted to ask for a little advice before getting too far into the planning

    We want to visit the wine regions around Cape Town, largely for wine reasons but also to enjoy the country in general and relax while away.
    We prefer pinot’s and lighter, higher acid wines to heavier wines, but we really want to get a feel for what’s being produced and have a very open mind about tasting, we’ve also been really impressed by the old vine series of the Sadie Family among others
    Firstly, I am wondering how long you realistically need to spend in each area to get a sense of it as the regions don’t seem that large.
    Second I’m wondering how easy it is to travel between regions, for instance could we go from Walker Bay to Swartland ? In fact is Swartland somewhere to visit as I can’t find too much on that area ? Or Olifants River ?
    Also Is there good or bad times to go ?

    Time wise it’s more likely to be 1 week than 2 but could get to 10 days if I’m lucky.

    I’ve had a trawl of the forum for threads so have a couple of specific pointers within the regions and have Toms excellent eating guide bookmarked, but if there’s any thoughts on the above or other areas I’d really appreciate it

    Thanks !
  2. Tom Cannavan

    Tom Cannavan Administrator


    If you only have a week you can certainly do all the main regions including Swartland as they really aren't that far away from each other. Heading from Walker Bay via the main regions around Stellenbosch, Franschhoek and Paarl, and on to Swartland could be a nice week, then straight back down to Cape Town, which is less than a couple of hours drive.

    For the main regions I'd probably just base myself in one, as they are really close to each other. We normally choose Stellenbosch, but Franschhoek is a very popular choice too - much smaller but good restaurants, accommodation and wineries and we always spend at least a day there if not staying. In an ideal world I'd do 2, then 3 or 4, then 1 or 2 days in each of the 3 legs of the trip described above if I had a 7 day programme.

    A visit to Swartland probably means basing yourself in Riebeek Castel, which is a very small with not a huge amount to do really. I've been several times and it's well worth visiting for a wine geek, but you might consider whether an extra day elsewhere, or drive over to Elgin from Walker Bay, is more appealing.
  3. As you're into Pinot I'd suggest Walker Bay is a priority, maybe staying in Hermanus, and then visiting the Pinot clan that throng Hemel-in-Aarde valley, including pioneer Hamilton Russell, Bouchard-Finlayson, Newton-Johnson, Creation & etc

    An essential is Platters South African Wine Guide 2018, maps at back show winery locations, listings give deatils of wines, opening hours and more.

    The Wine Village shop in the small mall at the junction of the road up the valley and the road to Hermanus has the book, lots of wines and a fount of information.

    When to go? Their summer is in our winter, vintage is Feb/March. Sep/October you will see whales close by shore at Hermanus.
    Wine Village - The Finest Selection of South African Wines
    What's on in the South African winelands - what's happening
  4. If you wanted a focus on Pinot then you have to allow plenty of time for Walker Bay (Hemel en Aarde) and Elgin as you can throw a pretty large blanket over the area for Pinot as well as somewhat cooler climate Chardonnay. Going west to east along the N2 after getting over Sir Lowry's Pass there are so many good Elgin vineyards. Paul Cluver, Iona, Catherine Marshall are three that sling to mind and then you get to Bot River and you will find Gabrielskloof where Peter Alan Finlayson also makes his wonderful Crystallum and you will also find Marelise Neumann and her lovely Momento wines plus Julian and Sophie Schaal with some awesome chardonnays. If you then carry on along the N2 to Caledon and turn right on the R320 - now tarred - you will make your way though the Hemel en Aarde valley to Hermanus. Coming that way you will first get to Creation where Carolyn Martin makes some lovely wines and there is also a recommended restaurant. Further along Ataraxia is on one side and Chris Alheit on the other - Kevin Grant at Ataraxia has a lovely tasting room and his Chardonnay and Pinot are worth the trek. Then Craig Wessels from Restless River - the chardonnays are delicious. Next is Newton Johnson on the left - a great place for lunch with a marvellous restaurant and excellent Pinot and Chardonnay. Dropping down to the third Hemel en Aarde appellation there are a number of wineries. La Vierge is quite quirky and again a lovely restaurant. Then comes Bouchard Finlayson where Peter Finlayson has been making great Pinot and Chardonnay for years. There is the chance to walk the vineyards as well which is good fun. Next is Hamilton Russell who were the first major Pinot planting in the 70s. Once you get to the main road there is a shopping centre on the right with one of the cape's best wine shops if you need to stock up.

    If you want a total contrast, the Swartland has rolling countryside, sun baked and very much a place that can do a take on the Rhone that is excellent. Riebeek Kasteel is the hub and there is another awesome wine shop La Kollective that sells many of the Swartland Independent Producers wines as well as the wonderful Mama Cuccina restaurant. The wines of producers such as Eben Sadie, David Sadie, Adi Badenhorst, Chris and Andrea Mullineux are all well known as well as a number of younger winemakers who are combining their day jobs at bigger cellars with some great side projects.

    And then there is the vast number of wineries in between in Stellenbosch, Paarl, Franschoek and then the lovely Constantia - you probably need more days but will have a marvellous time!
    Keith Prothero likes this.
  5. Not much to add to the above post. It’s a great area to visit and as you are mainly a Pinot fan I would follow Peter Webb suggested itinerary. Try and stretch to 10 days minimum and avoid the harvest season of January to March.
    Best time to visit is September/October for the whale watching and cooler climate .
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2018
  6. Ten days if you can Simon, then you can spend some time in Cape Town too. Whales incredible and shark diving also very cool if you fancy it near Hermanus October was perfect for weather
  7. You can do a lot in a week. The cape is one hour different to UK so no jet lag. If you can get a good nights sleep on a friday overnight flight, you will arrive in Capetown fresh enough to make good use of the Saturday you arrive, which is a real benefit. add to this the compactness of the area. Hermanus is about 90mins drive from Capetown (IIRC). Swartland maybe 2hrs, so distances aren't great. There is a heck of a lot going on in Swartland wine wise, and also Hemel has that buzzing vibe of a place where wine developments are flying along. If you are limited to a week, then you probably want to spend some time in Swartland and Hemel en Arde, but you do really need to spend some time in Capetown itself. Its a fantastic city, many great restaurants - some will take some work to get bookings at even 6 months in advance. You can also use every meal you have as a chance to taste wine, almost everywhere you eat, you can BYOB ( usually at zero or minimal corkage) and there are some good wine shops to get your supplies ( ie Caroline's in CT). Some of the restaurants have great lists though ( Aubergene for example in CT).
    One other tip for HeA is Hannes Storm, fabulous wines, tiny amounts. I hesitate to add anything more, he is a bit of a secret, but probably not for long.
    One other advantage of going out around october is the release shedule of many top wines mean that if you want to get your hands on some wines its easier in oct than say dec or jan.
  8. Thank you very much hive mind, this is just what I needed to know
  9. We are heading off to Cape Town mid August (3 kids in tow).

    We are staying around Fish Hoek for a few days, doing all the usual Cape Town stuff and then over to Franschoek and then making our way down the Garden Route to Port Elizabeth.

    Good to hear about Hermanus for Pinot. I'm having a bit of revival of enthusiasm for SA wines.

    Anyone eaten at Tokara recently? We are there years ago and were thinking of heading back. Thoughts?

    Also, any recommendations for more rustic and earthy restaurants?
  10. You have chosen mid winter but at least not many tourists and plenty of whales at Hermanus . I personally don’t rate Tokara n much prefer the two fine restaurants across the road at Delaire Graaf
    Bovine in Franschhoek is a fairly rustic restaurant but my favourite is Spek and Bone in Stellenbosch owned by Bertus Basson who is also the chef . Great guy .
    Fine restaurants include La Petite Colombe in Franschhoek and Chef,s Warehouse in three locations
  11. Cheers Keith - will check those out - I thought you might have an opinion on Tokara. 2004 was the last time we were out there (young, thin and just married). Now we are knackered, old and have 3 young kids in tow. Cape Town has probably changed as much as we have.

    Mid winter Cape Town style doesnt quite stack up to mid winter in South East London I hope.
    Keith Prothero likes this.
  12. But over-stretched?

    He took over the restaurant at the new Spice Route in Paarl and the meals have been poor to bad ever since. Especially his "take" on classic Afrikaner dishes.
  13. I am not a fan of his Spice Route place Peter although obviously great views . But he is often at Spek and Bone as he has an office there
  14. Very excited! Booked to go to South Africa for the first time. Going to be heading out late Oct for a couple of weeks and trying to work out a plan.

    We were thinking of starting off in or close to Cape Town for 5 or 6 nights to explore the city, table mountain, Kirstenbosch national botanical garden, the Atlantic seaboard and False Bay Coast before heading east to the wine lands (Franschoek and Stellenbosh for 3 nights), the garden route (3 nights) and a game reserve (2 nights) before heading back to Cape Town for one night before flying home.

    Would be interested in opinions about the timings and itinerary please. Also, we were thinking of staying in or near Simonstown for the first few nights. Would that be a good idea?

    I have checked the various threads for hotel, restaurant, wine and winery tips, thanks to all but esp Keith, Tom and bothe Peters for all the good advice. Can’t wait!
    Ian Hampsted likes this.
  15. Not a fan of Simonstown myself Chris although it is very convenient if you wish to explore Cape Point peninsula. Think I would prefer to stay in the Camps Bay Area but that depends whether you like living on or near a beach.
    Your itinerary is fine except it’s a long drive from a decent game reserve back to Cape Town. At least 7 hours . The best game reserves are closer to Port Elizabeth than the Garden Route. Shamwari is brilliant .
    If you want to ask specific questions then DM me . Certainly late October is a great time to visit with less tourists and lovely weather
    Chris Davies likes this.
  16. Thanks very much Keith. Going to have a look at Camps Bay accommodation.

    Hadn’t realised how far it was to Port Elizabeth and the game reserves from Cape Town! Might have to have a rethink.
  17. Could always get a flight to PE from CT if that is a priority. I must admit that I would put visiting the bush as something not to be missed. We had 4 nights out on a pretty basic reserve north of Pretoria last November and there is nothing to beat it for that feeling of the heart of Africa. Just need a braai, a few beers and of course a selection of decent Cape wines.
    Chris Davies likes this.

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