If you’ve been following along on The Sandy Feet, you may have noticed that wine seems to feature pretty frequently.
We’ve guzzled Malbec beneath the grape vines in Mendoza, sipped crisp whites in the heart of Bosnia’s wine country and nursed vases of port in Porto. So when we found ourselves tantalizingly close to yet another world-class wine region, we jumped at the chance to visit.
Our day begins navigating the renegade taxis and clusters of shiny, white Ubers that clog the city streets on our way to the N2 – the arrow straight highway that links the glimmer of the big city with the craggy peaks of Stellenbosch, and more importantly, the vineyards of the Cape Winelands.
Fifty minutes later we turn into a driveway lined with vibrant, leafy trees – our first winery of the day.
Founded in 1700, Vergelegen is an expansive wine estate.
The gabled Cape Dutch homestead, furnished authentically from the period, sits as the centrepiece of the exquisite gardens. The sweet scent of roses and plump figs is a heady concoction that follows us about the grounds.
A bench beneath an historic camphor tree, one of five on the property, offers the chance to shelter from the harsh midday sun.
Returning along a wall draped in fuchsia bougainvillea, past the gurgling fountain and with a final handful of blushing figs, we move on to our next stop.
Originally operating as a farm back in 1692, these days Babylonstoren has transformed into one of the most sought-after stops on the Winelands trail, bringing modern luxury to its rustic setting that harks back to its more humble beginnings.
Once again the gardens are extensive, organised in rows of orchards, snaking vines and bursts of colour. All the botanicals on offer are edible, from medicinal herbs to a fragrant tea.
Simple handwritten labels mark hidden raspberries and blushing peaches and the afternoon hours are quickly lost wandering through the gardens, blissfully nibbling at this and that.
A small gate leads us onto a blanket of soft camomile – a delight for bare feet and our shoes are kicked off promptly for the pleasure, careful to avoid crushing the delicate white flowers underfoot.
Though it feels we have spent the better part of the day munching on fruit in the gardens, we decide to stop in for a late lunch between the whitewashed walls of Babel.
With a farm-to-fork philosophy at the heart of Babel’s dining experience, produce from the gardens is harvested daily to be served in the restaurant.
Our table is laden with firm grapes, more figs and an orange fruit we are yet to taste. A selection of warm home made breads is served to accompany the whipped butter and herb oil already waiting on the table.
All are devoured in mere minutes.
It is evident from the start that the produce is respected in its purest form, only altered to enhance the natural flavours.
The menu is brief to showcase the best seasonal produce and we opt for the fish served with a variety of roasted reds and paired with a glass of the property’s own viognier.
Desserts begin appearing on neighbouring tables and though we are rather tempted, we’re also far too full to stomach another mouthful.
With the sun hovering warmly on the horizon we deliberate whether to continue on to Franschhoek, our next planned stop.
Freya’s childhood days in the Cape and memories of apple and cinnamon pancakes oozing a trail of vanilla ice cream from Franschhoek’s famous pancake house meant this town was already high on our list.
But with daylight quickly fading, we drive instead towards the setting sun and the glimmer of the distant Mother City, the potent scent of roses and deliciously soft camomile etched in our minds.
At just over an hour from Cape Town, the Winelands are often visited as a day trip from the city, though we regretted not having more time to explore the area and see some of the lesser known wineries, especially as the grounds of each are so utterly beautiful.
While the wines were thoroughly enjoyable – the perfect addition to a fresh summer’s day – we also loved that the wineries themselves are steeped in history, weaving together moments of Cape Dutch heritage, a thoughtful and tender approach to farming and food, and gardens fit for a Disney princess, or perhaps just a day of luxury for these two backpackers.
There are so many wineries that you could easily spending days swirling and sipping your way through every chenin blanc and pinotage poured before you, not to mention the pleasure of plucking fresh figs and raspberries straight from the tree and vine.
We could easily have spent a week or more along the wine route, but in the end we only had time for two wineries. While both are quite upmarket establishments, the very reasonable prices for tasting and entrance means you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Entry to Vergelegen costs R10 and wine tastings start at R30. Cellar and garden tours are also on offer costing R50 each.
There are two restaurants onsite: the award-winning signature restaurant of Camphors, and the more bistro style, Stables. During the summer months you can also arrange a picnic experience in the shade of the camphor forest.
Babylonstoren charges a R10/R20 entry fee on weekdays/weekends which supports the education of local children. Tastings start at R25 or you can take a cellar tour with tasting for R50. Guest suites and a spa are also available on the property and for the more botanically minded, garden tours are run daily.
We had a lovely dining experience at Babel, though by South African standards this is a rather pricey lunch out. The property’s other restaurant, Glasshouse, is a more budget-friendly option and serves up simpler dishes while still embodying the farm-to-fork ideology.
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