CAPE TOWN, South Africa, isn't the sort of place you go to often, at least not if you're coming from Canada -- the travel time is about 24 hours each way.
Once there, you want to make the most of it. The only problem? It's easy to get overwhelmed: There's the stunning natural landscape, political history, waterfront luxury and many decadent wineries. Of course, wine is best consumed when paired, but why limit pairings to food?
Here is a guide to pairing wineries with other Western Cape adventures. You don't need to be a connoisseur -- just curious.
THE natural beauty is humbling and at times exhausting. Wherever you look, you're greeted with a gorgeous view, whether it's the mountains, cliffs and seas in and around Cape Town or the rich, rolling fields in the nearby wine regions of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek. It's enough to make your neck hurt.
Clouds move fast here, so if it's sunny, drop what you're doing and head to Table Mountain, which last year was named to the New Seven Wonders of Nature. You can hike it -- a couple hours each way -- but those seeking immediate gratification should hop aboard the gondolas, which take about five minutes. There are three short hikes of varying lengths, none of which require much stamina, and with the city at your feet, you can see beaches and football stadiums, the Cape Peninsula and Robben Island.
To complement this, book a tour along the Cape Point route -- the coastal drive is stunning, so it's best if someone else has their eyes on the road. The destination is the Cape of Good Hope, the most southwestern point on the continent. It's here that the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet (or around here, anyway). Along the way you'll pass coastal towns and Boulders Beach (home of adorable African penguins) and the drive through Good Hope Natural Reserve will likely net you a baboon and/or ostrich sighting.
Complement your appreciation of local nature with wineries that specialize in biodynamic winemaking, such as Reyneke Wines in Stellenbosch. Launched in 1998, Johan Reyneke Jr. converted his family farm, which began operations in 1863, from conventional techniques to organic and finally to biodynamic, self-sustaining agriculture.
Reyneke is particularly interested in biodynamic farming because he has two young girls: "I wanted them to be able to play in the fields. If I was spraying chemicals, they wouldn't be able to do that." His chenin blanc vineyards are some of the oldest in South Africa. Get your boots dirty with a wine tasting, hosted in a former cow-milking shed.
Head next toward Paarl and Backsberg Estate Cellars. The Back family, who've been farming on their land since 1916, decided in 2006 to reduce their environmental footprint -- in electricity, fuel, travel, bottles -- and are working toward carbon neutrality. Beyond just planting trees, they've built a small plant to convert biomass to fuel, and within the next couple of years hope to be totally self-sufficient with energy. Backsberg offers cellar tours and tastings -- try the delicious Black Label 2008 Brut if available.
The Political History
SOUTH Africa's democracy is young -- it was only 18 years ago that apartheid came to an end. There are several sites from which to take in a history lesson -- Cape Town's City Hall, where 250,000 people greeted Nelson Mandela when he was released from prison in 1990, or District Six, an area of the city that in 1966 was declared by the government as white only. But no spot may be more famous than Robben Island.
Tours of the island, a UNESCO world heritage site, and the prison, in which Nelson Mandela spent 20 years, are structured and conducted in large groups. Tour groups are driven around the island and briefed on its history (it's also been a military base and health-care base for lepers). A former political prisoner leads a tour of the maximum-security prison, which, despite its history, is oddly beautiful. It's a lot to take in, but should be seen.
Since the end of apartheid much attention has been paid to black economic empowerment. In 2002, South Africa's wine industry formally established its ethical trade association (WIETA), which ensures its members meet national and international standards for labour, health and safety. As of late last year, South Africa had the most fair-trade-accredited wine producers in the world.
To see these social changes in action, visit Solms-Delta Wine Estate in Franschhoek. The 320-year-old estate operates as a trust so that the field workers have a share in the business. Along with a vineyard, cellar and farm tours, Solms-Delta is home to the Museum van de Caab, which traces the history of the farm's slave heritage, telling the stories of field workers from pre-colonial times to the present. The winery also hosts a social history tour that offers visitors insight into the quality of life for farm workers.
And in Paarl, at Fairview and Spice Route, wineries of Charles Back, book yourself tastings of some of WIETA's approved wines -- both wineries have several ethically approved varieties. Unrelated to WIETA, but fun all the same, while at Fairview, don't miss the goat tower -- there are more than 1,000 on the estate. And at Spice Route, save room for a meal at the restaurant, which specializes in European and Asian fusion.
The Luxe Life
There is no shame in simply wanting to relax. In fact, Cape Town makes this an easily achievable goal. The white sand beaches in the neighbourhoods of Clifton and Camps Bay are a big draw: Surfers have their pick of breaks, sunbathers their patch of sand.
Because you have to drive down to sea level, off the main roads and away from the city's buzz, the beaches truly feel like an escape -- just be warned, depending on the time of year, the water can be capital-C cold.
For lunch or dinner decamp to another spot on the water, the One&Only hotel nestled in the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront harbour complex. Reuben's, one of the five-star hotel's two restaurants, is home to a three-level wine loft, containing more than 5,000 bottles, and sommelier Luvo Ntezo, a charmer with encyclopedic knowledge of the stock at hand. Because you didn't come all the way to South Africa to eat a chicken breast, try the pan-roasted organic springbok loin.
Next, head to Babylonstoren in Franschhoek, a beautiful farm/garden that truly defines eating local. Before indulging in a tea service inside the working greenhouse, take a tour of the eight-acre garden. Divided into 15 sections, spanning everything from a camomile bed to a prickly pear maze, a berry block and karob trees, the fruits (and vegetables) of the labour here end up in the menus of the property's eateries. The 90-minute tour, lead by one of the gardening staff, will inspire even the dullest thumb to turn bright green.
Lastly, head toward Stellenbosch and indulge "Le Pique Nique" at Boschendal. The 3,000-hectare estate dates back to 1685. To take it in, order a picnic basket from the restaurant filled with breads, cheeses, meats and salads, and claim a spot near the winery's pavilion. Play a game of croquet, soak in the vineyards, mountains and sun, and crack open a bottle of Le Grand Pavillion brut ros} to toast yourself, because this is the life and you made it happen.
-- Postmedia News
One and Only Cape Town
Dock Road, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa
THE city of Cape Town is unbelievable, in that it's hard to believe a place like this exists on Earth and that the millions who live here do more than spend their days staring at Table Mountain. The One&Only hotel is equally incredible, its view opulent, its luxury honed to the finest detail. Fortunately, the current status of the Canadian dollar makes it attainable.
The sprawling One&Only complex is part of the city's Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, a working harbour that's also home to, among other things, a shopping centre, Robben Island museum, an aquarium and several restaurants. The waterfront is extremely well signed, so it's easy to explore and navigate the area. And while it's heavily populated by tourists, locals do take advantage of the shops and restaurants in the Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre. In other words, traditional tourist kitsch can easily be spotted and avoided.
Five-star luxury can be intimidating, but that is not the case here. The mood is best described as casual but classy -- the attentive staff just want you to have a good time. Within steps of the front entrance are the hotel's two restaurants, Nobu and Reuben's, plus its spacious lobby bar, which is almost always buzzing. The property is ample and laid out in such a way as to ensure guests solitude if that's what they're after.
The hotel has two options -- traditional suites in the Marina Rise tower, or island rooms and suites spread out in the waterfront. Opt for the latter if you can, though either way you will have more space than you know what to do with. But first, let's talk about the bathrooms, which in the island suites not only include his-and-her sinks, but his-and-her sides -- meet in the middle of the enormous bathtub, whose size will induce even the most ardent shower fan to take a dip. Storage space is plentiful, so guests will want to spread out, then probably camp out, because the beds are heavenly. The dark, wood decor is calming, as are the views of the water and property. Rooms start at R5,550 per night (roughly $625).
For more information, visit capetown.oneandonlyresorts.com. Travel support provided by One & Only.
IF YOU GO
FOR ALL THINGS CAPE TOWN
Table Mountain: tablemountain.net
Cape Point: capepoint.co.za
Reyneke Wines: reynekewines.co.za
Backsberg Estate Cellars: backsberg.co.za
Robben Island: robben-island.org.za
Solms-Delta Wine Estate: solms-delta.co.za
Fairview Wine: fairview.co.za
Spice Route Winery: spiceroutewines.co.za