The Ultimate Travel Company | Franschhoek


Graham Boynton travelled to the Cape winelands with Ultimate’s Nick Van Gruisen.

There’s no contest. Australia’s Barossa Valley, Margaret River, and Mornington Peninsula, Napa Valley in the USA, Marlborough in New Zealand — all spectacular but no match for the Stellenbosch/Franschhoek region of South Africa. It is best summed up by former Springbok rugby player, Jan Boland Coetzee, when I asked him to describe to foreign travellers just where we were geographically. ‘Just tell them we are four doors from heaven.’

This dramatic landscape of soaring granite mountains and lush, sweeping valleys is, thanks to the rich alluvial soils, ideal for viticulture. Although the summers are hot, constant seabreezes soothe the south-facing slopes and the resultant wines are as good as you’ll find anywhere in the New World. The choice is enormous as there are more than 130 wine farms in the Stellenbosch-Franschhoek area. The added bonus is that while the pound has softened against most currencies it remains strong against the South African rand.

The Best of Vineyards

The Cape has vineyards from coast to coast and the variety of wine styles and terroirs is staggering — from the drylands of the Swartland to the lush, cool environment of the hemel-en-Aarde Valley. however, the greatest concentration is in the Stellenbosch-Franschhoek axis. This is most convenient for wine tourists who, by appointing designated drivers, can easily do tastings in four to five wine farms a day and find outstanding restaurants and accommodation in between. The point of tasting at these vineyards is that you can take advantage of cellar-door sales, which means wines can be shipped back to the UK or, of course, you can add them to the cases you take home.

Mountain Top Tasting

Thelema Mountain Vineyards is one of the great locations, sitting on top of the helshoogte Pass which connects Stellenbosch with Franschhoek. Thelema founder Gyles Webb, aka The hermit on the hill, takes a back seat these days while his son Thomas runs the show. Set in the Simonsberg mountain range, it has the most spectacular views. It is a superb place and, if you’re lucky, the hermit will be around to impart some of the wisdom for which he is famous.

Time for Lunch

Haute Cabriere Wine Farm is at the opposite end of the valley from Thelema, high on the Franschhoek Pass. This is a superb place to have lunch and try wine. The estate’s tasting room is underground, a cool inviting space to sample haute Cabriere’s rather good Burgundy-style wines (the first old vine pinot noir was produced in 2020) and its even more famous champagne.

Staying in the Cape Winelands

Splash the cash: Delaire Graff estate is english jeweller laurence Graff’s luxurious creation high up on the helshoogte Pass which connects Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. The ten rooms here are referred to as ‘lodges’ and each is the size of a small cottage. This is pure pampering and there are two outstanding restaurants. £1,300 per night.


Downtown chic: Leeu House is a 12-room boutique hotel on Franschhoek Village’s high street. Just a walk away from the art galleries, bars and boutiques that make up this cultured town. Individually decorated bedrooms have superbly comfortable beds with high-quality linen. Rooms closer to the main road suffer a little from traffic noise — lorries late at night. There is a well-maintained garden and pool area. £650 per night.


Boutique bargain: Le Cle de Montagnes is a boutique complex of four villas in a wine and fruit farm, established by the French huguenots in 1692. Four-poster beds, roll-top baths, and rooms that open onto verdant lawns. Just a short walk from Franschhoek village. £300 per night.


Country comforts: Half an hour’s drive from the centre of Franschhoek is Babylonstoren is one of the region’s oldest Cape dutch farms, set on a massive, sprawling vegetable farm and wine estate that naturally offers fresh food and own-label wines. The cottages are comfortable and elegantly designed by one of the owners, former elle decoration editor, Karen Roos. £480 per night bed and breakfast for a farmhouse suite.

Get in touch with our Africa team to start planning your visit to the Cape Winelands!