Rugby: the perfect excuse to visit South Africa's vineyards

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The Independent Travel

This summer, an estimated 50,000 people will travel from the UK and Ireland to experience the wonders of a Lions tour in South Africa.

And with the country's striking scenery, world-class wines and good food, a six-week rugby tour will appeal to sport fans and non-enthusiasts alike.

The wine region near Cape Town is easily one of the most appealing areas to explore, with almost every one of the vineyards within an hour and half drive from the city. This is one of the factors that make it such a convenient break.

On a recent trip to South Africa, I sampled what a few of the vineyards have to offer around Cape Town. The Allee Bleue vineyard is in the beautiful region of Franschoek. Surrounded by the picturesque Drakenstein mountain region, it is one of understated splendour.

Sweeping green valleys and towering grandiose mountain ranges line the roads leading to the leafy turn-off for the 400-year-old estate.

The wine tasting rooms cater for everyone from the connoisseur to the curious visitor. With samples from their six best wines available, it is an ample and rather inviting taste of what the vineyard produces.

The wine region which is to the west of Stellenbosch, offers a variety of soils, high rainfall, generally higher temperatures than Stellenbosch, and in effect, a large diversity of wines.

I tried one of their rose wines with lunch. Looking at the café’s menu, you might consider the fact that it is called a café at all, a little misleading. There was not a cheese and ham sandwich in sight. Instead, succulent, gourmet food, prepared to the same standard as top London eateries, just without the price tag.

When a glass of expertly grown and delicious rose costs around sixty pence, you wonder why the world and its family is not there with you.

There are, of course, slightly better known vineyards, like Boschendal, which do in fact cater for the world and its family. The region of Stellenbosch, the best known wine region outside Cape Town, offers a wide selection of wineries, and caters for the mass rather than selective few.

There is a picturesque picnic area one side of the drive into the Boschendal estate, to which you can bring your own food and choose an accompanying wine from the vineyard’s selection, offering an alfresco option for lunch. There is an authentically furnished restaurant with a dearer buffet selection available, and a café on the other side of the oak tree lined path, offering a slightly simpler menu.

The Cape Dutch architecture of the 1812 buildings is a national monument. From 1652 onwards, Jan van Riebeeck governed Cape Province, and almost from the moment his boats touched the South African coastline, wine production rapidly sprouted, and the first recorded wine of South Africa was made.

The beautiful grounds and buildings at Boschendal are maintained to the original Dutch style, which adds an interesting dimension to the vineyard. However, this is not uncommon. Most vineyards around Cape Town offer Dutch architecture or décor.

The winery is in the top 10 attractions of these wine regions. It is definitely worth a visit.

However, with two restaurants, a souvenir shop, a sculpture garden, picnic area and enough parking spaces to host several coach tours at the same time, it seems to be, as pretty as it is, slightly less exclusive than some of the other vineyards in this region.

One which certainly offers exclusivity is Diemersfontein in the Wellington area. The vineyard scenery is lush with vegetation and is certainly more hidden away than other wineries.

Although this vineyard has numerous facilities, including 14 en-suite bedrooms in three separate cottages, horse riding, mountain biking, wine tasting and fine dining, it does not come across as over populated, or over developed. This 3rd generation family run estate maintains a discreet, tranquil feel.

Lunch at the Seasons Restaurant is a fantastic experience, with sweeping views over the grandiose Hawekwa Mountains, and green paddocks. The food surpasses most of the other vineyards in delicacy, display and quality, and once again, the wine was exquisite.

Diemersfontein winery is popular with wine clubs and culinary associations, which hints at its calibre in the production of both.

The area in which the vineyard is set is known as the ‘heart of the Boland’, and nurtures many of South Africa’s finest wines.

As any of these vineyards proves, excellence is reachable and entirely affordable when it comes to the South Africa winery experience.