By Bianca Knauf, Contributing Writer
If you think of Cape Town, South Africa, the image of the iconic Table Mountain comes to mind. This, however, is a small part of what this melting pot of colonial culture, mixed with African vibes, has to offer.
True Indian cuisine meets Dutch architecture with the smell of Cape Malay dishes as the African atmosphere transcends anything you’ve experienced before. So many unique cultures have come together to make this great city what it is. And of course, let us not forget its world class wine.
From soaking up the sea, to exploring the mountains, the beautiful Cape outdoors have provided the inspiration that drives mywildearth.com. The towns of Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschoek are well known for the quality wine they produce as well as their lush and beautiful valleys.
The winelands hold a multitude of hiking trails that wind almost endlessly through this perfect part of the world. These same mountainsides are also home to a wide collection of world famous wine estates where you can enjoy wine tastings, as well as delicious meals paired with carefully selected wines.
Paarl & The Spice Route
Paarl is the largest town in the Cape Winelands. The picturesque landscape of mountains and delicate fynbos vegetation, make it the ideal stop for nature and food lovers alike. What attracts most day hikers, are the massive granite rock formations that dominate the summit of Bretagne Rock.
There are several hiking trails that lead to the giant boulders . Depending on your fitness or time available, you can choose between the Millwater Wild Flower Garden which has 15 species of Protea or you could try the route that takes you past Nantes dam where you can even try out some Bass fishing. There is a road that leads almost all the way to the imposing rock formations. Once you reach the last parking area, the final climb should take between 20-30 minutes. The vantage point at the top makes for the perfect picnic spot with a 360 degree view of the town and mountains.
(But we encourage you not to eat your fill… just yet.)
After taking in this spectacular environment, it’s time to head to the Spice Route in Paarl to tantalize your other senses. The Spice Route offers a varied collection of couture chocolate, craft beer brewing, biltong, wine tasting and related eateries. It you plan to take home hand crafted gifts or souvenirs, try the Artist Studio and Trading Company. They have a wide selection of unique pieces. There is even a glass factory on the property where you can browse amazingly artistic creations.
There is no better way to enjoy the afternoon that strolling on the estate and drinking wine in this idyllic setting under the giant oak trees.
Stellenbosch & Spier Wine Farm
Stellenbosch is a university town surrounded by vineyards and the mountainous nature reserves of Jonkershoek and Simonsberg. The quaint little town’s streets are lined with large Oak trees, cafes and art galleries.
Jonkershoek nature reserve is situated just outside Stellenbosch. The reserve is located in a stunning, green valley of high mountain peaks. This Jonkershoek Waterfalls Trail is a day hike that ascends the headwaters of the Eerste river through Fynbos vegetation past an incredibly beautiful waterfall and then on to a second, and even more impressive waterfall which is the source of the river.
It’s an easy to moderate (2-3 hour) hike with a relaxed gradient. The scenery is spectacular and the pools below the first waterfall offer respite from the summer heat and are perfect for a dip.
The second waterfall is not accessible from the path as the steep gorge prevents a descent.
If you manage to remove yourself from the quaint little town of Stellenbosh, we highly recommend a stop at The Spier Wine Farm. It will take you a few hours to take in even a small part of what the estate has to offer. First and foremost, they have spectacular wines which you can taste and purchase. The spacious lawns welcome those seeking out a relaxed picnic, which is fully catered for. They have an Eagle Rehabilitation Center at the farm where you can visit and even contribute toward the conservation effort.
If you wish to immerse yourself in a truly South African Culinary experience, Moyo Restaurant provides a unique and exotic setting. Raised platforms are set high up in the trees where you can enjoy your food while listening to traditional African music. There is a huge selection of mouth watering African dishes and you are guaranteed not to leave hungry. After your meal, you can walk through the gardens which are decorated with life sizes angel sculptures and scattered with curious chickens.
Franschhoek & Babylonstoren Wine Estate
Franschhoek is home to centuries-old vineyards and Cape Dutch architecture. The Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve reveals stunning views over the Franschhoek Valley and is scattered with hiking trails that wind through the mountains.
The Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve has 7 main trails you can choose from ranging from 1 hour to 7 hours routes, all of which are breathtaking.
The reserve is teeming with wildlife, ranging from colorful frogs, insects and birds to large troops of baboons. The area was ravaged by a devastating fire in December 2015, but life has returned in full force, leaving the mountains greener and more vibrant than ever before.
Babylonstoren is our recommended stop after a revitalizing morning out in nature. It is one of the oldest and most beautifully restored Cape Dutch farms in the Winelands. It has a grand fruit and vegetable garden, inspired by the mythical Gardens of Babylon, which you can explore. The gardens include one of the restaurants on the estate, The Greenhouse. It is the ideal setting to enjoy the scrumptious menu and the even more delectable, award winning wines.
As with the selection of hiking trails, the property offers the choice of four different eateries, Babel, The Greenhouse, The Bakery and the Tea Ritual. We should also not forget to mention the wine tasting room in the underground Cellar. It is almost too much to take in in one day, so if this is your idea of paradise, spend a night in the classic and stylish accommodation of which some buildings date back to the late 17oo’s.
Should you only have time to visit one or two of these spectacular locations, you are guaranteed to leave Cape Town with a sense of enchantment that permeates the people, the cultures and the remarkable scenery. The entire Cape, both inland and on the coast, is filled with magnificent views, beaches and look out points. Be sure to book a few extra days to get a taste of it all.
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About the Contributing Writer: Bianca Knauf is from Cape Town, South Africa and heads the My Wild Earth blog. By sharing her travels and experiences, Bianca hopes that others are inspired to explore and visit locations they may not have originally considered. The world is a playground that belongs to all of us, and we should live every precious day with a happy and free spirit.