130km (81 miles) N of Cape Town; 80km (50 miles) NW of Stellenbosch; 45km (28 miles) E of Riebeek Kasteel
It may be a mere blip on most tourist maps, but historic Tulbagh -- surrounded by the wrinkled peaks of the gorgeous Witzenberg Mountains -- is a hot pick as the rising star of the Cape Winelands. Europeans first discovered the valley in 1658, and the first farmers settled here in 1699; the town's Dutch heritage is still celebrated with a Cape Dutch Food and Wine Festival each March or April. Apart from its historical ambience, a good reason to visit is simply to get away from the hordes jamming up the streets in Franchhoek and Stellenbosch, and linger under the oak trees. There are 36 listed monuments in this tiny town, many of them fine examples of Cape Dutch architecture, most evident in the facades of the restored houses lining Church Street -- every one was restored to its original condition after a freak earthquake measuring 6.4 on the Richter scale flattened the town in 1969, and the effect is that of an open-air museum. Stroll the street to study the buildings -- some of them Victorian -- more closely; panels outside each monument explain the style and origin of the houses, and some of them, converted by residents into boutiques, restaurants, and guesthouses, can be seen from the inside. Within minutes of the town center are some impressive wine estates. Established in 1710, Twee Jonge Gezellen (tel. 023/230-0680; www.houseofkrone.co.za; Mon-Fri 11am and 3pm, Sat 11pm) is one of the oldest estates in the country. If you find yourself here in January or February, try and book a seat at their Night Harvest dinners: for R300, you will enjoy a three-course dinner paired with the estate's wines, a cellar tour, and a visit to the vineyards to see the grapes being picked. Tulbagh Mountain Vineyards (tel. 023/231-1118) has the connoisseurs' noses twitching in approval for not only its white (the Platter guide rates the 2007 blend as "silkily rich, gorgeous"), but also the Swartland Syrah and a number of others. But it's newcomer Saronsberg (tel. 023/230-0707; www.saronsberg.co.za; tastings Mon-Fri 8am-5pm, Sat 10am-2pm) that's been pulling in fistsful of awards; the shiraz and Full Circle blend are probably the most lauded, but the sauvignon blanc, too, demands attention. The modern tasting room has a wonderful outlook and a selection of contemporary South African art. Lastly, an essential stop for shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, and chenin blanc fans is Rijk's Private Cellar (tel. 023/230-1622; www.rijks.co.za; tastings Mon-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat 10am-2pm, call to check on public holidays) -- you can also stay the night .