The Franschhoek Wine Route
From Stellenbosch, the R310 heads over the scenic Helshoogte Pass, linking it with Franschhoek and Paarl, both of which lie some 30 minutes from the center of Stellenbosch. If you're heading to Franschhoek from Stellenbosch, follow the R310 for 2km (1 1/4 miles) before turning left into Ida's Valley and heading for Rustenberg (tel. 021/809-1200; Mon-Fri 9am-4:30pm, Sat 10am-1:30pm). This gorgeous estate is renowned for its red wines, as well as its peaceful and beautiful setting, with a historic manor house contrasting with a tasting center and state-of-the-art milking parlor. Stop for lunch at Tokara for the fine views, or push on to visit the beautifully maintained Cape Dutch estate of Boschendal (tel. 021/870-4200; open from around 8:30 or 9:30am to 4:30 or 5pm; wine tastings on Sun only in season [Nov-Apr]). Together with Vergelegen and Constantia, Boschendal is one of the Winelands' most photographed estates, combining an excellent manor house museum (admission R10) with beautiful grounds and great wines. Boschendal also offers three different dining experiences: The luncheon buffet (tel. 021/870-4272; R240) is served in the original wine cellar, with a huge buffet table covered from end to end with tasty traditional Cape Malay and South African dishes, as well as lighter treats with a weekly-changing menu that includes such tasty treats as venison carpaccio with Satsuma preserve, watercress with local goat's cheese and walnuts, and Franschhoek specialties such as smoked salmon trout (a type of trout with salmon-hued flesh). If you're not that hungry, head for the wrought-iron tables under the oaks at Le Café and order one of the delicious quiches (the delicious traditional bobotie is recommended). From October to April, you can buy a picnic hamper (R135 per person, food only) and lunch on the lawns shaded by more ancient oaks. Ask about the full-moon picnics (Dec-Mar only). Prebooking is essential on weekends.
Millionaire Johann Rupert has several wine farms under his belt, including the superb L'Ormorins estate near Franschhoek, on the R45 soon after the turnoff from the Helshoogte Pass. You can enjoy a luxurious wine-tasting experience here (tel. 021/874-9045; Mon-Fri 9am-4:30pm, Sat 10am-3pm); you're whisked to the cellar by golf cart and then sit amid an important art collection while hearing about the vintages. There's a standard tasting (R30) with six wines and a port, but I recommend the more extensive R70 tasting that includes superior vintages, especially if you're into full-bodied wines. Also at L'Ormorins is Rupert's one-of-a-kind Franschhoek Motor Museum (tel. 021/874-9000; www.fmm.co.za; R60 adults, R50 seniors and car club members, R30 children 3-12; hourly tours Tues-Fri 10am-4pm; Sat-Sun 10am-3pm self-guided tour only), where you can view and learn about some of the sexiest, or otherwise intriguing, motorized vehicles ever produced, including many rare models, all in spectacular condition. The 340-strong collection spans a century of cars, although, in fact, the oldest exhibit is an 1898 motorized Beston tricycle. You can't possibly see every car in Rupert's collection (it's so large it has to be rotated; 80 are seen per tour), but if you're lucky, you'll see one of very few examples of a "Protea Protea," a local car manufactured in 1957, and only the second model of any indigenous car ever to be made here (the first were Cycle 3 cars built in 1913); only 20 were built, and the Protea (which could reach 136kmph/84 mph) won the Pietermaritzburg Six Hours Endurance Race but wasn't financially viable. Weekday guided tours last only an hour, but on weekends, you can explore at will sans guidance.
The following estates, all clearly signposted off the Main Road (from Cape Town, Paarl, and Stellenbosch) and its extension, Huguenot Road, are recommended. La Motte (tel. 021/876-3119; Mon-Fri 9am-4:30pm, Sat 10am-3pm), which has been producing wines for 3 centuries, is worth visiting in order to sample its red wines; the same is true of Rupert & Rothschild (tel. 021/874-1648; by appointment only). If you're hungry, head for Moreson (tel. 021/876-3055; Mon-Sun 11am-5pm). The sauvignon blanc is a good choice for lunch at the estate's delightfully relaxed restaurant, Bread & Wine, worth visiting for the oven-fresh focaccia alone, served with Mediterranean-style dips. Pop into Grande Provence Estate (tel. 021/876-8600; daily 10am-6pm) to sample the semisweet Angels Tears wine (cellar tours are at 11am and 3pm), and Mont Rochelle Mountain Vineyards (tel. 021/876-3000; daily 10am-6pm), still owned by a descendant of the French Huguenots, for its glorious setting. If it's setting you're after, backtrack onto the dirt track to GlenWood (tel. 021/876-2044; Mon-Fri 11am-4pm, Sat-Sun 11am-3pm in summer) for a beautiful drive and a taste of the estate's fine chardonnays.
Huguenot Road meets a T-junction at the base of the Franschhoek Mountains. Directly opposite is the French Huguenot Monument, erected in honor of the French Protestant refugees who settled here between 1688 and 1700. Its three arches symbolize the Holy Trinity. Turn left to drive the Franschhoek Pass for lunch at La Petite Ferme -- a must, if you can get a table . Also on the road heading up to the Pass, Cabrière (tel. 021/876-8500; tastings R30, Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 10am-4pm, Sun 11am-4pm) is recommended -- and not just for the excellent Pierre Jourdan bubbly. Cellar tours (R40 per person) run weekdays at 11am and 3pm, and on Saturday at 11am you can usually witness winemaker Achim von Arnim uncork his bottles by slicing the neck off with a saber; an in-depth tasting and tour follows.
If instead you turn right to the monument, you'll see many more options as you feel yourself disappearing into the countryside: The boutique-style Boekenhoutskloof (tel. 021/876-3320) produces internationally acclaimed wines, particularly reds; tastings are Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm. Another boutique-style winery is Stony Brook, where tastings are held Monday to Friday 10am to 3pm and Saturday 10am to 1pm; outside these hours, make an appointment for a more informal and personal tasting with owners Nigel and Joy in their home (tel. 021/876-2182). On the same Green Valley Road, Klein Genot (tel. 021/876-2729) is a young estate with a chic new cellar restaurant definitely worth visiting to eat lunch, accompanied by sublime decadent vineyard views, or to taste their steadily maturing reds (tel. 021/876-2738).
A Convenient Base -- Award-winning wines, gallons of olive oil, fruit orchards, and herb gardens are all part of life on the up-and-coming Allée Bleue estate situated near Boschendal at the junction between Helshoogte Pass Road and the road to Franschhoek. Here, on a massive acreage surrounded by stunning views of the Groot Drakenstein, Simonsig, and Franschhoek mountains, you have the chance to experience genuine farm life while living it up in cosseted luxury in a convenient yet untouristed location. It's just about equidistant to Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, and Paarl, putting many excellent wine estates and country kitchen restaurants within reach. The owners are pumping a fortune into the property to set up a variety of accommodations (all in restored farm buildings) and, in addition to the roadside cafe, will soon have an atmospheric restaurant in the heart of the farm. For now, stay in the modernized but still thatched Kendall Cottage, the farm's original manor home, filled with idiosyncratic contemporary art and lots of modern comforts, especially in the chic, spectacular bathrooms (they're about the same size as the bedrooms), and loads of technology. You can rent it as a one- or two-bedroom cottage, and take meals in your large private lounge or dine on your terrace beneath the old oaks. Ask for a tour of the cellars, taste the wines (your stocked bar will feature several bottles), and sample the oil -- and definitely set out on foot to explore the estate just before sunset. Rates are R3,700 per night for one bedroom, or R5,900 for two (tel. 021/874-1021, -1022, or -1023; www.alleebleue.com).