En Route to Stellenbosch from Cape Town
From the city, the N2 takes you past the airport and straight to Somerset West, a town with the country's priciest real estate and one of its most handsome wine estates. (There's very little else of value, though, and the town itself must rank as one of the dullest on the planet.) Vergelegen ("Far Location"; tel. 021/847-1334; daily 9:30am-4pm; call for tour times) is a must-see, marred only by the fact that you need to drive all the way across sprawled-out Somerset West to get there. Built by reprobate Willem Adriaan van der Stel (who took over from his father as governor of the Cape in 1699), the project was a serious abuse of his power, as he built it on land that did not actually belong to him and used Dutch East India Company slaves and resources to compete with local farmers. He was sacked in 1707, and the farm was demolished and divided. Today this beautifully restored wine estate, surrounded by gorgeous gardens, is known to be Mandela's favorite, as well as the only one to host Queen Elizabeth II and the Clintons during their respective state visits. The estate restaurant, the Lady Phillips (tel. 021/847-1346), serves excellent meals in a wonderful atmosphere; in summer, the Rose Terrace, an alfresco venue, is glorious.
Another gorgeous estate en route to Stellenbosch is Vergenoegd, which opened the doors of its old Cape Dutch homestead to the public at the end of 2003 -- great news for red-wine lovers. In fact, the combination of superbly smooth red wines and the gorgeous setting makes it a firm favorite, so don't miss it (tel. 021/843-3248; Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 9:30am-1:30pm). Good news, too, is that you needn't hit Somerset West to visit. Off the N2, take exit 33 (Baden Powel Dr.) toward Stellenbosch, and look for nearby signs on your right. From here, you can either cut across to Somerset West using the R102 to visit Vergelegen, or continue on the R310 for Stellenbosch. Consider stopping at both Warwick and Spier for lunch en route.
To get to Stellenbosch from Vergelegen (some 30 min. away), head back to the R44 and turn right (at the Lord Charles Hotel; from here, it's just 20 min.). Red-wine lovers should look for the sign to Rust en Vrede (Rest and Peace) along the way -- turn right onto Annandale Road to sample these raunchy reds (tel. 021/881-3881; Mon-Fri 8am-5pm, Sat 8:30am-4pm in season); the estate also hosts the most decadently priced restaurant in the region -- if you have the cash and feel the urge to splurge, it'll be a memorable lunch. Families should turn left and head for Spier (tel. 021/809-1100; daily 9am-5pm; you can assemble your own picnic at their deli). Among the many activities on offer at Spier are scenic horseback rides through the estate's vineyards, as well as an outdoor activity center; their Cheetah Conservancy, where you can see these slinky creatures up close, is also very popular. A little farther along the R44 is the turnoff for Blaauwklippen (tel. 021/880-0133; Mon-Fri 9am-4:45pm, Sat 9am-4pm), where from October 1 to April 30 you can take a coach ride through the vineyards (call ahead to book). It's definitely worth making a detour for the delightful Waterford -- a wonderful example of the Cape's love affair with Tuscany (tel. 021/880-0496) -- where you can sample chocolate and wine to discover just how perfectly the two complement one another.