Sir Francis Drake, reporting in 1580 on his epic round-the-world voyage, enthused about "the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth". Had he ventured into the deep green valleys and golden plains beyond the Cape's purple mountain-fringed coastline, he might have embroidered his description more colourfully.
Many contemporary explorers regard these as the world's most beautiful winelands. The historic charms of graceful Cape-Dutch gables and Victorian verandas, the modern attractions of glamorous restaurants and internationally-acclaimed wines, the allure of the great outdoors, wilderness areas, and beaches, all combine to make Cape wine country a visitor's delight.
But you don't need to be an oenophile or a wine aficionado to enjoy the Cape's best vintages. Simply grab a map of the winelands, hop in the car, and explore.
The Cape's best wine farms
Encircled by the rugged Helderberg mountains in Somerset West, the vast Vergelegen Estate is much more than a wine farm.
A conservationist's paradise, the sprawling estate boasts acres of pristine vineyards, tracts of rare, protected fynbos, carefully manicured gardens with towering trees, and pastures dotted with grazing Nguni cattle.
The tasting room is centred around a colossal Pierre Cronje-designed table hewn from indigenous yellowwood and a pretty terrace overlooks a fragrant herb garden.
Buitenverwachting Wine Farm
Cape Town's upper-crust Constantia is studded with wine farm jewels. Few sparkles more brightly than Richard and Christine Müller's property, part of the original 17[sup]th[/sup]-century Constantia farm founded by Simon van der Stel (the name means "Beyond Expectations").
From the manicured vineyards on Constantiaberg to the world-class restaurant, this sumptuous spread typifies style and refinement.
It has been said that Constantia is an epicure's delight, sometimes overlooked in the rush inland. That is certainly true of Dave and Marlene McCay's upscale property shadowed by Constantiaberg, boasting two of the Cape's most delectable restaurants, luxury poolside lodgings, lush views, and, for aerial stop/stayovers, a helicopter pad.
Spier wine estate
Outsize golden statues of the Nine Muses of Greek antiquity that dominate the approach to Spier intimate that this is no ordinary wine farm – an impression confirmed on closer inspection.
This showpiece Stellenbosch tourist venue is a one-stop winelands experience, replete with its own train, outdoor amphitheater, restaurants, cafés, conference halls, picnic spots on the banks of the Eerste River, craft/souvenir shop, farm stall, and specialist wine emporium with local labels and imports.
Not to mention children's activities/facilities such as a riverside play area with ducks, picnic baskets, supervised pony rides and horse-drawn carriage rides, and a cheetah outreach programme.
Ten minutes from the Cape Town airport, this revitalised Stellenbosch estate owned and run by the Johnson family offers a smörgåsbord of sights and flavours.
Attractions range from the relaxed country-style restaurant in the charming gabled manor-house; spotless cheese factory specialising in matured English cheddar and open to visitors who can view the cheese-making process through a glass curtain; picnic area on the tree-fringed lake; upmarket accommodation among the vineyards with views of two oceans; and buzzing tasting locale where winemakers Hilko Hegewisch's stylish well-priced range may be sampled.
Steenberg is the oldest registered farm in the Cape but boasts an exquisitely designed modern winery with sleek contemporary interiors and multi-sensory space decorated in earthy hues and textures, and an edgy tasting bar and lounge.
Reflecting pools surrounded by manicured fynbos gardens and flowing waterfalls create the perfect backdrop for tasting some of the estate's award-winning wines. A magnificent chandelier made from 2,800 individually hand-blown glass grapes takes centre stage in the stylish restaurant.