Winelands alternatives

2013-06-06 12:34
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Winelands hot air balloon adventure

If you have ever wanted a bird's eye view of a particular destination, try a hot air balloon ride. We check out the Winelands Hot Air Balloon adventure during the filming of a rebranding Advert for Dstv's Travel Channel.

If we've said it once, we've said it a million times: the Western Cape winelands are stunning. With a multitude of routes, cellars, farms and speciality shops in locations as diversely beautiful as Stellenbosch-Franschhoek-Paarl, Tulbagh-Ceres-Wolseley and Bot River-Hermanus-Stanford, to mention but a few, local wine lovers have more than enough reason to bask in the blessed bounty.

But, wait. What if you aren't a wine lover? Or aren't one yet? Do wine farms still have that same awe-inspiring appeal?

In my humble opinion, probably not as much... Although my tastes have matured distinctly during my post-high school development years, and now happen to include mostly red wine, but also a glass of white here and there, I remember a time quite clearly when an outing to a wine farm was about as exciting as an excursion to the tile shop, and got met with as much dread.

It was, in fact, so bad that if my parents would even so much as breathe a word about a vague and far-off possibility of doing a wine-farm outing in a December holiday, my knees would start buckling, my eyes watering and I'd feel light-headed. Yup, all those detestable symptoms indicative of severe boredom.

Despite rolling lawns, dams with pretty white ducks and the odd squirrel, wine farms really just did not appeal to me as a kid, and I'm fairly certain I was not alone in this.

So, if you share this slight aversion with the childhood me, fear not! There is bright and blazing light at the end of your dark and dreary winelands tunnel, as many farms - whether they produce wine or just happen to be on the route - are upping their games to include activities that don't necessarily amount to tasting, spitting, and eating dry crackers.

We take a look at three in the Franschhoek-Stellenbosch area that all offer something a little extra, and each appeal to a different market.

Babylonstoren for those gaga about gardening

While not exactly a wine estate, Babylonstoren still finds itself quite firmly rooted in the fold of the Franschhoek wine route and for that reason deserves a mention on this list.

The farm was founded in 1690, boasts a stunning manor house that was built in 1777 and is probably one of the best-preserved farmyards in the Cape Dutch tradition. All good and well, yes, but what really makes Babylonstoren a must-visit destination, is the mind-blowingly whimsical garden of diversity.

Drawing inspiration from both Cape Town's historical Company Gardens as well as the mythical hanging ones of Babylon, the eight-acre fruit and vegetable garden is truly one of the winelands' most precious gems. It has a formal layout, with a rustic feel, as a neat network of wooden pergolas guide both the plants and visitors along the 15 different clusters.

Curated and cared for by the spritely and ethereal Gundula Deutschlander, the gardens are a shining example of botanical diversity, as they boast more than 300 varieties of edible plants that are grown as biologically as possible. What makes it even cooler, is the fact that the fruit and veggies are harvested on a daily basis for use in the Babel restaurant and shop.

Although it is totally okay to wander around the gardens unattended, a tour with Gundula as guide comes highly recommended. Slight, tanned, natural and colourful both in personality and dress code, the woman has the look of a flower fairy or elf, and knows EVERYTHING there is to know about Babylonstoren's gardens, and well, just gardening in general.

These tours are available from Wednesday to Sunday between 09:00 and 17:00 and take about an hour and a half. They cost R10 per person, which serves as a donation for the Babylonstoren trust. Find out more by following this link to the website.

Babylonstoren also offers stunning accommodation in beautifully revamped Cape Dutch style cottages with a clean and minimalistic appeal. With the garden right next door and free range to pick as much as you need during your stay, you will have the added bonus of healthy, fresh from the earth meals throughout. Even so, spoil yourself with a visit to the Babel restaurant and pop in at the farm shop!

Villiera for those wild about wildlife

Moving along to the Bottelary region just beyond Stellenbosch, we find the family-run, private winery of Villiera. Although most famous for their exceptional Methode Cap Classique sparkling wines, Villiera has another secret charm that not many know about: a wildlife sanctuary!

The 175 ha piece of land is home to a large variety of antelope including Gemsbok, Burchell's Zebra, Red Hartebeest, Eland, Springbuck and Bontebok, a huge diversity of birdlife as well as a selection of other small mammals. Although it might not provide that famous thrill closely connected to the possibility of spotting a predator, a game drive through the sanctuary in one of the open-top safari vehicles is a wonderfully exhilarating experience. Pack a picnic, take some wine (if you like wine of course, if not juice, beer or water will suffice) and just enjoy the simple pleasure of being outside. If you happen to go on a clear day, you will be able to bask in the added joy of a perfect panoramic view of the mountains surrounding the Cape Peninsula, with the iconic flat-topped silhouette as the cherry on top.

Game drives cost R150 per person, including a tasting and a self-conducted cellar tour. Children under 15 pay half price, and booking is absolutely essential, just send an e-mail to:

Simonsig for those frantic about 4x4

Although many people would think that the extreme nature of 4x4ing can or should never be associated with the tranquility of a wine estate, Simonsig, one of Stellenbosch's premier wineries, has made it quite clear that the two are indeed quite compatible. The farm's Land Rover Experience Trail offers a variety of packages for tailor-made on- and off-road courses, which serve quite well as a fun team-building experience.

Read more on:    weekend escapes  |  travel south africa  |  lifestyle

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