Bike Tours, Wine Tastings and Champagne Cruises
Dec 30, 2008
|On December 29th, we piled into the rental car and drove to the city of Stellenbosch, about an hour outside of Cape Town. Stellenbosch is South Africa’s second oldest European settlement after Cape Town. It is also the most famous wine-producing region in South Africa, so it was a natural and expected stop for the four of us.
Stellenbosch is usually a lively University town, but with the summer holidays it was pretty quiet. The area around the town is beautiful. There are surprisingly high mountain ranges; their lower slopes covered with vineyards and orchards.
The town itself is an attractive monument to colonial architecture, with whitewashed stately looking buildings throughout its centre. But most tourists visit Stellenbosch for the high quality wineries that are found all over the surrounding countryside.
We decided to rent bikes to tour the area and visit the wineries. We thought this would be a popular option, but there seemed to be only one bike rental shop in town. The bikes were crappy to boot – we had to return to get tires mended after only a few minutes. The bike rental people warned us about cycling through some of the surrounding townships. Apparently cyclists have been attacked, have had objects thrown at them, and have had their bikes stolen. The bike shop people traced a route out for us on the map of local wineries given to us by the Tourist Information Office. I was a little skeptical, especially since the people at the Tourist Information Office didn’t mention any areas of danger – and they should know, shouldn’t they? But Dad was pretty concerned about the warnings so we took their advice and took the road towards the House of J.C. Leroux sparkling wines.
We rode for about 45 minutes along the highway, then up some back roads through other vineyards, farms and orchards.
There were a few other, smaller wineries, but most of them were closed because it was a Sunday. The J.C. Leroux winery was an estate; it was surrounded by manicured vineyards and gardens with fountains and sculptures. We singed up for a tasting and sat down in their tasting area, ready to enjoy the experience.
We learned a lot. J.C. Leroux has a large selection of sparkling white wines, but their signature wines are what they call the Method Cape Classiques, or MCC’s. These wines are champagnes in every way but the name. They are made with the same blend mixture as champagnes, they are made the same away as champagnes, and the taste the same as champagnes. The only difference is that they do not come from the Champagne region of France, and as such, cannot legally be called champagnes. They are award winning wines and we were able to try a generous selection of different types and vintages. We were impressed and bought a couple of bottles for New Years.
It was originally our goal to try a bunch of different wineries, but the J.C. Leroux took up a lot of our time and most of our alcohol tolerance. We needed some food to clear our heads, but we weren’t getting any service at the Leroux café, so we hopped back on our bikes and had a cheerful ride back to Stellenbosch.
Our timing couldn’t have been better since it started to rain as we reached the bike shop. We had lunch in town and spent some time walking around the town. Stellenbosch was a very cool place to explore with nice shaded streets, Dutch Cape style architecture and interesting shops. It is a town that makes you want to stop for a coffee at every corner and just soak in the atmosphere. We wish we had more time or maybe a couple days there to take it all in.
We returned to our home in Simon’s Town to find that a penguin had waddled up to our front entrance and pooped next to our front door. Is this some kind of sign or warning? Have we disrupted the penguin colony in some way? Maybe we shouldn’t have taken pictures of the penguins mating?
The next day we went back into Cape Town to pick up Rebecca’s sparkling tanzanite ring. My dad, succumbing to the pressure, bought a diamond ring for my mom, so it was a special day for all.
So my dad and I wouldn’t feel left out, the ladies bought us a couple of really cool Nelson Mandela prints from a gallery on the Waterfront. To celebrate our gifts we decided to treat ourselves to a champagne catamaran cruise around the Cape Town harbour.
We sat right in front until the wind, cold water and the motion got to be a little too much for us. We were given flutes of champagne and bottles of Peroni beers. After we left the harbour area, the massive, luxury catamaran raised all the sails and we cruised around in the open water.
The boat’s top speed is 24 knots but we only got to 12, which was more than fast enough for the four of us prairie folk. We saw seals and penguins in the water, but no dolphins although we were told that they surfed the wake of another cruise earlier in the day. It was an excellent sail and we appreciate the new perspectives and different views of the beautiful Cape Town skyline.
It’s going to be hard to leave this city.