The perfect trip: South Africa
Heritage is important to Mark - he's turned his 270-year-old wine cellar into a museum dedicated to the social history of the region - but playfulness and experimentation are the watchwords at Solms-Delta. Sheltering from the bright sun under the branches of the estate's great oak trees, I try an unusual sparkling red, Cape Jazz Shiraz, as refreshing as the breeze that intermittently rustles a nearby sea of grape leaves. Next is a glass of Langarm. Literally 'long arm', the name has dual meaning, referring to a waltz-like dance once performed by farm labourers and, in Mark's words, 'the fact that the blend is as long as your arm'.
The nearby De Morgenzon estate in Stellenbosch likewise employs an unusual method to get the best out of its grapes - they play music to their vines through strategically placed speakers. According to winemaker Stefan Gerber, the even rhythm of baroque music promotes the crystallisation of water within the grapes, therefore prolonging the growing season. At sunset, as I stroll through the estate's wildflower-strewn vine fields, the plump Shiraz grapes and I are treated to a Bach cello sonata.
- Find out more about Boland towns at stellenbosch tourism.co.za and franschhoek.org.za, and South African wines at wosa.co.za
- Solms-Delta Wine Estate (solms-delta.com)
- De Morgenzon Estate (demorgenzon.co.za)
Only 34 miles south of Stellenbosch, the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve has some of the most complex biodiversity on the planet. There are 1,880-odd plant species, prolific birdlife and wild horses living in the wetlands, along with a series of hiking trails. The Atlantic coastline has some great beaches, and whales offshore (kogelbergbiospherereserve.co.za).
Where to stay: Mont Rochelle
Situated amid row upon row of Franschhoek valley vines, this luxurious manor-house hotel is an ideal base for exploring the region. The restaurant has panoramic views and offers wine-pairing menus, featuring local game and imaginative desserts (from £220, with breakfast; montrochelle.co.za).
Arniston: Best for escaping
The road to Arniston passes through an area known as the Overberg, where sheep and cattle share miles of undulating farmland and an occasional copse of eucalyptus stands stark against the horizon. This vast emptiness makes the approach to Arniston and Kassiesbaai, the oldest active fishing village in South Africa, feel like the metaphorical, as well as literal, end of the road. A small group of thatched buildings houses families that have made their living from the sea for generations. Further on, the road gives way to sand, then dune mountains reminiscent of the Sahara - except these end in a wide, pristine beach.
Arniston got its name from a British ship that was wrecked offshore in 1815. Of the 378 men aboard, all but six drowned. This tragic episode continues to fascinate local amateur historian and hotel-owner Robert Haarburger. He gestures to the dunes where most of the dead were buried. 'Can you imagine how alone those few survivors must have felt, washing up here and seeing these hills that seem to go on forever?'
Among the dunes, Robert has built his own small memorial, and segments of the ship's hull still lie partly buried in the sand, like an excavated dinosaur skeleton.
Arniston's history did not begin with its wreck. Robert takes me west of town to an 18th-century lighthouse, and dunes that stretch all to the way to Cape Algulhas, the southernmost point in Africa. He points to a patch sprinkled with pottery fragments, stones and shells. This is one of many middens, Stone Age cooking spots, that have been found in the area. For Robert, the fact that humans found reason to settle here thousands of years ago is further evidence that he has chosen a good home.
- Find out more about Arniston at hermanus.co.za
Nearly halfway between Franschhoek and Arniston is Hermanus, one of the best places in the world for land-based whale-watching, from June to November. To get even closer, kayaking in the bay is possible, and there are frolicking Cape fur seals if you're visiting out of season (walkerbayadventures.co.za).