The Ultimate Road Trip: Helderberg Wine Route

Set out from Cape Town on an epicurean adventure that takes in township cuisine, the world-class wineries of the Helderberg Wine Route, the orchards of the Elgin Valley and ocean-fresh seafood in coastal Hermanus.

Photograph by George Veltchev
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Peerless views across the Atlantic (and a resident colony of African penguins) make the quirky enclave of Simon’s Town a popular day trip from Cape Town.
Photograph by George Veltchev

The route is 76 miles and the highlights can be sampled in a day. But to soak up the many flavours of the region, take the journey at a more leisurely pace, spending a night or two in countryside hotels.

1: Cape Town

The Helderberg Wine Route draws together some 30 wine estates dotted across the lower slopes of the Helderberg massif, many affording picturesque views down to the sparkling waters of False Bay. The fine terroir, ocean vistas and historic estates of Cape Helderberg are comparable to those of the world-famous Stellenbosch wine region, a short distance north. Like its acclaimed neighbour, Helderberg is within striking distance of Cape Town — a mere 45-minute drive southeast on the N2 highway. But it attracts just a fraction of the visitors, making it the ideal destination for gourmands looking to get off the beaten path.

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Map illustrated by Guillermo Trapiello

2: Khayelitsha

A fascinating — and surprising — culinary detour en route to the winelands lies just off the highway in the township of Khayelitsha. Fresh vegetarian fare can be found at Spinach King, an innovative shipping-container bakery specialising in healthy, on-the-go bites and gluten-free spinach rolls. Alternatively, linger for a long lunch at Abigail Mbalo’s chic 4Roomed eKasi Culture restaurant, open Friday-Sunday. The former MasterChef South Africa contestant elevates the township cuisine of her youth with playful takes on traditional dishes like mleqwa (chicken stew) and umqa (pumpkin and corn).

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Helderberg Mountain, bathed in morning sunlight, towers above the vines of Lourensford Wine Estate.

3-4: Somerset West to Avontuur Estate Restaurant

Continuing southeast, the main highway delivers you to Somerset West, the centremost town of the Helderberg basin, which has various accommodation options — although the beach towns of Strand and Gordon’s Bay make equally charming bases from which to tour the wine estates. Dotted along the R44 road to Stellenbosch are several notable wineries. Don’t miss the award-winning Avontuur Estate with its thoroughbred stud farm, and Longridge with its emphasis on organic and biodynamic winemaking. Remember to call ahead to secure tastings and cellar tours.

Nearer to Somerset West, a cluster of historic estates sit on the picturesque lower slopes of the Hottentots Holland Nature Reserve. Morgenster [shop.morgenster.co.za] is known for its olive groves and sumptuous Cape Dutch-style manor as much as for its fine reds. Enjoy al fresco oil and wine tastings under a vine-laden pergola or tuck into a pairing menu at the Italian restaurant 95 at Morgenster. Within walking distance is Vergelegen Wine Estate, which dates back to 1700. Its smart picnic lawns, lavender garden, maze, walking trails and trio of restaurants make it one of the most visited properties in the region. Nearby, too, is the trendy Lourensford Market — an assortment of more than 70 permanent vendors and additional pop ups selling local produce and handcrafts on Friday evenings and Sundays during the summer season.

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The harbour town of Kalk Bay, just south of Cape Town, showcases the raw beauty of the Cape Peninsula.

5-6: Sir Lowry’s Pass to Elgin Valley

Leaving the Helderberg basin via Sir Lowry’s Pass you descend into the Cape Overberg, home to its own clutch of cooler-climate vineyards, including the family-run Beaumont and Oak Valley Wines. Both properties have cottages for overnight visitors wishing to stay on and explore the region’s apple and pear orchards, tackle mountain bike trails or pass a lazy day fishing. Houw Hoek Farm Stall is great place to rent rods and tackle, and to pick up a picnic hamper full of local produce.

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The historic Vergelegen Wine Estate, dating back to 1700, is known for its smart picnic lawns, walking trails and trio of restaurants.

7: Hermanus

At Bot River, take the R43 to the coast to arrive at Hermanus. This welcoming port town offers some the world’s finest ocean safaris: southern right whales pass close to the shore between June and December to mate and calve. Standing out from Hermanus’s burgeoning gastronomic scene are the homely Fisherman’s Cottage and the oceanfront Bientang's Cave, both serving up sensationally fresh oysters, grilled linefish, and traditional seafood potjies (pot stews) to hungry mariners and travellers alike.

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Duration: 1-4 days
Arrival airport: Cape Town International Airport
Destination: Hermanus
The route: Leave Cape Town on the N2 highway heading southeast, turning south on the M44/ Mew Way and then east at the Lookout Hill turning to access the Village 1 North area of Khayelitsha. Both Spinach King and 4Roomed eKasi Culture are located here. Connecting back onto on the N2, continue onwards through the Helderberg Basin, past Sir Lowry’s Pass, and down into the Overberg, turning south at Bot River on the R43 to reach Hermanus. From the heart of Cape Town, the entire route is 80 miles.
When to go: The Western Cape is at its best during the temperate, dry months of October to April.
Driving tips: When parking in urban areas, it’s common practise to tip a watchman.

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