Just a 90-minute drive from Cape Town lies Tulbagh Valley, one of the many splendid weekend escapes near the Mother City.
When it comes to a getaway in the Cape, wine always comes to mind, be it a quick tasting en route or a destination itself.
But, for many others, it’s the range of outdoor activities that lure travellers away from the city, from hiking to mountain biking. But what if you tried to combine them all, and do them at the same time?
Wine by bike
The concept was simple: dust off the old bikes in our garage and ensure that they are at least in working order, and cycle to wine farms. Alternatively, bicycles are available to rent at Vindioux.
Tulbagh is an ideal spot to combine both: most wineries are all within a 10 km radius of the town and there aren’t too many steep ascents, or so we thought.
My bike was an old 1980s Peugeot racer that faired relatively well on the few slopes we encountered. My friend Matt’s bike however was an old Holland style, a single-speed bike that clearly wasn’t designed with hills in mind. Regardless of our choice of wheels, we looked the part.
We sat down for dinner at our lodging in Rijks Wine Estate and hotel with a bottle of pinotage and went over our route on Matt’s hand-drawn map.
We had two routes, depending on our mood: the ‘suggested’ one and a devised ‘too sloshed to cycle’ route which involved rapid-fire tastings at as many farms as we could muster. We decided to select our option depending on how the first tasting went.
En route to our first tasting was a slight incline. The Tulbagh valley doesn’t exactly have the steepest hills, but when you ride an old fixie, a slope can seem deceiving.
Well, that’s what I heard at least, my bike had old downshifters, so I carried on to the top of the hill and tried to not look too smug waiting for him.
This might have quashed the plan to take the ‘too sloshed to cycle option’ but perhaps the downhill and tree-lined road to Theuniskraal would heighten our enthusiasm, or the wine would.
Onto the wine
Our first tasting was a relaxing induction to the valley’s wine, fortunately, because it was probably best to ease into it. We were the first ones to arrive at Theuniskraal and had an intimate tasting at the counter. They are known for their dry riesling, which they have been making since 1948 and its tally of awards over the years speaks for itself.
It was a relaxing downhill to Tulbagh Cellars. Don’t be put off by the scale of the cellars or write it off as “commercial,” Tulbagh Winery is the country’s oldest farmer’s co-op where you are still welcomed with an intimate tasting.
Aside from their popular “Flippenice” range, their Klein Tulbagh range offers real value for money for a premium range. It was a relatively flat ride to our next stop, Twee Jonge Gezellen, we just had to hit some gravel roads. Easy peasy, if you have a mountain bike. We instead went for the aesthetic of two old bikes and here I paid for it on my skinny racing tyres. Perhaps it would be better, we thought, to stick to the suggested route.
We arrived at Twee Jonge Gezellen a bit parched, and fortunately, this was a specialised bubbly farm with a range of MCCs.
We did worry that our old derelict, now dusty, bikes were likely out of place tied to the sign at the entrance of this elegant estate, but we were welcomed with a glass of bubbly nonetheless.
At ease on the flats and heading back in the direction towards our accommodation at Rijk’s, a sign called out to us: ‘Gin Tasting’. We pulled in and had a delectable tasting of six different craft gins at the Gin Yard.
This put us on a tight schedule to make it back to Rijk’s Wine Estate in time for a tasting, but we managed to squeeze it in. Rijk’s Wine Estate are Chenin blanc and pinotage specialists. In fact, these are the only two vines they grow on the estate, and they know how to work with them.
Kilometres cycled: 26 km
After day one, it was abundantly clear that we should stick to the suggested route. Hitting the road again, our first stop was Sarensburg where we were given a glass of bubbly upon entry and took a stroll through their gallery where they even house two Pierneefs in their collection.
We sat outside for the rest of the tasting, and it’s difficult to choose our favourite, but the fact that their Shiraz is South Africa’s most consistently awarded wine over the past 10 years says enough.
After this elegant tasting, we had the toughest part of the journey: an uphill climb on a gravel road. Ashamedly, we walked the last stretch to Oude Compagnies Post, but the tasting lifted our spirits again.
With tasting taking place in the cellar with the winemaker himself, this is the place for a jovial atmosphere where you end up chatting with other guests and sharing thoughts on the wine.
The white pinotage (you read that correctly, a white pinotage) was a widespread favourite throughout the group. Young winemaker, Dirk Swanepoel is the genius behind this and he took us into the cellar for a barrel tasting, as well as to try their last barrel of port (the bottles had sold out, unfortunately).
We were onto our final tasting for the weekend at Digger’s Home just a stone’s throw down the road. Digger’s is one of the newest wine farms in the valley, but what it lacks in longevity it makes up for in character.
Their tapas restaurant and tasting room overlooking the valley is an appropriate way to end off the day, particularly because the inviting atmosphere means you stay longer, it’s best to not have plans later in the day.
Distance cycled: 10.5 km
If you are a cat person, this is the place for you. If you are not a cat person, you will become one. If you still aren’t convinced, just go there.
Dine in the oldest buildings on Church Street in Tulbagh where Carol Collins has run the establishment for 25 years, and her most recent staff member has been working with her for 23 years.
Carol has worked at restaurants around the world but cooks what she likes from the fresh ingredients available on the day. Regardless of your reason for visiting Tulbagh, this is the place to stop for a meal.
You must try Carol’s range of homemade ice cream, which ranges from unique flavours such as Pickled ginger and wasabi to Crunchie and Amarula, but who knows what incredible flavour concoction there will be during your visit.
Where: 12 Church St, Tulbagh
Contact: 023 230 0087
Only a 10-minute drive from town and just a 15 minutes hike, the waterfall at Waterval Nature Reserve makes for a refreshing dip to relax the muscles after an exertive day, and a great sunset spot to catch the shades of colour over the valley at dusk.
Where: Waterval Nature Reserve