No more designated driver! Cycling South Africa’s wine routes
Wine tasting tours in the vineyards of Stellenbosch, the sleepy agricultural and university town not far from Cape Town, South Africa, have become a staple of the wine tourism route.
Wine tasting with a boozy lunch in a bucolic setting is a great way to spend a day for many international travelers.
But driving through the valleys is a step removed from being out in the vineyards themselves and it means you have to watch your alcohol intake.
Biking offers a better way to experience the wine farms.
Heading for the hills
Located on Delvara Farm near Stellenbosch, Dirtopia Trail Centre is known in local mountain biking circles for its varying difficulty levels of trails -- everything from kiddie to expert.
When asked about the difference between Beginner and Intermediate, I was told that their Vineyard Trail is for "people who have mountain bikes but don't ride them on trails."
That would be me, so I book.
One of my companions shows up in jeans, a striped T-shirt and a chic red scarf, evoking a trip to Provence.
But the Cape Aloes and cacti are a clear reminder that we are, in fact, in Africa.
It’s recommended that we get our biking in first and relax with wine in the afternoon.
Dirtopia’s storefront sits in the Delvera Village, a cluster of shops and eateries.
Armed with a photocopied map, we start down a dirt road toward a small reservoir, passing horses and a lone blue tractor as we make our way to the meticulously laid out grape orchards.
Clear mountain air and sunshine complement snow-peaked mountains in the distance.
The paths are clearly marked, but we realize that at some point we’ve crossed over from the Beginner to the Intermediate trail.
There are some mild technical challenges to contend with, but actually the going is fairly easy.
A single-track section through Eucalyptus trees is a highlight.
According to the Viewranger app, our steepest incline is 22 degrees and we ride to a peak just above 1,000 feet.
At just less than five miles, the ride is short, which is fine -- bring on the wine!
There aren’t any tastings in the wintertime at Delvara farm, but fortunately we’re in spitting distance of many wine farms.
A few minutes down the road is the Warwick Wine Estate, where we sign on for a seven-wine tasting.
Sitting in front of an old Cape Dutch building on a patio overlooking kids playing boules, we leisurely make our way through three whites and four reds.
This DIY version of riding bikes in the vineyards and then drinking the fruits afterward is easy for anyone to replicate from Cape Town, but many of the wine farms remain closed to regular cyclists, so signing up for a guided tour is best.
“We have access to routes not available to the public,” says Gustav Erlank of Bike and Saddle, which offers a number of guided tour options, including Groot Constantia, the country’s oldest wine estate.
The 17th century estate is popular for its heritage and restaurants, as well as its location in Cape Town’s southern suburbs.
Erlank says that their tours are family-friendly -- kids can have a chocolate tasting while grownups imbibe -- and can be adapted for as much or as little cycling as customers want, with a vehicle ready for anyone who wants to head home early.
“Our guests are more into leisure cycling, as opposed to high energy,” he says. “They have an affinity for wine and are into sightseeing.”
Typical rides range from six to 18 miles. They also offer overnight trips staying in three-, four- or five-star hotels and luxury spa options.
Most of the bike tours provide bike gear, as well as transportation from Cape Town to the winelands.
Helen Baker of AWOL Tours says that many of her company's foreign clients are on a repeat trip to Cape Town; they’ve already experienced the core list of attractions, and are looking for something with a twist.
AWOL’s trips are customized, but usually offer hybrid bikes to ride on country back roads from one vineyard to the next.
“We tend to do the wine tasting toward the end of the day,” says AWOL’s Helen Baker. “The priority is safety first -- not falling all over the place.”
Cycle tours in South Africa
Giant bike rentals from R100 ($10). Entry to Dirtopia trails is R30 ($3) for adults, and includes a voucher for a cup of coffee; R15 ($1.50) for kids under 10.
Delvera Agri-tourism complex, R44, near Stellenbosch; +27 21 884 4752
Seven-wine tasting, R25 ($2.50) per person; fee waived if you buy a bottle.
On the R44 between Stellenbosch and Paarl; +27 21 884 4410;
Tailored bike adventures any time of year.
P.O. Box 51196 Waterfront 8002
Tours are custom priced. For a couple, a daylong all-inclusive winelands meander is R1750 (about $175) per person.
V&A Waterfront Information Center, Dock Road, Cape Town 7950; +27 21 4183803