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December 10, 2007

STELLENBOSCH – AFRICA’S GRAPE ESCAPE

STELLENBOSCH – AFRICA'S GRAPE ESCAPE

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When Commander Jan Van Riebeeck planted the first grape vines at the
foot of Table Mountain in Cape Town in 1656 there were few who
imagined that South Africa would become a highly respected wine
producer.

There was good reason for the scepticism as the Dutch Free Burghers
were not blessed with great viticultural skills, but 20 years later
with the arrival of the Huguenots - many from well known wine regions
in France - things began to take a turn for the better.

These days South Africa has a fine international reputation for both
red and white table wines, not to speak of rich dessert wines and fine
sherries; and has turned its wine-growing areas into fascinating
tourist destinations to complement the natural wonders of Table
Mountain and the wild coastline running east from nearby Cape Town.

A close look at the four wine areas - Stellenbosch, Franschoek, Paarl
and Breede River- will take the connoisseur days, or even longer,
especially if one lingers is some of the splendid restaurants which
dot the countryside with frequency nearing that of the aged, shady
oaks which are practically the trade mark of the wine areas.

For the traveller who likes to maximise sightseeing the Stellenbosch
wine route has the added interest of the city after which the area is
named.

Of all the towns founded in the Cape by the Dutch East India Company,
Stellenbosch is the second oldest after Cape Town, and is one of the
best preserved in the whole of South Africa.

Know also affectionately known as Eikstad because of its proliferation
of graceful oak trees (some of which are declared national monuments,)
Stellenbosch is home to the finest examples of Cape Dutch architecture
to be found anywhere.

Now also a famous university city, it is the gateway to the wine
country and a virtual living museum. In the heart of the town on
Ryneveld Street is the recently completed Village Museum of six
restored houses, some of which date back to the late 1700's and all of
which are in the styles characteristic of several historical periods.

A military museum is housed in the Kruithuis (powder house) which was
built on the west side of the town in 1977 and in nearby Dorp Street
is the longest surviving row of houses in South Africa. All are more
than 100 years old and in splendid condition as modern residences.

Whether you're taking tea in the quaint Stellenbosch cafes, sitting
under shady pergolas at wineries or at tables in buildings of
yellow-wood beams, reed ceilings and Batavian floor tiles the cuisine
in this part of the Cape Province will invariably delay you.

Traditional Cape dishes, many referred to as Cape Malay, will be a
brand new experience, even for well travelled Australian palates.

Not to be missed is the smoorsnoek, a local salted fish, braised with
onions, potato and chilies, and bobotie a tangy curry of minced meat
baked slowly in the oven and topped with an egg custard. With the
right dedication of purpose one should then give serious consideration
to the Cape brandy puddings and melktert, a baked milk tart which will
appear on many a menu during your stay.

But, what is a splendid meal without the company of the region's
lifeblood - a glass a two of lush cabernet, some vintages of which
will remind Australians of our own robust red wines, or a finely
balanced white which many will find more reminiscent of German-style
whites.

There is ample opportunity for more of this at the scores of wineries
which hide among the giant oaks trees grouped around the rolling
plains with their craggy backdrop of shimmering grey mountains.

African holiday specialist Bench International has a range of packages
which include Cape Town and its nearby wine-growing areas. The area is
included in a 14-night Grand Tour of South Africa costing about $2400,
plus air fares from Australia. For travellers stopping off in Africa
on the way to Europe there's a three-night Cape Town package costing
from $720 including sightseeing. Details from Bench International
phone 02-9290-2877 or 1800-221-451 or visit
www.benchinternational.com.au

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PHOTO CAPTIONS:

PICTURESQUE: the Cape Dutch-style Stellenbosch Hotel takes visitors
back to a charming earlier era in South Africa's famed winelands.

TABLE BAY nestles in the folds of Table Mountain that stands majestic
with its head and name-sake plateau in the clouds.

Photos: South Africa Tourism

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