Celebrate South African culture and history and make the most out of this annual holiday
Spend a Day in: Wellington
Plan your next day trip with this guide to the Cape Winelands’ best kept secret
Capetonians and visitors to the Mother City are absolutely spoiled for choice when it comes to options for day trips in the Western Cape, and many often opt to flock to fabulous Franschhoek or sweet little Stellenbosch for their day escapes. Where they should be headed though, if they’re looking for a unique experience and a somewhat old-school Cape Winelands experience, is Wellington, a dorpie at the foot of the Groenberg Mountain and just about an hour from the big city.
No longer worthy of its former reputation as “Wellington Smellington” (because of the odour from the town’s old leather tannery), the vineyard village is truly at the heart of South Africa’s wine industry, not just geographically, but also because most of the country’s rootstock material for vines comes from the local farms. As one local says, “it all starts in Wellington.”
You’ll be pleasantly surprised to find more things to see, taste, smell and experience than you could actually fit into 24 hours, and best of all, Wellington still has that undiscovered, undisturbed charm forever gone from its commercially popular Winelands counterparts, so this is where you go when you’re looking for something a little left of centre (this one’s for you Hipsters).
And to make (re)discovering Wellington a little bit easier, we’ve put together a guide to how best to spend your adventure. Get reading and then get preparing, because as any experienced explorer knows, hidden gems don’t stay hidden for very long.
WELLINGTON IS A PLACE FOR…
A DECADENT DOSE OF CULTURE
Wellington, which is named after the British duke who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, developed through the ages from being a border town for the Cape Colony to a hub for academia, a centre for the leather and piano-making industries and then eventually to the destination for wine connoisseurs and casual weekenders that it is today.
Start your visit with a glimpse of this history at the Wellington Museum on Church Street, which houses a small collection of local artefacts from the bygone era. Here you can learn the importance of the town’s train station or browse the titles of books written by and about Andrew Murray, the man whose likeness is captured in a statue sitting at the front of the town’s big, holy centrepiece. Considered to be the father of education in Wellington, this Scotsman is also recognised as a spiritual leader whose teachings attract disciples from as far as China. The museum also has surprising, unexpected (for this neck of the woods anyway) exhibits, like one of the largest Egyptology collections in Southern Africa and relics from the ancient lives of Sotho and Tswana tribal folk.
For a taste of Wellington’s modern heritage, there’s the Breytenbach Centre. The building, which was the former home of writer and painter Breyten Breytenbach, was bought by the town for the princely sum of R10 so it could be turned into a haven for local and visiting arty types. Drop in on the right Saturday and you might happen on an exhibit opening in the upstairs gallery featuring work by a local painter, or pop into the gift shop for beautiful, quirky Wellington-made ceramics and glassware. The multi-purpose centre also has a little restaurant theatre in the back called Die Bordienghuis where jazz and blues musicians entertain and brave open-micers serenade audiences on Tuesdays.
Wellington is wine country after all, so it would be practically indecent not to go for a tasting or two. The difference here is that you’re more likely to encounter boutique estates and family-owned farms, which means that you won’t be sampling run-of-the-mill reds and whites. Take for example Andreas Boutique Wine Estate: they only produce a Shiraz that has quite a cult following among local connoisseurs and therefore sells out each year (bookings for a tasting have to be made by appointment, and the farm isn’t open on weekends).
A more accessible option is the family-friendly Dunstone Winery, which sits pretty along Bovlei Road together with several more Wellington estates. The Shiraz, Merlot and special Rosé (it’s made with 100% Shiraz grapes) are tenderly crafted by hand, and behind the farm’s tasting room and its Stone Kitchen restaurant is a mini fairy tale world with a jungle gym, sandpits, giant pillows and blankets on the green grass and the scent of ripe guavas wafting gently in the air. Needless to say, it’s perfect for little ones, and a little exploration will reveal a hidden pond with white, orange-billed ducks preening themselves near the reeds.
While you’re on a serious tasting mission, be sure to call ahead and make an appointment for some sipping and sampling at Bosman Family Vineyards. The eighth-generation farming clan are known for their highly ethical, fair-trade productions, and that genuine goodness comes through in their signature vinos.
Linton Park, if you haven’t already heard, is one of the most charming wine farms in Wellington. The estate was founded in 1699 as De Slange Rivier, and has stood resolute at the base of the Groenberg Mountain ever since. The farm boasts multiple micro-climates making it perfect for a wine farm; it gives their wines the distinct character that is so recognisable. The Cape Dutch house, which is somewhat of an icon on the farm, was built in 1809 and underwent refurbishments in 1995 when Camellia PLC took over the farm. They have a delicious selection of wines (my personal favourite has to be the Sauvignon Blanc) and what’s even better is that their wine tasting is totally free! That’s right! You can select five of their wines to try, and once you decide which wines you like, you can order them at cellar prices at the tasting room. Delightful!
A GOOD OLD FASHION DORP
If you don’t have a taste for wine (and even if you do), an absolute must-try while you’re in Wellington is a sampling of the gins, vodkas, brandies and absinthe at Jorgensen’s Distillery. Also by appointment only, a visit to Roger and Dawn Jorgenson’s home and magic potion workshop will leave you with a new appreciation for the production of liquor. The master distiller is ultra passionate about the fragrant plants that go into the old-school-made alcohol (there are several vintage copper pot stills on the property, one of which is still in use), and he’ll give you a history lesson, a botany lesson and a lesson in distillation all in one. You’ll be surprised to find that gin can actually taste good.
The James Sedgwick Distillery opened to the public in 2016. They are inviting the outside world to come by and grab a little sneak peek into what goes on in Africa’s first commercial distillery. They produce Three Ships and Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky, both of which are available for purchase at the end of the tour. They run a three hour whisky tour which ends with a tasting of five of their delicious distilled goods paired with some locally produced food items; snoek pate anyone?
Once you’re away from the centre of town and Wellington’s farming industria, the valley rises and falls with rows of grapevines and pristine green hills that roll out to reveal a stunning landscape all the way to the mountains. A drive up the Bainskloof Pass will give the most spectacular vantage point, and the summit makes for one helluva sunset spot.
If you’re more content doing rather than just watching, bring along your mountain bike and explore the scenic trails. Permits (they’re R50) for each of the four routes are available from Welvanpas’s cute coffee shop, called Die Ou Meul, and you can pick up a map as well as homemade preserves and chutney or olive oil and peppadews for the road.
There are plenty of sensational places to grab a bite to eat in Wellington, no different to all of the Cape Winelands towns. We have the scoop on one of the best Italian restaurants we have experienced anywhere in the Western Cape!
Piza e Vino is a game-changer. The food is delicious and please believe me when I say that their pizza will change their life. We hadn’t eaten all day, but I don’t think that had an effect at all. We sat down at a table outside with the most amazing view of the mountains and had ourselves a yummy glass of vino (local of course). The waiter that took care of us was amazing, and I don’t think my meal has ever got to my table quicker. It cannot have been more than 15 minutes, and the Hawaiian pizza I had was scarily good. I know half of the population has been hoodwinked into thinking pineapple on pizza is wrong, but they’ve been sadly misled and Piza e Vino will prove you wrong.
Langkloof Roses, a stunning wine estate and wedding venue, also has a little hidden gem; the Tea Room. Their stunningly decorated cafe boasts old school decor; think light wood and visible beams. The atmosphere of this little haven is quaint and welcoming, Their food is delicious and their creamy coffees are insanely good. The Tea Room at Langkloof Roses is the perfect place to have some tea and a yummy sweet something on a cold day, an ice-tea and a sandwich in the summer sun!
And where to for dinner? Well, Oude Wellington is a bit of an institution and beyond just serving up homey food inspired by classic French cooking (apparently the pork belly is to die for), the restaurant dishes up a generous dose of good old-fashioned country hospitality. The eatery is housed in a 200-year-old converted chicken barn and run by husband and wife team John and Susanna Tecklenburg. She is the resident hug-giver, with an ever ready shoulder for the teary, while he may join you with a brandy at the stammtisch, a small, round table where strangers ring the bell, share a round of shots and become friends.
Extra top tips: Wellington’s equivalent to Cape Town’s Mzoli’s, Chippa’s Place, is where those looking for roads less travelled and authentic township jams can go for a shisa nyama jol. You get to choose the meat, which will braaied with secret signature spices and brought to your table.
If you’re into design, fabrics and finding out how things work, visit Quenti Alpaca Farm for a look at what it takes to go from cute sheep-like creatures to even cuter socks, sweaters and hats. Do note that you’ll have to call ahead if you want to drop by.
Article written by Charlotte Rogers
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