Although not as popular as some wine travel destinations, South Africa is actually on the cutting edge of active wine tourism. A visit to the Vineyard Hiking Trail in the Stellenbosch area of South Africa will allow you to experience the beautiful countryside, taste delicious wines, and stay active in the process.
South Africa boasts 13 wine regions, all located in the Western Cape centered on the city of Cape Town. While each has its charms, the Stellenbosch area is the most well-known and the location of the Vineyard Hiking Trail.
Stellenbosch is an interesting town boasting a university and a fun downtown with hotels, shops, and restaurants. It is surrounded by mountains, including the Helderberg, Stellenbosch, Jonkershoek Valley, and Simonsberg ranges.
Most visitors who travel to Stellenbosch and are interested in wine drive one of the well-promoted Stellenbosch American Express Wine Routes. These five driving routes have maps connecting the participating wineries, scheduled tasting hours, and a website dedicated to the concept.
However, it is not the Wine Routes that attract active wine travelers to South Africa. Much less well known, the Stellenbosch area also has a fantastic series of marked paths called the Vineyard Hiking Trail.
Without its own website and with little promotion, the Vineyard Hiking Trail is neither well known nor highly traveled. The trail is centered on the Sugarbird Manor, a fantastic small inn that until recently was owned by World Wildlife Fund – South Africa. From the doors of the inn, it is possible to reach any of the three Vineyard Hiking Trail routes: the 3.3 kilometer Vintners’ Route, the 8.8 kilometer Devon Valley Route, and the 14.3 kilometer Mountain Route. The trails are signposted and a basic map is available, all for a small access fee. Vineyards along the routes are pleased to welcome visitors.
One of the aspects of the Vineyard Hiking Trail that makes it so cutting edge in wine tourism is hikers are allowed to walk on private property throughout. Unlike in Europe, where most trails through wine areas are on public roads, or in the United States where property and liability concerns make public vineyard walks a rarity, in South Africa the local grape growers have teamed together to make their lands accessible to tourists.
And make no mistake about it – walking through vineyards is more rewarding than driving from winery to winery. For one thing, it eliminates the drinking and driving problem. For another, it’s healthy. Best of all, it provides a much greater connection to the wine you drink. After you work up a sweat passing row after row of well-tended grapes, the wine you drink tastes that much better.