The town of Tulbagh lies cradled like an infant in the crook of its mother’s elbow in the shelter of three great mountain ranges, the Obiqua, the Winterhoek, and the Witzenberg, which meet and enfold the Tulbagh Valley. Where the Breede Valley sweeps down to the coastal plain in the south is the only way out of the valley. It is possibly this sheltered stance, or possibly the remoteness of its location, that gives the town its very special character. In the winter the snow covered mountains give it a nostalgic European feel. Coming in from the west via Riebeek Kasteel, the road winds through the deep Nuwekloof Pass where the mountains rise around you in some places as high as 2200 meters. The feeling of expectation is almost palpable as you round the edge of the kloof and the valley lies suddenly before you.

With many great places to eat and sleep, Tulbagh has an unmistakeable air of Franschhoek before the money got there. Although many buildings were extensively damaged in the earthquake of 1969, they have been beautifully restored with the help of generous grants from big business and the town  is one of the most complete examples of an 18th and 19th Century village in South Africa. The main thoroughfare, Church Street, has an unrivalled collection of Cape Dutch buildings, all of which are National Monuments. On Church Street you will find some wonderful guest houses and some fine restaurants. The mood is very much like that in a typical Cape Dutch village of yesteryear.

Other attractions include four museums, a shoe factory, and many arts and crafts establishments. For the energetic, there are mountain bike trails, walks, horse riding, fishing and hiking trails. If you would just prefer to take a deep breath, kick off your shoes, drink a little wine, and totally unwind, Tulbagh is just the place to be.

RIJKS

Master winemaker Pierre Wahl wields the magic wand here, turning out some superb wines for many years now. He is a member of the prestigious Cape Winemakers Guild and is especially known for his fabulous Pinotage and Shiraz. Having said that, I must admit my favourite wine he makes is a knockout Chenin, rich and complex with just the amount of wood supporting sumptuous fruit. The tasting area is beautifully sheltered, but first prize if the weather is playing ball is to sit on the veranda and gaze over the vineyards from which come the grapes in the glass—something really special. To go with this image think of Pierre’s magnificent bubbly, lean and citrusy with a never ending bead. There is a good restaurant on the estate so you will not go hungry. If it all gets too much for you, the guest house has seen many a traveller check in for a day and stay for three. I cannot think of anything nicer than to lose oneself in this fabulous country ambience, get spoilt by great hotel staff, and drink wine.

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THEUNISKRAAL

About 6 kms out of town you will find the Theuniskraal farm, one of the most famous in this area. The wine for which they are noted is their Cape Riesling which you should not miss as you will find few examples of this grape still being used. It is easy to drink, deliciously crisp, full of fruit. The Moscato Rosé is one of the others to try, especially if you like wine with a sweet edge, and don’t be shy to say that’s how you like it. After all, you are the master or mistress of your taste buds. Classic wine fundis will rave about their Sauvignon Blanc, fresh and elegant with a nice long finish and the fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon, proving that white is not their only forte. End off with the Bouquet Blanc, a fragrant blend of Gewürztraminer with some Muscat, fragrantly beguiling. Sit outside in the shade and relax—even if just for a while.

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SARONSBERG

Superbly placed, with views to take your breath away, Saronsberg is a haven of taste with wonderful art works to lift the spirit, elegant self-catering accommodation and an unforgettable wedding venue, a favourite with brides in the know. Dewaldt Heyns, the winemaker, is a master of the red grape and what to do with it. His reds are superb and much sought after, winning awards all over the place for their consistent quality. This is one of the most difficult things to do when making wine—how do you keep up to the bench mark you have set yourself? Your customers expect it, and some amateurs have landed on their you know whats when they have become complacent.  His Shiraz is a revelation, redolent with dark Cape fruit with a touch of spice and the red blend he calls Full Circle , a Shiraz led blend with Grenache, which is known as “Sensational’ by  those not given to go overboard unless pushed. The more easily priced examples of these wines on their slate are equally impressive, and well worth looking at. Don’t miss the delicious MCC Brut for something really special.

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TULBAGH WINERY

This is the home of the Flippenice range of easy drinking quaffers –catchy name don’t you think? They have been making wine here since 1906 so really must know what they are doing by now. The Flippenice range includes a delicious red blend, Cab led with soft tannins and a refreshing Chenin/ Sauvignon fruity cracker, just the thing to knock back poolside. The more serious wines have some excellent reds like the Pinotage, packed with deep red fruit, and the Shiraz, sumptuously fruity with a classic spice note or two. The grapes are from 86 members in the area and reflect the easy going, relaxed country ambience for which Tulbagh is noted. They even have boxed wine as well as Alcohol free examples so do go with an open mind. Don’t leave without buying a bottle of their iconic Paddagang Hanepoot, a silky charmer of note.

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KRONE AT TWEE JONGE GEZELLEN

Long a part of the historic fabric of Tulbagh under the famous Krone family, the new owners have wisely kept the ambience which makes this place unique. The tasting area is beautifully placed overlooking the vineyards with the distant mountains keeping benevolent guard over it all. Here you will find the home of the classic Krone MCCs, a collection of superb vintage only bubblies that have helped to make SA the most famous of non-Champagne producers. Ranging from cork dry to semi sweet, from Rosé to ivory white, if you can’t find a bubbly here that you like you aren’t really trying. Don’t miss the fascinating cellar tours which take place at 11 daily—check times with the cellar.

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WAVERLEY HILLS

The views are fabulous, the wines are great, the olive oil is tops, the restaurant is well worth dropping the diet for—so what’s not to like? Well known for their “green” approach to farming, Waverley is certified by ECOCERT, an international organisation which conducts inspections in over 80 sites worldwide so they are serious about making a difference. Don’t miss the SMV—Shiraz, Mourvedre, Viognier knockout, wearing more medals than a South American dictator, superb and complex and the brilliant wooded Chardonnay, deliciously compelling. The Estate Range Shiraz is one of the best from this area, multi levelled and classic, a pleasure to knock back. Continuing with their caring approach, the public areas are wheel chair friendly.

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