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Riding South Africa’s Cape By Rail


World's Top Ten Cities Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa

AFRICANGLOBE – I went cycling and wine-tasting in Stellenbosch with my friend Heather a little while back. And while I may be a pessimist when it comes to the weather, she is more cautious.

Rain was forecast and we had to climb Helshoogte Pass. It would be fine, I assured her. Alas, the weather gods had other ideas. It had rained heavily, but according to friends in the know the prediction for Sunday was good.

We’d been cycling the previous weekend, Heather arriving in jeans and takkies, picking me up with her bike rack. This time she was wearing cleats and cycling shorts and we cycled to Cape Town station to meet up with other local tourists booked on the train ride to Stellenbosch.

Yes, that’s right, you read correctly. Metrorail has a tourism department with the aim of encouraging locals to rediscover the joys of travelling by train.

For those living in the southern suburbs you will regularly hear the “choo choo” of the steam train as it takes passengers along the rugged coastline from Cape Town to Simon’s Town. Well, Metrorail also has an exclusive tourism train that not only transports passengers along the False Bay coast but offers special trips to Stellenbosch and Khayelitsha.

If you’re lucky you’ll spot whales from your window. These monthly trips have become very popular. Each trip has a distinctive flavour, such as the “Coffeemob trip” to Khayelitsha to savour a cup of coffee at Department of Coffee and take a cycle tour of the township escorted by local cyclists..

Another is seeing the splendour of the vineyards in the Stellenbosch area. Alternatively, ask them about arranging a party, chartering a train or organising a school excursion.

Here we were on the Stellenbosch tour, which included two wines farms, eight tastings and lunch at Lumley’s.

Embarking at the “town of oaks” under patches of blue sky we watched a railway worker deftly pull levers as he manoeuvred the tracks.

Setting off, with Heather assuring me she knew the way, the other passengers boarded a mini-bus for a ride to the first wine farm.

Signalling right, signalling left, up and up we cycled before turning into what looked like a township. Meanwhile, the sky blackened with clouds pregnant with rain, which soon bucketed down on us. Worried about my camera, we pulled in at a convenience store. By now the rain was torrential, forming a river in the road. We waited for the worst to pass.

We set off again during a break in the storm and soon entered the Idas Valley; there was not a vehicle in sight. Exiting the top of the pass, we passed beneath tall gums, a dam and Simonsberg to the left. On cresting the pass the view across the Banhoek Valley made the effort worthwhile: Pniel to the left, the Franschoek mountains to the right, we rolled downhill to Zorgvliet.

Set in enormous grounds, Zorgvliet dates back to 1692 and wine-tasting takes place in the 1860 Cape Dutch house.

As we dried out in front of a roaring fire, Edward Orsmond poured a 2013 Sauvignon Blanc. Gooseberry, green apple and sweet melon on the nose, it was crisp and tempted taste buds with memories of hot days and picnics.

With strawberry, kiwi and gooseberry flavours, Enigma was next, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Franc Rosé. This was my favourite.

Zorvgvliet’s flagship wine is a 2010 Simoné, a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc with spice and lemongrass on the nose and citrus on the palate.

A highlight at Zorgvliet was the platter of cheeses, figs and biscuits, all locally sourced.

Not wanting to spoil our appetites, we moved to Lumley’s Place in Pniel where we had lunch. This palatial house on the side of a hill is popular for conferences, weddings and comfy accommodation. This family operated bed ’n’ breakfast is the brainchild of Peter and Benita Cyster who are born and bred in Pniel and who share a passion for the rich history of the area.

This hard-working couple have deservedly featured on television a number of times and received an award from the mayor of Cape Winelands as an emerging local tourism business in 2011.

Today we were given the option of mushroom or butternut soups. Not wanting to miss out, we opted for a taste of both.

This was followed by what the couple describe as “boerekos”; today it was stew, followed by brownies.

Afterwards we explored the rooms, each with its own character, a different view and décor.

Unable to visit nearby Le Pommier, we were treated to a tasting by Faith. Previously an apple farm, Le Pommier retains its roots in its name and nowadays includes accommodation, a restaurant, spa and petting zoo.

The 2011 Sauvignon Blanc is crisp, with tropical fruit and gooseberry on the nose and lime and citrus on the palate.

Tucking into our stew, it was the Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 2009 that most complimented our food. This 100 percent French oak wine has white pepper and mulberry aromas and spicy, black cherry and mulberry flavours.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye with promises to return and explore further.

The trips are part of a partnership project between the City of Cape Town, Cape Tourism and Metrorail Western Cape. Call 021 449 2366 for details. See www.lumleysplace.com, www.lepommier.co.za, or www.zorgvlietwines.com. – Cape Times

l Watkins is the author of Off the Beaten Track and Adventure Hikes in the Cape Peninsula.


By: Karen Watkins

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