3 half marathons worth heading out of the city for

While Cape Town has its fair share of magnificent half marathons, there are at least three in the surrounding areas that are worth travelling to for a day trip or a weekend getaway.

1. The Safari Half Marathon: This half marathon, first run in 1988, takes you through the little town of Wellington, about an hour’s drive from Cape Town, and the surrounding farmlands. You spend a fair amount of the race on gravel roads and many of the local farmworkers and their children come out to support you. There is something really special about running through this beautiful part of the Cape when the morning is still fresh and full of promise.

The half marathon is always run on the first of May – a public holiday – and it is late enough in the year that it doesn’t start too early. As the name suggests, the race is sponsored by Safari dried fruit, so the goodie bags come filled with tasty treats.

2. The Vital Winelands Half Marathon: By November the days can get scorching hot in Stellenbosch (a 40-minute drive from the city centre), so this half marathon starts very early, which means that if you are making the trek from Cape Town you should leave home at around 03h30! Thankfully, the beautiful scenery — you spend some time running through farmland – compensates for that early start.

This half marathon was introduced after the Winelands Marathon had been run for 19 years. The two races converge at the 32 kilometre mark in the marathon, and both finish at the Eikestad Primary School. With over 4 000 runners crossing the finish line, there is a festive atmosphere at the end. That said, the support along the way is not spectacular, and there is a fairly long (and hilly!) stretch of the race where you have to run on the shoulder of a busy highway.

3. Knysna Half Marathon: One of the most popular half marathons in South Africa, the Knysna Half Marathon in Knysna, a solid six hour-plus drive up the Garden Route, is the perfect excuse for a weekend away! This hilly half marathon starts in the heart of the Knysna forest. Because it is run in the middle of winter, it can be pretty darn cold, so there is a tradition of runners wearing warm clothes and blankets at the start. These items, which are discarded at the start and along the route, are donated to less fortunate members of the community.

The Knysna half marathon is not easy. It kicks off with a gradual 2.5 kilometre hill, followed by a long stretch of undulating jeep track. Later, as you descend into Knysna, you are faced with a gruelling, quad-killing downhill, but the views are amazing. Because everyone is staying for the weekend, and the half marathon forms part of the Knysna Oyster Festival, everything post-race is one big party.

Escape the Winelands crowds

The Winelands beyond Cape Town attract plenty of tourists, but what if you’d rather avoid the crowds and the tour busses in favour of something more authentic? Winelands tour guide Stephen Flesch has just the place for you…

One of the estates I love visiting and taking my clients to is a small family-run winery in the Helderberg region, called Grangehurst.

The cellar is run by winemaker Jeremy Walker and his wife Mandy; a lovely couple who really do make beautiful wines. They have a small vineyard, but the main focus of their production is buying in grapes that they turn into wonderful wines.

They are primarily a red wine producer although they do also have a rosé made from five different grape varieties.

The key thing about Grangehurst is that they make wines in a classic way; these are wines that are meant to age. When you go to the cellar you’ll taste wines from 2006 and 2007. They are ready to drink now, but they will also age happily for another 10 or 15 years.

They are wonderful people with lovely wines, plus it’s an intimate tasting room with no crowds.

Follow my lead and find Camelot in the Cape winelands

Stellar wines and exceptional food is not the only good reason to drive from Cape town to Franschhoek — The Camelot Spa at the Le Franschhoek Hotel is another, according to Rebekah Kendal. Go on, you’ll thank her later.

Somewhat counter-productively, spa menus fill me with a sense of anxiety. What if I pick one treatment and miss out on something better? So you can imagine my delight when I discovered that the signature massage at The Camelot Spa at Le Franschhoek Hotel rolls four different massage techniques into one treatment!

After a soothing cup of tea, a bite of chocolate and a quick nap in the sauna  — where little ceiling lights make it seem as if you are lying in the desert looking up at the stars — I am sufficiently softened up for more softening up.

The Camelot signature massage kicks off with a hot stone massage, which quickly banishes the persistent knots in my back. The scent of frangipani wafts across the room as the therapist moves on to the Hawaiian Kahuna massage, which involves long flowing movements, on my legs. My arms — apparently storing years of pent-up tension — get the Balinese treatment, which focuses on pressure points. Before the hour is up, the therapist treats me to an Indian head massage, which is very relaxing despite all the hair pulling.

While this particular massage lessened my fear of missing out, the menu is full of other exciting sounding treatments such as an energising Salt Glow Exfoliation and a Marine Algae Detox Wrap. The spa offers a variety of massage treatments, including Swedish massage, reflexology and aromatherapy, as well as beauty treatments.

Le Franschhoek really is a beautiful setting for a spa, so take the opportunity to stroll around the gardens before or after you treatment. And remember to make a reservation to eat at the hotel’s fine dining restaurant to round off a perfect pampering session.

Foraging and Foliage: finding fine food in Cape Town’s Franschhoek

Foraging for wild ingredients is on-trend in kitchens across the world, and one acclaimed chef is bringing a taste of the wild to his Franschhoek restaurant in the heart of the Cape winelands.

Franschhoek has long been one of the culinary hotspots of the Cape Winelands, the wine-growing region an hour’s drive from Cape Town’s city centre. With its long French heritage many of the restaurants here tend to be inspired by France and classical continental cooking.

Chris Erasmus, chef of Foliage restaurant, finds his inspiration a little closer to home: in the hills around the quaint winelands town of Franschhoek. Erasmus has a strong ‘field-to-fork’ philosophy that informs the food at Foliage restaurant. His meat and fish are sourced from ethical and sustainable farms and producers, while the backbone of the menu comes from the ingredients growing wild.

“At Foliage, anything goes and we build the menu around what’s growing now, what’s available, and we play with that,” says Erasmus.

That could mean wild mushrooms in Cape Town’s Autumn (March to April), flour made from hand-collected acorns, or an incredible Waldorf salad using fiddlehead ferns collected from the high slopes of a nearby Cape wine estate.

While the ingredients at Foliage are sometimes unconventional, the food isn’t. Foliage is a bistro at heart and although the menu changes almost daily you’ll always find comfort food with bold flavours on offer at this restaurant: think risotto of wild mushrooms and lardons of local bacon; perhaps steak tartare given a lift by Cape Malay spices, the traditional flavours brought over by the slaves in the early years of Cape Town’s history; don’t miss the pan-fried yellowtail, a firm-textured local fish, served with a pesto of dandelion and pumpkin seeds alongside local waterblommetjies, a flower that grows wild in farm ponds.

The cooking techniques and ingredients at this Cape winelands restaurant are accomplished and innovative, but there’s a welcome lack of pretension on the plate. The open kitchen lets you glimpse the top chef and his crew at work, and Erasmus is always on hand to explain the menu if needed.

Is this the most famous restaurant in Franschhoek? Not yet. Is it one of the best? Absolutely.

Go beyond expectations at Buitenverwachting in Cape Town’s Constantia wine valley.

Established in 1706, the beautiful Buitenverwachting wine farm on the slopes of the majestic Constantiaberg mountains delivers on its English namesake, ‘beyond expectation’, in every way.

The farm produces an array of top-quality wines, including 18 whites and 12 reds. Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Blanc de Noir, Brut, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and more can be enjoyed on the farm or at home.

Visitors can enjoy a leisurely meal at the restaurant, which is situated in a classic historic thatched Cape Dutch building. Terrace tables offer iconic views of the vineyards and mountains, while the more relaxed courtyard is set amidst ancient stinkwood trees and a traditional Cape fountain.

The cuisine ranges from fine dining to relaxed deli-style fare, all with a sophisticated yet contemporary flare. It is no surprise that the restaurant was rated as one of Brian Berkman’s Top 10 in Cape Town in 2009 and 2010.

The farm also boasts a rustic yet trendy coffee shop offering the best in warm beverages and baked goods. Buitenverwachting hosts exceptional bespoke weddings, conferences and other special events. One of the most picturesque farms in the valley, it affords guests endless photo opportunities and the opportunity to relax in the total serenity of the pristine grounds. The farm boasts several function venues that can be utilised for functions catering for from 10 to 400 people.

Grab a grappa in the Cape winelands

While the Cape Town winelands may be most famous for its wine and brandy, wine judge and certified Cape Wine Master Winnie Bowman suggests another grape-based spirit worth a try…

People have been making grappa in the Cape winelands for many years, but it’s only become prominent in the past five or six years.

The best producer is probably Dalla Cia, outside Stellenbosch. They have released an incredible 10-year-old matured grappa that received five stars in the Platter’s wine guide.

People often go to the wine farms to taste wine and only then discover they also make grappa. Kaapzicht, for instance, make beautiful wines as well as a lovely grappa. Klein Constantia also make a beautiful grappa using the skins from the Vin de Constance wine.

Pair wine with chocolate and a wilderness drive at this estate

Waterford Estate, a 30-minute drive from Cape Town on the outskirts of Stellenbosch, offers one of the finest wine-tasting experiences in the Cape winelands. Here’s why…

Waterford cellar master Kevin Arnold crafts some of the finest wine in the Cape winelands, happily matched by a seriously upmarket tasting experience on this Stellenbosch estate.

That experience begins as you wander up avenues of citrus trees to winery that wouldn’t look out of place in the hills of Tuscany. A shady courtyard is a welcome escape from the summer heat and the charming tasting room offers a wonderful array of wine-tasting experiences.

In addition to a standard tasting of the Waterford wines, the Vintage Reserve tasting allows you to sample a selection of the cellar’s acclaimed Reserve Wines. Reservations are essential for the Library Collection tasting, the perfect choice for wine lovers looking for a taste of selected older vintages.

For those with a sweet tooth, the Chocolate and Wine pairing matches Arnold’s top-notch wines with chocolates from chocolatier Richard von Geusau. Taste your way through Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon and natural sweet wines, each paired with dark and milk chocolates.

The Wine Drive is also worthwhile: a two-hour exploration of the estate, with knowledgeable guides explaining the estate’s terroir as you discover the vineyards. The drive ends with a tasting back at the cellar.

Tee off from a piece of history at the Stellenbosch Golf Club

Dating back to 1904, the Stellenbosch Golf Club has hosted several major tournaments and had golfing greats from across the world tee- off from its greens. It’s a classic Cape Town course not to be missed.

Stellenbosch Golf Club traces it history back to 1904, making it one of the oldest clubs in South Africa. And it’s no country-cousin either: the Club has hosted five South African Masters tournaments as well as the 1999 South African Open – the year in which local player David Frost took the trophy – and it remains one of the more charming tracks in the winelands.

A classic parkland layout, the course is best enjoyed on foot, although carts are available.

The signature hole is the par-3 7th, but you’ll struggle to find any bad holes in this corner of the course. The par-4 6th to an elevated green offers a risk-and-reward approach right over a vineyard, while the par-5 8th challenges with a semi-blind tee shot towards a sloping fairway that threatens to land your ball in an out-of-bounds vineyard.

After your game, the clubhouse terrace is one of the most enjoyable in the winelands, with wonderful views and a wood-fired oven that will tempt you to stay for dinner.

The cheesiest of Cape Town festivals

Cheese and wine is a match made in heaven, and at the annual South African Cheese Festival in Stellenbosch, an easy 45-minute drive from Cape Town, you’ll find the very best of both worlds.

The Stellenbosch winelands outside Cape Town may be famous for their fine wines, but in late-April each year the top local producers join cheese-makers from across the country in a festival of curds and whey.

The festival is divided up into a number of zones, with over 400 local cheeses available for tasting in the Dairy Square and Checkers Cheese Emporium. This is the heart of the festival, with both artisanal and commercial cheeseries showcasing their produce to a hungry audience.

The Checkers Market Theatre is also a hit, with local foodie-celebrities such as singer-songwriter and cooking show host Nataniël, and the “Giggling Gourmet”, Jenny Morris, whipping up cheese-focused dishes. There are more food presentations available at The Afrox Cooking Pot, where local chefs showcase the region’s fabulous fresh produce paired with local wines.

Tables and chairs spill out onto the grass at Carnival Park, where you can and enjoy the produce from the food stalls in Gourmet Lane.

The South African Cheese Festival is a highlight of the winelands foodie calendar, and draws a big crowd. It’s best to get there early to avoid the worst of the crush.

The King of Cabernet

The Stellenbosch winelands beyond Cape Town have been billed the ‘Kingdom of Cabernet’. We asked winelands tour guide Stephen Flesch where we could find the very best Cabernet Sauvignon on offer. Here’s what he told us…

I often take guests to Le Riche Wines, which is now based in Raithby, off Winery Road.

The only white wine they make is a Chardonnay, as their main focus is on Cabernet Sauvignon. They have two releases: a regular Cabernet and a Reserve. In my opinion the Reserve Cabernet is one of the top Cabernet Sauvignons in the country.

Etienne Le Riche was the winemaker, but his son Christo has now taken over as the cellar master, with guidance from Etienne. They have a lovely cellar where they welcome people to taste their wines. It’s a well-appointed, modern cellar that they built last year. They are also interesting in that they’ve never had their own vineyards; they’ve always had contracts with growers.