Set beneath the imposing Table Mountain and at the meeting point of the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, Cape Town has long held a magical attraction for visitors. If you happen to love wine then the nearby vineyards can almost be considered a true paradise.

It is hard not to imagine having been transported into a musketeers film when Achim von Arnim cuts the top off a champagne bottle with a cavalryman's sabre.

Son of famous poets Bettina and Achim von Arnim, the South African runs the Haute Cabriere winery in Franschhoek, which in recent years has become a place of pilgrimage for wine lovers.

Haute Cabriere is made up of two farms, situated on opposite ends of the Franschhoek Wine Valley, where in 1688 a group of Hugenots fleeing persecution in France founded Franschhoek and planted the classic grape variety used to make champagne.

Jan van Riebeeck was the first commander of the Cape from 1652 to 1662, and quickly realised how the valleys, 50 kilometres from Cape Town, with their mild winters and warm summers, were ideally suited to wine cultivation.


Among his successors was Simon van der Stel, after whom Stellenbosch is named and where top quality wines are produced to this day.

Stellenbosch is the second-oldest and probably the most scenically attractive and historically preserved town in southern Africa. The ancient whitewashed houses with their thatched roofs have made the town a popular tourist attraction.

The uniquely soft light around the Cape allows fruit plantations and vineyards to flourish amongst the jacaranda trees. Stellenbosch is considered the centre of the wine country around the Cape and most of the farmhouses have been constructed in the classic Cape Dutch style.

The town of Paarl is named after the 700-metre-high Peerlberg mountain, which glistens like a pearl in the sun. It was here where Nelson Mandela spent his last few days of imprisonment before being freed by South Africa's Apartheid regime. The town's main street consists of rows of pretty Victorian houses.

Although full of tradition, there are also some recent arrivals in the area, such as former IT manager Fred Uhlendorff, who set up the Palmiet Valley winery after sailing around the world for almost seven years.

"I fell in love with this place immediately,'' says Uhlendorff, who now runs a boutique hotel from where visitors can enjoy the best-value restaurants in the Cape as well as golf, walking and mountain-bike tours of the nearby mountains.

Unlike Stellenbosch and Paarl, there is still a strong French influence in Franschhoek, where many boutiques and cafes are located. "Franschhoek has become the centre for good food and wine on the Cape,'' says van Arnim's wife, Hildgergard.