Wine, Wheels and Wagons: Heritage Trails in Cape Town

Set against the backdrop of the iconic Table Mountain plateau and bright blue Table Bay, Cape Town is more than just its buzzing harbour, picturesque parks, and a base for wildlife-spotting. Coupled with jaw-dropping scenery, the Mother City is dotted with historic settlements, wineries and rugged mountain bike routes.

Cape Town

There’s plenty of historic places within the city itself to keep you busy for a weekend. You can drop by the famously colourful neighbourhood of Bo Kaap, which is not only the spiritual home of the Cape’s Muslim community but a place with its own history of over 3 centuries. While today it has a more gentrified feel, the brightly-coloured houses and cobbled streets make for a picturesque walk.

For a sobering view of history, Robben Island just offshore is one of the most significant historical sites in South Africa – it was used for detaining political prisoners, and to date, three former inmates have gone on to become President of South Africa: Nelson Mandela, Kgalema Motlanthe and current President Jacob Zuma.

The Western Cape is famous for its wineries, and Groot Constantia – with its iconic Cape Dutch-style manor house – is South Africa’s oldest winery and has been producing wine since 1685. Part of the Constantia wine route, Groot is known for its red wines. However, Constantia is just a small part of Cape Town’s winegrowing history.

Wine and Ride 

The entire Western Cape is practically made up of wineries, with famous regions including Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. These areas are also rife with excellent MTB trails of varying difficulties for those looking for singletracks set against dramatic backdrops comprising the Winelands, Table Mountain and the ocean. Most of these trails take you right through wine estates where you can explore the local flavour (and some craft beer), with permits obtainable from various wineries along the trails.

Cape Town has a reputation for its mountain bike races – both Downhill and Enduro – through countless scenic vineyards. Plenty of races dot the calendar, including the Absa Cape Epic and the Cape TownCycle Tour MTB Challenge, which also offers fun rides.

To the east of Cape Town is Cape Helderberg, a visually dramatic area with the Hottentots Holland and Helderberg Mountain creating a backdrop against the rolling vineyards of the Stellenbosch and Helderberg wine regions, both with their own wine routes and cellar doors.

Helderberg Trails has some of the most scenic mountain bike routes, ranging from green to black, set amidst the wineries in the region. The trails are accessible at Helderberg Farm, which is also the access point for numerous hiking routes (ranging from 1km – 20km through forest and vineyards). There are 4 options for MTB trails – from 15km to 25km – which are typically dry, dusty and very rocky, but still great to ride, having seen their share of Downhill and Enduro events in recent years.

Just outside Stellenbosch is the Bottelary hills area which is also dotted with wineries, and 76km of mountain bike trails. This relatively new network of 4 route options features vineyards, farmland, conservation areas and trails comprised of farm roads, jeep tracks and singletracks. The trails are suitable for beginners to experts, with challenging climbs and downhill sections, and are at their best during summer and spring when the leaves change colour.

For those interested in more leisure cycling across vineyards, there are numerous bicycle operators that run guided bike tours, both road cycling and mountain biking, through vineyards that include food-and-wine tasting in areas like Stellenbosch, Elgin Valley, Franschhoek, and more.

All of these tours can be done as day trips out of Cape Town, although there are also multi-day MTB itineraries that take you through the wine regions along rugged singletracks. Operators also offer bike rentals should you wish to explore the trails on your own; of course, there’s also the option of hiking along some of these trails.

If cycling or hiking isn’t your pace, you can also explore the wine region of Franschhoek, originally settled in 1688 by French Huguenot refugees, along a unique tram tour through this ‘food and wine capital’ of South Africa. The Franschhoek Wine Tram takes you through rolling vineyards in open-side trams and tram-buses, stopping at some of the country’s oldest wine estates along its 5 routes.

Historic Cederberg Conservancy

The Cederberg region, 2.5 hours drive from Cape Town, is a spectacular mountain landscape littered with over 2,000 pre-colonial San (Bushmen) rock arts and rich botanical diversity, being part of the Cape Floral Kingdom of South Africa. It’s also home to abundant birdlife and the rare Cape Mountain Leopard.

In addition, the area is home to picturesque mountain farm villages and rooibos tea growers, established in the 19th century by Moravian missionaries from Bohemia. Here you won’t find any phone reception or traffic, only star-filled night skies.

Amazing red sandstone cliffs and rock formations, weathered by nature, offer scenic mountain bike trails and overnight hiking routes. There are 5 MTB trails, each featuring fast and flowing sections, with patches of tight and technical sections amidst a landscape of boulders.

The Cederberg Heritage Route is over 70km long, where you overnight in Moravian Mission villages along the 8-day hike (4 day option also possible). Another way to experience Cederberg is along a Donkey Cart Trail – the donkey cart is a traditional means of transportation for the villages to carry their produce to the town of Clanwilliam.

You can either hike the trail or ride on traditional donkey carts to the village of Heuningvlei, a Moravian Mission outpost with a community of 25 families renowned for their rooibos. The Donkey Cart Trail can be done as a day-trip from Pakhuis Pass, or as a 3-day itinerary from Wupperthal, a picturesque Rhenish Missionary Society founded in the 1830s, consisting of whitewashed homes and a pretty church.

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