Our recent trip to South Africa was a great example of finding a mix of activities on a holiday that both kids and adults could enjoy over the course of a week. Whilst many of our day trips around Cape Town were designed specifically with the kids in mind, we were uncertain how they would feel about the few days we had exclusively scheduled to be in Stellenbosch – one of the premier wine-growing regions in the world.
Mr Globetrotter and I love to do cellar door wine tastings, and with a wedding planned in the area it was an ideal opportunity to indulge in one of our travelling passions, but ever present in the back of our minds was that we were of course travelling with 3 children 5 and under; how on earth would we keep them entertained? After a rocky start to our South African adventure (attempting to move house, take a kid-free trip to Europe then take our kids on their 5th and 6th ultra-long haul flights of the year all within a space of 2 weeks; not highly recommended).
What we got out of our Stellenbosch experience though utterly blew us away and we are very excited to share the highlights of this family adventure with you.
More about Stellenbosch
Located about 50kms east of Cape Town, the Stellenbosch wine making region produces a staggering 1,000,000,000 litres of wine per year! The perfect mixture of fertile soil, access to water, hilly terrain and the Mediterranean style climate (hot dry summers with cool wet winters) make for ideal grape growing. The lands here were first settled by the Dutch back in the 17th century when the earliest of the wine farms were established making this a very mature wine region – and arguably one of the world’s best (I am biased to New World wines). Coming from the desert, understandably I find any location that has hills and greenery to be truly special; Stellenbosch was in another league, I am still mesmerised by its dramatic beauty!
The Wine Tasting Experience
As an aside- let me quickly take you through how the wine tasting experience works at a wine farm. I’m an Aussie girl – and with my parents rather conveniently living in the beautiful Great Southern wine growing district of Western Australia – I have done my fair share of wine tasting over the years but the cellar door system in Australia is run quite differently. The usual system runs along the lines of
The usual system runs along the lines of having say 10 bottles ranging from dry white to sticky red lined up on a counter; your server may or may not be trained in the wine making process; the samples are usually free; depending how busy they are, you are given a thimble-full, barely enough to swirl around your mouth; you are served in rather quick succession and your samples are all given in the same glass, swirled out with water in between if your lucky. Now this is a huge generalisation and will vary vastly from region to winery depending on the size and scale of their model but you get the picture.
The Stellenbosch experience, to me, was far more in-depth and formal. You are almost always served at a table; you are almost always charged a tasting fee (though negligible really in the scheme of things, and usually taken off the price of any purchases); You are normally only given a handful of say 3-5 wines in your tasting; the tastings are generous; all staff have an overwhelming knowledge of their products; tasting notes are given verbally and at well-spaced intervals; adding some sort of tasting plate of food is fairly much expected.
I still enjoy the Australian version too, and on a busy day where you might be trying to sample as many places as possible within a limited time frame this system may work better – but for me it but it put in stark contrast the maturity of the Stellenbosch region and the attention to customer service.
We had less than three days on this occasion to explore the best the region had to offer. With so many wine farms to choose from – there are well over 150 wine farms in the Stellenbosch region alone – we had to be sparing with our time and based most of our visiting decisions around the places we thought could best cater to having kids. Here are 4 wine farms that we felt best nailed the brief and did not disappoint.
Kid-friendly Wine Farms in Stellenbosch
Love wine AND chocolate? This was one of those “have I died and gone to heaven?” moments for me. Graciously set up, both adults and kids have a tray of chocolates presented in front of them. Your server takes you through a flight of wines that have been carefully matched with hand crafted chocolates also made on site. The children at this point are invited to sample non-alcoholic sparkling grape juice. The hard thing for the kids to fathom, however, was why were eating our chocolates so slowly and why they couldn’t just dive in and taste them all at once. As this was our first stop of the day though, it set the tone perfectly for the region and how we could balance our enjoyment with there’s.
This is one of the oldest and largest wine farms in the region – so big it has its own train station stop! The tasting rooms are beautifully set out, overlooking stunning lawns and a dam (much to our youngest’s amusement wanting to constantly investigate this water situation!). There was a huge variety of tastings to be had here – including another fabulous wine and chocolate matching menu with a kiddie modified version with sparkling grape juice. We were very impressed with the local knowledge of our server and their kindness when dear Mr Globetrotter started smashing the glassware (no more blaming it on the children, cats out of the bag now!). The offering at Spier is incredibly extensive with accomodation, a spa, several eating options including restaurants and deli’s, the weekly Werf farmer’s market over the summer months and throughout the year they have many other offerings including Segway tours of the Estate and a widely acclaimed Eagle Encounters for rehabilitated birds of prey. It is pretty much a must-stop for any visitors to the region.
Fancy a few animals and a feed with your wine tasting? Our kids really enjoyed the interactive experience here, though we unfortunately timed our visit at Saturday lunch time when they were fully booked out so we did not get to taste the much talked about traditional daily South African Barbeque (Braai). Timed with the fact they also had a kids birthday party on we didn’t get the full experience here but could see how well set up they were for families; our kids of course had no hesitation joining in with the birthday celebrations while we were there and they were ever so helpful with helping us plan out more kid-friendly stops for our onward journey.
Describing themselves as “Not an ordinary Wine Farm”, Vredenheim brings you a great mixture of wildlife and wine. The highlight here for kids is the Big Cat Tour; from the safety of their viewing decks you can join a small tour at feeding time of their resident cats, ranging from lions to tigers, leopards and cheetahs. After the big cats the kids were again treated to a grape juice tasting, they also have a nice shop area full of cuddly toys and nick-knacks – good luck walking away from here without a purchase or two!
Other Regional Recommendations
Of course, not every wine farm needs to have specific children’s activities for them to get enjoyment from them. Some that we were told were kids friendly, in reality had just a play park outside; this is fabulous for after you’ve made your purchases and enjoying a glass in the sun, but tasting rooms themselves can be a precarious place for young fingers, some places we simply didn’t feel comfortably sitting in for too long for fear of small hands breaking delicate displays, and now spoilt to the world of sparkling grape juice, those that did not serve this came as great disappointed to our Miss 5; though usually placated with a nibbling plate and some colouring in.
Not entirely kid friendly but among our “grown up” favourites were Muratie and Delheim, nestled high on Simonsberg Mountain they are among the oldest estates in the region with specialities in late harvest wines and ports.
The very last stop we made before heading back to explore Cape Town was at Remhoogte – mostly because Mr Globetrotter had seen them advertise craft beer. After a long few days sipping wine, a pallet cleanser for Dad was understandable. I remember the enjoyably refreshing Wild Beast Beer, and views across Stellenbosch that were nothing short of utterly spectacular (see photo top of page too!), the zebra and antelopes roaming in the fields just adding to the experience. The resident dogs came out to play with the children and Dad taught the kids the fine art of doing a roly-poly down the grassy slopes. We were all a little grass stained by the end but in my eye, this was the point where we hit family-travel perfection on this trip – everyone left here happy.
Is there anything other than wine?
I will admit, if your really not into the food and wine scene, you might get bored after a few days (but still – what about those breathe taking views!?!). We took turns during our trip playing designated driver and certainly the driver was well catered for in non-alcoholic beverages and food. As mentioned above a few places sell craft beers, many specialise in offering cheese or meat pairing activities, as well as chocolate tasting we’ve mentioned above. Plenty of wine farms have animals on site, ranging from native species to farm animals. Some offer fishing on site, garden walks, galleries, horse riding, bike trails and countless other activities that you could think of.
In the town of Stellenbosch itself, young kids will be delighted with the Toy Museum, located behind the tourist information centre – a really extensive and eclectic mix of toys from across generations. A very minimal entry fee applies.
We felt three days was too short for exploring the region properly, but after a full week the novelty might start to wear off. Cape Town itself is really only a stones throw away though so there are plenty of opportunities to mix up a trip to Stellenbosch if you did not want to simply wine taste every day, but still base yourself in the region.
A quick guide to safe wine tasting
We here at Our Globetrotters utterly promote responsible drinking. We love our wine tasting but if driving, always take care of your drinking limits – remembering 4 to 5 ounces of wine is the equivalent of a standard drink. Everyone loves a generous hand at a wine tasting but be conscious of how much is going in your glass and step out or use the spittoon when you know you’re at your limit – remembering the full effects of a glass of wine can last for 60-90 minutes.
Our children learn from our actions. If you include children in the experience of tasting and appreciating wine at a young age, they will come to see this in a mature way when they are old enough to legally drink themselves. On another safety note, remember all wine farms have dams or open bodies of water for irrigation – no matter how many vino’s you have had, never let children out of your sight when visiting a wine farm.
How we did it
We visited during October 2015 – days are still cool and crisp at this time of year but the weather held for the most part! We stayed at Boord Guest House, only a few minutes drive from the centre of Stellenbosch, a peacefully quiet retreat with B&B facilities, beautiful views, parking space and friendly service. Guest houses are a great way for families to explore a region like this where some of the accommodation on the wine farms themselves can be on the very pricey side. We took our own Phil & Teds Traveller Cot for our infant but a cot was available upon request.
We flew into Cape Town from Abu Dhabi via Doha on Qatar Airways, at the time we flew they operated a direct service every second day. We hired a car from Cape Town airport for ease of travelling between destinations around the Cape Peninsula, this included hire of car seats – note it is a left-hand drive country.
Other resources for Stellenbosch
In researching how we should plan out our days around the Cape Winelands, I found The Stellenbosch Mom to be a great blog resource, a beautiful website with fairly up to date information, a really useful planning resource for visiting the region with kids.
Stellenbosch Wine Routes is another great resource, and their maps will no doubt be your saviour during a trip to Stellenbosch, available from pretty much all wineries and restaurants you visit in the region. They break the Stellensbosch region up into 5 different routes for ease of navigation based on geography.
Of course it is always a good idea to visit the local tourism office too, the Stellenbosch Visitor Information Centre is based centrally in Market Street (car parking available). Here they can help you plan out your trip based on your interests and available time, narrowing down what can at first appear an overwhelming huge task to explore the region.
I must give a shout out to @monicaep on Instagram who answered my call for kid-friendly itinerary ideas for Western Cape and provided us with an amazing list to work from. Also a final credit to our friends Andrew & Elise who were wed at Nooitgedacht Estate in Stellenbosch – what an utterly stunning setting and superb wedding; we are so grateful for the opportunity to visit South Africa again and have the opportunity to explore your home with our family – thank you.
Pin for Later
Have you visited Stellenbosch with kids? Are there any more family-friendly options you would add?
Enjoyed this? Don’t forget to check out our guide to Cape Town with Kids, or those looking for other worldly grape adventures with kids might love the Great Southern region in Western Australia as much as we do
© Our Globetrotters