Jagged mountains and gnarled old oaks, the curve of a Cape Dutch gable, long rows of vineyards or fruit trees, a farm dam – these are the memories you’ll bring home from Tulbagh. In the Cape Winelands just a 90-minute drive from Cape Town, it’s a place to discover history and magnificent scenery, to explore things to do in Tulbagh.
Tulbagh lies in a bowl surrounded by the Witzenberg mountains to the east, Winterhoek mountains to the north – often snow-capped in winter – and the Obiqua mountains to the west. The town dates back to the early 1700s and is the fourth oldest in South Africa after Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Swellendam. Small wonder, then, that there are so many old buildings to admire. In fact, Church Street today has more Cape Dutch, Edwardian and Victorian provincial heritage sites than any other street in the country.
But it would be a mistake to think Tulbagh is all about the past – there’s a host of things to do in the area for wine and beer fans, nature lovers, even adrenalin junkies. Or you can just kick back and enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside.
1. Explore Church Street
2. Visit a museum
Quick tip: Tulbagh Tourism’s info centre is in the same building so it makes a good place to start. Pick up a map of the town and surrounding area and attractions.
3. Visit Tulbagh wine farms for tasting
Saronsberg has some impressive sculptures in the gardens. Enjoy your tasting outside overlooking a dam or inside in the double-volume tasting room. Take your wine and wander the art gallery upstairs or sit in a ghost chair at the long tables downstairs. We had our most informed tasting of nine wines here. You’ll find some French cultivars like viognier, rousanne, petit verdot and mourvedre, as well as the classic sauvignon blanc and shiraz. Using Tulbagh’s famous earthquake as inspiration they’ve named a white blend Earth in Motion and a red blend Seismic.
At Lemberg, you’ll be greeted by rows of white roses if you visit in October/November. The modern tasting room offers a chance to savour wines named after the estate’s dogs, like Lady, Spencer and Louis. Lemberg also produces wine from the Hungarian harslevelu cultivar, so unusual and sought-after that there was none left for tasting when we visited.
Krone (Twee Jonge Gezellen) is the place to go if you love your Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) wines. You get to taste a few of them, from sweeter Night Nectar types to rosé and brut, including the classic Krone Borealis Cuvée Brut made from chardonnay and pinot noir. If you choose to taste some of the older vintages, you’ll find them more honeyed but shy on the bubbles, just the way I like them.
Montpellier wine estate is a must if only to appreciate its gorgeous little chapel in the vineyards (see the intro pic). The tasting room used to be in the historical old Cape Dutch gabled house, or you could sit under a tree in the garden. Now, you’re greeted by the sound of music and invited to follow it along peach-pip paths through the forest to a barn with French doors on three sides. This is the new tasting centre, with some outdoor and indoor tables. On our mid-week visit, I was disappointed to find the informative staff of our previous visit replaced by someone who just poured and told us the cultivar before walking away. You can order a cheese platter or pizza to soak up some of the wine.
Other Tulbagh wine farms include Theuniskraal, Manley, Tulbagh Winery, Oudekloof, Oude Compagnies Post, Waverley Hills and Digger’s Home.
4. Wine by Bike
5. Enjoy a craft beer tasting
Slow Boat is a German style Rauchbier with a smoked bacon flavour, the only one we didn’t like but I assume it’s an acquired taste. Bruno (named after another Labrador) is a medium-bodied Belgian-style pale ale, while the fruity, hoppy Amandla Ale is South African through and through, no imported ingredients. Then there’s Sons of Stout, a sweetish and creamy milk stout with chocolate and coffee tones. We also sneaked a taste of Rod’s latest experiment called Klippies, which reflects the flavours of brandy and coke. Just roll up to taste, but book ahead if you want a beer and chocolate pairing or a beer and savouries pairing. You can stay afterwards for lunch or dinner at Obiqua Cafe (see point 12).
6. Do an olive oil tasting
You’ll taste plump kalamata olives with no preservatives, colourants or other additives, and delicious olive marmelade – with or without chilli. There are also two cold-pressed extra virgin olive oils included in your tasting – delicate and intense. Oakhurst uses up to ten different varieties like leccino, frantoio and carotina in the oil blend for complexity. The delicate oil is very buttery but with a peppery bite in the back of the throat. The intense oil is stronger flavoured and also peppery on aftertaste.
7. Explore the art route
8. Discover local products at a one-stop shop
9. Go hiking and mountain biking
Mountain bikers will be excited to learn that the Cape Epic in October 2021 included the Tulbagh area so a lot of work went into the routes in the vicinity. All you need to do is pay R60 per person per day via Snapscan at Tulbagh Tourism’s office at 4 Church Street, then use the Trailforks app to get more specific info about the routes.
10. Go horse-riding
11. Indulge in a relaxing spa treatment
12. Eat out at some Tulbagh restaurants
The old building that houses Readers Restaurant in Church Street dates back to the late 1700s and used to be the sick comforter’s house (he read the bible to sick people – hence the name). Readers has been going for around a quarter century but the menu has been revamped since it appeared on Bertus Basson’s In die Sop programme on KykNet. If you’re a cat lover, you’ll still recognise owner and chef Carol Collins’ obsession with them in the artworks in the bathroom nook. We had tender asparagus with hollandaise as a starter then fall-off-the-bone slow-roasted springbok shank with a rich sauce and garlic mash as a lip-smacking main.
Although you may be tempted by malva pudding, don’t miss the trio of homemade ice cream which is an experience rather than just a dessert. Carol was there the night we visited and she refused to tell us beforehand what the flavours of the day were; she wanted us to taste and try to work them out. We found unusual and adventurous touches like balsamic vinegar (which tasted like honey), toasted sesame, even pickled ginger with a hint of wasabi. They were so yummy we polished them off in no time.
Hubby loved his more traditional toasted roosterkoek with streaky bacon, creamy scrambled eggs and gruyere topped with crispy caramelised onions, and roasted baby tomatoes on the side. Presentation and flavours were top-notch. If we lived closer to Tulbagh, we’d be at Kole en Deeg at least once a week. When we complimented owner Etienne Abrahams, it was no surprise to hear him talking about what a believer he is in quality, consistency and service.
Paddagang offers South African dishes like bobotie, waterblommetjie bredie and milk tart, as well as steaks and burgers. Sadly the wine and beer tasting centres that used to be drawcards here have both closed as a result of the pandemic. Paddagang used to be popular with international tourists looking for local flavour, but when we visited just before the UK took South Africa off its red list for post-pandemic travel, it was deserted and looked a bit sad. (We didn’t eat there this time so I can’t comment on the food.)
13. Ride on a tractor
14. Stay over at Tulbagh accommodation
15. Zipline the cobwebs away
16. See an Anglo Boer War blockhouse
17. Visit Bosjes chapel and gardens
18. Drive Bain’s Kloof Pass
Best time to visit Tulbagh
The climate is warm and temperate with summer highs topping out in the mid 30s. Winter lows can reach 5 or 6 degrees Celsius at night but the days are warmish at 14-17 degrees even in mid-winter. Annual rainfall is around 580mm and more of it falls in winter than summer. The wettest months are June and July, with November to March the driest months. Snow may fall on the high mountain peaks in winter.
Tulbagh is a year-round destination; it just depends what you’re looking for. If you love sunny skies and hot days, summer would be the time to visit. But if you want to enjoy hot chocolate or red wine around a log fire, with the chance to play in the snow nearby, then winter will appeal to your romantic side. April has an autumn feel with the vineyards turning red and gold, while September is a spring time of new growth and blossoming fruit trees.
Where to find it
Tulbagh lies about 125km (90min) north-east of Cape Town via the N7 and R46.
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