There’s No Place Like Paarl

Annelize Stroebel, CEO of the Drakenstein Local Tourism Association describes Paarl as a special place with serene, natural beauty that is far-removed from the demands of city life.

Paarl’s inimitable charm includes a remarkable array of wine, history, luxury and outdoor adventures.

  1. The Dawn of Democracy

“President Mandela served the biggest part of his 27-year sentence on Robben Island, from where he was transferred to Pollsmoor Prison. Not many people know that Nelson Mandela spent the last days of his prison sentence at the Victor Verster Prison - now called the Drakenstein Prison,” Annelize says.

On 7 December 1988, Nelson Mandela was moved to a warder’s house on the grounds of the prison. He was confined to the house and garden after he had recovered from tuberculosis at Constantiaberg Private clinic, in Cape Town.

According to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, on 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster Prison, near Paarl, with belongings that included 22 boxes and a surfboard.

Annelize explains that the statue at the gate of Drakenstein Prison marks the place from which Madiba took his first steps to freedom.

Freedom Hill Vineyards on the Wemmershoek Mountain, harkens the mountains Mandela looked upon during his confinement in Paarl.

South African industry publication, WINE Magazine voted Paarl property, Fairview Wine & Cheese founder, Charles Back as the second-most influential person in the South African wine industry in 1996. Back was awarded second to then President Mandela.

  1. History and Natural Beauty

“Less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town, the Drakenstein Region, comprised of Paarl and Wellington region, has earned international acclaim,” Annelize says.

“Paarl is acclaimed for quality wines and the breathtaking beauty of its natural surroundings. The name Paarl means ‘pearl’ and refers to the way the ancient granite mountains glisten in the sun after rain. Early Dutch settlers called ‘den Diamont ende Peerlbergh’ (‘the Diamond and the Pearl Mountain’),” according to Annelize.

She expands: “the town reflects a preservation of history, with well-preserved architecture, museums and galleries.”

The Garden at Babylonstoren is one of Paarl’s most popular attractions. With several unique features, including the Clivia House of Shadows which beams in September and October, the Garden is famed for its fragrance and resplendence.

Babylonstoren is a working farm. Beyond the garden, visitors delight in the hotel, spa, cellar tours, fruit groves, Olive Oil & Balsamic tours, farm shop and other features.

  1. Well-Known for Wine

“With around 70 producers in the Drakenstein area, the Paarl wine route also known as Paarl Vintners attracts international wine enthusiasts to sample some of the region’s finest exports at wineries ranging from vast co-operative cellars to traditional, family-owned estates,” Annelize says.

Koni Maliehe (image below), proprietor of Koni Wines has worked with grapes from the Drakenstein for some vintages of her wine.

“Paarl is a region that is known for producing top red varieties due to its summer temperatures, which offer excellent conditions for producing ripe and powerful flavours,” Koni says.

In 2015, Koni left her successful, full-time career in Financial Services to pursue a dream of entrepreneurship. Koni explains, “in every journey, there are hurdles, but my eyes and energy are focused on the destination, hopefully there will be a beautiful ending that inspires a younger generation.”

In this region, Koni works alongside world-renowned neighbours such as Nederburg Wines, Fairview Wine and Cheese, Spice Route and other properties.

In 2004, Fairview founder, Charles Back was awarded the title of Wine Personality of the Year in the International Wine and Spirits Competition (IWSC). In 2014, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the IWSC.

  1. Stop by to Sip Shiraz

“Paarl wines are world renowned, primarily for the quality of the Shiraz, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinotage, Viognier and Cabernet Sauvignon,” Annelize says.

Annelize expands: “the dry summers and chilled winters with generous rainfall accommodate conditions for a wide array of wines, including rich and robust reds that are largely made from Shiraz, Pinotage and Cabernet Sauvignon.”

“Paarl’s white wines are usually from Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, while Rosé, sweet dessert wines and even sparkling varieties are consistently respected on the international stage. While the region excels with Rhône varieties, South Africa’s signature Pinotage and Chenin Blanc are equally brilliant. Respected Paarl wines also include Cap Classique, other sparkling wines, port- and sherry style fortified wines and brandy,” says Annelize.

“Shiraz is one of my favourite grapes,” Koni says, adding, “sadly not many acknowledge its delicious flavours and fullness.”

Koni Wines Shiraz grapes are from a ten-year old block in the Paarl-Wellington area, matured for 14 months in French oak barrels.

Koni says: “this makes it medium-to-full bodied, with solid tannins and a long, rounded finish. I wanted wines that are enjoyable and easy-drinking, but with a feel of luxury and style.”

  1. The Great Outdoors

“Paarl’s vineyards are scattered across the lower slopes of the Paarl mountain, on the northern side of the Simonsberg mountain and in the valley of the Berg river. Because vines are strengthened by having to delve more deeply in the nutrient-poor soils of the upper-slopes, the best vineyards tend to be higher up on the mountain slopes,” Annelize explains.

Beyond Paarl Nature Reserve, Annelize recommends Paarl Arboretum for outdoor enthusiasts. The 31ha Arboretum on the bank of the Berg river is a communal space where trees and shrubs are grouped according to their country of origin.

Rheboksloof Wine Estate – famed for its Shiraz is also popular for adventures that include a guided quad bike or horse-riding tour. In addition, Paarl Adventure Trails designed, developed and managed mountain-biking and hiking trails on the property that are part of a host of trails on-and-around Paarl mountain.

  1. The Finer Things

Val de Vie Estate, a multi-award-winning lifestyle and security residential estate in Paarl is home to a host of polo and equestrian activities and events.

While Val de Vie is famed for being home to Polo, the sport of kings, Val de Vie is also home to 25ha of vineyards. Translated to ‘the valley of life’, Val de Vie is also home to L’Hugenot Vineyards and the Val de Vie Wine Collection and Polo Wine Club Range.

- Blog by Tšepang Molisana