18 things to do in Tulbagh in the Cape Winelands

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 

Walk up and down Church Street to look at beautiful buildings that were restored after a massive earthquake in 1969 that measured 6.3 on the Richter scale and killed 12 people, most of them children. Each building has a plaque in front telling what it used to be, how badly it was damaged and how it was restored. Every house in this street has been proclaimed a national monument – the biggest ever restoration project in South Africa. Thanks to the earthquake, it’s now both a tourist attraction and a fine example of cultural heritage.

2. Visit a museum

Tulbagh’s Church Street is rich in museums – four of them. At number 4 you’ll find the Earthquake Museum, where for a small fee you can buy a ticket that gets you entry to all four museums. This one documents the events of 1969 and paints a picture of the restoration of Church Street. A separate room tells the stories of three settlements that disappeared completely after the earthquake, the houses either demolished or their occupants moved.

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. 

The Oude Kerk should be your second stop on the museum trail. It’s one of the last surviving cruciform churches in South Africa and was built in 1743 by the Dutch East India Company. The gable and ring-wall were added in 1795. Once another church was built, it fell into disuse but reopened as a museum in 1925.

At 14 Church Street is a Victorian Period House that depicts the lifestyle of the rural middle-class family at this time, with its dark drapes and overstuffed chairs. The back rooms also house the Christo Coetzee Art Gallery, showing off this South African artist’s varied styles over the years.

22 Church Street, built in 1803, was originally a postmaster’s house and is now the Pioneer House Museum. There’s a red-walled period kitchen with open hearth, a simple room with rietdak ceiling, a more formal voorkamer with wooden ceiling, and an eclectic collection of old kitchen implements, furniture and china.

3. Visit Tulbagh wine farms for tasting

With some 15 wine estates in this part of the Cape Winelands, you’re spoilt for choice. Most offer tastings of five to six wines for a fee of around R50 to R100, but this is sometimes swept away if you buy a few bottles afterwards.

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.