Sailing the Greek Islands with Bearing True South: Part Two

This is the second part of our sailing trip with Bearing true south. In part one we were sailing the Cyclades, here is the link to that post- https://thefoodiewinoyogis.com/2019/01/29/sailing-the-cyclades-with-bearing-true-south-part-one/

After Kythnos and Serifos we crossed the Aegean and went on to the Saronic Gulf Islands. This was not our original plan but with high winds and a storm heading towards the Cyclades we changed course to stay in calmer seas as we sailed. The crossing took about 7-8 hours of sailing. After that we spent time on Ydra (Hydra is the English spelling and pronunciation), Ermioni peninsula, Poros and a few small uninhabited islands on the way back to Athens.

Ydra Island:

The port town on Ydra was more crowded than the other islands we visited but don’t let that deter you. It has a lot to offer and was one of our favorite spots. The street facing the water is lined with tourist shops and restaurants but if you walk further back into town you can find some really amazing and authentic food. There are no cars on the island so the streets are lined with donkeys to carry supplies. This island is also the one with by far the most cats we saw on this trip!

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Ydra is one of the wealthiest islands in Greece and has a long pirate history. There is a pirate mansion in the town (Lazaros Koundouriotis Historical Mansion) that is open for tours and offers great views of the water. There is a small entrance fee to tour the house. The house is beautifully restored and decorated. You can take pictures of everything you see inside. It takes about 45 minutes to walk through. We would highly recommend seeing this place!

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There is also a small museum in town, The Historical Archive. The museum focuses on Ydra’s cultural history, it took us about an hour to wander through. It is full of paintings and different artifacts relating to the island. There is a small entrance fee. Next to the museum is the old fort which you can walk up to and take photos of the water and the port town itself.

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After exploring the pirate mansion and the museum we headed to lunch at Xeri Elia. This is a small family run restaurant a few blocks back away from the water and the tourists. We have traditional stuffed tomatoes and soutzoukakia or traditional Greek meatballs in a tomato sauce with greens locally grown on the island.

 

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After we toured the museum and the mansion and stopped for some lunch we were ready for a swim! We walked along the road near the water until we came to Spilia. This is a small café with tables offering water views and steps down to the water so you can swim, snorkel or just lay in the sun and relax. It was a bit wavy the day we were there but that didn’t stop us from snorkeling and enjoying the water. This was actually one of our favorite snorkeling spots on this trip. We saw the most variety of colorful fish in the spot. You can get to the water from the cafe, but there is also a public beach just past it. The cafe had changing rooms you can use and great coffee!

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Ermioni

The marina at the port of Ydra was actually full when we went by so we ended up staying on Ermioni and taking the Ferry to Ydra for a day. We stayed on the south side of the Ermioni peninsula. The ferry leaves from the marina on the north side. It is just a short 5-10 minute walk through town from one side to the other. The ferry ride is only about 15-20 minutes and we were able to leave in the morning and take the last ferry back in the evening so we still enjoyed a full day of Ydra.

Ermioni itself is a really nice area. There is a small park on the far end of the peninsula. The landscape here is more forested, it reminded us of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan with its pine trees along the cost. There is a path which goes along the park in the forested area which only takes about 30-40 minutes to walk through. Along the way there are a few areas with steps down to the water if you wanted to swim.

 

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We stayed in Ermioni for two nights. The night after we sailed across the Aegean and the night after we had spent the day on Ydra. The first night we ate dinner at a restaurant right on the water called Tzieris. This place offered authentic Greek food and awesome views with tables right on the water! We did not take as many pictures of all the food here but everything we had was great. Here we tried several appetizers including tzatziki, a fava bean dip, saganaki (Greek fried cheese), we also had grilled octopus and muscles in a tomato and feta sauce- which we did take a picture of.

 

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The second night we had a lighter and more casual dinner on the boat. We happened to be anchored right across from a restaurant called Souvlaki Bar. They had some tables outside on the side walk but we just did take away and ate on the boat.

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Another food recommendation on Ermioni is the Drougas Bakery. This is on the north side near where the ferry leaves. They have amazing coffee, breads, pastries and desserts. They also sell wine, olive oils, and jams that you can buy to take back home.

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Poros Island: From Ermioni we did a short sail to Poros.

The clock tower on Poros is an iconic landmark on the island and a must do! The clock tower is located on the highest point of the island so it is a bit of a walk up to see it. From this area you will get amazing panoramic views of the water, the view cannot be beat!

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The Archaeological Museum of Poros is a museum located on Koryzis Square in Poros, Greece. The displays of the museum date from the Mycenaean era to Roman times. There was also a small modern art exhibit there they day we went through. The museum is very small and only took us about 30 minutes to go through. There is a small entrance fee to walk though. You can take photos but are not allowed to use a flash went photographing inside the museum.

 

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After walking up to the clock town and through the museum we had some time to kill in the afternoon. We walked from the marina to Mikro Neorio Bay Beach Bar. This place is located on a small, quite beach. They offer lounge chairs with umbrellas at no cost as long as you purchase something from the bar. We enjoyed relaxing, taking in the views and doing some swimming.

 

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We headed into town for dinner at Platanos Taverna. This may have been the best meal we had the entire trip! We ate really well the whole time so that is really saying something. We loved this place, we ate outside and had great views of the water and the boats at night. The restaurant is up high on a hill in the town just a short walk from the marina. We had zucchini ball appetizers which were awesome and highly recommended by our guide. He talked them up all week and they lived up to expectations. We had roasted lamb and veal in a tomato sauce with sweet onion for our main courses. Both dishes were excellent. If you are on Poros you have to eat at this place!

 

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Our last day we left from Poros and stopped at a few very small uninhabited islands for more swimming, snorkeling and relaxing on the boat before heading back to Athens. We ended back in Athens in the evening after our day in the sun. We spent one last night on the boat in the Athens marina.  Once we got back to the marina our skipper left us for the night. Our guide went to dinner with us one last time in Athens before also leaving us for the night. The next morning our skipper came back to help get us all checked out and on our way. Again we would highly recommend Bearing True South, they were awesome! Here is the link to their website again- http://www.bearingtruesouth.com. They also offer hiking, biking and other adventure travel in Northern Greece if sailing isn’t your thing.

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 -TFWYs

Sailing the Greek Islands with Bearing True South: Part One

We found Bearing True South through the Clymb (https://www.theclymb.com) in their travel section. We contacted the company to get more details and then proceeded to book our trip. We found two other couples to come with us. In total we had a group of 6 plus our guide, Stav and skipper, Andreas on the boat. We sailed for a week, leaving from Athens on a Saturday afternoon and arriving back in Athens on Friday evening. Each couple had their own cabin on the sailboat and there was a separate cabin for our guide and skipper. You can be as involved in the sailing (or not involved) as you want. Our group was pretty eager to learn so both Stav and Andreas answered all our questions and explained to us what they were doing as we sailed all week long. For the most part we did also use the motor during our trip to help us get to all of our destinations in a weeks time. We intended to do the Western Cyclades trip as it is outlined on Bearing True South’s website. When sailing or doing any kind of boating plans sometimes have to change because of the weather! There happened to be a storm coming midweek during our trip so Stav and Andreas suggested that we hit a few islands in the Cyclades then cross over to another set of islands in the Saronic gulf which was more protected from the storm. We went with this suggestion in order to make sure we got to see as many islands as we could and to ensure we were sailing through smoother water to avoid anyone in the group getting sea sick. We were all very happy with this decision and ended up getting to see a lot more variety than our original trip would have offered us. We took this trip in early September, the water everywhere was very warm (low 80s) and the weather was perfect.
We would highly recommend Bearing True South! Our guide Stav and our skipper Andreas were both awesome! Stav emailed and skyped with us before we left so that he had a good idea of what we wanted to see and do during our trip. They both made sure everything went smoothly all week.  We felt safe and taken care of the entire trip. Stav is a huge foodie which worked out great for us. We ate very well all week. We ate at small, family run restaurants on the islands where Stav knew the owners each time. We were frequently shown the fresh seafood of the day before ordering so we knew what was freshly caught that morning and recommended by the chef. In one restaurant we were even taken to the back to see the kitchen, the entire fresh seafood selection and wine selection before taken back to our table to place our order! Here is the link to Bearing True South’s website. if you are considering a sailing trip through the Greek Islands definitely seek them out!
Here is where we went and what we did. This post includes the first half of our trip (the time spent in the Cyclades).
Departing Athens
We arrived to the Alimos Marina in the early afternoon with all of our luggage, and waited at the marina’s restaurant. It’s a massive marina and we were one of hundreds of boats that needed to leave so we needed to get cleared by the dock master. Stav met us at the restaurant to get to know us as the skipper finished getting the boat ready for us – these guys turn the boat around in only a few hours between the previous guests leaving and us getting on. We got cleared for departure around 3:30 and were able to load up our gear and get going. We had a 6-7 hour sail the first day to get to Kythnos where we were going to sleep. We got to pass the temple of Poseidon and a great sunset.
Kythnos Island
Kolona Bay
We sailed right from Athens to the Kolona double bays on Kythnos, the took about 6  hours so it was after dark when we arrived. We anchored for the night in one of the bays The skies were clear and you could clearly see the Milky Way above. There is no town or city within view, only a coffee shop/cafe and a couple houses. When we woke up in the morning we spent several hours in the morning swimming, snorkeling and walking around the area. There is a small strip of sand in-between the bays, the coffee shop is on one side of this small beach. From the beach there is a path that leads up to a small church on the top of a hill overlooking the bay. The church was locked the day we were there but we could see inside the front windows and the view of the bays from up there is a must see! Early in the morning there is a herd of mountain goats that frequently grazes up by the church so if you get up early you can probably see them as you walk around.  You can also find sea urchins stuck to rocks in the shallow waters along the edge of the bays. Our guide got several for us all to try. Nobody in our group had ever tried them before and we had always heard they were very good. They taste somewhat sweet and very fresh and salty like the ocean. They have a somewhat similar taste to shrimp.
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Port Town on Kythnos – Loutra
From Kolona beach we sailed to the small port town of Loutra where we stayed the night in the marina. This is a very small town but it has a lot to offer. We ate lunch and dinner at a family run restaurant across the street from the beach- ΕΣΤΙΑΤΟΡΙΟ, ΚΑΦΕ, ΜΠΑΡ “ΞΕΡΟΛΙΘΙΑ”, ΛΑΧΑΝΟΥ ΑΛΚΗΣΤΙΣ. There are several restaurants on the beach as well. We went to this place because our guide knew the owner and knew the food was good (order the baby squid and the roasted goat leg!). We ate seafood for lunch and meat dishes for dinner. Everything was excellent and we would highly recommend this place. There are tables outside in the front of the restaurant and a small courtyard next to the restaurant with tables and string lights that hang from above. These are lit up at night giving the place a great atmosphere. After dinner we were each brought a shot of Chios Mastiha which is a liqueur that comes from the Greek island of Chios. The mastic tree does not grow anywhere else so this is something unique to Greece. The name Chios Mastiha has protected designation of origin status with the EU meaning to be labeled as Chios Mastiha it must be made in the traditional methods and must be produced on Chios. It does have a licorice taste similar to Ouzo but that flavor is much less strong and is sweeter with herbal notes.

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From lunch we headed to Ιαματικές Πηγές – Thermal Springs. Don’t expect a luxury spa experience. This place is very simply a small spa with several bathrooms, each with a marble tub that is filled with water from the thermal hot springs in the area. They fill it for you and then you sit/lay in the tub for approximately 20 minutes. They will come get you when the time is up and drain the tub. The minerals in the water are supposed to be very good for you. We enjoyed this experience and it was something different that we hadn’t done before. If your in the area it is worth a visit for the afternoon and it won’t take up too much of your day (I think it was around 15 Euro per person). The other interesting thing to do in this area is on the beach where the water from the hot springs flows into the sea. Locals have build up a “wall” of large boulders keeping the warm water from the hot spring in this small natural “hot tub” area. As the waves roll in towards the beach water from the sea enters to tub. If you sit further from the sea you will be in warmer water where the hot spring flows in. If you get too hot you can move closer to the sea where the water will be cooler.
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Kythnos Main Town – Chora

After spending the afternoon in the port town we took a cab up to the main town of Chora. This small village is up on the top of a hill. It is full of small winding roads, white buildings with royal blue accents, it has all the beautfiul things you always seen in photos of the Cyclades but without all the tourists. As we wandered the streets exploring we didn’t see any other tourists. People are very proud of their homes in this village so we saw many people out painting their houses or tending to their gardens. Many people were growing fresh herbs in their small gardens so you can smell basil and oregano in the air as you walk by. We intended to eat dinner up here at another restaurant recommended by our guide but the restaurant was closed because the owner’s daughter had gotten married that weekend. Our guide also recommended we try some traditional greek desserts from the Chora Pastry Shop. Everything we tried here was wonderful- we would recommend the baklava and the cream filled pastry but try whatever looks good to you, it was all delicious! The owners were very friendly and explained to us what everything was. They were also willing to pack stuff up and hold it for us until we had finished our walk through the village.

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Serifos Island

From Kythnos we sailed to Serifos. We arrived there in the afternoon after roughly 3-4 hours of sailing. We sailed along the Eastern coast of Kythnos and passed Little Pepper Island, then continued down to the Southeastern corner of Serifos where the main town is. On our way in, we stopped at a bay for a swim and saw a ton of fish and urchins.

Serifos Port Town – Livadi                                                                                                                              Livadi is the port town on Serifos where we stayed. After we arrived we spent the afternoon wandering around this small town for the afternoon before heading up to the main town in the evening. Livadi is full of small shops and restaurants along the beach and a few narrow streets with some houses. There is not a lot there but it is a nice place to relax.  After heading up the the main town to explore we came back to Livadi and had dinner on the beach at restaurant TAKIS. Our guide knew the owner of this restaurant as well so he graciously took us to the back of the restaurant to show us all of the fresh seafood available as well as the kitchen and the wine selection. We took his recommendation for a white wine made locally on the island. Our table was right on the water and the beach happened to be full of cats and a few small kittens all walking the beach and trying to catch the minnows swimming in the shallow water along the beach. They didn’t catch any fish while we watched but it did add entertainment to our dinner!

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After dinner we walked down the beach to a small cafe for ice cream. We tried Mastiha flavored ice cream (the liqueur we had tried on Kythnos). You can find all kinds of products made from the Mastiha tree in Greece. Although it wasn’t our favorite ice cream flavor it was fun to try something new that you can’t find everywhere.

Serifos Main Town – Hora                                                                                                                               We took the bus from the port up to the main town, Hora. The main town is up on the top of a hill so the bus ride up is on pretty windy, narrow roads but is only about a 5-10 minute ride. There is also a path to walk up if you are looking for a workout. There are two churches in the town that offer spectacular views of the water and the town. You do have to walk up a fairly steep hill to get to the first church which sets up above the town on the hill. From this church there is another church up several steps to an even higher point on the hill. One warning, it is very windy up here. I wore a sun dress and spent the entire time up by the churches holding in in place (wear shorts and a t-shirt).

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After walking up to the churches we headed back into town. We sat outside at Tavern Louis for some homemade sour cherry juice and lemonade. From this Tavern you get great views of yet another church built in the traditional Cycladic style architecture. The tavern is in a small square at the center of town,  there are a few other restaurants/cafes around and a few small shops. We stopped into one of the shops nearby that was selling clothing and some souvenirs. The store owner was very nice and helpful but was not pushy like you find in some more heavily touristed areas where you feel pressured to buy something when you walk in. We purchased a small clay coin with a frog on it. The Serifos frog was printed on the first currency of the island.

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You can read more about the second half of our trip here https://thefoodiewinoyogis.com/2019/01/31/sailing-the-greek-islands-with-bearing-true-south-part-two/

-TFWY

Making the Most of Two Days in Athens

We went to Athens as the starting point of a week long sailing trip around the Western Cyclades and Saronic Gulf. We had about two days in Athens before we left the city. There is a lot to see in Athens so we did not get to everything. Here is what we did get to in our short time in the city and some recommendations for food to try.

We stayed near the Plaka district in the middle of the city. This is the oldest part of the city and very close to the Acropolis. It is a bit touristy with lots of shops and some more touristy restaurants but the neighborhood is beautiful and you can still find some good, authentic restaurants within walking distance. You will also be within walking distance to the acropolis and a lot of the ruins.

Changing of the guards: We had never seen a changing of the guards ceremony before so we decided to check it out. There is a ceremony every half hour at the Parliament building near Plaka. It does draw a lot of tourists so we did have to squeeze our way towards the front of the group of people watching in order to get a good view. The ceremony is fun to see if you haven’t seen one before however we did feel it was a bit drawn out so we did not stay for the entire ceremony. After about 10 minutes we felt we got the gist of it and went on with out busy day (we were trying to pack a lot of sight seeing into our short time in Athens).

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Monastiraki Square: This is a busy area near the Acropolis hill. The square itself has some beautiful old buildings including the Pantanassas Byzantine Church which you can go inside and take photos of. There is also a large flee market full of shops selling clothing, olive oil and other greek food items and souvenirs. Souvenir tip – 98% of the shops are selling the same stuff. As a rule, we try not to buy anything on the first day of a trip when everything is new and you don’t have a point of reference. If you buy something in Plaka it will likely be a bit more expensive so shop around to find the best price before purchasing. There are several restaurants and bars in this area that offer great views of the Acropolis.

Anafiotika Neighborhood: As you wander around the acropolis hill you will stumble upon a little neighborhood full of white buildings, tiny streets, beautiful flowers and lots of cats! You get the feeling of being on one of the islands in the Cyclades without actually leaving the city. Do be mindful as you are wandering through that people do live in these houses so be respectful when photographing.

Acropolis Hill and Museum: We toured the Acropolis museum and the Acropolis hill with a guide, Eva. She was recommended to us by Bearing True South (the company we sailed around the Islands with) Here is a link to her instagram account- from there you can call or email her to set up a tour: https://www.instagram.com/evanthia_great_tours_greece/. The museum is extremely well done! It is very helpful to have someone who knows what all the ruins and artifacts are to explain in more detail to you as you walk through. As you enter, you will walk over the old ruins that the museum was built over. Since there is so much history in Athens, it is impossible to build something without hitting some sort of ruins. You will have to check your bags at the entrance, and flash photography is limited to a few areas in the museum. On the top floor you will realize that the layout is designed to represent the top of the Parthenon: the carved marble around the sides and the marble statues at either end. There are signs and explanations of each artifact in the museum so it certainly isn’t necessary to have a guide if you’d rather walk through on your own.  From the museum we headed up to the top of Acropolis hill. We were up at the top at sunset and stayed to take photos until it closed. It is beautiful to be up there at sunset but it is very crowded so it is nearly impossible to get a photo of any of the ruins without other tourists in the background. I suspect it is very busy at all times of day unless you arrive right when it opens in the morning. Of course the Parthenon is the largest building at the top which most people know about. You can also see the Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion and the Propylaea (the gateway or entrance to the Acropolis).

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Odeon of Herodes Atticus: This stone theater is located on the slope of the Acropolis hill so you can’t miss it as you walk to the top. It is a beautiful theater and it is actually still used today. We weren’t in Athens long enough to see a performance here but there was a singer rehearsing as we walked by and stopped for photos.

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Panathenaic Stadium: The stadium is the site of the first modern Olympic games. It is made entirely out of marble. You can pay a fee to go in and walk around the track and up into the seats. We did not do this as you can get a great view of the stadium from the gate.

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Roman Agora: This is the ancient Roman Market Place. You will see these ruins as you walk around the Plaka neighborhood. You can pay an entrance fee to walk in and get closer to them. We did not as our time was limited and you can get a good view of the ruins from outside the gates (you can pretty much walk all the way around them).

Greek Agora: This is the ancient Greek marketplace. You can see this in the distance from the Acropolis, we did not walk over to see it close up but that is an option if you have more time.

Temple of Zeus:  We only saw this on our drive out of the city on our way to the marina for our sailing trip. The temple is very impressive and if we had more time we would have loved to walk around more closely. The temple consists of large columns similar to the Parthenon. We did not get any good pictures since we only saw it as we drove by.

What and Where to Eat:

  • Dinner at Seychelles: This place was within walking distance of our Air B & B in Plaka. It was small restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. We arrived around 7:30 and we were the only ones in the restaurant. We were worried about this at first but then we realized that Greeks eat later than we do in the U.S. As we sat and enjoyed appetizers and our dinner the placed started to fill up! We would recommend the dolmas and the octopus appetizers and the Rooster with pasta in a red wine sauce for the main course. Everything was delicious. They also had a good selection of Greek wine on the wine list, we don’t know a lot about Greek wine believe it or not! There are a lot of grapes that don’t grown in other places so we just picked randomly or asked our waiter for a recommendation when we wanted to order wine.

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  • Central Municipal Market: We are foodies so we always enjoy wandering through the markets when we travel. It gives you a glimpse into how the locals shop and eat! The central market is where you can buy fresh fruits and veggies, meat and fresh seafood. The market itself is full of locals buying food. Around the market there are shops selling spices, olives and olive oil, cheeses and other Greek goods. There are several small restaurants around the market where you can enjoy a coffee, a gyro or slouvlaki wrap or a pie (cheese and spinach would be our recommendations).
  • Restaurant Attolos: We walked to this place after our tour of the Acropolis. The road it is on has a ton of popular restaurants that were all crowded. This one was recommended by our sailing guide and we were able to sit outside with great clear views of the Acropolis. The food was very good and they had good Greek wine (that we couldn’t pronounce). We had a Greek salad, chicken souvlaki, and grilled sea bass. The food was very good and the views were awesome.

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  •  IceRoll near Monastiraki Square: This is an ice cream shop where you chose your base flavor and any fruits, nuts or more chocolate or caramel that you want added to your ice cream. They pour the base cream onto a cold counter top, add in whatever you would like then mix it together and the mixing on the cold countertop turns it into ice cream! They roll it into several individual rolls and serve it in a large cup. the ice cream itself is delicious and it is a fun to watch them make it right in front of you!
  • Kappari: We had fig salad, pork leg in a honey glaze which says it is for two but really could easily feed closer to 4 people. The orange pie dessert was also amazing!

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-TFWY

Complete Guide to Making Wine at Home

This is meant to be a complete guide of how we make wine without getting too deep into the chemistry and nuances of winemaking. This guide will tell you what to do at each stage of the winemaking process focusing primarily on making wine from grapes, but a frozen must would also work. Also note that this post is mostly focused on red wines because there are more steps, but we note the steps you would need to take for white and rose wines.

Note on sanitation: At every step, sanitation is incredibly important. You want to limit the amount of potential bacteria that will turn your wine to vinegar. We have a two step cleaning/sanitizing process that uses ammonia and water to clean, then a sanitizing mixture of water and potassium metabisulfite.

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Day 1: Grape Pickup Day

Bring the grapes home, you need to crush & de-stem if the vineyard did not already do that for you (ours gives us the option)

  • Remove all the stems, they will add a vegetal taste to the wine. Also remove anything that looks funky or any leaves that end up in there. You don’t have to go too crazy with it, but the better quality grapes you put in, the better wine you will get out.
  • Crush the grapes: you can stomp the grapes (make sure your feet are super clean first.) Erika tried stomping the grapes but gave up because it was too itchy due to the stems and seeds… maybe something that is less practical in reality than in the movies. You can also used rubber gloves and crush them by hand or a crusher/destemmer machine.
  • Pressing the Juice: If you are making white wine, this is when you want to press the juice off the skins, you will be working with juice the rest of the process. If you are making red wine you can decide how long you want to leave the skins on. We usually let the must sit on the skins 24-48 hours before adding the yeast and starting the fermentation on the skins. We let the must sit outside in our garage where it is cooler since this happens in October and we live in Michigan. We typically ferment on the skins for about two weeks before pressing. This allows a bit more color and flavor extraction. Think of the skins as tea bags, the longer you let your wine sit on the skins the more color, flavor, and tannin you will end up with in your wine. If you want to make a rose, you can press your must anywhere from 12-48 hours after crushing depending on how much color/tannin you want in the finished wine. At that point you will add yeast and ferment the juice just like you would a white wine.

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Side Note: Sugar Vs. Acid: Before we move on to testing the wine, a bit of a lesson of acidity and sugar in your wine must. Sugar is the food for your yeast. The yeast will consume the sugar and their byproduct is alcohol and Co2. The sugar in your must can be measured by the brix or the specific gravity. You can use a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity or a refractometer to measure brix. We tend to rely on the SG test since it requires more must and you get a more accurate reading. On the other hand you also need to test the acidity of your must, when grapes grow, they are basically turning sunlight into sugar through photosynthesis. As grapes ripen, the sugar increases and the the acidity decreases. There is a sweet spot the growers are looking for where these two attributes hit their prime winemaking and they decide to harvest. Depending on your region and grower, your grapes might never hit that sweet spot and you may need to make adjustments to your must.

  • Sugar too low, acidity too high: wine will be low in alcohol and therefore body, may also not be stable for long term storage. The acidity might be a bit astringent (think sweet tarts).
  • Sugar too high, acidity too low: wine will be very high in alcohol without enough acidity to support it. Often described as ‘flabby’ these wines will feel very unbalanced.
  • You can find charts that show the specific gravity and how it relates to the theoretical alcohol content of the finished wine. One chart you can use is found here: https://www.brewersfriend.com/abv-calculator/

Checking Sugar Content

The  day you get the grapes you’ll need to check the specific gravity of the must. You are looking for a specific gravity of at LEAST 1.09 – this will get you about 12.5% finished alcohol. Any lower and you risk it not being stable for aging and is much more likely to spoil. It will also be lacking some body and will not feel as full in the mouth. If your must ends up less than a SG of 1.09, you will want to chaptalize (means to add sugar). This is a bit controversial (not allowed in France), but for us in Michigan where the season is short and we do not have control of when the farm harvests so we often have to chaptalize. You want to use just plain old refined sugar, don’t get fancy and buy turbinado sugar (like Sugar in the Raw) or unprocessed sugars since it still has the molasses that is in unrefined sugar and could give your wine some off flavors. Refined sugar is the way to go, your yeast will love it. Just add it in based on the formula below, and mix it in. You will want to allow it to dissolve and mingle for at least 12 hours before testing the SG again to make sure you hit your goal.

Testing Acidity

Finally you want to test the acidity and pH of the wine must. You will need to get an Acid Titration kit as well as some pH strips which you should be able to find at your winemaking store or Amazon. We also use a graduated beaker for the samples.

  • Your targets for red wine are: pH around 3.5 and an titratable acid (TA) of a minimum of 0.55%, but target closer to 0.60% (above 0.90% will lead to an unbalanced wine and will likely want to adjust it)
  • Your targets for white wine are: pH around 3.2 and a titratable acid (TA) of 0.65% minimum and target of around 0.70% (above 0.90% will lead to an unbalanced wine and will likely want to adjust it)
  • Adjusting acidity: If your acidity is outside of the parameters above, there are ways to adjust them in order to give you a more balanced finished wine.
    • If your acidity is too low: Full disclosure, we live in Michigan so we have never had to adjust the acidity up, but the basic theory is that you can add tartaric acid to your must to bring it up to desired levels. There are formulas you can find on other winemaking sites, but we have never done this adjustment so cannot personally offer advice on the subject. From what we have read, 18 grams of tartaric acid would raise the TA of a 5 gallon must by 0.10%. This process should be done before adding sulfites to kill the wild yeast on the first day.
    • If your acidity is too high: there are two options for reducing the acidity of your wine. You can do what is called malolactic fermentation, which basically just adding a malolactic bacteria culture to your wine near the end of your primary fermentation which turns the more astringent malic acid into a softer lactic acid. We have done this with great success in our own wines. You can buy vials of the ML culture at most winemaking stores or online – it should be refrigerated so keep that in mind if buying it online. We typically add it when the fermentation starts to slow down and the specific gravity is under 1.01, but we have read about people starting it with the primary fermentation with success. We will touch more on ML fermentation later in the winemaking process. You won’t have to do anything on the first day but make sure you write the acidity down and plan on it. The other way you can reduce acidity, and is more common for white wines, is what is called cold stabilizing: it is basically just keeping your wine in a cold environment for about 2-3 weeks in the 32-35 degree F range. During this time the wine will precipitate tartaric acid from the wine which will form crystals at the bottom of your carboy. Fun fact – If you ever go to a smaller winery that doesn’t cold stabilize, it is common you will see some of these crystals at the bottom of your wine glass.

Killing Wild Yeast

This is the last step on Day 1. Once your grapes are crushed, destemmed, tested and adjusted (chaptalized and/or TA adjustments) you need to kill the wild yeast that are naturally occurring on the grape skins. It is possible to ferment with wild yeast, and it is done in many French vineyards with hundreds of years of winemaking history. Most of the common yeast strains you buy at your winemaking store trace their origins back to France. Chances are you are not buying your grapes from one of these vineyards, so it is safest to go with a tried and true strain of yeast. If you go the wild route, there is a good chance you will have a stuck fermentation (not fully fermenting) or funky/off flavors in the finished wine. Your potassium metabisulfite container will likely tell you how much you need to add to your must, we typically buy the LD Carlson brand and it requires 1/4 tsp per 6 gallons of must. Add it, stir it around and let it sit for 24 hours.

Day 2: Start Fermenting

Yesterday you did all the hard stuff. Today all you have to do is make sure your must/juice is at room temperature and add the yeast. If you did any chaptalization, you will want to retest the specific gravity. If it still hasn’t hit your target SG, you may need to add more sugar before you can add the yeast. Just sprinkle the yeast on top of your must or add directly into your juice for white or rose wines. Your yeast will start working about 24 hours after being added to the must/juice. Fermentation should happen at about room temperature, if it is too cold fermentation could stall before completely fermenting your wine.

Days 3-14: Fermenting & Punching Down the Cap

For White/Rose Wines

Allow the juice to ferment, maybe check on it to make sure it is fermenting (check the specific gravity after a week to see where it is, you won’t want to move on until fermentation slows and you have a specific gravity of around 1.001).

For Red Wines

You will need to do what is called ‘punching down the cap’ twice per day. You will notice as soon as your fermentation starts, the Co2 will push the skins to the top forming a cap. you want your skins to be in contact with your must as much as possible. There are other ways wineries do this, such as pumping wine over the cap, but we just use a long sanitized spoon to punch it down and stir it around twice per day. At this point, the must is producing enough Co2 to protect it from oxidation. Later on you will want to be careful to limit the wine’s exposure to the air. That being said, make sure your container has a lid, it will likely be attracting fruit flies at this stage.

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Day 14: Pressing the Reds, Racking into Carboys

At about day 10, you will notice the cap isn’t as pronounced and the fermentation is starting to slow down. We typically press when the fermentation is barely showing any life and 14 days is usually around the sweet spot. At 14 days we will press the wine off the skins. I made a simple wine press LINK HERE that we use a sanitized kitchen pot to transfer the wine must into.

  • We will then press the wine and transfer it into a carboy. We typically get between 90-100 lbs of grapes for each varietal which produces around 6 gallons of pressed wine (30 bottles). One thing to note is that some wineries will use the word ‘free run’ for their highest quality wines. That basically means that the wine wasn’t pressed, but rather the must was pumped into the press and any wine that ran through was saved for the best wine. After that they will press the remaining juice from the skins and use it for their next tier of wine. The reason we bring this up is that how much you press the wine does influence the quality of the wine. Generally speaking, the less you press, the higher quality the wine. That being said, we don’t have a large operation so press our wine pretty hard. Just something to keep in mind.
  • Check the specific gravity, the primary fermentation isn’t complete until it is under 0.998, and at 14 days it tends to be around 1.01. We will then let it sit another week to finish the primary fermentation and right after pressing we will add the Malolactic culture (if we need to do it). As mentioned above, Malolactic Fermentation helps soften the acidity, and we typically start it towards the end of the primary fermentation. At this point, you want to add the culture, it is not as vigorous of a fermentation as the primary fermentation, but it will produce small bubbles that will slowly and occasionally make their way to the surface (you probably will barely notice it is happening). Also note that the ML culture is pretty sensitive to sulfites, so do not add any sulfites until you are done with the ML fermentation. After another 2 weeks, we will check the TA and pH again to see if the acidity is in the range we are looking for, then add sulfites to stop any remaining fermentation and stabilize the wine for longer term storage. At this stage you can move the wine to the basement or other cool/dark area out of direct sunlight. It should stay stored in that type of area for the rest of the time.
  • After the ML Fermentation/30-40 days after picking up the grapes: At this point, you are ready to transfer (rack) the wine into another carboy. You do this to get the wine off the lees (dead yeast that will build up on the bottom of your carboy). At this time you may also add the sulfites to stop any ML fermentation and stabilize the wine. For reds, we usually add oak at this point, winemaking stores sell different forms of oak: cubes, spirals, powders, etc. We prefer the spirals, they go right in the carboy with the wine and you leave them for up to 6 weeks per the instructions. We have actually found we like a bit more time on the oak than the packaging says, and have found 8 weeks really does a nice job of giving the oak notes in the finished wine. We have never dealt with barrels, they seem to be too much of a hassle: the large ones take way more wine than we deal with and the small ones have a bad reputation and are costly. The spirals are nice and you have options on the type of oak and toast level.
  • A Note about Oak: There are two key decisions you need to make when you are buying oak: toast level and country of origin.
    • Toast level will determine the characteristics of the oak. Lighter toasting will be milder and and have a flavor profile that leans more towards earthy/wood/coffee flavors. The darker the level of toast the more you get the vanilla, brown sugar, espresso (darker coffee), etc. Very generally speaking, you want to match the color of the wine with the toast of the oak. The darker the wine, the darker the toast that it can handle. We typically buy medium or medium plus toast with American oak for our Michigan reds (typically a bit lighter).
    • Country of origin: there are oak forests all over the place. The most common you will see are French, American, and Hungarian.
      • French Oak is the most common for barrels and the most expensive. It give a great depth of flavor and structure to wine. When we were in Chile, at the winery Loma Larga they mentioned they buy French barrels from two different parts of France. One is closer to the ocean with a longer growing season, the other is a forest near the middle of the country and has a shorter growing season. This distinction influences how close together the grain. The tighter the grain, the lower the tannins. French Oak Spirals
      • American Oak is known for giving heavier vanilla notes (think bourbon) but is less expensive and can give a good structure to wines. We typically go with American Oak. American Oak Spirals
      • Hungarian Oak is actually a French Oak species, but with the colder climate it gives it a tighter grain . It is similar cost to American oak, but they do not make the spirals I mentioned at this point.

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8 weeks after adding the oak and beyond
After about 8 weeks, we will rack the wine off the oak and lees. There is usually a ton of lees at this point in the process since it has mostly fallen out of suspension after fermentation is done. Your wine should also be pretty clear and it is a great time to taste it and see where you are at. It usually tastes somewhat close to the final product at this point, although it will be a bit young and may have some effervescent characteristics to it. If it does, do not worry, it just needs more time. At this point, we like to let it sit for another 8-9 months in the carboy (bulk storage) racking it every two to three months. to make sure the final wine that goes into the bottle has as little sediment as possible. We will typically rack 4 times total before bottling. A lot of wine ‘kits’ will tell you to degas the wine by vigorously stirring or a drill mounted degassing attachment, but the primary reason is to speed up the process so you can bottle in 30 days after starting. If this is your goal, you can do it. We have a lot of carboys and don’t mind waiting for the bulk storage to let the gas escape naturally over a 9-12 month period. We like doing the bulk storage as we get more sediment out of it and it maintains a more stable temperature.

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Bottling

After multiple times racking the wine and many months of waiting, it is finally time to bottle. We typically bottle around September the year following harvest. The first thing we do (after sanitizing!) is siphon the wine from the carboys the wine was stored in to a bucket. We do this to get it off any lees that may be left in the bottom of the carboy. Once in the bucket you can attach the bottling wand to your siphon setup and start bottling. We will typically set the first bottle aside since it risked getting a bit aerated when you start the siphon. Fill the bottles as much as possible and move along. Usually at the end will be a partial bottle, which we will also set aside and drink that night.

  • Bottles – There are two options for acquiring bottles. You can buy them at a winemaking store for around $2/bottle or you can find good bottles of wine for less than $10 AND you get to drink it! The only pain is taking off the labels: you can soak them in hot water and dish soap with a dull knife and a Scotch Brite pad. Some labels will come off better than others, just make sure you rinse the bottles and hang them upside down to so they don’t get moldy
  • Aging – After bottling, we typically wait at least six months to a year before drinking them. We will taste a bottle after a few months to see where it’s at. The first wine from grapes we made was the 2015 vintage and it is still improving in the bottle. I would expect it to continue to improve over the next couple years. We get the same varietals every year for the most part so one thing we like to do is a ‘vertical’ tasting where we drink a 2015 and 2016 of the same varietal. It is interesting to see how your winemaking decisions and grape harvest influence the finished wine.
Cellar
Time for long term storage!

Tools, Equipment, and Other Things You Will Need

 

Wine Tasting in Franschhoek South Africa

Stellenbosch gets most of the attention for wine regions in South Africa, known especially for their Pinotage wines. There is a lesser known region just a half hour away from Stellenbosch called Franschoek (French Corner). We set out from Cape Town for a weekend of wine tasting in Franschhoek with friends. Along the way we stopped in Stellenbosch at the Stellenbosch Slow Market which is open on Saturday mornings. This market is full of venders selling coffee, beer, baked goods, all kinds of different food, as well as crafts and some really wonderful art. There are picnic style tables in the center so you can eat whatever you decide on. We picked up some biltong and droëwors to snack (inspired this recipe!) on during the day and ate at a Turkish food stall for breakfast/lunch before heading out.

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Wine Tram in Franschhoek:

In Franschhoek there is a wine tram which you can purchase tickets and take for the day. The tram has several lines so you can choose which line you want and that will determine which wineries you can stop at. You can hop on and off the tram depending on which wineries you want to go to. The mountains around the wineries are beautiful and the tram has an open air area which was great for taking pictures along the way. One thing to be mindful of is that the tram is on a schedule so it drops you off and comes back to pick you up approximately 45 minutes later.  If the winery is full or a large group gets off the tram with you if may take a while to get through your tasting. The wineries do tend to pour one wine at a time vs pouring all your tastings out for you when you arrive. It normally wouldn’t be a big deal, but for us it meant rushing the last few to make sure we didn’t miss the tram. The tasting portions were generous at all the stops we made.  There are eight hop on, hop off lines you can chose from. Here is the link for the website for more information: https://winetram.co.za/tours/

We chose the orange line and stopped at the following wineries:

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Noble Hill: This was our first stop of the day. We were one of the only small groups there during our tasting. we sat outside on the patio for our tasting. This is a great place to relax, enjoy your tasting or a glass of wine and take in the views of the surrounding Simonsberg mountains. The winery also has two Rhodesian Ridgeback winery dogs. These dogs are very friendly but also very large. they won’t bother you if you aren’t a dog lover but if you are they are more than happy to let you pet them!

Babylonstoren: This winery is a traditional Cape Dutch farm. The winery and restaurant is a combination of Cape Dutch architecture and more contemporary features. The restaurant has large floor to ceiling glass windows all around it which show off the views of the surrounding vines and mountains. We took more time at this stop so we could have a small lunch as well as our tasting. We particularly enjoyed the Shiraz and the Viognier.

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Plaisir de Merle: This wine tasting was in a beautiful old farmhouse. The wine was good, but the service wasn’t awesome – we waited a while to be served and then we were very rushed in order to make the tram. The server also didn’t give any details about the wine, just poured and left. I would go back, but it wasn’t the best one we went to.

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Allee Bleue: Our last stop of the day. We particularly loved their Brut Rose and all of their reds were also very good. This was also the only winery we went to that had Pinotage believe it or not. It is apparently more of a Stellenbosch varietal. We really liked their Pinotage and actually left with a bottle.

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We spent the night at a hostel in town and then in the morning we went to one more winery before heading back to Cape Town. We stopped at the Rupert & Rothschild Vignerons Winery which had wonderful reds and was fun for us since we had been to the Rothschild family owned winery in Chile so we now have a bottle from each trip in our cellar at home. We left with a bottle of Baron Edmond which is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend. The winery has nice patio area as well as a very large and beautifully decorated, modern tasting room. We also got to taste the Flechas De Los Andes Gran Corte 2011 which is a Malbec, Syrah (Shiraz if your one of THOSE people :-)), Cabernet Sauvignon blend from the Rothschild winery in Argentina. This wine was not for sale at the winery in Franschhoek but we would definitely recommend it or if you can find it for sale in the U.S.

 

Here are links to our other South Africa posts:

-TFWY

Road Trip – Cape Peninsula South Africa

These places where some of our favorites during our trip to South Africa. We would highly recommend all of these stops. This part of the trip you would need a car for. We rented a car to do the Chapeman’s peak drive and kept it for the day. We had a driver through our volunteer program who drove us to Boulder’s beach and Cape Point/Cape of Good Hope. Due to our schedule we split it into two days, but you could do everything below in one full day.

Cape Point and Cape of Good Hope:
This was the highlight of the trip for both of us. We had a driver through our volunteer program that drove us and stayed while we explored, but if you have a rental car you can go at your own pace. Cell service there is not that great so having an Uber or taxi driver drop you off and then planning to get another ride back will probably not work out (it also costs money to enter the park, so taxis don’t sit around in there). As you drive through the park you can see several different types of animals. We saw baboons, bontebok and elands.

Our driver was great at pointing these animals out to us as we drove. You can also see wild ostrich in the park which we did not but our driver did drive us by an ostrich farm just outside the park so we could at least see them up close.
We walked up to the lighthouse at Cape Point where you have a great view of where the Indian and the Atlantic Ocean meet. You can see the currents in the water, as they mix it looks like a perpetual wave way out in the water. The day we visited it was sunny in Cape Town when we left but as you get closer to Cape Point the breeze off the oceans hit land and it gets cloudier and more humid.

From Cape Point you can take a path which leads you along the coast to the Cape of Good Hope. This walk was beautiful and only takes about 30-45 minutes. if you have the time we would highly recommend this trail. It is a well marked and well maintained trail the entire way. It takes you along the mountain with views of secluded beaches below and waves crashing on the rocks. You walk up a small hill to get a panoramic view of the Cape of Good Hope before finally heading down to the beach where there is a parking lot so our driver was able to pick us up from here after our walk. This is where the iconic sign marking the Southwestern most point of Africa is located so you can take your photo before heading out.

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Boulders Beach:

This is where the penguin colony is and there are penguins everywhere! You do need to pay an admissions fee to enter. Once you are in there are several look out decks where you can watch the penguins swim and walk along the beach. Outside of the park there is a public beach access that you can sunbathe and swim. It is known because you can swim with the penguins (and it’s completely free. We did not swim but stood on the rocks in the water and stood in the shallow water near the shore and had penguins swim around our feet.

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Chapman’s Peak drive:

This is one of the most scenic drives in the world. It is a toll road that goes between Noordhoek and Hout Bay on the Atlantic Coast. You do need to make sure the road is open as it may close due to weather conditions. Along the way there are multiple places you can pull over and stop to take in the view and take pictures. The views along the way are spectacular, we stopped at just about every place we could pull over to take pictures. Definitely worth the drive as you work your way around the peninsula.

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Here are links to our other South Africa posts:

-TFWY

Cape Town Essentials

These are our recommended must see and do items within Cape Town. This post focuses on the City itself. You could see/do all of these things without having to rent a car if you are staying in the city or nearby. We used Uber throughout our trip. It was inexpensive and we never had a problem, all the drivers were friendly and very knowledgable about the area.

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Table Mountain:

Table Mountain is a major presence from anywhere within Cape Town. It towers over the city and offers incredible views of the city and surrounding ocean. If you want to take in the views from the top there are a few options. There is a cable car you can take, or you can go up one of the many paths to the top. There was only one day that worked with our volunteering schedule, so I decided to hike up then take the cable car down. One of the other volunteers we were staying with started the hike but quickly turned around due to the heat and pace in order to make it in time. She turned around and decided to take the cable car up to meet me at the top. The hike is steep and it was an extremely hot day (unusually hot for December). I decided on the Platteklip Gorge hike as it seemed to be the most direct and fastest to the top. If you are going to climb Table mountain be prepared that it is quite a hike, be prepared with sun protection, water, and enough time. The Platteklip Gorge hike took me just under 2 hours, but I was moving pretty quick. The sign said 2.5 hours from the start to the cable car so make sure you plan accordingly. The climb itself was not too technical, it was basically like walking up stairs for 2 hours. I went up in the late afternoon so the final 1/3 of the hike was in the shade which was an incredible relief. At the top, it feels like you are on a different planet, to the South you see the Twelve Apostles – the mountain range parallel to the Atlantic and directly below you are the Clifton beaches (there are 4 of them). If you walk towards the cable car, you will get some of the best views of Cape town and Lions Head with the Atlantic and Robben Island in the distance. You can get a one way ticket down the cable car in the gift shop if you don’t want to climb back down. There is also a cafe at the top and drinking fountains.

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V & A Waterfront:

The waterfront area is a great place to walk around. This is where the V & A Food Market is located where you can find lots of different food options. We would highly recommend trying some biltong and droëwors. Biltong is similar to jerky, it is a cured meat (usually game of some kind) sliced very thin. Droëwors is a dried sausage. Both are great snacks. Watershed market is also worth walking through. It is full of stalls selling art, clothing and jewelry. There are several restaurants in this area as well, it is a more touristy area but it does offer great views of the water and of table mountain. We ate dinner here the last night of our trip  and got a table with a great view of the water and of Table Mountain. We were able to watch the tablecloth (the clouds) flowing over the mountain as we ate.

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Bo-Kaap Neighborhood:

This is a former township within the city. It is traditionally a primarily Muslim neighborhood which is known for its colorful houses. It is worth wandering through as you are walking around the city. There are several streets lined with brightly colored houses which are beautiful to see. There were lots of other tourists walking through taking photos while we were there. Do be mindful when taking photos that these are peoples homes so do be respectful of that.

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Clifton Beach:
Clifton is an affluent neighborhood within Cape Town. Clifton beach is a series of four beaches, somewhat separated by large boulders. Clifton Four is the most popular beach, the other three are slightly less crowded. We spend a few hours one afternoon relaxing at the beach. There are vendors selling drinks and snacks and umbrellas along the beach. As you walk to beaches three, two and one it becomes progressively less crowded. All the beaches are beautiful and offer amazing views. You can see the Twelve Apostles mountains from anywhere on the beach. This area is lined with apartments, hotels and is a very crowded area, if you drive yourself be prepared that parking is difficult to find near the beach. There are parking lots but they fill up fast.

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Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens:
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens is a beautiful area. There are lots of open spaces where you can have a picnic or just relax and enjoy the park. There are concerts in the park but we did not make it to a concert during our trip. There are two restaurants in the park. One is a tea garden with Mediterranean food, the other serves traditional African food and is more expensive. There is an aerial walkway that winds through the tree tops and provides excellent views of the park and of the city surrounding it. The park is at the base of Table Mountain and there is access to the mountain if you want to hike. We hiked up part way through Skeleton’s Gorge. This side of the mountain is forested with large trees, small streams and waterfalls which you will pass along the way up. This path is also mostly shaded since you are in more of forest than the other side of the mountain where the cable car is.

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Gin and Tonics in Cape Town:

If you are a Gin and Tonic fan (or even if you aren’t) Cape Town will not disappoint! There are multiple gin bars downtown and you can find great gin and tonics at most bars and restaurants downtown. There are some very unique gins in the area because of all to botanicals grown on table mountain. This is something we did not know before our trip but we were very happy with the gin and tonics we had at each place we went downtown!

Long street is the main party street downtown. This street is full of bars and restaurants and lots of people! This is definitely a place to watch your personal belongings and be mindful of pickpockets. While this is not really our scene we did find some awesome street meat on long street. There are multiple vendors selling homemade sausage similar to a brat in the U. S. We were taken by our friends who were living in Cape Town to find an older man who has been selling on Long Street for years. He was working alone, grilling up sausage and onions and offered multiple sauces and toppings you could add on. You can smell the onions grilling as you walk towards his stand. This is a great late night snack after walking around and enjoying your gin and tonics!

Cheetah Outreach:

Just as a warning, you would need a car to get to the Cheetah Outreach. Their primary goal is promoting the survival of the South African Cheetah through environmental education and conservation initiatives. This place is about a half hour outside the city. One of our friends who was living in Cape Town at the time of our trip was volunteering at the Cheetah Outreach Nature Preserve. As a visitor you can walk through and see all the animals. They have fox, jackals, meerkats and several other smaller cats. Also you can pay an additional fee to enter with a volunteer and handler and pet the Cheetahs while you’re there. You can give them your camera and they will take pictures of you with the animals. Make sure you bring cash for this because credit cards are not accepted.
http://www.cheetah.co.za/2018/index.htm

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View our other South Africa posts below:

-TFWY