Today’s article is from a very good friend and avid travel freak, Keith at Velvet Escape. Keith is also on Twitter – you may contact him at @velvetescape through Twitter.
I fell in love with South Africa’s Western Cape province on my first visit there in 2004. Cape Town certainly is one of the most stunning cities in the world but that was just one of the many highlights in this province. The waters that lap the shores of the Western Cape coast teem with a staggering diversity of marine life while the hinterland, with its imposing mountains, gentle rolling hills, mile upon mile of gorgeous vineyards, expansive plains and quaint historic towns, is quite simply magical.
There is so much to see and do in the province. Cape Town will keep even the most jaded traveler intrigued for at least a few days. The rest of the province will sweep you off your feet for an unforgettable love affair!
Cape Town has arguably one of the most impressive locations in the world. Backed by the incredible Table Mountain, the city has a magnificent ocean-side setting, with beautiful marinas, white sandy beaches and stunning nature all within the city limits. A visit to the top of the Table Mountain is a must. The views of the city, surrounding mountains and the ocean are spectacular. Then there’s the gorgeous V&A Waterfront, historic Robben Island, the electric BoKaap neighbourhood, trendy Camps Bay, and the lovely Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens.
Outside of Cape Town, the breathtaking Cape of Good Hope beckons. On the way, drive along the Chapman’s Peak Drive for some astounding views of Hout Bay. On the way back to Cape Town, head for charming Simon’s Town and along False Bay to Muizenberg, passing the beautiful expanse of the bay and lovely bayside communities.
From Cape Town, I recommend flying to the town of George, in the heart of the Garden Route, then hiring a car at the airport to explore this region. The places described below are part of a giant loop that starts in George and ends in Cape Town. This loop can be done in about ten days at a leisurely pace.
Knysna, located east of George, is a lovely town with excellent restaurants and hotels. Situated at the edge of Knysna Lagoon, the town is particularly famous for its oysters. They are indeed divine! Go for a cruise across the lagoon and enjoy the views of the Heads at the entrance of the lagoon and across the Indian Ocean.
The Klein Karoo is a desolate and wild region characterised by expansive, shrubby plains and rugged mountains. If you’re driving from Knysna (something I strongly recommend), you’ll pass beautiful lagoons and lakes, the stunning coast with its impressive cliffs and rocky headlands up to the lovely community of Mossel Bay. From here, head inland towards Oudtshoorn, a quaint colonial town, across the majestic Robertson Pass. The fabulous mountain scenery and views across the coast are breathtaking. On the other side of the Pass are flat, bushy plains: ostrich country! Oudtshoorn is also known as the ostrich capital of South Africa. The cuisine in this town feature exotic courses like crocodile salad and ostrich carpaccio.
One of my favourite drives around Oudtshoorn is the Swartberge mountains loop. This drive takes you past the plains which are dotted with ostrich farms, alfalfa grass fields and the occasional vineyard. De Rust is worth a stop to explore the lovely main street lined with beautiful Cape Dutch houses and old jacaranda trees. Then drive through the Mieringspoort, an extraordinary gorge At the other end of the gorge, turn westwards to Prince Albert. Prince Albert is a charming village surrounded by fruit orchards. It’s a perfect place for a lunch stop. From Prince Albert, head back towards the Swartberge mountains over the Swartberg Pass. This pass is more than 30 miles long (along a winding, cliff-hanging gravel road) and reaches a height of 4500 feet. The views from the top of the dusty, expansive Karoo plain is truly spectacular. The geology of the area, exemplified by the many folds, crevices, cracks and intriguing rock formations, is astonishing. On the other side of the mountain range, the scenery becomes more gentle and green. It’s a wonderful, eye-pleasing drive back to Oudtshoorn. You can stop at the Cango Wildlife Ranch where you can see crocodiles, cheetas, lions, jaguars and pumas; and the Cango caves where you can marvel at the fascinating subterranean limestone formations.
When you’re out here in the Little Karoo, don’t forget to look up at night. The sky spreads out over you, like a giant diamond-encrusted velvet sheet. It’s absolutely stunning!
From Oudsthoorn, head west through the heart of the Little Karoo along the route that is widely known as Route 62. Look out for the wonderfully atmospheric Ronnie’s Sex Shop (I can tell you this much: it isn’t a sex shop!). This route takes you past beautiful vineyards (stop by some of these wineries for some wine-tasting), olive groves, fruit orchards and small villages. Continue past the hamlet of Barrydale and head to Swellendam, another lovely town with delightful restaurants and hotels housed in gorgeous Cape Dutch buildings. Swellendam is situated at the foot of the imposing Langeberg mountains and boasts a shady main street lined with historic houses and villas. After the dusty plains of the Little Karoo, verdant Swellendam will come as a breath of fresh air! The nearby Bontebok (a resplendent relative of deer) National Reserve is a noteworthy attraction just outside Swellendam.
Thinking back to the Robertson Valley always fills me with a great sense of serenity. It is a beautiful area, with lush green valleys, towering, mist-clad mountains and mile after mile of vineyards, fruit orchards and forests. It is a breathtaking drive from Swellendam to the Robertson Valley, along the foot of the magnificent Langeberg mountains. There are many wineries to explore, and charming lodges where you can sit back and enjoy the lush surroundings. Take some time to explore the area. There’s the beautiful hot springs village of Montagu (the drive there through the Kogmanskloof gorge is stunning), many wineries to drop by for a wine-tasting, the impressive gardens of Soekershof, and the unforgettable cruise along the Brede River from the Viljoensdrift wine estate (check out their excellent Pinotage!).
From Robertson, it’s a long drive down to the coast but one that’s very rewarding. The hilly scenery always reminds me of Tuscany! Hermanus is a lovely town, and is a well-known coastal vacation area sandwiched between the Kleinriviersberg mountains and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s also one of the few places in the world where you can spot whales swimming close to the cliff-side lookouts – they’re sometimes less than ten yards away! Drive up into the mountains for a stunning view of Hermanus – this is also a favourite spot for paragliders. I can also recommend driving to Gans Bay and taking the Dyer island cruise from there. The cruise is a phenomenal experience! It takes you along the coast where you’ll get to see Great Whites, whales and dolphins, and on to Dyer Island which is home to thousands of penguins and seals.
The coastal drive from Hermanus along the Garden Route to the Cape Winelands is breathtaking. Stop at Betty’s Bay to visit a penguin colony. Continue along the R44 to Gordon’s Bay. The views of the coast and the imposing cliffs are nothing short of breathtaking. From Gordon’s Bay, head inland, past Somerset West (you can opt to stop by the historic Vergelegen wine estate here) to Stellenbosch. Stellenbosch is a historic university town in the heart of the winelands. Its oak-tree lined streets are packed with restaurants, cafés and art galleries. The Cape Dutch and Georgian houses here are stunning.
The drive from Stellenbosch to Franschhoek through the Hellshoogte Pass is simply astounding. You’ll pass mile after mile of vineyards set against the dramatic backdrop of the towering Groot Drakenstein mountains. On the way to Franschhoek, you’ll pass two of my favourite wine estates: Boschendal (totally breathtaking location; fabulous wine-tasting/lunches in the garden; try the intriguing Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend) and La Motte (beautiful wine-tasting hall; exquisite Merlots and Sauvignon Blancs).
Franschhoek is a small village bursting at its seams with restaurants and B&Bs. It is arguably the gourmet capital of South Africa and lies in a lush green valley surrounded by imposing mountain ranges. The food and wines here are indeed world-class!
Another beautiful drive is the Jan Phillips Mountain Drive above Paarl. It offers breathtaking vistas of Paarl and the surrounding winelands and a close-up of the giant granite domes from which Paarl derives its name.
From here, it’s a short hop back to Cape Town.
The impressions and memories from this trip will stick with you forever.
Thanks to Keith at Velvet Escape for sharing his memories with us. If you are looking to drive the Western Cape of South Africa, I hope that you will Live the Magic of Africa through the beautiful drives and villages Keith has described for us.