Beautiful coastlines and stunning mountains are the hallmark of the Western Cape with Cape Town as its splendid centre perched between the mountains and the sea. Heading inland quickly brings you to the winelands, with pretty villages set in picture-postcard mountain scenery. Heading east along the coast takes you along the famous Garden Route and into some of the world’s best whale-watching territory. Heading south from Cape Town is possible, but not for long before you reach the southern-most tip of the Cape Peninsula.
Cape Town has numerous attractions, the top two being Table Mountain and Robben Island, with the tiny cell where Nelson Mandela was jailed. The city also offers excellent shopping, world-class hotels and restaurants, with an intoxicating European-meets-African atmosphere to it all.
The Garden Route stretches from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth following the coastline and taking you through ancient forests, arty villages, craft centres, mountain passes and beach resorts. The trick is to go off route whenever a sign catches your eye, so you can explore attractive towns like Calitzdorp and Sedgefield, and the enormously popular holiday spots of Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Plenty of arty people from woodcarvers to chefs have based themselves along the Garden Route, so allow about four days to meander.
Fans of 4x4 driving can try the Rondegat 4x4 Trail near the town of Clanwilliam in the Cederberg Mountains. It’s only a 15km route, but it take two to three hours to complete, over rocky terrain with a number of tough climbs to test your skills. The rocks are slippery and particularly challenging after rains. At the summit, you get gorgeous views of Clanwilliam Dam and the mountain range.
An easier drive is Route 62, a tourist trail that meanders inland between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. You drive through farming towns like Calitzdorp and Ladismith, and wine towns including Montagu, Robertson, Worcester and Paarl. It’s also known as the Mountain Route and twists you through several stunning passes as well as lovely forests and vineyards. It’s great to stop wherever you fancy for some wine tasting, game viewing, museum inspecting or to refresh your legs with some hiking.
The Cape Whale Route is based around Hermanus, where you can stand on the rocks and watch southern right whales breaching in the bay just metres from the shore. Book the right hotel and you can even watch them without leaving your balcony. Hermanus hosts an annual Whale Festival and you can jump on a boat to get even closer to these magnificent beasts. The best months are from June to November. Also on the Whale Route is Stanford, a quaint country town with lovely antique shops.
Wine lovers are spoilt for choice with 18 official wine routes and two brandy routes through scenery that would be worth exploring even without the added attraction of a glass in your hand. Some of the historic estates date back centuries, like Groot Constantia, founded in 1865. You can tour some of the cellars, indulge in some of the country’s best restaurants and stay overnight so you can enjoy a tipple without worrying about the drive home. Stellenbosch Wine Route was the first to be set up in 1971. Or head to Franschhoek, which is based around a gorgeous old town with some excellent restaurants and craft shops.
Even further south than Cape Town is Cape Point, where you reach a lighthouse after driving or hiking through Cape Point Nature Reserve. The reserve is part of the Cape Floral Kingdom and a Unesco World Heritage Site with 1 100 indigenous plants, many of which are unique to this area.