Cape Town. – It’s no secret that Cape Town offers endless things to see and do, as well as places to eat, play and shop. It’s a vibrant city worthy of time and appreciation as you uncover the lesser known facts, history and neighborhoods that give it character.
Yet over and above this, it also offers diverse and convenient getaway options, making escapist weekends to learn more about the diverse surroundings both popular and accessible.
Here are five of my best and most indulgent Escapes from the City:
1. Stellenbosch Winelands
The Stellenbosch region offers endless sights and activities for the foodie, nature lover and wine enthusiast, while the town itself allows you to meet locals and learn the history while taking in the Afrikaans infused alfresco café culture of this, the second oldest settlement in the country.
It’s a good place to walk with a routes mapped out to offer insight into the listed buildings, galleries and museums. There’s also the famous Stellenbosch University campus, bookstores and libraries and my favorite, the rather tucked away Stellenbosch Botanical Garden.
In the heart of it all is the De Oude Bank Bakkerij, a bakery and casual dining spot that is sure to make you feel like you’ve been let in to a closely guarded secret. On the R44 between Stellenbosch and Somerset West is a landmark farm stall known for its pick your own strawberry fields and legion of truly amazing ‘scarecrows’. Next door the Root44 market which springs to life every Saturday and Sunday.
Accommodation – Majeka House.
Located in ‘Paradyskloof on the outskirts of the historic town Stellenbosch and within easy reach of renowned vineyards and award-winning restaurants, interesting shops, galleries, museums and the town’s alfresco café culture.
Stepping into the garden brings varied shades of green and blue. Umbrellas over loungers offer shade to those wanting to escape the Summer sun. There is a gentle migration to the large heated indoor pool where laps and time in the Jacuzzi are inevitable, while the adjacent Spa quietly holds its clients for beauty and body treatments.
There are nineteen rooms; twelve premier, two poolside, three garden view and two mountain-view rooms all found clustered in different parts of the large property. Each room is individually styled to perfection, some with private plunge pools.
Dinner is enjoyed in Makaron where Chef Tanja Kruger brings a creative flair to her seasonal menu with fresh, modern cuisine grounded in French influence. The dining room is airy, open and contemporary in style and the breakfast served here each morning is probably the best in all the land.
More on their website.
Spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches, with Cape Town the pinnacle from which we explore, you can choose to go East. What you will discover is one of the most scenic drives in the world. Clarens Drive, which connect Gordon’s Bay with the inviting Rooiels, Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond. Small settlements gaining momentum in their offerings as they draw ever more interesting people from the urban edge to a quieter life.
Further along, about 90 minutes from Cape Town, is Hermanus. A town that has built a reputation for having the best shore based whale watching in the world, season is between June and November each year. With a rocky coast that offers an elevated look at the South Right Whales that frequent our waters each year. There is the option of quadbiking and even Shark Cage Diving with Marine Dynamics off Gansbaai and the Stanford village deserves a long linger.
Accommodation – Grootbos Private Nature Reserve.
Situated in the Overberg between Stanford and Gansbaai, the 2500ha Grootbos Private Nature Reserve boasts a remarkable 765 plant species, abundant birdlife and resident antelope. It’s a place where mountains roll across sand dunes into the ocean. Hiking trails take you through ancient milkwood forests and 4×4 safaris bring you ever-rejuvenating fields of fynbos – Cape vegetation. Here the sea breeze cools the air as it blows over a bay, there are coastal caves to explore and horses to ride.
Garden Lodge was the first lodge to open at Grootbos and is warm and child friendly. The private stone suites open onto wooden decks with uninterrupted views towards Walker Bay. There is a games room off reception with numerous activities to enjoy, most with a connection to nature. A petting farm, outdoor play area and pool provide all the delights you and your family could desire.
Forest Lodge on the other hand is the epitome of contemporary sophistication, from the chic rim flow pool to wooden rafters, it’s design embraces the surrounds. There are areas to be quiet in, counters for drinks and chats, a Champagne Bar, in and outdoor dining. Suites have comfy bedrooms, large lounges, wooden decks and outdoor showers. Here is an escape to romance.
The Villa stands alone and can host up to 12 guests in its six suites. Offering the flexibility of your own private guide, chef and butler in this generously appointed space with one of the best private South African art collections you could find. Sheer luxury.
The restaurants offer a feast of Grootbos flavours with the vegetables, herbs and eggs produced on the reserve. Breakfast is an indulgent feast, lunch a casual tasty treat and dinner a 6-course celebration.
Activities on the reserve include lingering at the pool, guided and self-guided walks through the milkwood forests and reserve, flower safaris into the magnificent fynbos, beach picnics and pampering treatments at the Bloom Forest Spa. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try horse riding through the reserve or for the more advanced, on the beach.
The Grootbos magic extends beyond this to the education and enhancement of the community as well as conservation of its fauna and flora with the Grootbos Foundation and it’s Green Futures, Growing the Future, Future Trees and Spaces for Sport projects. I strongly recommend a guided tour to learn more.
There are caves to explore, horseriding, boat trips, 4×4 flower safaris, walking trails and beaches to walk on, taking a closer look at life in the rock pools.In the rather undiscovered Hemel-en-Aarde valley, up on a ridge is a piece of paradise that combines the rich gifts of nature and unique terroir. Here the dedicated team of Creation wines work to create their award winning offerings. I’d recommend that you book their Food and Wine pairing, it’s sensational.
More on their website.
3. West Coast
The West Coast starts just a short drive up the R27 highway and offers a look at Bloubergstrand, Melkbosstrand and Yzerfontein. Blouberg undoubtedly boasting the best views towards Table Mountain.
Heading further North, the West Coast National Park with its 16-mile beach, tranquil lagoon and game viewing is the perfect place to spend a day. Actually you can book lunch at Geelbeck Restaurant, or continue to Langebaan and have a meal on the water’s edge.
Accommodation – Abalone House
The too often forgotten stretch of coastline is barren, beautiful and completely unspoilt. Here in the fisherman’s village Paternoster, you find the five-star Abalone House Boutique Guesthouse that effortlessly blends old world elegance with style.
Paternoster has its own distinctive beauty with white beaches, rocky outcrops and blue waters of the Atlantic. Whitewashed fishermen’s houses with blue shutters, colourful fishing boats scattered on the beach and boat masts blowing in the breeze create an idyllic setting for this unique Guesthouse.
Among all this Abalone House unashamedly offers opulent beachside living, where extravagance and guest comforts take precedence. Set amid indigenous gardens, an air of quirky decadence pervades this sophisticated haven with its ten luxurious suites.
The outside areas of Abalone House have their own seaside appeal, with wooden walkways and decking, comfortable wicker furniture, umbrellas and potted plants. There’s even a Jacuzzi on the rooftop deck with its uninterrupted views of the beaches of Paternoster, it’s the perfect spot to enjoy sundowners or a midnight dip.
Cuisine takes priority in this setting and well-known South African Chef Reuben Riffel caters for you in Reubens’ Restaurant. He grew up with a fond love for this coast, which has always drawn him back. The menu is ever changing, though he does keep some signature dishes.
Healing Earth Spa offers treatments using indigenous ingredients such as Marula and Kalahari Melon, as well as the Pinotage Grape range. It is a perfect setting to combine relaxing with pampering in.
More on their website.
NOTE: Wild flower season is from August to early October each year with the West Coast Park becomes covered in a carpet of flowers.
4. Elgin Valley
There’s a valley just over an hour’s drive from the city which offers a myriad of attractions, cool climate wines, Charles Fox the country’s only MCC Estate and endless views across apple orchards and vineyard covered hills. Here is a lesser-known place for nature lovers to escape to.
Farm stalls to visit include the landmark Peregrine Farmstall, which is stocked to the brim with fresh produce and preserves from the region. Belfied Wine Estate, just behind Peregrine is home to a couple of beautifully appointed self-catering cottages, as well as a trio of award winning wines. This idyllic piece of land has been in the Kreft family’s care for ten years, during which time old buildings have been renovated, a vineyard nurtured to full production and a perfect garden grown.
Another incredible spot rather more tucked away is South Hill Wines with their generous natural beauty and welcoming warmth. The Gallery Restaurant, which bursts with local art, is a good spot for a long leisurely lunch with a group of friends.
Let’s not forget that this is apple country and a visit would be incomplete without a craft cider. Look to Everson Cider for a tour and tasting.
Accommodation – Old Mac Daddy
At Old Mac Daddy you find a collection of antique Airstream trailers that lux-up the hillside, offering the most charmed and comfortable accommodation with meals served in the Brinny Breezes Restaurant.
Each trailer is decorated in its own individual style as allocated to a Cape Town designer, from Mills and Boons to Yellow Submarine. All have wooden decks and spacious lounges and are connected by a walkway through the tall trees. Daddy’s Villa, a three-bedroom house that can be booked as either catered or self-catering is spacious with an outdoor bath.
The whole area begs for long walks, time on the deck reading and lingering conversation.
More on their website.
5. Franschhoek Winelands
In Franschhoek don’t miss a chance to walk the village, do some shopping and taste the Huguenot Chocolates. Visit the Moeder Kerk and Huguenot Monument and Museum for some background on this village with it’s strong French connection. You’d do well to take in a movie at the Screening Room at Le Quartier Francais too.
Excellent wine is coming out of Haut Espoir, a delicious bubbly at Allee Bleue who have a wonderful Bistro and at the entrance to Franschhoek is Maison Estate, which is dedicated to the pursuit of producing fine wines, making delicious food and appreciating great design. This is all immediately evident as you step through the door. Other dining options include Ryan’s Kitchen and Haute Cabriere.
Accommodation – Babylonstoren Farm
Located between Franschhoek and Paarl in the Cape Winelands and about 60km from Cape Town, Babylonstoren Farm offers one of the oldest and best-preserved examples of a traditional Cape Dutch farm yard. The classic Manor House dates back to 1777 and there are numerous buildings from the 1690’s when the farm was originally settled. A pair of donkeys and a collection of rather tame and happy turkeys, ducks and chicks now call this area home.
At the heart of the property is their edible garden with over 350 fruit and vegetable trees, herbs and heritage plants, paying tribute to the traditions of the Cape. Furrows bring water from the Berg River and burnt orange reservoirs serve to breed fish, whilst reflecting the surrounding Drakenstein Mountains in the afternoon sun. On a garden tour with Gundula and her dog Doring, you’ll learn about the philosophy behind the food garden and might catch a glimpse of Head Chef Cornelle Minie filling her basket with herbs.
Babel Restaurant is the best place to taste some of these offerings. An absolute triumph in a converted cowshed with an open kitchen and the menu scribbled on the wall. There is a fresh menu daily, organised by seasonal colours and influence, be it beef or smoked trout with generous portions of homegrown veg.
For something more relaxed look to the Greenhouse, situated under oak trees at the back of the garden, with a collection of tables inside and outside the conservatory. Offering lighter meals, here you can construct your own sandwich and dream up your own tea from an offering of freshly picked herbs.
The accommodation takes the form of eight en-suite one bedroom and four en-suite two bedroom guest rooms in converted labourers cottages. On opening the door you will find that a light, soft white and utterly inviting room awaits you. The bathrooms are large with claw-footed bath and shower, double vanities and a slim wrap around window. Effortless luxury.
The Garden Spa is situated near the large farm style pool, the treatment rooms and new Turkish Hamman offering an array of treat options.
There’s much to do at Babylonstoren, or you can just relax into the gentle pace of it, savouring the experience with all of your senses.
More on their website.
Read more about the Winter Specials in FransHHoek here.
Wherever you select go, or in whichever order, the best part is that the relaxation and spoils of the destination will not be undone by the length of the journey.
Yes – #HelloWeekend – whenever in the week we decide to take it. Grab your camera, pack a bag and go and explore one of these places I so warmly recommended.
A version of this article appeared on the Round The World Experts blog, here.
NOTE: Abalone House pics supplied by Manley Communications.