In South Africa’s Western Cape, Table Mountain stands tall above everything else, literally and figuratively. You’ll find this 3.2km/2mi-long flat-topped mountain just to the south of Cape Town. It watches over the Mother City year-in, year-out, rewarding those individuals who ride the cable car or brave the hike up to its 1,086m/3,562ft peak with astounding views that capture the majesty of the Western Cape. It’s a marvel and an omnipresent reminder that natural beauty is always in sight in this region of South Africa.
The Western Cape stretches from the deserts of the northwest to the Cape of Good Hope in the south and all the way to the end of the Garden Route in the east. Cape Town is the natural starting point. Easily reached by international airlines and boasting unmatched cultural diversity, Cape Town consistently ranks as one of the top cities to visit in the world. Travellers who stroll along the V&A Waterfront will enjoy views of the Atlantic and a sampling of the city’s best-dressed influencers, who’ve all come to appreciate the views and the enviable array of award-winning restaurants, shops, art exhibitions, and hotels. It’s also the spot to catch the ferry to Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years during his heroic long walk to freedom.
To the north lie the heritage fishing villages, quirky towns, and abundant spring flowers of the West Coast. Travellers who reach as far as Paternoster will have the chance to dine at one of the world’s best restaurants, Wolfgat, which serves seven-course meals inspired by the landscape. Follow the coastline south past the shadow of Table Mountain to discover the Cape Peninsula, the most south-westerly point of the African continent. Chacma baboons live along the hillside while African penguins waddle along the sand at Boulders Beach. Golden mountains give way to deep-blue waters. Wineries line the path back to the city, including Groot Constantia, the nation’s oldest wine farm, first established in 1685. South African wines might be New World wines according to international standards, but these vintages are anything but “new.”
Travellers who follow the line of blue-tinged mountains east of Cape Town for an hour will discover the picturesque towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, two of the nation’s 17 official wine routes. Mountains provide the ever-present backdrop to abundant vineyards. Two nights is the minimum to experience a taste of the gourmet food and excellent wines that await travellers here—my personal favourite is the dry crispness of Chenin Blanc.
Further southeast lies Hermanus, the port town that’s the world’s premiere base for whale watching. Between June and November, migrating Southern Right, Humpback, and Bryde’s whales fill the waters offshore to the delight of locals and visitors alike.
Continue to the eastern edge of the Western Cape and you’ll reach the Garden Route, home to some of the nation’s oldest forests as well as inlets and bays that provide endless active adventure opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Knysna is an ideal coastal stop along the route, while Oudtshoorn delights with the presence of ostriches. It is named the Ostrich capital of the world, after all.
To the north, the wide open spaces of Cape Karoo allows travellers to escape the pace of city life and enjoy magical sunsets and clear, starry nights. The area abounds with game reserves, as well as charming towns, such as Prince Albert, a burgeoning foodie haven, and tiny Matjiesfontein, a 19th-century town seemingly untouched by time.
There are experiences for all interests in the Western Cape, but it’s the natural beauty that unites them all and invites visitors to “get in a good space.” Follow the coast west and a world of majesty awaits.
This article was originally published in Vol. 30 of Globetrotting Magazine.
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