Cape Town may take
second place to Johannesburg as South Africa’s most populous city, but it
easily entices more visitors each year than any other African city (more than 1.5
million) with warm beaches, excellent shopping and unique Cape Dutch
architecture. When the torrents of tourists becomes too much to compete with
however, four easy escapes are all less than three hours away.
About 50km east of Cape Town, the
Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek valleys make up the Cape Winelands, a
significant portion of South Africa’s wine industry. The region makes for prime
cycling country thanks to paved bike paths and numerous secondary roads free of
city traffic, while the mountain surroundings and unique Cape-Dutch homesteads
(marked by the prominent central dormer gable of the buildings) provide
Make stops at Stellenbosch’s
Neethlingshof Wine Estate, with
its 13 different terroirs and grand manor house, and Spier, one of the oldest wine farms in South
Africa, dating back to 1692. At each, try South Africa’s signature varietal,
the pinotage – a deep red with smoky and earthy tones – along with other wines
that grow well in the Mediterranean-like climate, including merlot, malbec and
sauvignon blanc. Also make time to sample some of the excellent
craft beers produced in the region.
With good wine
comes good food, of course, and this region claims the title of South Africa’s
culinary capital. Head to the French Protestant-settled town of Franschooek for
lunch or dinner, and dine one on of the always-changing entrees at the rustic Café des Arts; homemade charcuterie at
Bread and Wine; or
Dutch-style crepe pancakes on the patio at Gideon’s.
AWOL Tours and Bikes ‘N’ Wines provide transportation by car or train from Cape Town to Stellenbosch,
with cycling in the region. Day trips start at 495 rand per person, including
transport, bike rental and wine tastings.
Atlantic Rail is far from a
typical train journey. In fact, the day trip can feel like stepping back in
time as the steam engine shuttles passengers in coaches dating from 1922. The tracks
run south from Cape Town through the rugged Cape Peninsula,
with fantastic views of the ocean and small trackside villages.
trip ends in Simon’s Town, located on False Bay on the eastern side of the
peninsula, letting visitors disembark for a three-hour visit to the quaint bay
town. Join a scenic walk
to take in some of the area’s history, including the grave of Just
Nuisance, the only dog to ever be officially enlisted in the Royal Navy.
The great dane, who frequently followed sailors on the train during the 1940s, earned
the honour after railway officials threatened to put him down if his fare was
not paid. Since naval officers were entitled to travel for free, sailors and
locals successfully petitioned the Navy to accept him into their ranks.
The town is also
home to a number of museums including the Submarine Museum,
where visitors can board a 1970s submarine, and the quirky Warrior Toy Museum (St George’s Street; 021-786-1395) with 4,000 model cars and 500 teddy bears and
Atlantic Rail departs once a fortnight and only holds
170 passengers, so book early to ensure a spot. Tickets cost 220 rand for
adults and 150 rand for children. If reservations are sold out, the Metrorail also offers regular service to Simon’s Town.
The sleepy fishing village of Lambert’s Bay earned its nickname, the “diamond
of the West Coast”, from its laidback coastal culture and from the boats that
scrape the bottom of the bay daily in search of the precious gems.
The village, located
about 250km north of Cape Town, comes alive from August to October when local fields
are covered in white daisies, blue flax and orange and yellow stinkkrud. Southern
right whales also come to visit Lambert’s Bay during this period, and visitors
can charter a tour with Lambert’s
Bay Boat Charter to see them up close.
If you are
visiting any other time of year, this village is the prime seafood spot on
South Africa’s west coast. Try the famous crayfish and a rare, oily perch-like
fish known as snoek at the outdoor restaurant Muisbosskerm, named one of the Top
10 Sea Views To Dine For by National Geographic. Make reservations in
advance, as the restaurant only opens for dinner once 15 people have booked.
Budget, Hertz and Avis offer rental cars
from the airport. From there, follow the N7 national route north to Lambert’s
A two-and-a-half hour flight will land you in Botswana’s Kalahari Desert, a
dramatic change from Cape Town’s coastal scenery. But even more spectacular is
the region’s Okavango Delta, an
oasis in middle of the desert that feeds all kinds of life, including 122
unique species of mammals and 444 recorded bird species.
See the wildlife
up close with a ride on a
traditional mokoro boat, a narrow
dug-out canoe made from sausage or jackal berry trees and steered by a guide
with a long wooden pole. The boat tours, either quick day trips or longer
excursions that involve camping, often include areas where visitors can
disembark for game-viewing walks.
Though most visit
Botswana for the wildlife, the country also has many traditional villages worth
exploring. Take a tour
to Sixaxa, a village about 30 minutes from the main northern town of Maun, to meet
the members of the Bayei tribe and learn about their traditional hunting
methods, basket-weaving techniques, and music and dance traditions.
Air Botswana has daily nonstop flights to Maun from Cape Town. The Old Bridge Backpackers
offers one- to four-night Mokoro cruises starting at 690 Botswana pula, and Bush Travellers Safaris runs
cultural day trips to nearby villages.