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Cape Town: Escapes from the City

Published 22 June 2016

Dawn Jorgensen

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 into the surrounds popular.

Here’s a look at five areas that are good for just that – the False Bay coastline, Elgin, Stellenbosch Winelands, west coast and the Overberg. 

Take to the False Bay coastline, Boulders and Cape Point

Up to an hour from the city

False Bay is the scenic body of water defined by Cape Hangklip on the east and the Cape of Good Hope on the west. Its rather odd name comes from early sailors who often mistook it for Table Bay, making their way there and in turn prolonging the journey to the true Cape.

Today however, this stretch of water is no longer avoided, but rather draws locals and tourists alike to the many seaside villages that hug the shoreline, each with their own character and natural beauty, the Cape mountains forming a perfect backdrop.

Among them is Muizenberg and Surfers Corner, which welcomes enthusiasts every day of the week and is home to numerous surf schools and long uninterrupted stretches of beach. St James, with its colourful wash houses and tidal pool, is particularly popular for young families, as is the quaint Kalk Bay harbour village which offers a variety of antique stores, coffee shops, galleries, second-hand bookstores and bohemian-style clothes and jewellery finds. Here the Brass Bell is an excellent option for lunch.

The naval base of Simonstown is next as you work your way towards the Cape Point National Park, with the option of stopping at Boulders Beach to visit an African penguin colony, en route.

Must sees at Cape Point are the original lighthouse, by footpath or funicular, while the southwesternmost tip of the continent is perfect for a photo opportunity. Here waves crash onto the rugged shore and beaches while plains game can be spotted. This is a beautiful place to pause and take in the natural beauty of the Cape. There are many shipwrecks in this area, the most famous being that of the Flying Dutchman. Be on the look out for baboons. 

For a different experience, one of the most scenic train trips on offer in the Cape is the one that runs along the False Bay Coastline, starting in Cape Town and hitting the coast at Muizenberg and taking you all the way to Simonstown. There’s something romantic and rather appealing about watching the ocean and coastal life from the train.

Explore the Elgin Valley

About an hour’s drive from the city

There’s a valley just over an hour’s drive from the city which offers myriad 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.

Farm stalls to visit include the landmark Peregrine Farm stall, which is full to the brim with fresh produce and preserves from the region. For a pizza, stop in at Brinny Breezes restaurant at Old Mac Daddy, which also offers accommodation in a collection of antique Airstream trailers that lux-up the hillside.

An incredible spot rather 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.

It’s not all wine and ladies who lunch though, Elgin Valley is a mountain bikers' dream with some of the most demanding and spectacular single tracks for professionals. Other outdoor activities in the valley include quad biking, kayaking, water-skiing, hiking and nature walks.

Eating and drinking your way around the winelands

30 minutes to an hour from the city

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 the second-oldest settlement in the country.

It’s a good place to walk, with 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. 

Take to the west coast

About an hour and a half north of the city

Too often forgotten is the more barren and real area west of Cape Town. The drive up the R27 highway offers a look at Bloubergstrand, Melkbosstrand and Yzerfontein. Blouberg undoubtedly offers 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 the Geelbek Restaurant, or continue to Langebaan and have a meal on the water’s edge.

NOTE: Wildflower season is from August to early October each year, when the West Coast Park becomes covered in a carpet of flowers.

Get to know the Overberg

About 1.5 to two hours from the city

Start up your car and head east out of Cape Town to discover one of the most scenic drives in the world, Clarens Drive. You’ll find it hard to keep your eyes on the road as your drive along the beaches of Gordon’s Bay with the inviting Rooiels, Pringle Bay, Betty’s Bay and Kleinmond. Small settlements are also 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 between June and November each year.

Also in the Overberg is Gansbaai village, which has become known as the capital of shark cage diving. It's a great attraction to visitors to the Cape, with False Bay having a very high population of these protected animals. Should you wish to partake I recommend you book with Marine Dynamics who place much emphasis on the conservation of these apex animals, rather than the thrill factor. 

You might also like:

Cape Town: An Insider Guide to the Mother City

South Africa – Hot Air Ballooning over the Magaliesberg


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