The splendours of the Western Cape lie not only in its world-class vineyards, stunning beaches and mountains, but also in lesser-known regions, such as the wide-open spaces of the Karoo, the many nature reserves and the wilderness areas. Make sure you get out into these wild, less-visited areas for birdwatching and wildlife adventure, as well as pure relaxation under vast skies.
The Western Cape offers a huge range of activities, from sedate endeavours such as wine tasting and scenic drives to more hair-raising encounters such as skydiving and rock climbing.
The diverse mix of cultures in the region also begs to be explored. Khoe-San rock art is at its best in the Cederberg mountains, and there are some fine opportunities to learn about the fascinating culture of the Xhosa people.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Western Cape.
This 2.5-sq-km wine and fruit farm is on the north slope of the Simonsberg mountain between Klapmuts and Paarl. Its highlight is an 800-sq-metre, formally designed garden; inspired by Cape Town’s Company’s Garden, it is an incredible undertaking, featuring edible and medicinal plants, lotus ponds and espaliered quince trees, chicken coops and a maze of prickly-pear cacti. Reserve a place on one of the garden tours (10am).
There’s enough to keep you occupied for a full day at this vast estate just west of Franschhoek. As well as tastings of the superb shiraz range, wine-pairing lunches and dinners are served at the Pierneef à la Motte restaurant. The restaurant is named for South African artist Jacob Hendrik Pierneef and a collection of his work is on show at the on-site museum.
This is a quintessential Winelands estate, with lovely architecture, food and wine. Tasting options include bubbly, brandy or wine and chocolate pairing. There are excellent vineyard and cellar tours; booking is essential.
Spice Route is known for its complex red wines, particularly the Flagship syrah. Aside from wine there is a lot going on, including glass-blowing demonstrations, wine and charcuterie pairings (R85), a chocolatier (tutored tasting R35), grappa distillery and a superlative microbrewery (tastings R35). As well as the upmarket restaurant headed by celebrity chef Bertus Basson (mains R140 to R215), there is a pizzeria (mains R70 to R150).
Spier has some excellent shiraz, cabernet and red blends, though a visit to this vast winery is less about wine and more about the other activities available. There are superb birds-of-prey displays (adult/child R75/65), Segway tours through the vines, three restaurants, and picnics to enjoy in the grounds. Look out for special events in the summer months, including open-air cinema evenings and live entertainment.
As you drive, bike or hike through the bizarre-shaped, weathered-sandstone formations, glowing ochre in the fabulous Cederberg light, you'd be forgiven for whistling the soundtrack to an old Western movie. The 830-sq-km wilderness area boasts San rock art, craggy mountains, clear streams and bumpy dirt roads perfect for 4WD fanatics. The peaks and valleys extend roughly north–south for 100km, with the highest point reaching 2027m.
The main attraction in the Swartberg Nature Reserve is Gamkaskloof, a narrow valley better known as Die Hel. One of the most remote settlements in the country, Die Hel is reached by a vertiginous dirt road that is best tackled in a 4WD. On arrival you'll find a tearoom, small museum and self-catering accommodation. Elsewhere in the reserve, there are excellent hiking and mountain biking trails and plenty of birdwatching possibilities.
This quiet spot in a gracious old homestead serves delectable, organically made wines. The formal tasting takes around an hour, or you can join a two-hour eco-safari through the vineyards on the back of a tractor, which culminates in a tasting. The restaurant, Faber (mains R160 to R220), is one of the Winelands' best, with dishes like roasted springbok loin, truffled leeks and sourdough bread-and-butter pudding.
The stunning contemporary architecture here is a fine contrast to the familiar Cape Dutch buildings at older estates. The estate specialises in biodynamic wines and ecofriendly farming methods – take a two-hour guided walk (10am and 4.30pm, R710 with two-course lunch/dinner) around the estate to learn more. Horse riding (R750 with lunch) is also offered, and if you’re feeling particularly flush you could fly in from Cape Town by helicopter (R11,250 per person with six-course meal).