The Best Little Towns in The Cape for a Weekend Break November 5th, 2018
The Best Little Towns in The Cape for a Weekend Break
Rediscover the Cape’s less well-known towns.
Why follow the hordes to Hermanus? The Cape has some less famous towns brimming with history-rich character, quaint guesthouses, and interesting places to eat. You might want to start planning your winter holiday now…
You have to venture deep into the West Coast National Park to even reach this village, which lies beside a quiet lagoon surrounded by pristine white-sand beaches. Most of the cottages here don’t have electricity or running water, and the village doesn’t show up on most maps. It even makes nearby Kraalbaai look “too touristy”. The area around the lagoon is populated by ostriches and flamingos, and the occasional whale or dolphin can be sighted from shore.
Don’t miss Postberg Flower Reserve during August and September, when it bursts into a vibrant bouquet of daisies, sporries and other spring flowers.
Fun fact A set of fossilised female footprints were discovered on the shore of the Langebaan Lagoon in 1995. They are believed to be 117 000 years old, making them the oldest known footprints belonging to an anatomically modern human. They are referred to as “Eve’s footprints”’, which is appropriate since the West Coast National Park feels like it could well be the Garden of Eden.
Where to stay For the authentic Churchhaven experience, you’ll want to stay in one of the secluded beach cottages that have been made available for holiday hire, such as Whaler’s Way, which has a veranda right on the sandy shore and the obligatory hammock!
Where to eat The ocean, of course! Catch some fish and stick them on the fire, just like our hunter-gatherer ancestors used to do. Other than that, there are a few options in nearby Langebaan, such as Die Strandloper for fresh seafood and koeksisters.
Distance from Cape Town 1.5 hours
Nestled at the foot of the Cederberg mountains in the Olifants River Valley, this town is famous for the citrus fruit grown here, and natural hot springs. It’s also part of the West Coast Flower and Rock Art Route, which means amazing flower and ancient rock-art displays. Wine tasting, hiking, mountain biking, paintballing, horse riding, bird watching and paragliding are other activities to enjoy.
Don’t miss Citrusdal Organic Market, held every Saturday, for some fresh Citrusdal produce and local cuisine.
Fun fact SA’s oldest orange tree – over 160 years old and still bearing fruit – is found on Hex Rivier Farm. It’s even been declared a national monument – the tree, not the farm!
Where to stay Situated on a local citrus farm, the Baths Natural Hot Springs Resort has been a self-catering resort since 1739 and, although it has evolved over the years, it has never lost its Victorian charm and still promotes peaceful outdoor living with its relaxed atmosphere.
Where to eat Hebron Guesthouse and Restaurant is a quality eatery that believes in serving fine food, prepared using fresh ingredients and homemade, organic produce. Don’t miss their gourmet pizzas, delicious breakfasts/lunches or Tant Dollie farm stall offerings.
Distance from Cape Town Around 2 hours
Surrounded by rolling green meadows and flower beds, this West Coast town bursts into a bouquet of colours every spring when wildflower season comes around, but it’s worth visiting any time of year for its many cultural attractions as well as its beauty. Founded on Langfontein Farm in 1853, it has grown into a notable wine destination, and the location for some popular festivals and events, including the Darling Wildflower Show and the Groote Post Country Market. It’s also home to Evita se Perron, Pieter-Dirk Uys’ cabaret dining theatre.
Don’t miss the !Khwa ttu San Culture & Education Centre, where qualified San guides provide insight into the language, culture and survival skills of the ancient San people.
Fun fact The Darling airfield played a vital role in combating German U-boats operating off the West Coast during World War II.
Where to stay Darling Lodge Guest House is a charming Victorian country home offering elegant accommodation, while !Khwa ttu provides a unique glamping experience.
Where to eat Evita se Perron is a cabaret dining theatre where famous South African artist Pieter-Dirk Uys regularly entertains guests with cutting political satire. Try Marmalade Cat or Chicory Cheese Café for laid-back country-style breakfasts and lunches.
Distance from Cape Town 1.5 hours
This sleepy fishing village, surrounded by pristine white-sand beaches and inhabited by diverse wildlife, is a surfer’s paradise. Despite offering some of the best swimming in the Cape, it’s not on any tourists’ to-do lists. (Fist pump!) Further inland you’ll find caves with enchanting rock art, the work of the Bushmen who wandered this land for thousands of years.
Don’t miss Baboon Point, recently declared a provincial heritage site, is distinctive for the way in which the mountain cuts into the ocean. It’s the only place in Africa where rock art has been discovered so close to the coast. Bird-watching enthusiasts will want to explore the Verlorenvlei wetlands, home to over 189 bird species including around 75 waterbirds. Please note: Water levels in the vlei have been affected by the drought.
Fun fact The San people weren’t the only ones to recognise the geographical value of Baboon Point. The coastal cliff was also the location of a secret World War II radar station, the remains of which can still be found at the foot of the cliff face.
Where to stay There’s only one hotel in this town, the Elands Bay Hotel, but we can’t vouch for its accommodation. There’s no shortage of holiday apartments and self-catering cottages near the beach. Or try Vensterklip for camping accommodation with excellent facilities.
Where to eat Witmosselpot Restaurant is a classic beach bar, and a popular spot for surfers looking for a cold beer after a day in the waves. The mussel pot is its signature dish but it also does hamburgers, salads and fish and chips. A bit further, on the road between Dwarskersbos and Elands Bay, you’ll find Draaihoek Restaurant and Lodge, where you can enjoy satisfying dishes and fine wines.
Distance from Cape Town Around 2 hours 20 mins
This authentic fishing village, with rows of whitewashed fishermen’s cottages, and an old dock where boats still pull up every day to deliver fresh hauls, is a West Coast gem. With such easy access to quality seafood, it’s no wonder Paternoster is fast becoming a favoured destination for top chefs looking to start new projects. But there’s more to this place than fresh kreef (that’s crayfish for the non-locals). A wealth of bird life abounds, and whales and dolphins can be sighted from the shore.
Don’t miss Paternoster’s main attractions include beach walks by day (if the wind’s not howling) and dining on fresh seafood at night. Browse for bric-a-brac at Die Winkel op Paternoster, behind which you’ll find Oep ve Koep, chef Kobus van der Merwe’s award-winning restaurant. Nature lovers should definitely spend a day or two exploring the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve, a vast stretch of beautiful coastline with plenty of secluded beaches and hidden coves.
Fun fact The Cape Columbine lighthouse was built in 1936 and is still manned to this day, the last of its kind in the country. Its light is a welcome sign to ships approaching from Europe.
Where to stay The Strandloper Ocean Boutique Hotel boasts five-star luxury accommodation and splendid ocean views. Alternatively, La Baleine Beach House Collection is the perfect secluded getaway, providing self-catering accommodation and braai facilities. Then there’s the warm hospitality of the Farr Out Guesthouse, which is immersed in West Coast wilderness a few minutes drive from Paternoster.
Where to eat Wolfgat is one of the go-to food spots in town, brought to you by master forager and award-winning chef Kobus van der Merwe (who named his eatery after the nearby Wolfgat cave). Then there’s Leeto, brought to you by Garth Almazan (ex Catharina’s at Steenberg), whose location alone is worth the trip, with the white-sand beach and turquoise ocean at its doorstep. Add Reuben’s at Abalone House to this impressive selection of eateries, and it’s clear this small fishing town has been reeling in a lot of big fish – step aside Franschhoek!
Distance from Cape Town Around 1 hour 45 minutes
It’s not hard to see why intrepid explorer Jan van Riebeeck was so taken with this scenic vista in the shadow of the Kasteelberg Mountain, where vineyards and olive groves thrive.
Don’t miss A trip to the Olive Boutique where you can sample a range of products, and be entertained by owners Derek and Sue’s knowledge and passion for olive growing.
Fun fact South African statesman Jan Smuts was born in a cottage on Ongegund Farm in Riebeek-Kasteel in 1870. His birthplace has been converted into a museum that includes photographs of his family.
Where to stay Try the Royal Hotel for a taste of the colonial gentleman’s life, or the Victorian Cow for a more romantic setting.
Where to eat Mama Cucina for some traditional Italian food, including some of the best pizza around. Beans About Coffee is a charming breakfast spot serving freshly roasted java, and The Royal Hotel restaurant offers fine dining and some great specials, including half-price on G&Ts.
Distance from Cape Town Around 1 hour 15 mins
Caught between the lush Overberg on one side, and the desert-like Klein Karoo on the other, Barrydale started out as a farmer’s settlement, and grew into a thriving town thanks to the fertile conditions of the valley. Fruit farms and orchards are sprinkled throughout, a testament to the excellent judgement of the farmers who chose to settle here.
Don’t miss the town’s impressive collection of arts and craft stores, including Barrydale Hand Weavers (maker of hand-woven rugs) and Hardy’s Memories (purveyor of interesting trinkets from all over Africa).
Fun fact The Tradouw Pass (“Women’s Path” in the old Khoi language), which connects Barrydale and Swellendam, was built by a group of convicts under the supervision of famous South African road engineer Thomas Bain, and is considered a masterpiece of engineering.
Where to stay Try the Blue Cow Barn for an authentic farmhouse getaway. If you don’t mind travelling further afield, Sanbona Wildlife Reserve offers luxurious accommodation on a malaria-free game reserve and is close enough to serve as a base for exploring Barrydale and surrounds.
Where to eat Head over to Barrydale Cellar for some brandy tasting, and try the wood-fired pizzas at its restaurant. There’s also the Mez Karoo Kitchen for Mediterranean Tapas, the Blue Cow coffee shop, and a host of other eateries.
Distance from Cape Town 3.5 hours
Situated close to the Meiringspoort Pass (a gateway through the Swartberg mountain range, which separates the Klein Karoo from the Great Karoo), De Rust is a charming village where ostriches and Victorian architecture abound. The rolling hills and majestic mountain ranges that surround it provide ample inspiration for the many artists and sculptors who have made their home here.
Don’t miss The Meiringspoort Waterfall is around 60 metres high and drops down into a crystal-clear pool. This mountain oasis is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as being a popular picnic spot.
Fun fact German-born South African physician Henrik Oldenland collected the wild geranium (Pelargonium zonale) plant species in this region in 1689 and sent samples back to Europe where they were cultivated by the Duchess of Beaufort. The species would end up being the parent plant for the successful geranium industry in Europe and America.
Where to stay The tranquil Housemartin Guest Lodge offers comfortable lodgings and warm hospitality, or try Meijer’s Rust for a secluded farmhouse getaway.
Where to eat The Village Trading Post for wholesome food and a unique ambience; Ray’s Coffee Shop for cheesecake; and Herrie’s for pizza, hamburgers and good ol’ country-style breakfasts.
Distance from Cape Town 5 hours
This tiny colonial resort town on the fringe of the Karoo is characterised by exquisite Victorian buildings and lamp posts, and the railway track passing through it (a stop-over point for the Blue Train and Rovos Rail). Founded in 1884, Matjiesfontein was declared a national heritage site in 1975.
Don’t miss The Futtom Fluffy bus tour, courtesy of Johnnie, the tophat- and bowtie-bedecked tour guide/piano player/general entertainer. The 10-minute ride (“the shortest in SA”) passes all the major landmarks – the transport museum, courthouse and jail, coffee shop, post office and fire station, with its vintage fire engine – after which Johnnie declares the tour over, and the pub open!
Fun fact Olive Schreiner wrote The Story of An African Farm while she was living in Matjiesfontein.
Where to stay The inimitably charming Lord Milner Hotel. Time has stood still at this bastion of Victoriana that opened in 1899. And despite a caring refurbishment by the McGrath group in 2011, her (faded) colonial grandeur remains intact – which might have something to do with staff’s fantastically eccentric Victorian-era kit (think bonnets and bellhop hats). The pool feels like a scene straight out of The Grand Budapest Hotel meets Bagdad Café, with its vintage wrought-iron furniture, a lone windmill and overgrown (Karoo) garden in the background.
Where to eat The food in the hotel’s Dining Room is superb; the fishcakes are particularly delicious, and so is the Karoo lamb. The coffee shop down the main drag serves locally produced sandwiches and salads, and its adjoining farmstall stocks homemade treats such as pomegranate syrup, kweperkonfyt and rusks.
Distance from Cape Town Around 2 hours 35 minutes
This town stands on the edge of the vast expanse that is the Great Karoo, serving as a gateway to that silent and mysterious region. The collection of Cape Dutch, Victorian and Karoo-style buildings in the midst of the desert-like landscape appears like an island in a vast ocean when approached from a distance, but despite the remoteness and arid terrain of this region, Prince Albert managed to grow from a resilient farming settlement into a prosperous town (aided by water collected from the Swartberg Mountains).
Don’t miss the Dutch Reformed Church (established in 1865) – it’s kind of hard to miss, looming over the town as it does. But whether it’s Albert’s Mill, where flour was milled for over 100 years, or the Fransie Pienaar Museum, where a book sent to the village in 1867 by Queen Victoria (containing speeches by the town’s namesake, Prince Albert) is on display, there’s no shortage of historical and cultural attractions in this village.
Fun fact Prince Albert enjoyed a miniature gold rush in the late 19th century when a gold nugget was discovered on the Kleinwaterval Farm. Unfortunately (or perhaps, fortunately), there turned out to be less gold than was hoped for, so the crowds moved on, and the town was restored to its former state of peace and quiet.
Where to stay Weltevrede Fig & Guest Farm has four comfortable guest houses, stocked with firewood and equipped with paraffin lamps, geysers, braai facilities and a gas stove (no electricity). The farm makes for a cosy winter getaway.
Where to eat Gay’s Guernsey Dairy, which produces wholesome milk, cheese and yoghurt. The Gallery Café, where you can browse a collection of works by a variety of South African artists. Try the homely Karoo Kombuis for traditional dishes such as bobotie, chicken pie and malva pudding.
Distance from Cape Town 4 hours
Relatively close to Ceres (aka the deciduous fruit and snowfall epicentre), De Doorns is blessed to exist in the breathtakingly beautiful Hex River Valley, surrounded by the impressive Matroosberg. It’s well-known for its export-quality grapes, picture-postcard autumn colours and, in winter, snow-capped mountains, which even allow for skiing and snowboarding.
Don’t miss The Hex River Pass and Ski Resort Matroosberg.
Fun fact De Doorns was once known as the “thorns of the upper Hex River”.
Where to stay Relax at the tranquil Aan De Doorns Guest House. Surrounded by majestic Cape mountains and vineyards, it offers heritage hospitality and lovely farm accommodation in a truly beautiful setting.
Where to eat With its wide assortment of tasty preserves and fresh produce, Die Veldskoen Country Store and Restaurant is a popular stopover spot. Try its signature toasted ciabatta with pan-fried chicken breast, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil pesto and a cheesy mushroom sauce.
Distance from Cape Town Around 1 hour 36 minutes
This quaint Klein Karoo town on Route 62 is best known for its fruit and wine farms, muscadel, dried fruit, charming Cape Dutch buildings and museums, the Cogmanskloof Pass and, of course, its enviable hot springs. Enjoy tractor trips, garden and mountain walks, rock climbing at Legoland and even bird-watching at Leiwater Dam.
Don’t miss Montagu Avalon Springs and the Saturday Park Market.
Fun fact Montagu was founded on the farm, Uitvlugt, after which many of its cellars and buildings are named.
Where to stay Kingna Lodge, a luxury four-star guesthouse invites visitors to experience its wonderfully restored 1898 Victorian splendour. It has proudly hosted Nobel Peace Prize winners and former Presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk.
Where to eat Die Kloof Padstal is a popular farmstall and country restaurant that’s become a favourite food destination for travellers and locals alike. Recommended dishes include peri-peri chicken livers, savoury pancakes and Dutch apple tart.
Distance from Cape Town Around 2 hours 30 mins
In the heart of Route 62, there’s more to Robertson than its world-famous wineries. Situated in the shadow of the Langeberg Mountains, with easy access to the Breede River, it is a region where outdoor adventurers, as well as foodies, will find loads to keep them entertained. The Victorian buildings and gardens lend the town an aesthetic and cultural appeal.
Don’t miss The Wacky Wine Weekend that happens annually in May.
Fun fact Before it was a wine town, Robertson had a thriving ostrich industry, much like Oudtshoorn. The collapse of the ostrich-feather industry in 1915 ruined many farmers and dealt a significant blow to Robertson’s economy, but its transition to a wine-farming region has ensured prosperity.
Where to stay Rosendal Winery & Wellness Retreat offers a peaceful countryside getaway with easy access to the town and surrounding wine valley. Africamps at Pat Busch Mountain Reserve may be slightly further afield but provides a glamping experience to remember. And then, of course, there’s The Robertson Small Hotel… a five-star haven where superb food, sumptuous accommodation and top-drawer leisure facilities converge.
Where to eat There’ll be no shortage of culinary experiences in the region with Arabella Wines, Springfield Estate and Robertson Winery being just a few examples of what’s on offer. There’s also Saggy Stone Brewery, a rustic pub situated amid the plum orchards of Amandalia Farm,
Distance from Cape Town 2 hours
This rugged mountain village has become somewhat of an artist’s haven. Perhaps the sense of isolation and fresh mountain air fuels creativity… Though the town was originally intended to be a gateway to the north (an advertising poster in 1905 claimed that the main road to Cape Town would pass through McGregor), its remote location has enabled the preservation of its 19th-century architecture, and its rising popularity as a secluded getaway.
Don’t miss A visit to the Eseltjiesrus Donkey Sanctuary is sure to tug at the heartstrings, especially enjoyable for children to interact with these creatures, many of whom have been rescued from abuse. McGregor’s reputation for arts and crafts is on display at Millstone Pottery, where talented couple Paul de Jongh and Nina Shand produce wood-fired stoneware and handmade porcelain.
Fun fact The town was originally founded under the name Lady Grey, after the wife of the Governor of the Cape, but a village in the Eastern Cape already bore that name. In order to avoid confusion among officials, the town was renamed McGregor in 1906, after Dutch Reformed Church minister Reverend Andrew McGregor.
Where to stay Cottages can be rented on the beautiful Tanagra Wine Farm, a short distance from McGregor. The farm’s boutique distillery and wine cellar are well worth a visit. We’d also recommend a stay at The Kite House, a peaceful pet-friendly guest lodge with a swimming pool and wi-fi facilities. For a relaxing (and spiritual) break, Temenos comes highly recommended.
Where to eat Tebaldi’s set in the tranquil gardens at Temenos serves healthful dishes made with passion. And the Old Post Office is a charming English-style pub with a widescreen TV and an impressive range of whiskeys.
Distance from Cape Town Around 2 hours
Jan van Riebeeck’s surveyor-general knew he’d struck gold when he discovered this “valley of abundance” in 1658. Surrounded by mountains and fed by the Klein Berg river, the Tulbagh basin gave rise to a farming village, as well as a host of wine farms that benefit from the region’s diverse agricultural conditions. As South Africa’s fourth oldest town (after Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Swellendam), Tulbagh incorporates a striking mix of Cape Dutch, Victorian and Edwardian architecture.
Don’t miss History enthusiasts should visit Church Street, the location of De Oude Kerk Volksmuseum, as well as a collection of historic buildings that form the largest concentration of national monuments on a single street in South Africa. Outdoor types will want to experience the beautiful Waterfall Hiking Trail or go horse-riding in the mountains with Horse About Trails. Finally, no trip to Tulbagh is complete without a visit to one of the many wineries, which include the Tulbagh Winery and the Saronsberg Wine Estate.
Fun fact Church Street was destroyed by an earthquake in 1969 but was subsequently restored, thanks to a national fundraising effort. Since then, The Tulbagh Valley Heritage Foundation has undertaken the care of the town’s historical landscape.
Where to stay Rijks Country House offers luxurious lodgings and facilities, as well as a private wine cellar where guests can book wine-tasting tours. Alternatively, try Tulbagh Travellers’ Lodge for more budget-friendly accommodation.
Where to eat Reader’s Restaurant – situated in the oldest building on Church Street – is the town’s go-to dining spot, offering international cuisine, traditional local dishes such as bobotie, and African-inspired delicacies such as kudu carpaccio. Olive Terrace Bistro & Lounge Bar lets you enjoy fine dining by an open fire in winter, or outside on the terrace during sunny months. Things I Love Restaurant has a wine shop and a deli selling pastries, farm bread and handmade treats.
Distance from Cape Town Around 1 hour 25 mins
Chimney smoke rises from neat rows of whitewashed thatched cottages, built by German missionaries in the 1800s. Still governed by the Moravian Church, the town has not changed much since its days as a religious refuge (“Elim” means “place of God”). The missionaries chose the spot for its potential as a self-sustaining farm community, and while the original intention of the vineyards was to produce wine for communion, Elim has since evolved into a premier exporter of fine vintages – its proximity to the ocean making it one of South Africa’s coldest grape-growing regions, which in turn grants its wines a unique flavour.
Don’t miss Wherever you wander in Elim, there’s history to be found, whether it’s the abolition of slavery monument, or the old wooden water wheel (the largest in South Africa), still grinding away at that wheat. But all roads lead to the church, where a 240-year-old clock still strikes the correct time. As the town is a rising star on the Cape Wine Route, a visit to nearby wineries such as the Strandveld Vineyards is also in order.
Fun fact Elim’s monument to slave emancipation signifies its powerful heritage. Freed slaves came here seeking refuge, where the mission station provided them with homes and education. Their descendants make up the majority of the town’s population.
Where to stay Cottages are available for rent at the nearby Black Oystercatcher Wines and Strandveld Vineyards. The Agulhas Country Lodge offers comfortable accommodation and great views of Cape Agulhas, though it is around 40 minutes drive from Elim.
Where to eat The Black Oystercatcher restaurant provides a varied menu with seafood, meat and curry dishes to go with its selection of fine wines.
Distance from Cape Town Around 2 hours 24 minutes
This peaceful village has changed little since its construction in 1854, but it has evolved into a prominent tourist spot, as travellers from all over are drawn to its country charm. So strong is the old-world feel, you almost expect to see a someone hammering away at the old forge outside the cottage that was once the home of the village blacksmith. The town manages to preserve this authenticity while still offering facilities and attractions you’d expect from a popular holiday destination.
Don’t miss For more of that countryside atmosphere, you’ll want to visit the Saturday morning Greyton Market, where you’ll find a wide selection of farm-fresh produce. The funds raised by the market go towards environmental conservation efforts, such as the beautiful Greyton Nature Reserve. On the subject of outdoors, hiking enthusiasts are probably aware that Greyton provides easy access to the Boesmanskloof trail, a popular overnight hike.
Fun fact The region was once home to a tribe of Khoi, whose chief became so rich from trading with the Castle of Good Hope that he built a collection of mud-brick houses for his people, the remains of which can still be seen on Vigne Lane.
Where to stay Situated on Vigne Lane, De Hoop Cottage offers comfortable country lodgings and easy access to Greyton’s main attractions. Bay Tree Cottage is an authentic townhouse experience within walking distance of some of Greyton’s main attractions. Anna’s Country Accommodation includes a cosy treehouse situated right in the midst of the town; and the nearby Elandskloof Farm Cottages offer an idyllic countryside getaway, complete with herds of peaceful cows. For a wellness retreat, try High Hopes of Greyton, which offers spa facilities and a serene garden setting.
Where to eat The Hungry Monk, “The World’s First Anglo-Indian-Polish Restaurant & Tapas Bar”, does delicious gourmet dishes and a selection of vegetarian options. And family-run Abbey Rose offers an array of pasta, curry, seafood and meat dishes, including specialities such as oxtail-and-kudu pie.
Distance from Cape Town Around 1 hour 45 minutes
With a peaceful lagoon, the Klein River and a burgeoning foodie scene, picturesque Stanford has it all… Its close proximity to Hermanus and Gansbaai means whale-watching and shark-cage diving are accessible. There’s good outdoor fun, such as kayaking, canoeing, bird watching and river cruises to enjoy in Stanford itself. Foodies might enjoy wine, cheese and beer tasting at Stanford Hills, Klein River Cheese and the Birkenhead Brewery.
Don’t miss Over 200 different bird species (30 of which are native to South Africa).
Fun fact The Klein River has the world’s shortest distance from the origin to mouth.
Where to stay The blissfully secluded Blue Gum Country Estate, with its gabled farmhouse, dreamy lake and ancient gum trees, is a rural getaway with a difference. The 12 guest bedrooms are utterly relaxing, and the food is superb. The games room and outdoor play area make it a wonderful option for family getaways.
Where to eat Housed in a beautifully restored converted farmstead, The Manor House Restaurant serves contemporary country cuisine prepared by renowned chef Madré Malan and her team. Madrés comfort food is echoed in the homely restaurant that boasts beautiful views of the Akkedisberg mountains.
Distance from Cape Town Around 2 hours
This lush Langeberg town, South Africa’s third oldest, has over 50 provincial heritage sites, including historic Cape Dutch buildings such as the Drostdy Museum. There are also some great places to explore, such as Marloth Nature Reserve, Bontebok National Park and even Sulina’s Faerie Sanctuary. Enjoy hikes and mountain-bike trails, horse rides through forests, berry picking in Hermitage Valley and even stargazing.
Don’t miss Berry, canola and dairy farms and the Bukkenburg Pottery Studio.
Fun fact Swellendam’s Rooiklip Nursery is home to around 20,000 aloes.
Where to stay For a relaxing and discreet getaway, the four-star Bloom Estate ticks all the boxes. Its modern-Dutch design aesthetic will appeal to style savants, while the rambling treed gardens, Jacuzzi deck and hammock make it the perfect get-away-from-it-all destination (or stopover en route to Sanbona or the Garden Route). Looking for something more stately? The understatedly elegant Schoone Oordt Country House, dating back to 1853, offers antique-filled rooms, complete with four-poster beds and fireplaces.
Where to eat The best coffee is to be had at Ikigai Coffee Bar & Deli (across the road from Tourist Information, where you can hire mountain bikes). Try La Sosta for excellent Italian, but you need to book well in advance, and Tredici for light meals and a delicious assortment of takeaway pies and quiches. Or, immerse yourself in the historic Old Quarter: opposite the Dutch Reformed Church, you’ll find The Old Gaol Coffee Shop and Restaurant where you can sample traditional Cape cuisine – including their roosterkoek and melktert specialities.
Distance from Cape Town Around 2 hours 25 mins
This idyllic fishing village near Cape Agulhas – the southernmost tip of Africa – is fringed by a tranquil turquoise ocean and white-sand beaches, with the surrounding nature reserves lending it (more) natural beauty and an interesting history.
Don’t miss a trip to Waenhuiskrans Cave, just off the sandy shoreline of Arniston. The cave is partially submerged and can only be reached during low tide, but it’s worth scampering over the rocky seabed (note: it can get slippery) to reach it. The dark interior contrasts dramatically with the vibrant ocean outside, and all manner of sea creatures have made their home within after being carried in on the tide (one explorer even found an octopus).
Important note The cave can only be accessed during low tide. Do not even attempt the hike at any other time. It’s best if you don’t carry much with you, and you should bring shoes that are appropriate for traversing a slippery rock bed. Be sure to contact Cape Agulhas Tourism (028 424 2584 or 028 424 2883) for information on the tides.
Fun fact The town used to be named Waenhuiskrans (Afrikaans for “wagon house cliff”) after the nearby sea cave, which is supposedly large enough for an ox and wagon to do a full turn inside. The name was changed to Arniston in honour of the ship of the same name, that was wrecked on these shores in 1815. Only six of the 378 people on board survived.
Where to stay Arniston Seaside Cottages provides comfortable accommodation with easy access to the beach, while Blue Sky Guesthouse offers warm hospitality in the heart of Arniston.
Where to eat It’s a small town with few restaurants to its name, but those that can be found here, such as Willeen’s Meals Arts & Crafts and Wanda’s Waenhuis, offer an authentic “fisherman’s village” experience. For a more diverse dining experience, Black Oystercatcher Wines is just a 30-minute drive away.
Distance from Cape Town 2.5 hours
This small Overberg fishing town possesses warm, aquamarine waters and the longest natural beach in the southern hemisphere. It’s a stone’s throw from Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa where the two Indian and Atlantic oceans meet. Enjoy the Cape Agulhas Lighthouse, shipwrecks, seasonal whale-watching, horse rides along the beach, swimming and diving.
Don’t miss Struisbaai’s colourful harbour and the Cape Agulhas Nature Reserve.
Fun fact The Two Oceans Aquarium once tried to remove Parrie, one of several resident stingrays, but locals demanded his return.
Where to stay Recharge your batteries at Zuidste Huisie Fisherman’s Cottage. This charming self-catering fisherman’s cottage, built in the area’s unique architectural style, is situated 150m away from 24km of pristine, uninterrupted beach.
Where to eat Zuidste Kaap Pub & Restaurant is a traditional South African restaurant that offers a bistro-style menu complete with grilled meat and fresh seafood options. Did we mention it’s situated at the gateway to Cape Agulhas, Africa’s southernmost tip?
Distance from Cape Town Around 2 hours 38 minutes
Visiting Nature’s Valley is like discovering a lost village in the midst of a jungle. Situated on the famed Garden Route, surrounded by forests, mountains and white-sand beaches, the small village of around 50 houses has but one store and no malls. It’s clear that locals are intent on preserving the beauty and tranquillity of this hidden gem.
Don’t miss Monkeyland and Birds of Eden, both located within 20 minutes drive of Nature’s Valley. The monkey sanctuary has around 11 species of primate, who roam freely in the protected forest area, while Birds of Eden’s free flight bird sanctuary hosts around 3 500 birds from over 220 species.
Fun fact Travelling along the coastline of the Garden Route was deemed impossible until famous engineer Thomas Bain completed the Groot River pass in 1880. The pass, which traverses river gorges and rugged forest terrain, is yet another masterpiece of engineering from the master engineer himself – especially considering the regular baboon raids he would have had to contend with.
Where to stay Camping and caravan accommodation is available at Nature’s Valley Rest Camp, while Face Tranquility B&B offers comfortable lodgings, and is conveniently situated right where the beaches and forest meet. Alternatively, you could seek accommodation in Knysna (around an hour’s drive away).
Where to eat Nature’s Way Farm Stall is a short drive from town, and offers farm-fresh breakfast and lunch options. Nature’s Valley Restaurant is great for a cold beer, as well as being the end point of the five-day Otter Trail.
Distance from Cape Town 6.5 hours
Researched by Matthew Flax, Alicia Chamaillé, Nikki Benatar, Tamlyn Ryan
Source: The Best Little Towns in The Cape for a Weekend Break first appeared on insideguide.co.za