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Plan the perfect South African holiday featuring Cape Town, Franschhoek and the Garden Route

by Staff

Prepare for a very warm welcome from South Africans, honoured that Telegraph readers voted it the best country in the world in the 2023 Travel Awards. If you haven’t been recently, 2024 is the year to find out what the fuss is about – its geographic splendour is as awe-inspiring as ever, food and wine exceptional, and the pound has never been stronger against the rand – even with annual increases, you will in some instances be paying less in 2024 than you did in 2023.

The Western Cape provides many people’s first experience of the country – with good reason. Its gateway is one of the world’s great cities, its relatively traffic-free roads are perfect for a driving holiday and it offers a wonderful contrast of landscapes, from lush forests to semi-arid plains, mountains braided in vineyards to palmiet-fringed rivers and footprintless beaches washed by a bracing sea. 




A safari is a simple addition to our itinerary

This two-week itinerary, featuring some of the best places to stay, eat and shop in the Western Cape, offers something for both old hands and first-timers. It kicks off in Cape Town – long regarded by Telegraph Travel readers as the best city on Earth, includes time on the relatively unsung Overberg coast, features a couple of Garden Route favourites – Plettenberg Bay and Wilderness – and finishes with a loop back through the Karoo to the Winelands, a relaxing rural end yet close enough to Cape Town International Airport.  

Tweaks are simple. If you’re pressed for time, simply skip a leg – the furthest point in the programme is a direct 5.5-hour drive from Cape Town. Or, if you have more time, you could decide to keep heading east – an Eastern Cape safari also makes a simple addition (see expert tips below), and there are several ways to do so (my preference would be to ascend first through the lush Outeniqua Pass, cutting through the narrow Klein Karoo valley.


Travelling through this big-sky country, largely uninhabited, induces something of a meditative state, a kind of travel therapy – perfect for these anxiety-inducing times.

DAY 1: LOFTY VIEWS AND HIP BARS

Take a metered taxi or Uber from the airport to Dorp, the most gorgeous little hotel located at the very top of Signal Hill, with picture-perfect views of Table Mountain and Devils Peak. If you’ve touched down in the morning (most direct flights do), head over to the Table Mountain cableway to ascend the flat-topped landmark for a lofty perspective on this city of views. 

Head back to Kloof Street to browse its many trendy restaurants and bars. Hip staff place simple, well-priced dishes on brown-paper-clad tables at Blondie (advanced booking unavailable); for a more groomed and elegant experience, and the most delicious sharing plates, you can’t go wrong with Elgr (book a table in the courtyard if the weather allows). Or check out the new Time Out Market in the V&A Waterfront, a collection of stalls by many of the city’s top chefs: West Coast mussels topped with fennel salad are a stand-out from Chef John van Zyl’s The Melting Pot, as are slivers of perfectly grilled steak from Chef Giorgio’s Carne; great Cape Malay from Chefs Anwar and Yolandi (do try Ou Mense Onder Die Kombers – slow-braised nutmeg-and-clove-infused ossobuco wrapped in cabbage); melt-in-the-mouth bao buns from Chefs Matt and Carla; Chef Peter Tempelhoff’s ramen …

Right next door is the Watershed Market for locally-made fashion, jewellery, trinkets and souvenirs, or spend the afternoon exploring the rest of V&A Waterfront, home to the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary African Art (the building alone worth viewing) next to the Robben Island Museum gateway. Or simply cocoon at Dorp and watch the city lights twinkle through the large arched windows.




The Chapman’s Peak coastal road

DAY 2: PENINSULA HIGHLIGHTS

If you haven’t yet done so, it’s a must-do to explore both shores of the peninsula, preferably with a private guide (a great tour is offered by Clive de Bruyne, priced at ZAR8600/£360 for two). If you’re here in peak season, start early. A circular drive takes you south along the False Bay coast to Cape Point, then back north up the Atlantic seaboard, snaking along the epic Chapman’s Peak road. Clive can tailor the itinerary to suit your interests but all the must-do sights are included, including the penguin colony at Boulders, best enjoyed on the beach rather than boardwalk. The ideal lunch stop is a seaside table at Harbour House in Kalk Bay; or local favourite Olympia Café; if time allows, stroll the Kalk Bay’s dinky high street, one of the country’s most charming places to shop. And do set aside at least an hour to explore Kirstenbosch, one of the world’s most spectacular botanical gardens: manicured lawns dissolving into wilderness, backdropped by the forested eastern flank of Table Mountain, and always something flowering.



Hermanus, from which you can spot whales


Hermanus, from which you can spot whales

DAY 3: THE ROAD TO STANFORD

Have a hire car delivered to your hotel and head out along the N2. Check online to see if cliff-hugging Clarens Drive is completely open – it’s currently undergoing reconstruction after the massive September storms; due to be completed during the first quarter of 2024, this detour – snaking its way to Rooi Els, before cutting back towards Hermanus – is well worth it for scenic beauty. 

Stop for lunch at the Creation winery in the aptly named Hemel en Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley, home to arguably the Cape’s most consistently fine terroir (Hamilton Russell and Bouchard Finlayson are other fine producers). If you’d rather eat in Hermanus, Perlemoen has beautiful views across the Bay and delicious seafood including, of course, abelone. 



Accommodation at the Coot Club


Accommodation at the Coot Club

From Hermanus, skirt the Klein River Lagoon to the charming village of Stanford, beyond which lies the Coot Club, with an idyllic location overlooking the bird-rich shallows, and your room for the next two nights. Opt for a Coot Club Boathouse, and spend the evening watching the changing light on the Maanschijn Mountains before strolling along a fynbos-fringed path and over lawns for dinner on site at Spookhuis. With a delightful collection of cottages, some of them self-catering, as well as a great restaurant, Stanford Valley Guest Farm – located on the other side of the village – is a low-key and great value alternative to Coot Club.



Sunset drinks at the Coot Club


Sunset drinks at the Coot Club

DAY 4: RELAX BY THE WATER

It’s time for some R&R: wild swimming in the lagoon, kayaking past coots, sunset drinks on Walker Bay beach, spa treatments at the adjacent Mosaic Lagoon Lodge. Further afield there are plenty of wine-tasting options, shopping on Stanford’s high street, heritage walks, a cooking course (Madre’s Kitchen), as well as several stand-out restaurants, like Wortelgat @ Springfontein, where acclaimed Chef Janine serves up delectable fare between December and May. 



5-south-africa-de-hoop-southern-right-whale


A southern right whale near De Hoop

DAY 5: WHALES AND FLOWERS

It’s a leisurely two-hour drive east to the gates of the 34,000-hectare De Hoop Nature Reserve, with a gorgeous stretch of coastline where hundreds of southern right whales arrive each year from June to November to calve and nurse their young, as well as an inland lake and wetlands that teem with birdlife. 

De Hoop Collection offers a wide range of affordable accommodation options overlooking or near the Ramsar lake (a designation given to wetlands of significant natural importance), but for a front-row seat on an untouched beach, with no human development in sight, book either Morukuru Beach Lodge or Lekkerwater Beach Lodge – the latter particularly good for guided walks exploring the fascinating marine life in De Hoop’s tidal pools as well as the fynbos. An alternative to De Hoop, much closer to Stanford, is to check into Garden Lodge at the 3500-ha Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. Aside from offering the world’s most entertaining floral safaris – getting to know the intricacies of the Cape Floral Kingdom, the smallest yet most diverse, is unexpectedly fascinating – you can go forest bathing, horseriding in the fynbos and book a nearby marine safaris (off-site launching from Gansbaai).



De Hoop beach


Enjoy miles of soft sand (almost) to yourself

DAY 6: WALKING BACK IN TIME

With mile upon mile of unspoilt sand, sandy alcoves embraced by limestone walls carved and pockmarked by the sea, and natural tidal pools protected by a reef, the focus in De Hoop is usually on the beach. But De Hoop also showcases the beauty and delicacy of fynbos, and is home to various species of antelopes, ostriches and baboons. 

Be sure to take a walk at low tide with a specialist guide to learn more about the diversity of the marine life, and to discover how the first homo sapiens found a safe haven on this glorious stretch of coastline, 100,000 years ago. 




Impala near De Hoop

DAY 7: INTO WILDERNESS

Surrounded by the Garden Route National Park, with forests, an estuary, lakes and beaches, the village of Wilderness – just under three hours from De Hoop; just under four from Grootbos – is a great base to explore the Garden Route, a 190-mile stretch named for its lush and diverse vegetation.

Check into one of Moontide Riverside Lodge’s new self-catering garden cottages – shaded by milkwoods, located on the Touw river estuary and just a few minutes’ stroll from the beach (and Salinas, the beachfront restaurant). Dine at Joplins, a timber cabin with a laid-back atmosphere and a chalkboard menu listing an array of steaks, all served with egg and chips – an unpretentious Garden Route gem. 

There are several walks but my favourite is the Kingfisher Trail that leads through ancient forest to a beautiful waterfall; an idyllic morning can be spent paddling one of the Moontide canoes along the majority of the route before hiking the last section. Wilderness Picnics offers an excellent basket of local produce – inquire at the hotel reception on arrival or book direct.



Local birdlife


Local birdlife


Credit: aaprophoto

The Touw river – warm and shallow with a sandy bed – is fabulous to swim in, explore the Kaaimans Gorge with Eden Adventures, book a forest walk with knowledgeable and inspiring guide Mark Dixon, or simply choose one of the several Moontide decks overlooking the lagoon and get lost in a book. 



The coast near Knysna


The coast near Knysna

DAY 9: THE ROAD EAST

Check out of Moontide and head east on the coast road, traversing the region’s lakes and estuaries, to Knysna. Have lunch at Ile De Pain, a locally famous bakery on Thesen’s Island, surrounded by chi-chi shops.

Just outside Knysna is pretty Noetzie beach, encircled by rather incongruous modern stone castles – it’s a great spot for a swim if you have the time. Continue to Plettenberg Bay, where a couple of nights at Emily Moon River Lodge, overlooking the meandering Bitou, awaits. 

DAY 10: SWIMMING WITH SEALS

Head into Plett for the exhilarating 90-minute Swim with Seals experience offered by Offshore Adventures (pre booking essential). Then head to Ristorante Enrico at Keurbooms (a far less developed spot just beyond Plett) for pizza on the beach, or visit one of Plett’s wine estates – one of my favourites is Newstead– the family make a delicious bubbly and serve fresh, simple fare (including oven-baked pizzas and picnics) in their garden. 

In the afternoon take the boat into the beautiful Keurbooms Nature Reserve, or drive to the Robberg Nature Reserve for a stunning coastal walk. 

Pop into Old Nick Village, in Plett, for some retail therapy before returning to Emily Moon for dinner. 

Swap Plett for Prince Albert, a small but cosmopolitan town that’s popular with artists. If you’d prefer not to retrace your footsteps and don’t mind driving on dirt, take the longer route via Joubertina, or else double back to George before heading north via several scenic passes. 



A church in Prince Albert


A church in Prince Albert


Credit: peterjohnkoen/peterjohnkoen

Check into either Prince Albert Country Stay, on the high street, or Dennehof, on the outskirts of the town. 

A great way to explore the Victorian-era streets is with guide Ailsa Tudhope, “the Story Weaver” (pre booking essential) – or just stroll the shops in search of souvenirs like Avoova’s ostrich egg homeware and beautiful mohair clothing and blankets. 

End the day on the veranda of the Green Prince Gin Bar (part of the Swartberg Hotel), then stroll over the road for pizzas at African Relish Café, also a cooking school (incidentally well worth booking a cooking lesson, time allowing). If you feel like something more hearty, Karoo Kombuis offers a traditional menu heavy on Karoo lamb, chicken pie and sweetened veg.  



The Swartberg Pass


The Swartberg Pass

DAY 12: ROUTE 62

Enjoy a leisurely breakfast then depart via the Swartberg Pass, one of the most scenic roads in South Africa – its hair-raising switchbacks are worth it for the views. The drive along Route 62, through the semi-arid Klein Karoo, is equally mesmerising. 

It’s a four-hour journey to Montagu with no stops, or else pause at Calitzdorp to stock up on fortified wines from Bo Plaas or De Krans. 

Check into the beautifully-restored Jonkmanshof in Montagu, before dinner at 22 Church Street



A Western Cape vineyard


A Western Cape vineyard

DAY 13: FRANSCHHOEK

After a leisurely breakfast take the scenic route via Villiersdorp to Franschhoek – over lofty peaks and through fruit-growing farms. Franschhoek, just under two hours away, offers wraparound mountain views, quaint streetscapes and plenty of sophistication.

Check into La Cotte or Leeu House, both in the heart of the town, with its plethora of restaurants, cafes and shops. Don’t miss the Franschhoek Motor Museum and a wine-tasting at adjacent Antonij Rupert (pre booking required), where local luxury accessories lable Okapi have opened their first stand-alone store in December 2023. Dine at the award-winning Le Petite Colombe at Leeu Estate, for one of the best fine dining experiences in the Cape. 

Spend a day by the pool – or dive into some serious wine tasting. The sheer choice is mind-boggling but Delaire on Helshoogte Pass is among my favourite estates for its phenomenal views; neighbouring Oldenburg, tucked into the mountains, is another must for its setting. 



Babylonstoren


Babylonstoren

Babylonstoren can get crowded – but the gardens really are magnificent, its wine museum fun, its farm shop and cellar tours excellent, its wines far from shabby, and this is the best spa in the Cape. The on-site restaurants are all excellent but the hearty, delicious farm platters served with wine tastings are the real bargain. 

The easiest option is to book a wine tour with a venerable guide like Stephen Flesch, who strikes a great balance between iconic and off-the-beaten-track vineyards, or else jump on board the quirky Wine Tram (pre booking advised), which links a score of different estates (including Babylonstoren). 

You’ll need at least 90 minutes to get back to Cape Town International Airport – fortunately most departures are in the evening. 




V&A waterfront, Cape Town

WHEN TO GO

South Africa is a year-round destination. If you’re looking for pretty much guaranteed sun, come between Christmas and March, but you won’t be alone so book early. Or wait until April when temperatures are balmy, the light is soft, sunsets spectacular and the Cape Doctor (the south-easterly wind that howls periodically through Cape Town during summer) is off duty.

The Cape winter kicks off in June but it’s still temperate, with sunny days alternating with short downpours. July and August are quiet, relaxed and the Cape’s low-season rates – also known as the “green season” or “secret season” – make it a bargain. July to November is also when southern right whales migrate to the Overberg coast, serving up some of the best land-based whale-watching in the world. 

The end of August into September sees the seemingly barren plains along the West Coast and Cederberg carpeted in riot of spring flowers. From October to December the coastline sparkles under a temperate sun – as good a time as any to meander along the Garden Route – before a mesmerising trip through the big-space valleys of the semi-arid Karoo. 

The above itinerary can easily be arranged independently, but you may find it easier to employ the services of a South Africa specialist such as Cedarberg Travel. It can tailor something to your exact specifications or take a look at their suggested itineraries such as the Meandering Cape Explorer, a three week self-drive exploring the Western and Eastern Cape (from ₤ 2,954 per person).

As little as possible – whatever you forget can be purchased here, overnight laundry services are offered just about everywhere on this itinerary, and with all the excellent shopping opportunities you’ll want plenty of suitcase space. There are plenty of ATMs (but please be aware that you must never accept “help” from a stranger while at an ATM, and best to draw money in crowded places like malls). Most places, even market stalls, accept cards.




Robberg Nature Reserve

HOLIDAY READING

Award-winning South African authors tend to explore pretty bleak issues and crime writers can inflame unnecessary fears, but here are some local works worth considering: Children of Sugarcane (Joanne Joseph), The Wanderers (Mphuthumi Ntabeni), By the Fading Light (Ashraf Kagee), A Family Affair (Sue Nyati), The Second Verse (Onke Mazibuko), The Price of Mercy (Sean Davison), The Yearning (Mohale Mashigo), Place (Justin Fox), Agaat (Marlene van Niekerk), Unusual Grief (Yewande Omotoso), The Beadle (Pauline Smith).

  • Both British Airways and Virgin fly direct into Cape Town; Virgin’s direct service to Cape Town is seasonal (from October 28 until March 30), after this it flies via Johannesburg direct to UK. 
  • Pick up a local SIM card at the airport on arrival. Load it with data for access to Google Maps and Uber – the latter is the easiest way to get around the cities. Be aware that if you are not familiar with the neighbourhoods of South African cities, and are relying on Google Maps to navigate the way, you could be directed through areas that are crime hotspots – always check your route beforehand with your host, concierge, rental agent or tour operator. 
  • If you want to add a few nights in remote cabins into the mix, take a look at the handpicked selection on offer from Lifetree Collection. Or take a look at Helen’s selection of aptly named Perfect Hideaways – these are exclusive homes, well-dressed and in the most marvellous locations, suitable for families or friends. 
  • If you want to include a safari, consider a few days at Gondwana Game Reserve, the best Big Five experience in the Western Cape, immediately after (or in place of) De Hoop. Or add on a few days and head further east to Samara or Mount Camdeboo and enjoy the most arresting scenery in the Eastern Cape – while the safari experience is definitely not as authentic as Kruger National Park, both offer Big 5 sightings and are good value.
  • Scheduled power cut, called loadshedding, are now an unavoidable part of life in South Africa. Most hotels have back-up generators or inverters but it’s well worth checking beforehand, and/or downloading the local ‘ESP’ app which updates the country on when and where it is happening daily, and charging your phone and other accessories when you can.

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