If you have time in your trip to explore beyond the Cape Town city limits, rent a car and head for one of the numerous scenic villages and towns that dot the Western Cape. After all, Cape Town is beautiful, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg—the city’s scenic surrounds are no less dazzling. From beach hamlets to Winelands burgs with charming Afrikaans names, options for a quick road trip are aplenty, and the routes that will take you there will wow you with unexpected natural beauty. The highways and roads are easy to navigate, but if you're not comfortable with a stick-shift, be sure to request an automatic car—there are fewer available at the rental agencies, and can get booked out quickly, especially in peak tourist season. Here are five of my favorite city escapes from Stellenbosch to Paternoster, listed by their distance from Cape Town.
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This Winelands university town is often overshadowed by its neighbor, Franschhoek, but Stellenbosch merits its own visit. A 45-minute drive east of Cape Town will deposit you in the heart of South Africa's most underrated foodie hub—three of the country's top 10 restaurants (Rust en Vrede, Overture, and Jordan) are nestled amid its wine farms and cobbled lanes.
Franschhoek is the darling of the Winelands, and a walk down its main artery, Huguenot Street, makes it instantly clear why: the light seems to hit the village's historic Cape Dutch buildings in a special way. Though it's just an hour from Cape Town, there's a distinctly French vibe here, owing to the influence from its 17th-century settlers—Bastille Day is even celebrated in a big way here with a lively annual festival.
Think of it as the "other" Winelands: the Riebeek Valley has a burgeoning wine scene, with a host of independent vineyards poised to wrest the spotlight away from Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. Only an hour and 10 minutes from Cape Town, the historic burg of Riebeek Kasteel—one of the country's oldest towns—has the feel of an authentic country getaway. Head straight to the elegant Bartholomeus Klip farmhouse for a lavish lunch, then stroll along the quaint Main Street lined with a handful of home stores, chocolatiers, and cafés.
If you're in Cape Town between July and November, hop in your car and drive an hour and a half east to the whale-watching capital of the world. During those months, the southern right whale migrates just off the coast of this fishing village to calve, meaning you can get an up-close look at the mammoth animal from the comfort of one of Hermanus's many waterfront cafés.
The West Coast is known for it's laid-back beach towns and surfer havens, and my favorite among them all is Paternoster, a tiny oceanfront hamlet two hours north from Cape Town. But don't let this unassuming little town fool you: nestled amid the whitewashed houses are some of the country's best restaurants, with world-class chefs foraging ingredients from the beach to serve in inventive dishes. Try to book a table at chef Kobus van der Merwe's six-table Oep ve Koep, where he sources seaweed and bokkoms (mullet) himself for his evolving bistro menu.