Cape Town has world class outdoor adventure options and awesome cultural offerings. But for those who want to take it a step further, pack a little bag of essentials and set an early morning alarm to make the most of these five awesome destinations just outside of Cape Town.
The word “paarl”, translated from Afrikaans, means “pearl”. The town of Paarl, a scenic 45-minute drive from Cape Town, is as grand and as prosperous as its name suggests, with deep cultural traditions, a rich history and award-winning wine farms to match. The town was established in 1687, making it the third oldest in South Africa, and many centuries later played a key role in cementing Afrikaans as one of the country’s 11 official languages.
But, despite its heritage, the town is named for the pearly granite boulders balancing above the luxuriant farmlands that unfurl below, and together form Paarl Mountain. A day out in Paarl should start in this Nature Reserve, also referred to as Paarl Rock. A drive up to the mountain summit will take you past trees covered in blossoms and the Afrikaans Language Monument, and submit you to expansive views. Here, you could set up a breakfast picnic or get in some exhilarating morning exercise with hiking, mountain biking or rock climbing.
Paarl is the largest wine producing region in the Cape and is considered the pearl of the Cape Winelands. Indulging in the good life at a wine farm is an essential part of the Paarl experience. This could take the form of wine tasting at Nederburg or a chocolate and brandy tasting at KWV. Or, spend the afternoon at Fairview Wine Estate, which specializes in artisanal wines and craft cheeses. Fairview is also home to the iconic Goats Tower, which houses the farm’s friendly mascot goats.
A stone’s throw (almost literally) from Fairview lies the Spice Route, a collection of artisans which reflects the diverse flavors and cultures of South Africa. One could drive to Paarl simply to spend an entire day at this foodie capital, munching on pizza under the trees at La Grapperia paired with a G&T by the Wilderer Distillery; devouring gourmet burgers in Barley and Biltong’s Cape Town-style beer garden followed by a scoop of homemade ice cream from the DV Café; perusing the art galleries; tasting beer from the CBC brewery and decadent chocolates at De Villiers; or setting up a lazy picnic on the grass.
If you have any energy left, end the day with a drive through the town, where the broad roads are lined by old oak trees and equally grand manor homes. Most of these are quintessentially Cape Dutch (an architectural style characterized by white-washed walls, elaborate rounded gables and thatch roofs). Otherwise, take a scenic drive up Bainskloof pass for swimming in fresh water rock pools in summer.
The Elgin Valley and Grabouw are together known as South Africa’s largest fruit growing and exporting region. It’s about an hour drive from Cape Town, and before you descend into the rolling dips and peaks of the Elgin Valley, you’ll drive over Sir Lowry’s Pass as it climbs up the Hottentots-Holland Mountain range.
A typical journey to this side of the world should begin at Peregrine Farm Stall. You can pick up local produce like fresh fruit, homemade jams and preserves, a take-away toasted sandwich paired with an Origin coffee or one of Peregrine’s legendary pies. Peregrine also features a cozy sit-down cafe, which serves simple seasonal dishes – including the pies.
The Elgin Valley marks the start of the Green Mountain Eco Route, which comprises various hikes, mountain bike trails and the Cape Canopy Tour, which takes adventurers on a zip line course through the pristine Hottentots-Holland Nature Reserve.
While the region is known for its fruit production, it is synonymous with apple orchards in particular. You can learn about these further at the Elgin Apple Museum, which is one of only two apple museums in the world. Duncan’s rose nursery is also worth a visit to view roses in a kaleidoscope of colors, and to take Insta-worthy snaps.
As with all day trips, the siren sound of lunch will eventually sound. The Elgin Valley is home to a biodiverse wine route, and is dotted by estates that are ideal for a lazy, boozy lunch. South Hill, Oak Valley and Paul Cluver are popular choices, and the latter two estates have mountain biking trails that snake through the vineyards. Alternatively, the Hickory Shack does a Texan-style barbecue combined with local craft beer and the friendly, laid-back atmosphere typical of South African hospitality.
The 90-minute drive to the coastal town of Hermanus from Cape Town follows the same route as that to the Elgin Valley and Grabouw. But, it continues over the Houw Hoek pass and winds through the Overberg before it reaches the seaside. Forgo Peregrine this time and drive a little further to the farm stall and coffee shop named after the mountain pass – Houw Hoek. This landmark white farmhouse, set against a backdrop of serene mountains, produces pies that are just as legendary as Peregrine’s. You’ll also be tempted by farm fresh produce, other home-baked treats and the aroma of hearty country-style cooking emanating from the coffee shop.
Like many of the smaller agricultural towns in the Western Cape, Hermanus is home to another glorious wine route. It winds through the Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven on Earth), a valley of fynbos-and-vineyard covered hills with rising mountains in one direction and the Atlantic Ocean in the other. Each of the 15 small-batch wineries aims to reflect the character of their individual vineyards in their products, and you’ll be spoilt by a unique blend of fine wine and food to match regardless of which you choose to visit.
After a morning of wine-tasting, take a walk along the historical promenade of Hermanus for a dose of salty sea air. Hermanus is a famous spot for whale-watching, especially between June and November. During this time, the bay becomes a mating and breeding ground for Southern Right Whales so keep your eyes peeled and your cameras ready for a close up sighting of these gentle marine giants.
If you can’t bear to pull yourself away from these ocean views, sit by the floor-to-ceiling window at Lemon Butta, and enjoy a glass of bubbly, and a delicious seafood lunch.
Before heading home, grab a scoop of ice cream downstairs at Gelato Mania and meander around the Village Square which forms the social focal point of Hermanus from its position just above the Old Harbour.
Ceres is named for the Roman goddess of agriculture, which seems fitting since some of the best fresh fruit is grown here. The air in this scenic region of ancient mountains, sweeping valleys and historical farms is as crisp and as fresh as the fruit itself, and it’s only 90 minutes from Cape Town, making it the ideal destination for a day away from the pressures of city life.
A day spent here should involve some outdoor adventure and a healthy dose of nature therapy. This could take the form of a hike along the Christie Prins trails or the Matroosberg trails. While in the summer months the average temperature in Ceres reaches a scorching 30 degrees celsius, in winter the surrounding mountains are often covered by a thick layer of snow. As snow of that magnitude is a rarity in South Africa, Ceres is known as “Little Switzerland”. A hike through the Matroosberg Nature Reserve will take you to the snow when it falls. This Nature Reserve is also a popular starting point for a 4×4-drive.
Alternatively, book a slot with Ceres Zipline Adventures and whizz along steel cables and over the Kroekdouw River which snakes between the mountains of Ceres Valley. Ceres is synonymous with fruit – the town is famous for its fresh produce as well as the dried variety and fruit juices. Immerse yourself in this flourishing local industry and spend a morning picking cherries at the Klondyke Cherry Farm. Cherry season runs from the end of the November to the end of December.
Speaking of lunch, many of the foodie spots in Ceres are dotted along Voortrekker Road. Eden Restaurant and die Pink Lady are local favorites for light meals. Or, visit Tremor Coffee Bar for cappuccinos brewed from Deluxe Coffee Beans, sweet treats and fresh fare, like sandwiches and quiches, from local bakers. It’s a trendy spot, complete with free Wi-Fi, cozy wooden surfaces and clean white walls.
5. Simon’s Town
The 45-minute drive to Simon’s Town weaves along the shores of False Bay as it passes through small historical villages like Muizenburg, Kalk Bay and Fish Hoek. Each is wedged between mountain and ocean, with the Southern Line of the railway running parallel to the seashore. While each of these towns could inspire a day out, make the most of the mission to Simon’s Town by stopping in one of them en route for coffee like Blonde and Beard in Muizenburg or the Olympia Cafe in Kalk Bay.
Simon’s Town is a maritime naval town known for its navy base and harbor so it stands to reason that much of the activity here centers on this rich history and the salty goodness of the sea.
Experience the waters of False Bay by booking a kayaking tour or a coasteering adventure. During either of these trips you’re likely to see some African penguins, as one of the largest breeding colonies of these endemic birds is based on Boulders Beach. Boulders is a protected marine area in Simons Town, open to visitors looking to laze on a pristine stretch of beach and admire the penguins (and get some beautiful close-up snaps as they waddle up and down the sand).
Considering the location of Simon’s Town, seafood is definitely on the menu for lunch. Just a simple take-away fish-and-chips, eaten alongside the harbor while listening to the crashing waves and warding off cheeky seagulls is sure to recharge weary batteries. Simon’s Town also has plenty of seaside restaurants. Bertha’s overlooks the yachts parked in the harbor, while Seaforth Restaurant sits right on the water’s edge at Seaforth Beach and the Black Marlin serves some of the finest and most sophisticated seafood in this area.
After lunch, walk through the cobbled Jubilee Square where you’ll come across the statue of Able Seaman Just Nuisance. Just Nuisance is a dog (a Great Dane to be specific) who never actually went to sea, but befriended and encouraged the sailors of the Royal Navy during World War 2. to the extent that he became their mascot and was buried with full military honors. Learn even more about this maritime history at the South African Naval Museum in Simon’s Town. And, take a stroll along the town’s main road, which faces the sea and is edged by fine examples of Victorian architecture (like the grand British Hotel). Wander in and out of any of the galleries, antique stores, cafes and other quirky shops.