KNOWN AS the Mother City, Cape Town is the oldest city in South Africa and one of the most popular tourist cities in the world. The reason is simple – from lavish and luxurious to back-packing on a budget, there is something for everyone. You can take a trip up Table Mountain – explore the V&A Waterfront, a unique shopping and holiday experience based around a scenic working harbour, visit Robben Island, the former home of Nelson Mandela or laze on the stunning beaches of Clifton or Camps Bay and meander through the Cape Town Wine Routes, where some of the world’s best wines are produced.
With its striking Table Mountain backdrop, Cape Town’s central city area is picturesque and surprisingly small – the many places of interest are best explored on foot. As you wander through the streets, you’ll see all kinds of historic buildings, from the imposing Houses of Parliament to the beautiful St George’s Cathedral. A good starting point for your city walk would be the Castle of Good Hope, Cape Town’s first building – originally made of mud and straw, the cornerstone of the present day castle was laid in 1666. Another worthwhile stop off is the Cultural History Museum at the top of Adderley Street. Willem Adriaan van der Stel originally built it as a lodge to house the slaves working in the nearby botanical gardens. Now restored, the museum contains interesting examples of furniture, glass ceramics, weapons, musical instruments and toys collected throughout the ages. The reconstructed tombstone of Jan van Riebeeck stands in the courtyard.
It’s well worth taking time to visit this infamous ex-penitentiary. For nearly 400 years, Robben Island, just 12 kilometres off the coast of Cape Town, was a place of banishment and often permanent imprisonment for those that the government regarded as political troublemakers, social outcasts and the unwanted of society. During the apartheid years, Robben Island became internationally known for its institutional brutality. Some freedom fighters, including former President, Nelson Mandela, spent more than a quarter of a century in prison for their beliefs. Eventually Robben Island came to symbolise the triumph of the human spirit over enormous hardship and adversity, not only for South Africa and the African continent, but also the entire world. Nowadays, you can wander round the museum, visit the tiny cells and contemplate how the world has changed.
Wine lover or not, a visit to the Cape Winelands is an absolute must. The region is one of breathtaking vistas and majestic mountain backdrops, steeped in rich culture and history. As the name suggests, the Cape Winelands is the largest wine producing region in the Western Cape. With a selection of over 200 cellars to choose from, you are guaranteed to taste some of the finest wines in the world as you visit the quaint villages and vibrant townships, museums, galleries and open air theatres.
The winelands are divided into various different regions, each offering their own wine route. The most popular and best known are Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, Wellington and Paarl. Stellenbosch is the closest in distance to Cape Town – around a 45 minute drive from the city centre. It is home to the first official wine route that was founded back in 1971 and is very visitor friendly – the entrances to wine farms are clearly sign posted and wine is on sale at all of the cellars. The town of Stellenbosch is also worth a visit – it is a university town and the oak-lined Dorp Street is home to an appealing range of museums and galleries, as well as many student cafés and restaurants.
Wine tasting, cellar tours and stopping to enjoy the scenic beauty at the various wine farms could easily take a day or more, so it is advisable to have a rough idea of where you would like to go before you set out. Wine route guides and maps are available at most tourist information centres and it is helpful to pick up a copy for the maps, details on each of the estates and operating times.
Many of the wine estates have become very tourist orientated, offering guided tours, gift shops and restaurants, while at some of the small estates, you may end up sitting in a rustic cellar sipping wines with the wine maker himself.
Different experiences appeal to different people, but whether you prefer big or quaint, you’re sure to find something which appeals to you. Remember that drinking and driving is a heavily fined offence in South Africa, so if you plan on tasting and drinking a lot, opt for a guided tour with a driver, or stay overnight at one of the wineries, hotels or guesthouses in the area. Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, cut out the driving all together and experience the Winelands’ exceptional beauty in a less conventional manner – enjoy a bird’s eye view from a hot air balloon or glider.
If you prefer the more laid-back approach, you can enjoy guided nature walks, 4×4 trails and horse-back safaris but, whichever mode of transport you prefer, you will soon discover that the Cape Winelands offers a kaleidoscope of amazing experiences.
PDM verdict: Perched between the ocean and the mountains, Cape Town has it all – culture, beaches, shopping and, when you tire of the city, the Winelands offer a unique combination of attractions that you’ll never forget.