We all know and love the big names of South Africa’s Western Cape, but on a recent trip we headed north for a fresh slant on this beautiful region.
Despite being easily accessible, the coast to the north of Cape Town remains relatively under the radar, enchanting those who stray off the tourist trail with its idyllic mix of nature reserves, lesser-known vineyards and quiet white-sand beaches. Paternoster in particular is great-value and a favourite foodie destination of ours, with world-class chefs taking full advantage of the region’s bountiful natural resources.
Of course, we wouldn’t expect anyone to fly into Cape Town and not take the opportunity to soak up the city’s atmosphere. A firm favourite amongst i-escape staff, it really does have it all: beautiful beaches (Camps Bay, Llandudno), fantastic restaurants (particularly along the V&A Waterfront and Kloof Street), gorgeous hotels and almost constant sunshine. As for the setting… the city is cradled in a bowl, with Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and City Peak on one side, and the gloriously blue Atlantic Ocean on the other. So by all means, take your time – we’ve gathered together the city’s best boutique hideaways to help you do just that.
But – and this is where it gets interesting – when the time comes to head beyond the city, rather than heading east to the well-trodden Garden Route or famous Cape Winelands, drive north along the coast. Having remained relatively off the beaten track, this area boasts bountiful abundant wildlife and natural beauty, as well as some wonderful up-and-coming destinations at relatively reasonable prices.
One of the region’s most striking natural wonders is the West Coast National Park, where thousands of migratory seabirds roost on sheltered islands and waders from the northern hemisphere brood amid the salt marshes. We feel it’s at its best in spring (August-September), when wildflowers carpet the landscape and are framed by the ever-present pristine beaches and azure water.
Birds aren’t the only migratory creatures worth looking out for while you’re here. Southern right whales can be seen travelling close to the shoreline from August until November, and boat trips are readily available in most coastal villages. Dolphins and seals also frequent the area, further increasing the odds of an exciting wildlife sighting. Place yourself in the heart of the action at Dune House, an idyllic seaside escape on Britannia Bay, and you may even be lucky enough to spot these beautiful creatures from you terrace.
Budding Attenboroughs will also adore Paternoster, where visitors can look out for wildlife while kayaking in the sheltered bay – or simply relax on its stunning sweep of white sand. But there’s more to Paternoster than the great outdoors. Over the past few years, world-class chefs have been redefining this charming fishing village as a foodie hub, opening a plethora of excellent eateries that are popular with locals and visitors alike. Perhaps the area’s abundance of fresh shellfish and wild herbs was too much to ignore?
One chef who is clearly making the most of nature’s finest is Kobus van der Merwe, whose bistro, Oep ve Koep, is known for serving ingredients foraged fresh from the surrounding sand dunes. Another i-escape favourite is Reuben’s, whose esteemed head chef Reuben Riffel is a judge on MasterchefSouth Africa. Perfect for a celebratory treat, the restaurant has endless ocean views and forms part of Abalone House & Spa (so no need to worry about how you’ll get home after that sumptuous dinner).
When to go
November-April is South Africa’s peak season; February is the best month as temperatures are constant (very hot!) and there’s little wind compared with other times. September’s wildflower season is also popular, and the weather is generally sunny but cool.
Our top tips
Wine aficionados need not worry; there are some excellent vineyards in these parts. One stand out is Groote Post, a historic 18th-century wine farm and restaurant (Hilda’s Kitchen), where excellent twists on Cape classics are served in the tree-shaded grounds.