By now you should know that Prince Charlie and I love going on adventures. We live for getaways no matter how far or how long. One of our favourite destinations in South Africa is Cape Town. We have been there together too many times to count during every season of the year. A few weeks ago, just before our President locked the border of our province for another Level 4 lockdown, we had the opportunity to take a winter road trip to the Mother City.
Our first road trip to Cape Town as a couple was in the Spring of 2010 during which we got engaged on the lawns of Boschendal wine estate. The advantages of visiting Cape Town in spring are longer, slightly warmer days without the summer’s oppressive winds and crowds. The days are still long, and the rain is not too frequent to prevent you from climbing Table Mountain or doing other outdoor activities. The winter rains trigger the budding of stunning fynbos which paint a colourful landscape all over the province.
Summer is by far the busiest season in the Mother City with tourists aplenty, from the Winelands to Woodstock. The fact that it does not rain much in summer and that the days are exceptionally long means you can plan many early morning hikes while still having most of the day for other activities while only toasting sundowners after 21h00. There are also many festivals and events planned during the summer months that ensure boredom is only a choice of the lazy.
During autumn you are spoiled with splashes of orange, red and yellow as the city prepares for a new season of refreshment, replenishment, and lots of rain. The days are still warm enough to experience all the outdoors has to offer but now and then you can find yourself cosied up next to a fire and enjoying a glass of wine with a delicious meal.
This year we had the full winter experience. The days are shorter, and the rain is a constant companion which ensures that the landscape is lush and green. You can rise with the sun at 07h30ish without feeling like you have missed out on any part of the day. There are no crowds to contend with guaranteeing excellent service wherever you go. The wine-and-fireplace scenario is now the order of the day during the winter months because Capetonians drink wine like the English drink tea.
As we were planning our trip it evolved from a long weekend in a rural isolated cabin to a full week of eclectic and exciting experiences. As I reminisce on this little adventure, I can honestly say that winter is (also) my favourite season to visit the Mother City.
Let me show you why taking a road trip to Cape Town in winter is always a good idea.
Reason 1: You can save lots of money
Usually, when the world is not fighting a stubborn virus, flights to Cape Town are slightly more affordable during the winter months even though Cape Town is still one of the most expensive flight destinations in South Africa. Unfortunately, that is not the case right now since the struggling tourism industry tries to salvage losses sustained in the last year. Therefore, we had no choice but to load the car and take the long road down to the other side of our country. Prince Charlie loves a road trip, and it is growing on me too since we have done this many times before. Another advantage of travelling down in your own car is that you don’t have to hire a car in Cape Town, and you really do need a car if you want to explore the greater city, and the affordable rental options tend to huff and puff up the mountain.
During the COVID pandemic driving in your own car is much safer than exposing yourself to airports and aeroplanes and the recirculated air of other passengers.
Winter is also the off-peak season. Most accommodation bookings and paid excursions such as the cable cars going up Table Mountain and visiting the aquarium are cheaper than the peak months.
Reason 2: If you start early, the road is shorter
Not really, but it feels like it.
Starting the drive as early as possible is essential to making the road seem shorter any time of year. We drove out of our driveway just after 4 am which meant we arrived in Cape Town just after 6 pm. This drive can be excruciating especially in summer when the days are long and hot. Pack lots of snacks so you do not have to go into the convenience store at every stop as these stores can be overcrowded and will waste your time. However, on this trip, it was eerie how quiet the roads and the convenience stops were as we were driving down, especially compared to our previous road trip in December 2020. Fortunately for us, this meant we got in and out fast and our travel time was shorter.
Reason 3: Bloubergstrand is always a good idea
Although Cape Town is surrounded by coastline, you do not see the beach unless you make a point of it. We often choose to stay in Bloubergstrand when we are in Cape Town so we can admire the gorgeous sunset views of Table Mountain, I can go on my morning run on the promenade, and we can take sunset walks on the beach.
My requirements for a good Airbnb close to the beach are unobstructed views, a balcony to admire the view and a comfortable bed. This listing had all the above and so much more. We were pleasantly surprised by an espresso machine which we used to its full potential since we are terrible coffee snobs. (We travel with our own Nescafe Dulce Gusto machine.) The host was very friendly and met us during check-in and check-out.
The cooler temperatures and later sunrise meant that we could wake up later and enjoy our run/walk later too – the perfect recipe for rest and relaxation. No need to hurry because the day has only begun.
Reason 4: You have the whole place to yourself (almost)
One of our favourite wine farms is Vrede en Lust wine estate where we enjoyed a wine tasting/lunch. I love this wine farm! The wine is exceptionally delicious, the views are spectacular, and the service is always friendly. Their wine and cheese pairing doubled as our lunch since we were planning on eating out the evening.
This can often be an effective way to taste the best the wine farms have to offer while still filling the small lunchtime gap in your stomach. For budget and calorie reasons it can be a good idea to have a light lunch in the Mother City since Cape Town is a culinary destination and eating out is inevitable as you are spoiled for choice.
In the evening we went for an early supper at Harbour House at the V&A Waterfront. For the first half of our evening, we were the only ones sitting on the terrace with the place only filling up later. The food was spectacular and the views first class which we most probably would not have had during the warmer, more popular months.
After our run/walk the next morning, we made our way to Jason’s bakery in the city centre for a late brunch. If you are on a low-carb diet, you should not follow this eatery on Instagram. They bake everything fresh in house every day and their croissants are the best I have ever tasted. I decided to have a breakfast sandwich on a croissant which meant that I could eat the top half clean with a dollop of honey. What a treat! Their coffee is smooth and strong which is a requirement for any place we go to for breakfast.
On our second day, we visited Constantia Glen where we were surprised by their breath-taking views and delicious Bordeaux blend close to the city centre.
On our third day, we said goodbye to Bloubergstrand and headed towards Hermanus. On our way, we enjoyed the most delicious bobotie at Vergelegen wine Estate. The best part was that the chef gives you a pamphlet with his recipe and spice blend. I can’t wait to make this bobotie at home. Vergelegen is well-known for its beautiful gardens and environmentally friendly approach to all things wine-related. This is a stunning stop any time of year.
Reason 5: You can book impossible reservations
One of the highlights of our trip was our dinner at Belly of the Beast. Every night the chefs Anouchka Horn and Neil Swart offer a tasting menu to only 24 diners. To get a reservation you usually have to book months in advance, but we were fortunate to get a reservation about three weeks before our visit because of the winter season (and lockdown travel restrictions). Each day they plan a new seasonal menu according to their creative inspiration, and you eat what they make without prior notice or any choice in the matter.
It is a culinary adventure for all the senses. We opted to add the wine pairing which I highly recommend as we were exposed to wines we have never heard of before, but which complimented each course beautifully. My experience is limited to eating food, not critiquing it, so I will leave the photos to do all the talking. My favourite courses were the beef tacos and the sago pudding dessert which I still crave, but everything was exquisite.
Reason 6: A cabin in heaven
Prince Charlie has been wanting to stay at the Kogelberg Nature Reserve for many years, so a long weekend in a wooden cabin with views for days was the foundation of our holiday as we celebrated his birthday during this trip. Travelling during winter meant we managed to get a reservation on short notice, and we benefited from the off-peak rates. The weather was great during our stay, but I can imagine visiting during the autumn and spring months will also be ideal. Kogelberg is situated almost halfway between Hermanus and Gordon’s Bay with stunning mountain, river, and forest views.
There are two styles of cabins available for accommodation and we stayed in the Mbali collection. The cabins are cosy and warm with everything you need for a comfortable self-catering experience. (Note that you must take everything with you – there is no shop on site.) There is no Wifi, television or cell phone signal, so it is just you, your roommate(s) and the great outdoors: Heaven! Although we had some cold, windy nights it was never necessary for us to light the indoor fireplace as we were warm enough inside. The cabin actually baked quite nicely during the day which makes me suspect it might not be an ideal destination during the summer months.
The views were exquisite!
You wake up to an unobstructed picture of a mountain kissed by pink clouds as the sun lazily wakes up from its long slumber. As you walk out the door you see other cabins, but the layout is designed in such a way that you rarely see your neighbours themselves. Hiking trails start from your doorstep, and you can decide if you want to hike for 5km, 25km, or somewhere in between.
We did two hikes during our stay and thoroughly enjoyed both, although I highly recommend the Oudebosch-Harold Porter trail with its diverse landscape and interesting terrain. An early evening braai is a perfect way to end the day.
When it rained or the weather was cool, we made our way to Hermanus for ice cream and wine tasting at one of the farms in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley.
At Sumaridge wine farm, we were once again one of three tables occupied and opted to enjoy their Raclette. This dish is basically melted cheese with bread and other goodies to dip into the cheese. What more could you want on a cold rainy day? Cheese and wine is always the answer.
On Carl’s birthday, after our hike, we took a drive towards Gordon’s bay to admire the views and enjoy the glorious sunset.
The next day we also had authentic Belgian waffles in Strand one morning before going on a hike when it was a bit warmer later in the day.
And one reason not to take a road trip: The road home can seem endless.
I know in kilometres both routes are exactly the same, but that drive back up north is always excruciating for me. For this same reason, you must start early (see reason 1).
I have often joked that Cape Town is the third person in our marriage because Prince Charlie loves his hometown and would move there in a heartbeat if the opportunity presented itself. In the meantime, we will keep on visiting, time after time, season after season.
What is your favourite part about a road trip?