Getting Oriented

The Cape Winelands, 45 minutes east of Cape Town, is the Napa Valley of southern Africa. The region boasts some of South Africa's best restaurants and hotels, not to mention incredible wine. Running in a broad band from northeast to southeast is the beautiful Breede River valley, home to farms, vineyards, and orchards.

East of the Cape Winelands and bordering the Atlantic Ocean, the Overberg is home to the small towns and villages of Gordon's Bay, Betty's Bay, Kleinmond, Hermanus, Stanford, and Gansbaai. Inland, Overberg villages of Elgin, Greyton, Swellendam, and Elim embody a bygone age.

Heading north out of Cape Town is the drier, more windswept West Coast. Small fishing villages hunker down next to the sea and offer visitors plenty of space to roam.

The Cape Winelands. This area fans out around three historic towns and their valleys. Founded in 1685, Stellenbosch's oak-lined streets, historic architecture, good restaurants, interesting galleries and shops, and vibrant university community make it an ideal base for wine travel. Franschhoek, enclosed by towering mountains, is the original home of the Cape's French Huguenots, whose descendants have made a conscious effort to reassert their French heritage. Paarl lies beneath huge granite domes, its main street running 11 km (7 miles) along the Berg River past some of the country's most elegant historical monuments.

Breede River Valley. Farms, vineyards, and orchards make up most of the Breede River valley. (So it should come as no surprise that one of the towns in the area is called Ceres, after the Roman goddess of agriculture.) Small-town hospitality, striking mountains, and wide-open spaces are hallmarks of this area. In summer the heat can be overwhelming, and in winter the mountain peaks are often covered with snow.

The Overberg. The genteel atmosphere of the southwestern Cape fades quickly the farther from Cape Town you go. The Overberg, separated from the city by the Hottentots Holland Mountains, presides over the rocky headland of Cape Agulhas, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet (officially) at the southernmost tip of the continent. Unspoiled beaches, coastal mountains, and small towns are the lure of this remote area.

West Coast. North of Cape Town on the West Coast, civilization drops away altogether, save for a few lonely fishing villages and mining towns. Each spring, though, the entire region explodes in a spectacular wildflower display that slowly spreads inland to the desiccated Namaqualand and the Cederberg mountains. For nature lovers, the West Coast provides some unique opportunities, including birding at West Coast National Park at the Langebaan Lagoon and hiking or rock climbing in the remote wilderness areas of the Cederberg.

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