The Garden Route Getaway (http://www.gardenroute.co.za) is a leisurely drive out of Cape Town that has you pass through the valleys of Worcester, Montague, and Calitzdorp,
arriving at Oudtshoorn at the foot of the Swartberg Mountains. This historic town was built on the success of the ostrich feather boom at the end of 1800s. Your can enjoy the ultimate “Ostrich Experience” when they visit a show farm with thousands of the birds on view, from hatching chicks to full-grown adults.
You can also explore the spectacular Cango Caves (http://www.cangocaves.co.za), where millions of years of dripping water have transformed the limestone rock into massive veils of stalactites and strange candle-like formations. A scenic drive over the Outeniqua Pass to George, situated in the heart of the Cape’s floral Kingdom, is where you can board the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe (http://www.onlinesources.co.za/chootjoe) for a unique and unforgettable steam-train journey along the coastline between George and Knysna.
You can spend time exploring Knysna, the lush forest, the Garden of Eden, and Plettenberg Bay, ending another glorious day in Africa with a sunset cruise and dinner in the tranquil waters of the Knysna Lago
To fully enjoy the beauty of the peninsula you really need your own transportation. You can see it all in one day, but for a more leisurely exploration, save Kirstenbosch, Groot Constantia and Simon's Town for a separate visit.
Petrol attendants will fill your tank for you and will often wash your windscreen. Remember that petrol stations do not accept credit cards and petrol must be paid for in cash.
As in any foreign country, we would advise your readers to be aware and alert at all times to avoid falling prey to petty theft and crime. Most areas and attractions can be safely visited, however, use common sense, be discreet with expensive camera equipment and jewelry, and be aware of your surroundings. Avoid walking in deserted areas after dark, and when driving, always park in a well-lit and designated parking area.
Although we've described the route starting on the Indian Ocean coast, you can drive the full loop in either direction. Our favorite place for lunch en-route is the Brass Bell Restaurant and Cabin (Waterfront, Kalk Bay; +27-21/788-5455; R40-60), about 40 minutes out of Cape Town on the Indian Ocean side. Choose either of their upstairs restaurants.
Eat there early if you start down the Indian Ocean side, or late if you start on the Atlantic.
Start your exploration of the Cape with a visit to the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Situated on the Eastern side of Table Mountain, the gardens are home to over 9,000 species of indigenous plants, including a huge Protea garden. Although something is always flowering, the best time of year is from mid-August to mid-October. The views across the Cape Flats back to Hottentots-Holland Mountains are quite beautiful.
A short drive away is Groot Constantia, the oldest vineyard and homestead on the Cape. Now owned by the government, it is surrounded by vineyards which produce some excellent wine, although the serious wine buff will find a visit to Stellenbosch and Franschhoek (see the Wine Country section) more satisfying. The buildings are beautiful examples of
Cape-Dutch architecture and illustrate the lifestyle enjoyed by the wealthy Dutch in their new country. With Indian Ocean water warmer by up to five degrees than the Atlantic Ocean only a few miles away, False Bay has some of the most popular beaches on the Cape. Not as scenic as the Atlantic side of the Cape, Simon's Town and Kalk Bay are, nevertheless, worth a visit on the way around the Cape.
None of the beaches in this area is particularly gay. A nature reserve now protects the southern tip of the Cape. The windswept landscape, with over 1500 plant species, many birds, reptiles and small mammals, is one of the visual gems of South Africa. At the end of the road, walk another half mile uphill (or take the funicular) to get a view of Cape Point. Here, hundreds of feet below you, the cold Atlantic meets the warmer Indian Ocean. This clashing of hot and cold water generates winds and storms that have earned the nickname "Cape of Storms."
To return to Cape Town via the Atlantic Coast and Chapman's Peak Drive, literally carved out of near vertical cliffs, you travel a 1 2 kilometer stretch of road with spectacular views of Hout Bay. The drop-offs are a bit nerve-racking, but the scenery is worth it. Llandudno is a trendy town with its modern houses perched on the slopes above the water.
The gay beach of Sandy Bay (see below) is both pleasant and popular in the late afternoon. Continuing back into town, you'll pass in the shadow of the " Twelve Apostles" (the line of mountains running south from Table Mountain), and through the beach suburbs of Camps Bay, Clifton and Sea Point, towns that are reminiscent of the French Riviera.
Waking up after a weekend of warrioring through Cape Town’s laid back yet hectic nightlife can be rough. The Winelands wine country makes for an enjoyable day trip, but if you have time, try to spend a night or two out this way. Less than an hour’s drive away (a mere 85km, about 52miles, from downtown) the sleepy town of Franschhoek makes an ideal base to explore the sprawling valleys and vineyards of the winelands. Escaping religious persecution, French Huguenots arrived in 1688 and settled in what was then known as Olifantshoek (“Elephants Corner”), due to the herds of elephants that used the lush valley as a birthing ground (baboons still populate the hills today), and brought the secrets and skill of winemaking with them.
Today, the Huguenot Memorial at the end of the antique shop-filled main road commemorates their arrival and 46 cellars laud their skill. Other surrounding valleys such as Paarl and Stellenbosch, famous for its Afrikaans language university and historic Cape Dutch architecture as much as its vintages, offer hundreds more options for the wine enthusiast.
The souvenir enthusiast will go ga-ga at the 200-year-old Oom Samie Se Winkel (“Uncle Sam’s Shop”) in Stellenbosch, where you can buy everything from spices to clothes to
warthog heads and other sundry bric-a-brac throughout its crammed dusty rooms.
As is often the case in wine regions, the Winelands has plenty of urbane restaurants and gourmet food and cheese shops. Of particular note is Le Quartier Francais, a foodie
mecca for its restaurant, which has made more than a few "best in the world" lists; this Relais & Chateaux country inn also boasts stunning rooms with giant soaking tubs and
plenty of cushy amenities. Also in Franschhoek, Mont Rochelle Hotel & Mountain Vineyards offers plush accommodations and excellent food, and nearby Cabriere ranks among the
town's top wineries. If you're on a bit of a budget, try Franschhoek's gay-owned Maison Chablis, a warmly furnished seven-room country house with a pool and serene, landscaped grounds.
Stellenbosch, a historic university town with numerous 18th-century buildings done in the region's enchanting "Cape Dutch" style, also has a number of excellent restaurants, plus great shopping. Consider staying at the charming D'Ouwe Werf 1802, South Africa's oldest inn - it also has a fine restaurant. Another good choice is gay-friendly Villa Exner, a bit south of Stellenbosch along the region's scenic "Garden Route." This posh country estate has spacious rooms with flat-screen TVs and DVD players, a large outdoor pool, and a restaurant serving acclaimed country fare. At this property, you're close to the three elements that make this part of the world so special: prolific vineyards, turquoise seas, and emerald mountain
Much like the Napa-Sonoma area of California, tourism is primo here and incredibly easy, with free maps readily available marking well-organized regional wine routes. Leave the planning to the professional tour companies... (and really, who wants to drive with so many options to uncork?). South African wines pack a higher alcohol content and each exceptional taste of Pinotage (a hardy South African varietal created in 1925 by combining Pinot Noir and Hermitage vines into a robust red) and Sauvignon Blanc (the region is renowned for its whites) has a tendency to sneak up. Brandies and sweet wines and, surprisingly, olive oils for the AA crowd are also tops, as is the local bubbly, denoted Methode Cap Classique to indicate the same in-bottle fermentation process as champagne.
Outside of individual bottles we still can’t get the crisp Pierre Jourdan MCC and bold and peppery though truffle-undertoned Reserve Syrah from Seidelberg out of our heads —
vineyard highlights include the homegrown archeological and social history Museum van de Caab (“of the Cape”) at the Solms-Delta estate.
Tales of Khoisan tribesman, slave workers and contemporary oral histories engage with artifacts to create a holistic history of the region. Meanwhile 50-percent of the estate’s
profits benefit a local trust that aims alleviate the persistent historical inequities and semi-feudal society of the vineyards through cultural and fiscal empowerment. Their sweet-then-dry Solms Koloni, a Riesling and Muscat blend that’s desiccated on the vine and matured in oak, is a feat of forward-thinking ingenuity, too!
Nearby Fairview Estates, which gained notoriety for winning a court case against the French Government for trademark infringement on its Goats Do Roam line (get it?), offers up a smorgasbord of delectable goats and cow milk cheeses, such as a pungent brie-like gorgonzola, paired with homemade fruit preserves in an indulgent, rotating tasting selection.
Outside, coax the Swiss Mountain Goats off their historically accurate “Goat Tower” (seriously) with some oak leaves for a perfect picture op. With a race horse stud farm outside, and a stud of a wine steward Pieter inside, Avontuur Estate in Stellenbosch is prime for those classic rolling hills photo ops as well — not to mention a lemon-meets-ginger 2007 Chardonnay Reserve named Luna De Miel that’s all the rage in the national wine bible John Platter Guide. Floors swears they carry the region’s best Pinotage as well.
Not the stereotypical portrait filled with huts and famine, Cape Town boasts beaches, vineyards, and nightlife -- this is a truly modern Africa, cosmopolitan and progressive.
The undisputed gay capital of the African continent, Cape Town has something of the progressive vibe, stunning coastal scenery, and sunny disposition of similarly appealing
seaside cities, such as Sydney, San Francisco and Vancouver.
Part of a peninsular region that juts into the Atlantic Ocean along South Africa's south-western coast, Cape Town has become increasingly popular with visitors from North
America, offering travellers a small but vibrant gay business district and wonderful opportunities for day-tripping along the coast and inland to the lush vineyards and swank
country inns of the Winelands regions. Although Cape Town lies around 6,000 miles from London the benefit of travelling to this long haul destination, which is due south from the UK is that there is only one hours time difference so therefore no jetlag.
Like Seattle, San Francisco and Sydney, Cape Town shares the magical combination of water, culture and geographical beauty that make for an extraordinary visit. The city is the
administrative capital of the Cape Province, and the sophisticated culture and style capital of the continent. With beaches, vineyards, and wildlife both urban and animal all within 45 minutes of downtown, Cape Town is a city practically made for Sunday drives. With hills and valleys and panoramic views around every corner, the quaint seaside suburbs of Hout Bay, Fish Hoek, and Muizenberg and the wooded, vineyard-laden Constantia are every bit as opulent as the suburban strip malls are predictable.
Get your bearings from 3,500 feet with a cable car ride or lung-bustin' hike up flat-topped Table Mountain,(Outdoorsy types can hike their way up (or down) a network of trails, but the five-minute whoosh of the cable car was enough adrenaline for us) where windswept, panoramic views reveal the geographic grandeur and diversity of the Western Cape,
creating an ever changing tableau of sky, cliff and clouds.
Sheer cliffs give way to sandy beaches as city skyscrapers blend into miles of bleak, shanty-filled townships. Off in the distance, the more than 200 verdant vineyards of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch tempt with their abundant, award-winning sauvignon blancs while the rocky tip of the Cape Point peninsula taunts as the popularly misconstrued mingling spot of the Atlantic and Indian oceans (Cape Agulhas to the east claims that title).
Back down in the city, the stunning contrast of physical beauty abutting gritty urbanism makes for a vibe both laid back and neurotic. Think SoCal in South Africa. Gabled Cape
Dutch–style buildings abut glass-and-steel condos. Signal Hill's Noon Gun -- a cannon that used to herald the arrival of Dutch East Indies ships, now fired daily, lush Company
Gardens, and candy-colored bungalows of the largely Muslim Bo Kaap district recall colonial times, while a massive soccer stadium rising in preparation for the 2010 World Cup strides toward the future. Abject townships speak to lingering problems; Cape Flats strip malls speak to middle-class progress (there's even a gay bar there, Star Gayzer in
If you don't want to rent a car, you can explore a lot of the city proper by foot and taxi. Numerous tour operators can take you on day tours of the Cape Peninsula and the nearby winelands.
Having stepped out of its apartheid closet into the constitutionally protected light of day a mere 14 years ago, gay life in Cape Town is booming. And like many teenagers, it’s
bold, bawdy, conflicted, and in a constant state of reinvention.
While appreciating the fascinating intricacies of its multi-ethnic society -- black, white, Cape colored (mixed-race descendents of Malay slaves), and Afrikaner, with a total of 11 official national languages -- is tough in one visit, witnessing its ever-growing inclusiveness only takes a night out. With fits and starts, missteps and optimism, this teen has steadily grown into the queer capital of the Rainbow Nation, if not all of Africa. As the richest sub-Saharan country, South Africa gleams like a beacon of possibility on a continent yet to come into its own, an incredible testament to what optimism and hardscrabble determination can accomplish, especially in the arena of gay rights: LGBT people there have employment nondiscrimination, marriage, and adoption laws on their side. It takes a village to raise a Rainbow Nation, and its nickname reflects its intricate multiethnic society.
Traveling its striking landscape — in Cape Town alone you can go from beautiful beaches to vineyards to mountains and back to urban adventures within the space of a day — and
meeting its astonishingly warm people, it’s easy to be wooed by the glamour and game and forget you’re on the tip of a continent in flux. But beneath its queer and luxurious
veneer thrives a multifaceted, exceedingly fascinating place that’s both a memorably indulgent vacation and a front-row seat into the trials of our increasingly global times.