Road-trippers, take note: a spectacular route around the farther-flung reaches of the South African peninsula is coming into its own. And with its stylish, singular hotels and first-rate food and wine, you may want to plan a trip now—before the rest of the world arrives. By Lisa Grainger
It used to be that visitors to Cape Town who wanted a taste of the wine and wild coastal landscapes outside the city would tack on a road trip through the beloved Garden Route. But over the past decade or so, the Garden Route, which runs around the southern tip of South Africa from Mossel Bay to Port Elizabeth, got a little crowded. These days, tuned-in travellers are heading inland, to the agricultural heartlands of the Cape and its lesser known southern shores—home to some of the most appealing hotels in South Africa, as well as traditional farming villages, fashionable new restaurants, and award-winning vineyards.
With the easy-to-navigate Route 62 (route62.co.za) at its heart and a host of quaint guesthouses at which to spend the night along the way, this trip showcases a quieter, more characterful side of the region. Starting and ending in Cape Town, I sampled the western half of the route last May for five sun-soaked days.
Days 1–2: Cape Town To De Hoop Nature Reserve
Driving southeast out of the city on the N2, I was struck not only by the quality of the roads and roadside farm shops, such as Peregrine (peregrinefarmstall.co.za), near the town of Grabouw, and the delightfully old-fashioned Napier Farm Stall (fb.com/napierfarmstall), but how extraordinary the landscapes in this part of the world are. As I wound through the Overberg region, field after field and orchard after orchard stretched towards the horizon, framed by dramatic mountain peaks. It doesn’t surprise me that when Dutch and French traders stopped here in the 17th century to resupply their ships, they didn’t leave.
About five hours into my drive, I turned in to De Hoop Nature Reserve—and immediately spotted a herd of rare bontebok, a type of antelope with distinctive white markings. The animals were taken aback by my presence, because until Lekkerwater Beach Lodge (INR 17,000 per person, all-inclusive; naturalselection.travel) opened in this 84,000-acre nature reserve in May 2019, few visitors passed through. From the lodge’s seven glass-fronted bedrooms overlooking miles of creamy beaches, there isn’t another structure in sight. The point of being there is to immerse yourself in nature, said Marieclaire Day, the lodge’s manager and chef. Day, I discovered, was a master at creating home-style meals out of the area’s flora and fauna—from fire-seared spiced antelope sausage to salads coloured with edible flowers.
To help protect the offshore marine reserve, all activities are land-based: bike rides and hikes on hills and beaches, beside giant, pool-pocked rock plates and shallow bays (which thankfully are more protected from the sharks that inhabit these rich currents than the open seas beyond). So abundant is the sea life, you don’t even need to leave the hotel to observe it. I watched mega-pods of dolphins frolicking in the waves at daybreak from the comfort of my bed. From June to November, Day told me, so many whales breed in the bays that one coastal path is known as the Whale Trail. “Every time you look up, you see one,” she said.
Day 3: De Hoop Nature Reserve To Montagu
I drove out of the reserve just after dawn. In the quaint Cape Dutch farming town of Swellendam, I stopped for coffee at the weekly Under the Oaks farmers’ market (visitswellendam.co.za/underthe-oaks) where local women sold homemade cakes, jams, and floral honeys, then strolled down its oak-lined streets, past restored 17th-century houses and the thatched museum Mayville House (visit swellendam.co.za/mayville-house). Next I embarked on the steep drive up the Tradouw Pass, a 16-kilometre feat of engineering that winds through the Langeberg mountains into the more desert-like Karoo region, offering views as thrilling as its multiple hairpin bends.
Barrydale, at the end of the pass, is one of the towns that has benefitted from the growing popularity of Route 62. This once-sleepy place is now offbeat and arty, with several notable places to stop, ranging from the Magpie Art Collective (magpieartcollective.com), a gallery that is stocked with regional art and eclectic chandeliers crafted from discarded items (the Obamas own two), to the American-style retro diner Diesel & Crème (entrées INR 285–INR 570; dieselandcreme.co.za) and the Maker’s Brewery (themakersbrew.co.za), where I sampled—but because I was driving, regrettably couldn’t gulp—cold glasses of its prize-winning ale.
Driving northwest, I passed through autumnal vineyards planted between towering mountains en route to the historic town of Montagu. Had I known quite how beautiful the guesthouses there were, I might have stayed two nights rather than one. Jonkmanshof (doubles from INR 11,390; jonkmanshof.com) is a delightful antique- and art-filled B&B made up of two traditional homes, built in 1854 and 1856, that have been renovated by the renowned Cape Town chef Jacques Erasmus and his partner, Hein Liebenberg.
They’ve also restored the charming cottage gardens, which are now inhabited by Bill and
Hillary—a pair of unusually energetic tortoises.
Day 4: Montagu To Robertson
After bathing in a giant tub scented with garden herbs and feasting on orange-yolked eggs in a dining room adorned with bunches of dried flowers, I wandered the streets of Montagu, past centuries-old buildings and galleries. Try to avoid my mistake of visiting on a Sunday—most things will be closed, except for the fruit shop (worth stopping at for padkos—traditional road snacks such as beef biltong and dried apricots). So I explored the town’s many churches and the paths that wind from its outskirts into the dry foothills. Heading out of Montagu, I drove to two vineyards recommended by Lew Rood (lewrood.com), a Cape Town–based travel planner I’d consulted before setting off. First, I stopped at Springfield (springfieldestate.com), which overlooks a pretty lake, then Van Loveren (entrées INR 356–INR 1,068; vanloveren.co.za), where the buzzy, vine-covered bistro offers inventive tastings, like a range of reds paired with chocolate from the region.
After a busy day of driving and exploring, the Robertson Small Hotel (doubles from INR 8,188; therobertsonsmallhotel.com) was the ideal place to collapse. With interiors by talented South African– born Londoner Sophie Ashby, the Edwardian-era home has 10 stylish rooms, gardens, courtyards, and a wood-fire-warmed living space, all adorned with tastefully curated arts and crafts. Ashby’s sister Rose helped create the menu, and dinner was superb, from the herb-fed lamb with butternut squash to a rich chocolate dessert sprinkled with a ‘gravel’ of burnt oranges and dried mulberries.
Day 5: Robertson to Stellenbosch
I didn’t really want to leave the Robertson Small— who would, when the bread has just come out of the oven and the marmalade is thick with kumquats? Luckily that day’s route, heading west toward Stellenbosch, was particularly picturesque. After I took in the dynamic 17th-century university town, with its thatched roofs, white Cape Dutch gables, and South African art spaces including the shoppable Dorp Street Gallery (10 Church St; 27-21-887 2256) and the prestigious Rupert Museum (rupertmuseum.org), it was time to check in to the Lanzerac Wine Estate (doubles from INR 21,360; lanzerac.co.za), my lodgings for the night.
Created from an 1830 Cape Dutch homestead, the estate’s recently refurbished 48-room hotel has elegant suites with private pools, a spa with vineyard views, and a cosy bar that serves Cape farm-style cuisine— which that night included a rich pork belly and a cinnamon-dusted milk tart. I was due to return to Cape Town the next day. That, and the fact that Lanzerac’s vineyard was where, in 1925, the first Pinotage was created by mixing Hermitage and Pinot Noir varieties, had me feeling a bit sentimental. So I decided to ship home a few bottles to savour while planning my next trip: along the eastern half of Route 62.
Plan a perfect Route 62 road trip
Africa luxury specialist Mahlatini can arrange a six-night itinerary, with stays at Lekkerwater Beach Lodge, Jonkmanshof, the Robertson Small Hotel, and Lanzerac Wine Estate (from INR 1,85,091 per person, including hotels, car rental, and international flights; mahlatini.com).