The Trip of a Lifetime: Exploring South Africa's Winelands and Garden Route

by Heather Richardson in Nature & Outdoors

With tourist attractions and hotels around every turn, the stretch of coastal South Africa between Cape Town in the Western Cape and Gqeberha (formerly Port Elizabeth) in the Eastern Cape simply cries out to be road-tripped. Start this epic South African journey with a tour of the Cape Winelands before moving through the gears along the scenic Garden Route – it all amounts to a holiday of superb food and drink, sensational scenery, adrenaline-pumping activities and warm hospitality. What more could you ask for? Read on for our Winelands and Garden Route highlights – road trips don't get more spectacular than this.

Sip South Africa's best locally grown wines

Vineyard with rows of grapes in the scenic landscape of Stellenbosch, near Cape Town

The Stellenbosch winelands are a vision of jagged mountains and rolling vineyards (Photo: bennymarty)

You needn’t travel far from Cape Town International Airport to sample some of the country’s excellent vintages. The Durbanville wine region is just a short drive away from the big city and feels more like the countryside than what it is – part of the Cape Town metropolitan area. The Protea Hotel by Marriott Cape Town Durbanville is situated right next to the D’Aria Wine Estate, one of the best wineries in the Durbanville area – make sure to try the sauvignon blanc for which the region is known.

Heading beyond Cape Town, you’ll quickly reach Stellenbosch, one of South Africa’s most celebrated wine areas. The historic university town is backed by jagged mountains and surrounded by rolling vineyards. It makes an easy day trip from Cape Town – but staying somewhere local is by far the best way to enjoy the Cape Winelands. The Protea Hotel by Marriott Stellenbosch is right in town – with its great coffee shops and restaurants – and just a quick drive or taxi from South Africa’s world-class wineries. Known for its dramatic views across vineyards and mountains, superb wines, extensive art collection and fine dining, Delaire Graff Estate is a must-visit when in the Stellenbosch area. It lies just a 15-minute drive from the elegant suites at the Protea Hotel by Marriott Dorpshuis & Spa Stellenbosch, where you might want to ease out any post-flight tension with a massage or a revitalising facial.

In the next valley along, Franschhoek will likely be another familiar name for wine enthusiasts. The little country town is barely more than a main street – but for those who love their food and wine, this is one of the top destinations in the world. La Petite Colombe is one of the country’s finest restaurants and its tasting menu will linger long in the memory. The Protea Hotel by Marriott Franschhoek, meanwhile, is the perfect central base from which to delve into the town’s rich culinary scene.

Hit the road along the enchanting Garden Route

Lighthouse near Mossel Bay, a point along the Garden Route in South Africa

Picturesque Mossel Bay also offers plenty of nerve-jangling activities (Photo: michaeljung)

After some well-deserved indulgence in the Winelands, it’s time to move on from delicious vintages to dazzling beaches with a tour along the unforgettable Garden Route. This iconic tourism route – one of the world’s best road trips – officially starts at Mossel Bay and runs roughly 300km eastwards along South Africa’s southern coast to Tsitsikamma Forest.

Mossel Bay offers a heap of nerve-jangling activities from cage-diving with great white sharks to skydiving. Less intense options include hiking, surfing, and a 1150m zipline across the ocean – it's said to be the longest of its kind, on which riders can reach a top speed of 55 miles an hour. 

After a few days spent inland, sampling the Winelands' delicious vintages, the ocean views offered from the Protea Hotel by Marriott Mossel Bay, which overlooks Santos Bay and the harbour, are balm to the soul. Given the coastal environment, it’s no surprise to find that the speciality in these parts is seafood – Café Gannet is known as Mossel Bay’s 'seafood house', serving fresh prawns and mussels and dishes such as kingklip en croûte – kingklip fillet and smoked salmon wrapped in crispy filo pastry.

A diversion into ostrich country

Ostrich farm at Oudtshoorn, South Africa

An hour's drive inland from Mossel Bay, Oudtshoorn is known as 'the ostrich capital of the world' (Photo: jess311)

From Mossel Bay, drive north from the coast to the town of Oudtshoorn, nestled between the Swartberg and Outeniqua mountains. Oudtshoorn goes by the moniker ‘the ostrich capital of the world’ for its numerous ostrich farms, many of which you can visit. If you eat red meat, make sure to sample some of the ostrich dishes found in restaurants all over town, from steaks to burgers.

Oudtshoorn is also home to the Cango Caves, which are millions of years old and decorated with stalactites and stalagmites. The Protea Hotel by Marriott Oudtshoorn Riempie Estate lies just 20 minutes from the caves, in a country estate featuring thatched rondavels (traditional cylindrical huts with pointed roofs) and two-bedroom units for families or groups.

Then finish with a flurry of gorgeous beaches and coastal forests

Coastline of Lagoon Knysna, Garden Route South Africa

Whale-watching hub Knysna lies on the edge of a lagoon that opens out into the Indian Ocean (Photo: Dominiquedelacroix)

Heading back down to the coast, the next major point on the Garden Route is the city of George, which is a perfect place to stock up on supplies for the rest of your journey. Spend the night at the Protea Hotel by Marriott George King George and stretch your legs with a round at the adjacent George Golf Course. 

Under an hour’s drive from George is Knysna – a favourite holiday destination amongst South Africans and somewhere you’ll undoubtedly want to spend at least a couple of nights. The town is on the edge of a lagoon, which opens out into the Indian Ocean. Between June and October, you can take whale-watching boat trips to spot southern right whales on their annual migration from Antarctica. 

Protea Hotel by Marriott Knysna Quays overlooks the lagoon, ideally positioned for exploring Knysna and its surroundings. Hike around the Garden Route National Park or cycle through the Knysna forests, before heading back to the hotel for a dip in the heated outdoor pool. The hotel is a great base from which to visit some of the region’s long sandy beaches, from where it’s sometimes possible to spot dolphins leaping through the surf. Don’t miss a late afternoon cruise with sundowner drinks and the town’s famous Knysna oysters.


Published: September 09, 2022

Article Tags:  Cape Town , South Africa

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