Winter favourites: Cape Town

2012-07-13 09:20

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What are some of the things you absolutely have to do when visiting your favourite winter escape? 

Depending on which part of South Africa you find yourself in, this list could vary, dramatically, to say the least. As South Africans, it’s part of what makes living here so special.

Take Durban for instance. Set along the Indian Ocean, temperatures can hover between the mid- to late 20s. Not much of a winter now is it?

In Johannesburg there’s no question about what season it is. You are more than likely to start the day frozen stiff as temperatures can, and do, hit the negative side of the thermometer. Come midday though, you’ve shed almost all of the layers you piled on to begin with - feeling decidedly like that person over in tropical Durban. But as soon as the sun disappears the re-layering begins to ward of the bone-chilling temperatures.

Winter in Cape Town might be familiar to those of you who have done a stint or two in Mud Island, aka Britain, but during summer. It’s wet, sometimes windy and if you are lucky, it throws a glorious gem or two your way that demands you take full advantage of it.

But come rain or shine, there's lots to do in Cape Town. Here are a few favourites to try. Feel free to add your recommendations in the comments section below.

Be a ‘wino’ for a weekend…

A wintery winelands view. Photo: Selene Brophy

If there is one thing the Cape is famous for it would most certainly be wine. There are a number of routes to choose from, it’s entirely up to you.

We’d suggest heading out to Franschhoek at the heart of the Cape Winelands. Making this your rest-stop provides the unique opportunity to sample some of the best food on offer in South Africa. The entire town is a celebration of South Africa’s cross-cultural heritage with France. But visiting during one of the annual winter festivals, such as this week's Bastille Day means you’ll experience the region’s showcased best in one digestible spot so to speak. Check out Le Franschhoek Hotel & Spa, who’s executive chef, Oliver Cattermole makes good use of the areas fine local produce in their winter menu specials. It helps that they have facilities on hand to plan a spa pamper session. But best you book ahead of time to avoid disappointment.

You might also want to consider the Overberg Wine Route along the Cape South Coast. It includes towns such as Elgin, Hermanus, Standford and Bot River, any of which would make a good weekend base-camp. We’d particularly recommend the Old Mac Daddy Farm out in Elgin. Here you will find their fully-catered lodge along with twelve distinctly unique Airstream Trailer units - two of them are perched on the dam with outdoor decks. Authentic trailer living ensures your weekend break will be anything but run of the mill. Making a day trip of tasting the great wines in the area is easy, as is road-tripping round to Hermanus to watch frolicking whales.

Get smelly by taking a floral hike…

A place where two oceans meet. Photo: Cape Point route

Cape Town is home to what is considered to be the wettest part of Africa. That place of course being Newlands.

In winter the surrounding areas prong into an ethereal, lush garden ready to be explored. We’d suggest planning a picnic to coincide with your energetic walk along one of the many trails winding its way through the Cape Floral Kingdom. 

The more adventurous could try the testy Skeleton Gorge which leads into Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Or opt for one of the other popular hikes etched into the Cape Nature Reserve such as Silvermine or the Kalk Bay Caves, especially if you get one of those sunny days we mentioned earlier.  Deer Park is a more pleasant alternative for those not wanting to break too much of a sweat.

Make winter your beach…

Who said it has to be all suntan oil and bikinis? Photo: Shutterstock

So you may be thinking that winter is a time to avoid the beach when in Cape Town. Not so. Wrap the family up snug and get ready to build sandmen or fly some kites. The Cape’s West Coast is just what you need to get a good dose of crisp, ocean air.

Blouberg beach is where all the kite surfers test their worth against nature’s elements. Quite a sight, but better to be enjoyed from the safety of the beach in our opinion since the Atlantic Waters are freezing. Eden on the Bay has the ideal setting for wine quaffing or pastries and coffee after a good, long stroll along the beach. There is also a delightful promenade for the kids to play safely.

On the other end of the Cape’s Ocean Spectrum you’ll find the likes of Noordhoek and Hout Bay. Mariner's Wharf is a Hout Bay harbor institution; this seafood bistro is a must for first-timers. While Noordhoek offers it's own beach treasures in the form of shipwreck-spotting hikes.

To market we go...

A view of Hout Bay. Photo: Selene Brophy

Cape Town, like any self-respecting tourist destination, has its fare share of markets. Browsing the wares on offer warms you up as does the delicious organic coffee and food. We’d recommend the Old Biscuit Mill and the recently-extended foodie market hub in Green Point's Cape Quarters  as great place for winter weekend brunch. It does become quite a bustling affair but that's part of the fun.

For something a bit more outdoorsy head to The Hout Bay Craft Market where you will find anything from quaint craft to spectacular artwork. It’s a good idea to combine this with a visit to the harbour mentioned before.

Another good choice would be the Milnerton Market found along Marine drive.  It’s a delightful morning activity, nestled next to Table Bay it can get quite nippy on winter mornings though. Depending on what you’re hoping to find, we’d suggest you visit on Saturday for the usual market fair but for those interested in rare collectables or fine antiques, a Sunday is your best bet.

Add a dash of drama…

Some dramatic fun in the city. Photo: Selene Brophy

Nothing rounds a winter escape off quite as nicely as an evening filled with drama, or perhaps a bit of comedy to get you warm from the chuckling. The Baxter Theatre in Rondebosch, located alongside the University of Cape Town, has been at the forefront of theatre production in South Africa. You can expect anything from a Pieter-Dirk Uys piece punctuated with political innuendos all the way through to popular classical concerts performed in its Concert Hall. Cape Town's other theatre heavyweight Artscape, based in the city centre, is popular for bringing the bigger Broadway productions to our local shores and is also home to the Zip Zap Circus, which provides free performance arts training to youths.

We’d also highly recommend checking out some of the city’s fringe theatre offerings such as Theatre on the Bay in Camps Bay where you’re able to enjoy the full supper theatre experience. Check each their listings and plan your evenings accordingly.

Got some winter favourites to share? Post a comment below then.

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