South Africa’s renowned Garden Route stretches from Cape Town on the west coast all the way to Port Elizabeth on the east coast, covering 800km of spectacular southern coastline.
Along the way it is possible to take in forests, mountains, vineyards, beaches, farm stalls and historic sites, and all the best Christmas holidays of my life have been spent doing just that. So instead of shivering through another northern hemisphere Christmas, why not join me on an unforgettable festive season Garden Route gourmet trip.
24 December We’ll arrive in Cape Town and check into the very lovely Blackheath Lodge in Sea Point where I know hosts Ant and John will take excellent care of us. However great the temptation may be to lounge by the secluded pool all day, we have other things on the agenda: wine.
Cape Town is the centre of the South African wine industry, and we've booked a driver to take us on a whirlwind tour of some of my favourite estates. If we make an early start, we can see three estates before lunch:
- Fairview -- also makes an excellent selection of cheeses.
- Lievland -- stunning traditional Cape Dutch building; wonderful port.
- Muratie -- very old & historic estate, wonderful dessert wines.
Lunch at Delheim Wine Estate will be enhanced by their beautiful terrace overlooking the vineyards with a view all the way to False Bay.
If we’re still standing after lunch, let’s try:
- Welgemeend -- where female winemaker Lizette Steyn-James makes exceptional Bordeaux-style blends.
- Waterford -- chocolate and wine pairings available in a beautiful Provencal-style courtyard.
- Spier -- for coffee under the trees as much as for the wine!
And if we survive, I’ve booked dinner at Anatoli Restaurant, a middle-Eastern feast for the senses.
25 December It’s a gorgeous, sunny Christmas day so we are up early and on the road to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve, a World Heritage Site where two of the world’s great oceans meet. The huge reserve offers walking/hiking, bird watching, whale-watching, swimming in tidal pools (for the brave!) and game spotting.
We’ll take a trip on the Flying Dutchman funicular and spot some of the 5 visible wrecked ships along the coast, before heading on to our Christmas lunch at the Two Oceans restaurant. The restaurant is perched high above False Bay with a view that will take your breath away, and the Christmas menu includes traditional and contemporary options. It’s an unforgettable place to share a warm-hearted South African Christmas.
Spend the rest of the day either walking off the lunch along the Sea Point promenade or simply sitting on Three Anchor Bay beach contemplating life – both are an easy stroll from our accommodation.
26 December Today we’ll head up Table Mountain via the world famous Table Mountain aerial cableway first thing in the morning as it often clouds over later. The large cable car has a 360o revolving floor, so no need to scrum to the window with the best view. At the top, we’ll enjoy spectacular views over the city and coastline.
If we have time there are easy hiking paths all the way along the “table” to Maclear’s Beacon, or even a relatively easy hike down Skeleton Gorge (do not do this alone though – there have been reports of attacks on the mountain). This afternoon, it’s a good time to take the Robben Island ferry to see the historic island prison where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years (advance booking is essential). The ferry leaves from the vibrant V&A Waterfront complex, where we can grab a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants before our 3pm ferry. By 18h30, we are back in the waterfront, so we’ll do some shopping before having dinner at Emily’s, an excellent and innovative modern South African restaurant.
27 December Today we say goodbye to Cape Town and head down the coast to Hermanus, home of the world’s only whale crier. This is prime whale-watching season as the Southern Right Whales come inshore to breed and can easily be seen frolicking off the coastline. Splash out on accommodation with a view at the Marine Hotel, right on the cliffs, and watch the whales from your own balcony. For the more energetic, walking along the cliffs is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours, as is shopping in the village or exploring the historic harbour. For dinner, we’re staying in and dining at one of the hotel’s two restaurants, both overseen by the chef Liz Mcgrath.
28 December It’s back on the road as we need to return reach Knysna by lunchtime. We’re checking into a lagoon cottage at the historic Belvidere Manor, run by the charming Sue Mills and her husband. Take a few minutes to relax with tea on the verandah overlooking the Knysna Lagoon, served by Jeffrey, the most cheerful waiter in Africa!
We’ll head into town to explore the quirky shops and boutiques (not forgetting the African craft market on the lagoon road) before having a late lunch at the famous Knysna Oyster company on the lagoon. The wine is chilled and the oysters could not be fresher! From there we head to the John Benn for a sunset cruise on the lagoon all the way to the famous Knysna Heads. We arrive back just in time to head for Lush restaurant at the Lagoon’s edge for cocktails and a memorable dinner.
29 December Up early today to catch the Spirit of Knysna ferry over to the Featherbed nature reserve, a privately owned reserve and South African Heritage Site on the western headland. On our 4-hour expedition, we’ll take a trailer ride to the top of the headland for spectacular views and enjoy a guided nature walk, followed by a buffet lunch before the ferry trip home. We can easily spend the rest of the afternoon wandering around the shops in the Knysna Quays and Thesen Island development, not forgetting to stop for coffee and the addictive pastries at Ile de Pain, Knysna’s first artisanal baker. And for dinner, we’ll stay in and dine at Belvidere Manor, with maybe a nightcap on our private verendah.
30 December It’s a short drive along the N2 from Knysna to Plett, home of one of South Africa’s loveliest beaches, and that’s where we’re heading today. There are plenty of stops along the way for crafts and local produce, but the one place where we have to stop is definitely the Knysna Elephant Park, where we can touch and be touched by African elephants – an unforgettable experience.
In Plett, we have booked into Southern Cross Beach House, run by the lovely Sue Ovenstone. The house is right on the dunes of Robberg Beach, a curve of golden sands that stretches for 6 unspoilt kilometres like a lazy smile. After a quick lunch at Cornuti al Mare for the best pizzas in town, we can either explore the shops in the village (including The Old House Shop, a breezy interior décor shop also run by Sue, or the quirky Global Village in the Piesang Valley), or simply laze away the day on the beach. For dinner, we’ll take a drive 15 minutes down the coast to neighbouring Keurbooms Village for a spectacular beach sunset before dinner ay Enrico’s with the surf crashing metres from your table.
31 December Walking or lazing on Robberg Beach is always an option today, but we could also get up early and head for the Robberg Nature Reserve. There are various walks offering spectacular views across the bay, including a circular 4-hour walk all the around the peninsula. This route gives us a bird’s eye view of the huge Cape fur seal colony on the eastern side of the peninsula, as well as passing caves thought to have housed some of the area’s prehistoric inhabitants. Having worked up an appetite, we pop into Miguel’s Restaurant and Cocktail Terrace for some sushi before heading down to Central Beach for a whale and dolphin watching cruise. Take it easy until evening – it’s new year’s eve and Plett is known to have one of the best celebrations on the coast.
If we’re feeling swanky, Fu.Shi has a spectacular deck and outstanding sushi and seafood; or to get down with the locals, try Moby Dick’s on Central Beach – a sand-between-your-toes joint with front row seats for the spectacular annual fireworks display on the beach at midnight.
1 January On the road again, this time to Port Elizabeth, 240km away. On the way we’ll stop at the Blaauwkrantz Bridge to see the world’s highest bridge bungee jump, as well as at Storms River to buy some of the best biltong (air-dried beef) in the country. After checking in at the City Lodge Hotel and Suites across the road from the beach, it’s time to put our feet up and have lunch at Blue Waters Café with its panoramic ocean views.
If we’re feeling energetic, let’s spend the afternoon on the Sacramento Coastal Trail. Or for the less energetic, an afternoon on pristine Sardinia Bay Beach is always a good option. We’ll spend the evening at the Boardwalk complex where there are a host of restaurants to choose from – but the best steaks are at Squire’s Loft!
2 January Up early again, I’m afraid, for the 75km drive to nearby Addo Elephant Park. Apart from the 450 elephants, the park is also home to buffalo, black rhino, warthog and various antelopes, so you are guaranteed a sighting. Self-drive or guided options are available, but booking is advisable. And once we’ve had our fill of game watching, there is always the a la carte restaurant for lunch, before we head back to Port Elizabeth to catch our late afternoon flight back to Cape Town.
Jeanne Horak is a thirtysomething, born and bred South African who grew up, was educated and had worked quite happily in Port Elizabeth all her life. That is, until fate intervened and she followed her husband who wanted to fulfil a dream of working abroad. They left for London with the intention of staying a year...and eight years later they're still there. All plans are fluid!
Jeanne keeps a food blog called Cook Sister.