The ultimate South Africa road trip - Issue 172 - Magazine | Monocle

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South Africa’s west coast stretches more than 1,000km from Cape Town to the mouth of the Orange river and neighbouring Namibia. Despite the cool sea temperatures, people shoal here for the white-washed fishing towns skirting cerulean bays, as well as the blankets of wildflowers that bloom in spring. Inland, Swartland is known for its olive groves and vineyards. Here, independent winemakers are winning over critics and drinkers alike with citrussy chenins and spicy syrahs.

In recent years, new residents have joined the road-trippers in search of a more idyllic life – not to mention fresh retailers, makers and entrepreneurs ready to cater to them. Monocle takes the wheel for a trip across the rugged region from Cape Town North to Paternoster, then inland and back south past Malmesbury, Wellington to Simondium and back. Ready? Let’s hit the road.

Day one
Cape Town — Yzerfontein — Paternoster

Monocle is passing the seaside apartment blocks and windswept beaches visible from the R27 highway as Cape Town recedes in the rear-view mirror. By Melkbosstrand, the clutter of buildings and stop-start traffic lights has fallen away to reveal seemingly endless sand dunes and wildlife reserves that stretch out along the coast. Our first stop is Rosemead Artisan in Yzerfontein. Its founders, chefs Brett and Anli Nortier, escaped the hustle and bustle – and higher rents – of Stellenbosch to open, as Brett puts it, “a small community bakery”.

Brett Nortier of Rosemead Artisan Bakery
Kneading bread at Rosemead Artisan Bakery

Before you enter the corner café, just a few minutes’ drive from the beach, you’ll catch a buttery waft of croissant and the reassuring aroma of freshly baked loaves. Taste either and you’ll soon realise why this is the sort of neighbourhood joint that tempts day-trippers to make the 85km journey from Cape Town. During the high season (December and January), queues snake out the door for a seat. But things move quickly here. Brett tells us about a customer who stopped in recently and queued for carrot cake despite having a rather pressing flight to catch (he made it, cake in his hand luggage). Grab a seat in the stripped-back, concrete-floored space, order a pastel de nata and watch as the baker’s hands dart and glide across the floured surface at the open pastry counter.

En route to Paternoster

Back on the R27, we spy giraffes’ heads poking through the canopy at Buffelsfontein, a wildlife reserve that skirts the highway. Off the main road, once we pass through the unlovely industrial area of Vredenburg, we’re back in a postcard-pretty coastal idyll. The white-washed fishermen’s cottages seem to shimmer like the silvery scales of the Cape’s abundant tuna: we’re in Paternoster, one of the oldest settlements on South Africa’s west coast. 

Being here means that we can try Dispens, a farm shop and all-day restaurant from food-writer turned chef Kobus van der Merwe. Paternoster has grown in recent years but there’s still a slow rhythm to life here. “There has been a massive property boom,” says Van der Merwe. He has seen the town attract talent in increasing numbers since he moved here 13 years ago and opened Dispens in a small, tin-roofed former shark-liver-oil factory. Today things are rather different. Pull up a seat in the courtyard for rooibos tea and a scone freckled with deliciously salty seaweed or, if you have more time on your hands, try Wolfgat, Van der Merwe’s restaurant a few streets over.

Delectable dish at Wolfgat

Set in a cottage above a bay, Wolfgat is less a stopover and more a destination: bookings can fill up months in advance. Despite its top billing in “best restaurant” lists, the place is unpretentious and set around a simple dining room riven with wooden beams and flanked by a shady terrace. The menu is heavy on seafood, including succulent mussels, tender Cape bream and foraged delicacies such as dune spinach. “The menu is inspired by the history of this coastline,” says Van der Merwe, who we meet in the restaurant kitchen. After lunch, we recommend you roll down to the beach for an invigorating dip or walk. Want to stick around for longer? Stay overnight at the Strandloper, a glass-fronted hotel overlooking the sea.

Address book:
Day one
Breakfast: Rosemead Artisan Bakery
Corner of Park and Volstruis Street, Yzerfontein, 7351
Eat: Dispens
Corner of St Augustine Road and R45 (Vredenburg Road, 1 St Augustine Rd, Paternoster, 7381
Eat and drink: Wolfgat
Stay: Strandloper

Day two
Hopefield — Malmesbury — Riebeek-Kasteel

In the morning, we head back onto the R27 and through Hopefield, stopping for breakfast at the Hopefield Market at the Foodie Hub, which comes to life with local producers on Saturdays. We’re heading inland to Riebeek-Kasteel, a neat town surrounded by mountains that mark the heart of Swartland. Here, we check in at Kokos Huis, a new lodge in a 200-year-old farm building with terracotta floors and old shutters. The structure has been overhauled by Andorran hotelier Prisca Llagostera.

“It has a lot of soul,” says Llagostera of the building she helped painstakingly restore. Inside, the cosy rooms have low ceilings decked out in muted linens and illuminated by dappled light from woven lampshades. In the rear courtyard, there’s an inky pool lined with tasselled umbrellas and palm trees. Llagostera moved to Riebeek-Kasteel after she fell in love with a winemaker (and the region). “The cellars are full of personality,” she says. Be sure to make appointments at some of them. Monocle’s favourites include The Sadie Family Wines, Swerwer Wines and AA Badenhorst. The latter lets out homely farm cottages with sweeping vineyard views, should you plan on lingering longer. If you’re in town on a Thursday or Friday, visit the farm for its famed pizza night. Not all of the cellars are open all of the time, and almost all of them are appointment-only. But if you’re simply looking for a selection of the very best bottles, you’ll find most of them at the Wine Kollective, a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop right on the edge of town. It’s stacked with the region’s best and hardest-to-find vintages. Grab a few before settling down for dinner and drinks under the stars at Kokos Huis.

Fresh produce
Tending the gardens
Green and pleasant land 
The Wine Kollective stocks some of the region's best wines

Day two
Breakfast: Hopefield Market
Eat and drink: AA Badenhorst, Malmesbury
Shop: The Wine Kollective, Riebeek-Kasteel
Stay: Kokos Huis, Riebeek-Kasteel

Day three
Wellington — Simondium — Cape Town

Our final morning drive takes us to Wellington and FiftyFive Croissants for a breakfast coffee and pan au chocolat. Set in a white gabled building with a sunny terrace, the café makes seeded sourdough and croissants loaded with cheese and bacon. It also stocks essentials, including coffee and eggs. Be sure to leave ample room for lunch at Vygie though. The restaurant is set on lush grounds wedged deep in the mountains and down a bumpy road. Partners Rose and AJ Williams, who previously worked in art and fashion (and now catering), opened the restaurant on Rose’s father’s farm when they moved to Wellington in 2021. Occupying a large, open-air brick building that was once a foaling barn, the space is also home to multiple artist studios, one of which belongs to Rose. 

The best seat at Vygie is on the lawn or down by the babbling stream. The menu is served family style, with dishes such as marmalade roast chicken and pasta stuffed with roasted butternut squash and spinach. For dessert there’s seasonal fruit tart or ice cream. “We love making cakes,” says Rose, who has seen an influx of people to the area. “There’s a lot of space for creativity [here] and a strong community who appreciate hard work and good taste.” 

The restaurant is housed in an old barn
Vygie's AJ Williams
Lunch at Vygie

We head back to Kokos Huis for our effects before taking the N1 to our final stop, Babylonstoren, a farm outside Stellenbosch. Set up by former magazine editor Karen Roos, the property features several revamped farm cottages with green shutters, thick walls, white Scandi-style furniture and floor-to-ceiling glass windows that overlook the garden. There’s plenty to do, from baking courses to wine tasting and a shop stuffed with local linens and crockery. You can hike to the top of the koppie (a small hill) or splash around in the farm pool. Have dinner at Babel, the farm’s restaurant, which serves seasonal plates and salads so pretty it almost seems a shame to eat them. But it’s in the evenings, once the day visitors leave, that Babylonstoren really shines. Grab a glass and take an evening stroll around the gardens, through rows of citrus trees and past the shimmering fronds of the cycads in the shadow of Swartland’s rolling hills. You won’t want to head home.

Lush landscape
Babylonstoren garden path

Day three
Breakfast: FiftyFive Croissants 
36 Bain Steet, Wellington, 7654
Eat and drink: Vygie
Bovlei Road, Wellington, 7654
Stay: Babylonstoren, Simondium

Monocle’s itinerary


Our journey by car takes us north from Cape Town, along South Africa’s Atlantic coast. We travel 150km, past Yzerfontein to pretty Paternoster, where we spend the first night. Then we head inland to hilly Swartland to the small settlements and farm-dotted foothills of Hopefield, then on to Malmesbury and Riebeek-Kasteel for the night. The next day, we go south to complete the loop, taking in Wellington and Simondium, 60km east of Cape Town for a clear run back to the airport. We recommend a minimum of three days for the trip.

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