Capital city: Cape Town
Population: 4,7 million
Surface area: 129 500 square km
The Western Cape province is situated in the south-west of South Africa, extending up the west and east coasts. The province was the first area to be settled by European settlers, and was alternatively a Dutch and a British colony.
Cape Town is the legislative capital of South Africa, and houses the buildings of Parliament. The city is located in the shadow of Table Mountain, looking out over the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The history of the city is borne out by the architecture of the older buildings, with the different colonial styles on display.
One of the main attractions of the city is the picturesque Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. The Waterfront is a functioning harbour that includes various types of entertainment, from fine dining to sunset cruises, as well as a shopping centre and a museum.
There are also tours of Robben Island, the former penal island where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for over 20 years, along with other ANC leaders. Other places of interest in the city include the Parliament buildings, the National Museum, the Cultural History Museum, Bertram House, the National Gallery, and the Company Gardens. The Garden was established in 1652 as a refreshment station for passing ships. Then there is also the Castle of Good Hope, situated in Darling Street, which was constructed in 1666.
As you travel south from the city centre, you move along a long peninsula. Along this peninsula are numerous small settlements and resorts, such as Hout Bay, Fish Hoek, Llandudno, Kommetjie, Simonstown and Muizenberg. Simonstown is a small town built in the Victorian style, which is host to a rare mainland-based colony of penguins. The end of the peninsula is a nature reserve, namely the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve. Closer to the city, one finds the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, established in 1895 by Cecil John Rhodes, situated on the slopes of Table Mountain. The Gardens host music concerts in the summer.
Situated to the north of Cape Town is an area known as the winelands. This region produces world-renowned wines. Established over 300 years ago, some of the wine estates also have restaurants and accommodation facilities. A trip tot he winelands is incomplete without a wine tasting excursion, and most of the estates offer tastings. The key town in the region is the university town of Stellenbosch, located about 50km (30 miles) north-east of Cape Town. Franschhoek is another winelands town of note. Originally the home of French Huguenot refugees (who, incidentally, brought a wealth of wine-making knowledge to the area), the town has a good museum and ambience. The town of Paarl has several smaller museums, and is also home to the KWV company, which is one of the larger wine co-operatives in the region. Moving further away from Cape Town, there are smaller towns such as Ceres, Worcester, Wellington and Tulbagh, all important wine-making centres in their own right. You can take a pleasant drive through a peaceful landscape on your way to these towns.
The West Coast
As you move further up the West Coast, the landscape changes from fertile farming land to a scenic coastal plain. There are several fishing villages along this coastline such as Yzerfontein and Lamberts Bay. Further inland, the majestic Cederberg mountains divide the coastal plain from the arid Karoo region.
The South Coast and Garden Route
Moving east from the city of Cape Town, one finds a beautiful coastal region, starting with Somerset West and Hermanus, and then Arniston and Elim, further out. The chief industry in Elim is in flowers. Swellendam, situated some 215km (135 miles) from Cape town, is a town built in the historic Cape Dutch style, and is host to the fine Drostdy Museum. Moving further east than Swellendam, the area is known as the Garden Route, due to the dense forests that previously characterised the area. However, nowadays it is a scenic region with several holiday resorts, and makes for a charming drive. Towns along the way include Mossel Bay, one of the earliest harbour towns, Wilderness, which has its own nature reserve, Knysna, which is a resort town and a very good place for tourists, and Plettenberg Bay, which has various attractions such as a monkey zoo and a nature reserve.
It is also possible to travel east over the mountains, running parallel to the coast. This is known as the inland route, and includes towns such as Robertson, Montagu and Ashton, which are farming settlements. This route eventually leads on to the Little Karoo, the smaller version of the arid Great Karoo. It is also possible to switch between the Garden Route and the inland route using various mountain passes. The passes provide spectacular views of the area, particularly the Outeniqua Pass, which leads on to Oudtshoorn, a town characterised by Ostrich farms and the well-known Cango Caves.