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South Africa - but not just for the Sun

Caroline on a recent two-week action-packed trip to South Africa

A month ago I set off to South Africa for two weeks of delicious sun. Having not been back for more than 2 years, I was a little apprehensive about Johannesburg where the horror crime stories abound. I was totally misguided. From the South African Airways (SAA) team to the staff in the supermarkets, restaurants and flea-markets Jo'burg was filled with warmth and 'good vibes'. It's not just the weather that makes this sunny South Africa, it's the people. Colour and vibrancy of spirit is everywhere. The city beats with the rhythm of Africa. Street theatre, musicians and artists abound.

Montagu, South AfricaTop of my hit-list in Jo'burg was the Rosebank Rooftop Flea-market (it operates on Sundays on the roof of the Rosebank Mall). The market is a Pandora's box of imaginative products ranging from sculpture to food. A carved wooden teaspoon will cost you a mere 50 pence. Not just for those into buying gifts and goodies, this is a place to hang out, to listen to local music and to see local dancers while you sip on a drink at one of the foodie stands. I have revised my advice to people to skip Johannesburg: it is worth a stop especially if you know some locals. You really feel the heart of a city in transition. Entrepreneurs are flourishing and there is a 'can do' atmosphere.

Next stop was Cape Town where I did not hang around as I was on a mission to a small village called Montagu about 1.5 hours drive north east of Cape Town. Montagu nestles in a valley of plenty between mountains and vineyards. It is known as one of the premier rock climbing locations in the world. The surroundings are magnificent. It takes a lot to beat hanging off a ledge on Table Mountain looking over a turquoise Camps Bay in Cape Town, but Montagu comes close.

Viljoensdrift Wine Estate on the banks of the Breede RiverI was in Montagu for a few key things: R&R, great wine and excellent hiking. You could spend all your days in this locale moving from one fabulous wine estate to the next. What I like most about this wine region (apart from the delicious wine) is the accessibility of the wine estate owners and vignerons. Most of the estates offer free tasting in beautiful surroundings and the owners are available in the tasting rooms. There are also some new forms of wine tasting on offer. One of the local wine estates Viljoensdrift Estate offers trips up the Breede River on a barge with picnic baskets available on request. Those in the mood for more active adventures can avail of wine routing on horse-back, or in a canoe. White-water rafting on the Breede River is also available for the bravehearts.

Photo of South African Tortoise (Hare not visible)One of the best reasons for hiking in Montagu is the wildlife, which ranges from tortoises to eagles. Some hikers have also spotted leopards on very remote trails. There are two main hikes and several minor hikes in Montagu. The most famous is the Bloupunt trail, which takes a full day and is only advisable for the very fit and at certain times of year (e.g. not at the height of summer when Montagu can reach 40 degrees in the shade!). The second is Cogman's Kloof, which is a good six hours. Your muscles will be screaming by the time you reach the top but the views and the wildlife will make up for it. Take a good helping of water.

If you are in the mood for a visit to South Africa consider include Montagu in your itinerary. You can find information on the village on the Montaguvian website, at www.montaguvian.com. In case you're wondering about the name: locals in Montagu are known as Montaguvians - they tend to be a little eccentric and loads of fun... And, Montagu just got their first Internet Caf?so you can stay connected while enjoying the delights of a village at the edge of the Little Karoo.

Caroline Wardle

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