You can reach Hermanus in about 80 minutes via the N2, but the coastal route, which adds another 20 to 30 minutes to the journey and snakes along the sheer cliffs of the Hottentots Holland Mountains as they plunge down to the oceans below, is the recommended route. To take it, head for Gordon's Bay, an easy 40-minute drive from Cape Town on the N2, and take the coastal route (R44) out of town. Keep an eye out for whales and dolphins in False Bay as you descend the cliffs and bypass the Steenbras River mouth and Koeelbaai (pronounced "cool-buy"), a beautiful beach and break favored by surfers. Between rocky outcrops along this stretch of coast, you'll find small sandy coves shaded by ancient milkwood trees and grassy sunbathing areas.
Having crossed the Rooiels River (named for the red alder trees that grow in the riverine bush up the gorge, and twisting through another beautiful and usually deserted beach), you head through fynbos-covered hills passing the Buffels River and the sprawling holiday village of Pringle Bay. While Pringle isn't in itself a beautiful town, the coastline and mountain views are lovely, and it's in a UNESCO World Nature Reserve, which makes a relaxing stopover for nature lovers. Your best bet is probably the swish Moonstruck (tel. 028/273-8162; www.moonstruck.co.za; R990-R1,650 double, breakfast included), a good-looking contemporary guesthouse with just four rooms (ask for the honeymoon suite, which has an impressive four-poster bed, fireplace, and large balcony from where you can stare across the bay to Cape Town's Devil's Peak). If you're just looking for a comfortable bolt-hole, try the Cottage at the basic but reasonable Barnacle B&B (tel. 028/273-8343; R600-R1,000 double). It's child-friendly, offers specials for longer stays, and lies right next to both river and beach. Even if you don't stay over, Pringle Bay is a good spot for lunch: If you're in the mood for seafood, Hook, Line and Sinker (tel. 028/273-8688) is a thoroughly unpretentious locale, with newspaper-covered tables and fresh, fresh seafood -- you'll find it at 382 Crescent Rd. Or pick up some treats from Lemon and Lime Deli (tel. 028/273-8895), such as smoked snoek pâté and a loaf of their famous bread, and press on.
Just past Pringle Bay, where the R44 cuts inland past the Grootvlei marshlands, is a less traveled detour to Cape Hangklip, pronounced "hung-clip" -- literally, "Hanging Rock" (just check that the road is open before you leave Pringle Bay). This 460m-high (1,509-ft.) wedge of rock was often mistaken for Cape Point, which, incidentally, is how False Bay came by its name. After skirting three lagoon-type lakes -- estuaries blocked by coastal dunes -- you reach Betty's Bay, home to a remarkable number of ugly holiday cottages, one of only two land-based colonies of jackass penguins (the other is in Cape Town), and the beautiful Harold Porter Botanical Gardens (tel. 028/272-9311; Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm, Sat-Sun 8am-5pm; R15). Take one of four trails up the mountain to the Disa Kloof Waterfall (duration 1-3 hr.) to appreciate the beauty of the Cape's coastal fynbos.
If you need to stop for lunch or want a five-star hotel experience attached to one of the country's best 18-hole golf courses (with one of our favorite spas), stop at the Western Cape Hotel & Spa, situated on Arabella Country Estate. The estate's lawns run into the Bot River lagoon, which provides lovely views, and the hotel offers every comfort under the sun and is particularly child-friendly. Call tel. 028/284-0000 or visit www.westerncapehotelandspa.co.za; deluxe room rates range from R1,700 to R5,400, depending on the season -- ask about specials.
The R44 now heads northeastward in the direction of Caledon, while the road to Hermanus branches eastward from the inland side of the Palmiet Lagoon. This is called the R43; take it and keep an eye out for the R320 turnoff, which will take you past the vineyards of the Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley. Here you can go on wine tastings at the small but excellent selection of farms that make up the Hermanus Wine Route, stopping for lunch along the way.