Cape Town: Get an appetite for Africa
City Slicker: Cape Town - This modern gem has great beaches, mountain views, and no jet lag. James Litston offers tips for new and returning visitors
Sunday 04 December 2011
When it comes to show-stopping locations, few cities can compete with Cape Town. Its winning combination of Atlantic coastline and mountainous backdrop means it sits alongside Sydney and Rio de Janeiro as one of the world's most geographically gifted cityscapes.
The dominating presence of Table Mountain bestows a unique sense of place, while the city's urban attractions are complemented by beautiful beaches and an interior filled with wildlife and wineries. The favourable exchange rate and negligible time difference also offer a competitive edge, providing excellent value and zero jetlag. And, with the summer season now kicking off in earnest, it's a great time to go.
Physical attributes aside, Cape Town is also an incredibly dynamic city that's constantly evolving. Although the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront shopping and entertainment complex remains the obvious tourist hub, attention is gradually spreading inland to several inner-city districts where the appeal is edgier and considerably more authentic. Foremost of these is the industrial neighbourhood of Woodstock which, over the past few years, has emerged as one of Cape Town's coolest quarters. Every weekend, the city's movers and shakers descend on this area to explore its cafés, art galleries, design shops and food market. Change is afoot in the city centre, too, where the Long Street area is experiencing its own renaissance, with new cafés and an upbeat nightlife scene.
What's more, two recent announcements have pushed Cape Town into the spotlight. In October, it was officially awarded the title of World Design Capital for 2014, while last month Table Mountain was nominated as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature. Expect the resulting events and celebrations to draw ever more attention to Africa's most cosmopolitan city.
The views from Table Mountain
Return trips on the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway (tablemountain.net) cost R195 (£15). Or go after 6pm for the half-price Sunset Special (valid until 29 February).
Enjoy the same views for free by hiking up this vertiginous peak for a great vantage point over the city and Table Mountain.
A day-trip to Robben Island (robben- island.org.za)
A trip around the island prison where both Nelson Mandela and the current President, Jacob Zuma, were incarcerated during the apartheid era is a poignant tour. Trips depart from the V&A Waterfront.
Go souvenir hunting at the colourful arts and crafts market with its wooden carvings, beaded jewellery and ostrich-leather handbags (Mon-Sat, 9am to 4pm).
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (sanbi.org)
This stunning collection of indigenous plants is set on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Their dramatic setting makes the gardens all the more beautiful.
Go for close encounters with the famous colony of African penguins, followed by lunch at the Brass Bell in nearby Kalk Bay (brass bell.co.za).
A foodie tour with Coffeebeans Routes (coffeebeansroutes.com)
To discover bobotie, koesusters, daaltjies and other unusual (and hard to pronounce) delicacies from Cape Town's ethnic mix. Price R795 (£61) per person.
Like a cross between London's Shoreditch and Borough Market, this rundown, industrial neighbourhood is fast becoming a favourite weekend hangout. Trendy Capetonians flock to The Old Biscuit Mill to graze on local and regional foods at the Neighbourgoods Market (Saturdays, 9am to 2pm), or pick up designer homewares and other knick-knacks from the excellent, independent boutiques found here. There are more shops, cafés and galleries talong nearby Albert Road.
Queen Victoria Hotel
Cape Town's newest hotel opened in April, bringing a healthy dose of boutique chic to the busy V&A Waterfront. The 35 stylish bedrooms offer a contemporary take on classic design, with crystal chandeliers, etched-mirrors and a peaceful colour scheme that's sharp and elegant. Downstairs, the triple-height foyer with its spiral staircase provides plenty of wow-factor, while the food and Table Mountain view at the restaurant, Dash, are to die for.
Wine & Dine
High tea amid the colonial grandeur of the Mount Nelson Hotel is a Cape Town institution, but a more recent innovation is the Wine & Dine dinner series in the hotel's redesigned Planet restaurant. Events are held on the last Friday of every month and they feature a seven-course degustation menu with wine pairings hosted by regional producers. At just R395 (£30) per head, it's absurdly good value.
Ellerman Contemporary Art Gallery
This private gallery is for the exclusive enjoyment of guests staying at Ellerman House, Cape Town's most distinguished hotel (though it can be viewed by appointment). Set in terraced gardens overlooking Bantry Bay, the gallery houses a rotating collection of contemporary paintings, sculpture and installations from established and emerging South African artists. Another 300-odd works by such celebrated artists as John Meyer and Pierneef are displayed in the main house.
Green Point Park & Biodiversity Garden
The 2010 Fifa World Cup may be over, but its legacy lives on. Green Point Park, lying in the shadow of Cape Town Stadium, was completed in February and features a Biodiversity Garden with more than 300 species of native plants. The vegetation is now becoming more established and so the gardens are coming into their own, providing a popular and free amenity for residents and visitors. Signs invite visitors to touch, smell and learn about particular plants, while metal sculptures and brightly beaded, decorative animals add a light-heartedness touch to the place.
How to get there
South African Airways (0844 375 9680; flysaa.com) flies daily to Cape Town from London Heathrow. Return fares start from £806. Rooms at the Queen Victoria (newmarkhotels.com) cost from R3,745 (£284) per night, including breakfast. B&B at Ellerman House (ellerman.co.za) costs from R4,500 (£341) per night.
South African Tourism (southafrica.net); Cape Town Tourism (capetown.travel).
German de la Melena, Restaurateur (escapecaffe.com)
Enhance your caffeine fix with the best cheesecake in town at Escape Caffé. It must be the only café in the world that's run by a Nobel Peace Prize winner [Lameen Abdul-Malik].
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