It's a long way down to the tip of South Africa, but with very little time difference, you can beat jetlag and head straight for the sands. Ian McCurrach offers a guide
The urban scene
De Waterkant Village has become a tourist and rental property favourite with its pretty colourful cottages and tree-lined cobbled streets. It is home to the vibrant trend-setting Cape Quarter shopping and leisure centre, filled with upscale boutiques, cafés and restaurants. The city centre, or City Bowl, is synonymous with grand colonial buildings and public parks. At its heart is Government Avenue, where you'll find the city's museums, including the National Gallery. Visit Constantia in the Garden Suburbs. Tucked away here, behind the far side of Table Mountain, are the pretty wine estates of Constantia Uitsig, Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia. Most have restaurants, the best of which is on the Constantia Uitsig Estate. The Winelands are known for their Cape Dutch estates situated in fertile valleys. The finest are found at Franschhoek, Stellenbosch and Paarl. With its late-Victorian architecture and a vineyard at almost the end of every side street, Franschhoek is the prettiest. Its bustling main street is lined with chic cafés, boutiques and art galleries.
Hedonism rules on the beaches that stretch along Cape Town's Atlantic coast. Some of the finest and most popular sands sweep around the bottom of Table Mountain, such as Clifton, above, which consists of four white-powder beaches separated by gigantic granite boulders. Each crescent is known by its number and characterised by the groups who favour it. Two is the reserve of locals, Three is favoured by the fashion set and the gay community, and Four is for everybody. Camps Bay is a wide sweep, fringed with palms and backed by a parade of pulsating cafés, bars and restaurants that become lively after sundown. Don't even dream of dipping your toes in the brilliantly blue and white breakers because they are freshly chilled by the Antarctic. If you do want to wallow in the waves, the warm Indian Ocean is only a short drive away at False Bay. The best beaches here include the vast expanse of sands at Muizenberg, a sleepy seaside resort that had its heyday in the 1920s, and Boulders Beach, right, at Simon's Town, where you can also spot penguins and whales.
Pick up a cool box (a must-have accessory here) and bag tasty Italian snacks to take to the beach at Andiamo (andiamo .co.za), a groovy deli-cum-eaterie in the Cape Quarter piazza. Overlooking the ocean at Green Point, Wakame (00 27 21 433 2377), left, serves up seriously good sushi, seafood and other Pacific Rim fare in chic contemporary surroundings. Favourites on the menu include sesame-crusted tuna served on ponzu-flavoured Asian greens garnished with deep-fried sweet potatoes (£25 for three courses, excluding wine). Get away from the tourists and join the throng of locals who love the Sunday brunch institution at Winchester Mansions (winchester.co.za), right, one of the few restaurants left where you can bring your own (BYO). Dine in typical Cape Dutch surroundings with live jazz playing in the background. Eat as much as you can and enjoy a complimentary glass of bubbly (£16.50, excluding wine).
For an unbeatable bird's-eye view of the city and its beautiful coastline take the revolving cable car to the top of Table Mountain (tablemountain .net). For a more energetic journey, make for Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens (sanbi.org/kirstenbosch/mainpage.htm) on the other side of the mountain and follow the well-marked Skeleton Gorge path leading to the top. Be warned: the route is steep and involves climbing metal ladders over large rocks, so strong footwear is essential. Allow two-and-a-half hours to get to the peak and another half-hour to cross the plateau to the cable car for the descent. Drive south on Chapman's Peak Drive to see Table Mountain's Twelve Apostles, smaller peaks that taper along the coast to the Atlantic. For a sobering experience, visit Robben Island (robben-island.co.za), where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for some of his sentence during the apartheid era. Former political prisoners guide the tours around the maximum security prison, including Mandela's cell. Boats leave four times daily from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.
The five-star One&Only Cape Town (oneand onlycapetown.com), below, is the biggest hotel opening here of late. Occupying a prime position on the V&A Waterfront, the city's largest resort is notable for securing Africa's first outings for the restaurants Nobu and Maze. Big names and high style don't come cheap, so doubles cost around £580 per night, including breakfast. Another addition to the scene is the Dock House Boutique Hotel & Spa (dockhouse.co.za), left. Perched on a ridge above the V&A Waterfront, this mid-19th century building was once the residence of the harbourmaster and the elegant retreat has retained original features such as the ornate ceilings and fireplaces. Doubles cost around £350 per night, with breakfast. For funky design, try The Grand Daddy Hotel (granddaddy.co.za) in the city centre. An eye-catching trailer park sits on the hotel roof, where seven silver Airstream trailers house some accommodation and a bar. Doubles cost around £110 per night, including breakfast.
Cape Town, with its spectacular geography, is synonymous with outdoor thrills and extreme adventure sports. Adrenalin junkies get their aerial highs paragliding above the beaches and bays on the Atlantic seaboard. Tandem flights for beginners are on offer from Downhill Adventures (downhilladventures.com), taking off from Lion's Head and landing in Camps Bay. If you fancy yourself as a would-be mountaineer and you want to tackle Table Mountain but you don't have the skills, try the easy way down with Abseil Africa (abseilafrica.co.za). Rappel from the top at 1,000m and be wowed by the views beneath your feet, over the ocean to Robben Island and beyond. For another energetic way to enjoy the scenery, hire a mountain bike and follow one the many off-road trails, or you could join a group tour with Day Trippers (daytrippers.co.za).
How to get there
British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) offers return flights from Heathrow to Cape Town from £755 return It can also arrange a five-night B&B break at the five-star One&Only Cape Town from £1,857 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights from Heathrow.