Icing on the cake
Icing on the cake
For some magnificent walks, take the rotating-floor cable car (£7 return) to the flat top of Table Mountain. Up there you can wander through rocks and the local fynbos vegetation. On a cloudless day, it's an unbeatable experience. Four walks are marked out - three are strolls with sensational views, the fourth is more demanding. Watch out for dassies - a cuddly guinea-pig lookalike.
The hillside memorial to the Empire builder, Cecil Rhodes, is well worth the climb. In the tearoom, surrounded by the monument's eight bronze lions, you can look north into the hinterland of Africa beyond Table Bay. If you've ventured out to Hout Bay to harbour-watch or swim you mustn't miss the calamari at Chapman's Peak restaurant at the corner of the bay. Cooked on a specially designed stove, the result of a decade of experimentation by a Portuguese chef/entrepreneur Carlos Nobrega.
A walk in the park
There is only one competitor in this category - Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. You'll need a chunk of time to stroll along hillside paths and enjoy the unique display of rare and endangered South African plants. With its elevated location, it is cool, well-labelled and full of information about the flora of one of the richest botanical areas in the world. In the gardens' excellent restaurant, try a local delicacy - milk tart. For more information, call 00 27 21 762 9120 (at weekends, 761 4916).
Sunday morning, go to church
St George's Cathedral, right at the end of Government Lane, is hardly an architectural gem but it was from here that Desmond Tutu preached his message of reconciliation. Evensong is at 7pm. Close by, on Adderley Street, lies the Groote Kerk, home of the Dutch Reformed Church.
Among the many available choices on the Waterfront, the restaurant of the Victoria and Alfred Hotel is surprisingly affordable. Close by, at Pier Head, is the elegant and reasonably-priced Belgian Den Anker Restaurant (00 27 21 419 0249). Away from the Waterfront, try Savoy Cabbage, 101 Hout Street (00 27 21 424 2626). The vegetarian menu blends English, French, Lebanese and Italian influences. Kloof Street will provide further endless choices.
In Cape Town, afternoon tea is well up to Devon standards and can easily lead seamlessly to an aperitif. The Mount Nelson Hotel, 76 Orange Street, is an historic five-star establishment at the top of Government Lane offering afternoon tea - indoors or out - at not-impossible prices. You might like to linger longer for a Castle beer or a glass of wine. Or else, try a drink in a railway carriage which has strayed on to Regent Street, in Sea Point.
At the top end of Government Lane is Bertram's House, built in 1714 and the only remaining Georgian residence in Cape Town. Compare this rather sober establishment with the surprising richness of the Dutch Koopmans de Wet House in Strand Street. Back to Government Lane, where the National Gallery displays politically committed modern South African art. Opposite is the thought-provoking South Africa Museum, which emphasises natural history and cultural diversity in its displays. The District 6 Museum, on the junction of Buitenkant and Albertus Streets, tells a grim story. A whole mixed-race community, housing 50,000 people and famous for its vitality and love of jazz, was literally demolished by the National Party Government in l966. The Museum endeavours to prevent the memory of District 6 from slipping away. (Note: most Cape Town museums close on Mondays).
Lunch on the run
If you're feeling reasonably energetic, walk uphill through the colourful Malay district called Bo Kaap. At the edge of it, and before you get to the Noon Gun - which fires every day at midday - is the Noon Gun tea room and restaurant. In a lovely oasis of shade, enjoy delicious samosas or vegetable rolls with a cup of rooibos tea. If you're feeling a bit lazier, have a toasted sandwich under the fig trees at the Ivy Gardens Restaurant in the courtyard of the Townhouse museum in lively Green Market Square.
Take a hike
Cape Tourism suggests a city walk which takes in the oldest building in Cape Town - the Castle, where the guard changes daily at 11am. Next, enjoy a leafy stroll down Government Lane, flanked by the Botanical Gardens - part of the historical Dutch East India Company's gardens.
Take a ride
Join a tour on the open-top, hop-on-hop-off Cape Town Explorer around all the city sights in two hours for £5. Catch it at the Cape Tourism office, on the corner of Burg and Castle Street. Or take to the water and see the harbour and the city with its splendid mountain backdrop on a one-hour boat ride from the Pier Head, Waterfront.
B&Bs are good value but reaching some of them can be difficult. In Cape Town itself, the Cape Victoria on Signal Hill (00 27 21 439 7721; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) is a gem. Rooms range from £40 for a standard double. Further out, try Franciscus House at Hout Bay (00 27 21 790 1466; e-mail email@example.com), which costs £25 for a double, including great views and a terrace breakfast. The Accommodation CafÃ© at Hout Bay (00 27 2 21 790 0198) will provide many more local B&B options. On the Waterfront, the Victoria and Alfred Hotel (00 27 21 419 6677; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org) on North Quay offers luxury at £160 per double per night.
Get your bearings
Cape Town climbs up the steep slopes of a peak as high as Snowdon: Table Mountain. Take a cable car to the top and the city is laid out before you - its small high-rise heart, its blue bays ribboned with white surf, suburbs stretching along the feet of The Twelve Apostles and, on the plain to the East, dreary shanty towns. Down from the mountain, the place to eat, drink and chill out is the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, the new heart of Cape Town. It's relatively safe there after dark, as is Kloof Street, with its numerous restaurants. Otherwise, be cautious in this city with massive unemployment, constantly on the increase due to the influx of migrants from the rest of Africa.
Non-stop flights from Heathrow to Cape Town are operated by British Airways, South African Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Each sells cheap fares through discount agents, the best deals at present on SAA at around £510 if you book within a week or so; for travel from April onwards, these fall to around £435 return. The bargain basement is from Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, with a fare of £389 through discount agents. Three problems: poor availability, limited departures and a very long journey time. Lufthansa has a fare of £493 from Birmingham, East Midlands, Edinburgh and Manchester, and KLM has a fare around £10 more with 15 airports in the UK to choose from. From Cape Town airport, a taxi to the city centre is £7.
Why go now?
Because you can. Head south this month or next, while the South African summer endures. Airfares below £400 make the southern tip of Africa accessible even for a long weekend. Or wait until the autumn low season kicks in, from April to June, when you might be able to pick up a package for under £500 including non-stop flights and a few nights' accommodation. Whenever you go, you will be able to live well in South Africa's finest city on a modest amount of cash - unless the feeble local currency, the Rand, makes a spectacular recovery.
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