Watched over by Table Mountain and surrounded by The Atlantic and Indian Oceans; Cape Town is stunningly beautiful, incredibly cosmopolitan and offers an abundance of outdoor activities. Since the end of apartheid in the early 90’s, Cape Town has experienced a huge boom in tourism; it is Africa’s most popular tourist destination leading to an exciting burst in new hotels, restaurants, shops and all things design. It was always a dream of mine to go to Africa with my teenage children, and last year we stopped in Cape Town for a few days before heading off on safari.
A former working class neighborhood Woodstock is now the “it” place to be especially on Saturdays. The Old Biscuit Mill has been converted into a warehouse for local products, art galleries, designers and restaurants. On Saturdays, The Neighbourgoods Market brings together over 100 specialty traders in an amazing artisan food and farmers market. (Rain or shine, open 9am--2pm.) Eat breakfast at the communal tables and feel like a local.
The Winelands aren’t just about wine, other activities you can arrange…Mountain biking, horseback riding, hot air ballooning, olive oil tastings, quad bike tours through the wine estates to name just a few.
For another heartening look at the devastating effects and remains of apartheid visit the District Six Museum, a once vibrant mixed community, declared a white only neighborhood in 1966. Take a tour to get the most out of this simple, but powerful museum.
Smell the roses…at Kirstenbosch Gardens on the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Here well laid out gardens sit side by side with the natural indigenous vegetation called fynbos. If you’re really adventurous you can arrange to meet a Mountain Guide, and kit up for a moderate to strenuous hike of 5-6 hours up the eastern flank of Table Mountain. Reaching the eastern summit, follow the Smut’s Track path to MacLear’s Beacon, the highest point on Table Mountain. A lunch stop at MacLear’s Beacon affords ample time to absorb the vistas of Table Bay.
Stay: The boutique Silo Hotel on the V&A waterfront, has an ideal location combined with high style and dazzling architecture. In addition to an excellent collection of contemporary art, there is a trendy rooftop bar with great views over Cape Town. With only 13 rooms and 2 private villas, book early to get the chance to stay in the stunning Ellerman House. Located in exclusive Bantry Bay and boasting spectacular ocean views, this is one of those special places. We traveled what felt like days to get here from NY, and I was so tempted to never leave Ellerman, with the short walk to nearby Clifton beach being our only activity. However, as there is so much to do and see In Cape Town, let alone South Africa, and with only a long weekend, we hit the ground running.
Morning View: Choose to hike or take the aerial cable-way to the top of Table Mountain for incredible 360 views. Table Mountain is the centerpiece of Table Mountain National Park, a true iconic image and symbol of Cape Town. If you plan on hiking, it’s a good idea to get an early start before it gets too hot and crowded. Plattelklep Gorge is the most direct route, and should take you 1-2 hours depending on your fitness level. (Go down via the cable car) Once on the top, enjoy bird’s eye views of both the city and Peninsula from different perspectives as you wander the easy walking trails.
Scenic Road: You’ve rented a car or arranged for a driver, and now it’s time to venture to the most southwesterly point in Africa—The Cape of Good Hope. Descend and head along the Atlantic Seaboard past Camps Bay and Llandudno, to the fishing village of Hout Bay, then climb over Chapman’s Peak Drive, one of the world’s most awe-inspiring passes, 600m above the ocean. Continue on towards the Noordhoek Valley, passing Long Beach and the coastal villages of Kommetjie and Scarborough. Stop at The Flagship for lunch in Simons Town. This small seaside village offers you kayaking, shark diving and sailing but chef Duncan Doherty's five course meal was the highlight for us! (Make sure to book in advance.) Lunch is just as much about the food as it is about the interaction with the chef. You have a front row seat to the preparation and plating of all the courses while chatting with the chef about South African fare. An experience not to be missed. After lunch, proceed to the Cape of Good Hope National Park. Continue to the tip of the Cape Peninsula for a walk (or funicular ride) to the Cape Point Lighthouse with its panoramic views of False Bay.
Round Trip: Return along the False Bay coast to Boulders Beach, for a close-up with a colony of African Penguins. This is where the local Jackass Penguins call home, and you can actually swim with the penguins if so inclined-- the water is very cold, you won’t be able to stay in for very long.
Dine: Chef Peter Tempelhoff has gained quite a following at The Green House considered one of the best restaurants in Cape Town, located at the Cellars-Hohenort, in the suburb of Constantia, South Africa’s oldest wine producing area. All the produce is from the region and the tasting menu with wines paired to match was quite an experience. This is more of a formal meal and this wouldn’t be my top choice if you were traveling with young children. If you’re looking for something more casual try Chef Reuben Riffel’s restaurant Reuben’s at the One and Only Hotel. (The original restaurant is in the Winelands)
Breakfast: Coffee culture has hit South Africa big time! Start your day at Origin Coffee; the gourmet coffee is roasted on site in a historic 2 level brick warehouse in De Waterkant. (Not far from the V and A waterfront) There is also a separate tea bar and Montreal style bagels are made fresh every morning. (Hey NY--take note--Montreal bagels are boiled in water sweetened with honey, it’s a debate which cities are better.)
Essential: For a fascinating, and at times heartbreaking look back at the tortured South African past, a visit to Robbens Island is a must do while in Capetown. Depart from The Nelson Mandela Gateway at the Victoria and Alfred for the 25 minute ferry ride to Robbens island--a prison for some 450 years for slaves, lepers, the mentally ill and political prisoners, among them Nelson Mandela. (Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years imprisoned here on the island) Book a tour online before your visit (Robbens Island offers private tours which we recommend), the tour guides are all former political prisoners and their insight into apartheid was unparalled, making for a somber morning my family will not forget.
Lunch: I found the V and A Waterfront touristy and Disneyesque, but it is an extremely popular shopping area, and the kids enjoyed walking around for a bit. Luckily hunger took over and we headed to the Grand Café on a private beach in nearby Granger Bay.
Shop: Spend an hour or so shopping in the heart of central Cape Town at The Pan African Market, a multi story beehive of traders specializing in new and old folk and tribal art. Nearby Greenmarket Square, is the place to get African art and curios, it’s touristier but still fun and a great place for the kids to pick up souvenirs. Also close by, I loved Tribal Trends, an upscale craft shop.
Beach Chill: Sand and city—what a combo! Cape Town is one of the best beach cities anywhere, with miles and miles of beautiful white sand. A good friend from NY who is South African told me we must go to Clifton Beach; it’s where all her good friends go. Be prepared to walk down a lot of stairs as it’s in a cove, but it’s worth it. You must have a granadilla, a passion fruit ice cream, as it’s unique to South Africa. Bring rand to rent chairs as they don’t take dollars or credit cards.
Sunset: We loved the vibe at Bungalow right on the beach at Clifton, try and get there early to score one of the comfortable lounge sofas, or just a seat in general--this is a popular spot. Nearby Camps Bay is also a happening place to watch the sunset, the strip facing the ocean is full of jazz bars and wine havens where you can people watch, chill, and party—just take in everything. With a cocktail in hand and some snacks, it’s a perfect way to end the day.
Dinner: Reserve a table at Test Kitchen, named one of the world’s 50 best restaurants at least a month in advance, to try Chef Luke Dale-Roberts 5 course tasting menu. It’s a short drive, maybe 20 minutes or so, located in the up and coming area of Woodstock and a gourmet experience not to be missed. For something closer, head to trendy Shimmy Beach Club—casual oceanfront dining facing the harbor and a late night scene. At Round House, it’s all about the killer views; get there early so you can enjoy cocktails outside before sunset. La Perla, and Savoy Cabbage are also well-loved Cape Town restaurants.
Wine Touring: The Cape Winelands are truly some of the most beautiful vineyards in the world. Just a 45-minute drive from Cape Town, you’ll be awed by the mountains, lush valleys and everywhere you look vine covered slopes—it’s worth lugging your heavy camera for this scenery. The past is preserved in beautifully historic estates, distinctive Cape Dutch-style architecture and a rich 400-year old winemaking tradition. There is a lot to do here, you could easily spend more than a day, and the incredible lodgings and restaurants are great incentive to do so!
Route: In exploring the Winelands its good to have a plan, but one that allows for spontaneity, as you will undoubtedly pass something that catches your eye, causing you to detour. Most wineries are open to the public with a minimal fee for a wine tasting. I’d suggest starting in Stellenbosch, South Africa’s most famous wine region, home to over 200 wineries. Visit a few tasting rooms, and then after lunch head to Franschhoek and explore the quaint town. Franschhoek’s literal translation is French corner, as this is where the French Huguenots fleeing persecution settled, transforming the area into their own little French haven.
Here are some suggestions for wineries in Stellenbosch:
Muratie—more old school, the tasting in the cellar , the cobwebs and dust add to the authenticity.
Camberley – mainly red wines situated in someone’s house. Very cosy & intimate vibe, here you have to call ahead to book a tasting.
Tokara -a real modern James Bond winery, one of the few free tastings in the area.
Delaire-- stunning contemporary winery with a incredible art collection and well known restaurant.
Waterford make some great wines, is set in a Tuscan Villa and offers a wine & chocolate pairing.
Eat: Book ahead at perennially popular Overture at Hidden Valley for lunch. Chef Bertus Basson uses local ingredients to create a unique twist on typical South African cuisine. The restaurant with beautiful views over the valley is adjacent to the famous South African golfer Ernie Eils winery—whose wines are surprisingly good.
Food Pilgrimage: You can easily spend a day, or even better a night, at Babylonstoren, a 500-acre organic farm and hotel surrounded by orchards, vineyards and mountains. If you travel for food experiences than this is a must do! Walk the gardens spread out over 8 acres, and then follow that with lunch in Babel, their organic restaurant housed in a converted cowshed. (Bookings are essential for the garden tour) Babylonstoren is approximately 25 minutes from Stellenbosch, and then heading back to Cape Town it’s approximately 45 minutes. If you choose to skip Franschhoek you can do Stellenbosch in the morning and end your day at Babylonstoren.
Dinner: After a full day in the wine country you wont be very hungry so grab a casual meal. At the V and A waterfront, sushi fans head to Willoghbouys, seafood lovers will be happy at Harbour House and an eclectic menu can be found at Mondiall Kitchen and Bar.