Cape Town has been listed as the #1 place to visit in 2014 by the New York Times, and for good reason. Before my recent trip, I had no lofty expectations of Cape Town. In fact, I thought it would be dangerous, expensive, and unfamiliar. How incorrect I was – apart from a couple of streets in the city (Long Street) where you have to watch your pockets, it is the opposite of dangerous. In terms of expenses, once you get there, it is one of the least expensive places I have visited outside of Asia.
And as for unfamiliarity – well, isn’t that the reason why one goes on holiday in the first place? Cape Town is most beautifully unfamiliar: townships that go on for miles, and reminders of political and racial oppression, juxtaposed with stunning beaches, majestic towering mountain ranges that watch over you wherever you go, antelope steaks, wine for breakfast …
In terms of holiday destinations I’ve been to, it certainly ranks up there amongst the top for me. If you want to arrive with a little less unfamiliarity, I’d like to share with you some of the activities that we did, places we visited and stayed, and food we ate. Take from it what you will, and enjoy your time there! I wish I was going with you…
Day 1 : RELAX
Rent a car from the airport (I highly recommend booking it in advance during the summer period, or else you’ll end up with a manual car – like we did), and head straight to Camps Bay, a 20 minute drive from the airport. It’s been a long flight – set your bags down, put on your swimmers and head straight to the pool. If you don’t have a pool, go to The Bay Hotel and buy a day pass, grab a Windhoek beer, (the Club Sandwich here is awesome too), or the Camps Bay Beach and RELAX.
PM: Check out Test Kitchen for dinner, voted #1 best restaurant in 2013, or its sister restaurant The Pot Luck Club, located at the very hip Old Biscuit Mill, which also is the venue for a weekend market on Saturdays. Alternatively, you can take a look at Eat Out Magazine’s list of top Cape Town restaurants for an alternative choice.
Day 2: BE ACTIVE
AM: Wake up early (a 9am start is good enough) and drive to the Table Mountain cable car. Park further up the road, and locate the start of the Platteklip Gorge trail to hike up Table Mountain – you’ll find it next to a big green sign and a small house which is supposed to be a tourist centre. There are several popular hiking routes, but we chose this one so we could hike up then take the cable car down, and have easy access to our car. You can also go with a guide if you want, but the trail is pretty straightforward and it’s not necessary. It will take around 2 hours, and is a medium-level hike. That said, a beginner hiker was in our group, and she did fabulously!
Noon: Drive the Chapman’s Peak road for some stunning vistas of Hout Bay and it’s surrounding coastline. Stop in Kalk Bay for some seriously good mussels at Olympia Cafe and Deli. You can pick up some nice bread here at their Deli also. Continue on to Boulders Beach to chill out with some penguins, and the water is also the warmest here if you fancy taking a dip. Carry on to the Cape of Good Hope – I didn’t manage to make it, but here’s some additional info. There are so many lovely places to stop on the way down to the Cape, and this could easily be a full day adventure.
PM: You’re going to be nackered after your day, so you might want to stay around for drinks and dinner in the Camps Bay area. For sundowner drinks, Cafe Caprice gets packed full of beautiful people watching the sun go to sleep. Roundhouse offers sweeping views of the bay and nice garden tables, and Bungalow has a huge terrace. You could stay on at both of these places for dinner, or go to Hussar Grill for a mean South African beef steak or game meat steak (you can also buy the steaks uncooked if you have a BBQ in your accommodation), or Col’Cacchio for a superb pizza or pasta! Their full menu is also available for delivery (order 2 hrs in advance) or takeaway.
Day 3: IMMERSE YOURSELF IN SOME HISTORY
There are so many beautiful things to see, do and eat in Cape Town, and on this day of historical discovery, you will find yourself feeling mixed emotions of disbelief, anger and sadness at the ugliness that people can sometimes show one another. It is really hard to get your head around the fact that the segregative legislation of Apartheid was only dismantled between 1990 and 1992, and that South Africans of all races only took part in the first fully democratic elections as recently as 1994. It’s difficult to believe that this happened in my lifetime, let alone just several years ago.
AM: Catch the first sailing to Robben Island at 9am (also at 11am, 1pm and 3pm – I advise that you pre-book your tickets) from Nelson Madela Gateway, at the V&A Waterfront. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up on the white cruiser yacht. The tour is very informative and gives insight on how prisoners lived, with special mention of Nelson Mandela and other civil rights activists, of course. You’ll return to the waterfront around 12.30pm.
Noon: Head to the V&A Market on the Wharf for lunch. We started off with wraps from Awe Africa and empanadas from Como, The Fish Box does an amazing seafood platter, and we washed it down with fresh fruit juice from Dr. Juice. Treat yourself to local cheeses from Around Cheese, and for dessert, peanut butter ice cream from The Creamery and frozen yoghurt from Tuttis. There are so many more vendors, and it’s a real treat for foodies. There are are also kitchen demos, live band performances and open mic nights. Walk around the beautiful waterfront afterwards to digest, then onto the District 6 Museum and/or Bo Kaap Museum (or maybe even more if you can handle it!).
PM: I recommend La Parada for some pretty impressive tapas, jug upon jug of sangria and some great people watching. Try to get there early as there are no reservations and this place gets REALLY packed. After you’ve eaten your fill (the grilled prawns, oxtail cannelloni and paella were particularly memorable), on to nightclub/bar Aces ‘n Spades for some rockin’ music and serious dancing to work off those calories.
DAY 4: TRAVEL UP TO THE WINELANDS
AM: Wake up in the morning and bid farewell to that beautiful beach view, and au revoir to to the clouds atop Table Mountain, and off you go to Kirstenbosch before you leave Cape Town, famed botanical gardens and home to five of South Africa’s six different biomes. If you are there in the summer, you must try to catch one of the Kirstenbosch Summer Sunset Concerts. Otherwise, grab a picnic basket for a cozy lunch on the grass (alcohol allowed).
PM: Drive to your winelands guesthouse of choice and enjoy the area – rent a bicycle or drive to one of the many vineyards and wine estates in the area, and visit one of the restaurants for an incredible dinner. Recommendations for both are below. Some restaurants are open for only lunch, and others for dinner service only on certain days, so make sure to call ahead and confirm times just in case. During the summer months (November-March), the good restaurants get booked up a month in advance – I am not exaggerating! If you can be bothered, it’s best to call before your trip to make sure to get the best tables.
DAY 5 (and even 6 – two days of eating and drinking is not excessive here): GET TIPSY
AM: After a relaxed breakfast at your guesthouse, head to Babylonstoren, a fabulous farm/restaurant/hotel/shop for the 10am tour of their fruit, vegetable and flower gardens. Visit their farm shop to pick up some great olive oil and nice smelly candles, and have lunch at Babel. For my full write up on Babylonstoren, click here.
PM:Take the Franschhoek wine tram for a fun and boozy afternoon, with two routes (red and blue) starting from their ticket counter in Bijoux Square, Franschhoek from 10am, last tour leaves at 1.30pm. There is not much in the way of good food on these tours but some do serve lunch, other just cheese platters. If you want to take the really scenic route, you can do it on horseback! Paradise Stables offers guided tours (stopping off for tastings at Rickety Bridge and Mont Rochelle) on Mondays-Saturdays. Alternatively go at it by yourself to see the truly good wineries, but drive safely! My recommended picks are below.
DAY 7: PICK UP SOME FRESH PRODUCE
Hopefully, one of the days that you spend in the winelands will be a weekend day, when the markets are open. We checked out Root 44 Market, a food and craft market in the Stellenbosch area, located at Audacia Farm, open 10am-4pm Sat & Sun. We also went to the Blaauwklippen Family Market, open 10am-3pm on Sundays. Both have some nice food stalls, as well as craft beer and juice stalls, but there is not much there in the way of local produce unfortunately. I found the V&A Waterfront Market better for that.
If you have some spare time, the Franschhoek Motor Museum, is a great place to kill it, with an beautiful collection of classic cars.
STAYING IN CAMPS BAY: at The Bay Hotel, a luxury 5* hotel right on the beach with all the comforts, including a spa, L’Occitane bath products, 4 separate pool areas, great food in-house, an outstanding breakfast, and transfers by Porche Panamera. Try a guesthouse with friendly owners, comfy rooms and great views, such as 30 Fiskaal or Fullham Lodge. Or if you are travelling in a group, then rent a self-catered apartment to share – Nox Rentals has some fabulous properties available at great prices.
STAYING IN THE WINELANDS:
$$$$ Babylonstoren has 14 luxury studios nestled amongst its gardens, with a killer breakfast included. Relais & Chateaux luxury boutique hotel Le Quartier Francais is home to one of wine country’s best restaurants, The Tasting Room, as well as Bread & Wine. If you are a large group, the Manor House at Vrede & Lust sleeps 10 people at a minimum of 6 people (low season R1750, high season R2500 per person)
$$ We stayed at Orange-Ville Guesthouse, approx. R1400-R1750 per chalet, with a family cottage available.
RESTAURANTS TO CONSIDER (Tried & Recommended):
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Babel at Babylonstoren: Fresh, casual, farm 021 863 3852 (8:30am-5pm, closed Mon & Tues) $$
Bread & Wine: casual, terrace 021 876 3692 (lunch 12-3pm) $$
Cafe Bonbon: SA cuisine, bistro 021 8763936 ( Wed, Fri, Sat 07:30 – 17:00) $$
Col’Cacchio Franschhoek casual, great pizzas and pastas: 021 876 4222 $
Delaire Graff Estate Restaurant: 021 885 8160 (Lunch daily, Dinner Wed to Sat) $$$
La Petite Ferme: a little over-rated, great view, country-style. 021 876 3016 (Lunch daily) $$
The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais: French, fine dining. 021 876 2151 (Tues-Sat dinner only) $$$$
Tokara Restaurant: award winning architecture, innovative dishes. 021 885 2550 (Lunch Tues – Sun, Dinner Tues – Sat) $$
Overture at Hidden Valley: Modern, SA cuisine. 021 880 2721 (Lunch Wednesday to Sunday Dinner Thursday, Friday & Saturday) $$
Pierneef à La Motte 021 876 8800 (Breakfast Sat and Sun, Lunch Tues to Sun, Dinner Thurs to Sat) $$
Roca at Dieu Donné: great views & terrace, Mediterranean. 021 876 3384 (Mon-Fri 9am-4pm, Sat-Sun 10:30am-4pm) $$
Ryan’s Kitchen: 021 876 4598 (Lunch Fri & Sat, Dinner Mon – Sat) $$$
$: main course R100 or less (under HK$70)
$$: Main course R100-150 (under HK$100)
$$$: Main course R150-200 (under HK$140)
$$$$: R200 and above, Tasting menu prices
RECOMMENDED WINE ESTATES:
SOME GREAT RESOURCES: