7 days in Cape Town: What to Do, What to Eat and Where to Stay

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.

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The Bay Hotel, with the 12 Apostles standing tall behind it

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Camps Bay Beach, from The Bay Hotel

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The Club Sandwich at The Bay Hotel is particularly good!

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.

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Baby Potato Wedges with Smoked Paprika Salt at The Pot Luck Club – one of the best dishes there R30 (HK$22)

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Special of the day: Crayfish with Chilli Sauce. Fiddley and a bit too difficult to eat

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Selection of South African Cheeses R85 (HK$60) –  a great selection and good way to have a taste of what is on offer. The blue cheese was incredible, and I don’t usually like blue cheese! Mild, and creamy.

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Maroccan Lamb Ribs, Harissa Salt, Buffalo Yoghurt w/ Rosemary and Cumin Roti R85 (HK$60). The food at Pot Luck Club, whilst good, didn’t live up to the hype that surrounds this restaurant, and certainly not one of the most impressive meals of our trip.

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!

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A panoramic view of Cape Town, from the beginning of the hike

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The hike is choca full of beautiful pathways, lush greenery and it’s a really interesting walk. It’s not for the taint hearted, and whilst not an easy hike, it wasn’t too difficult either.

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Platteklip Gorge – towards the top, the fog started decending; it got quite cold and a bit wet. Definitely take a sweater!

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.

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A stunning panoramic view of Hout Bay at the surrounding coastline

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A large plate of mussels at Olympia Cafe R96 (HK$68.50) – about 25-30 pcs of the biggest, juiciest mussels I’ve ever eaten, in a nice cream and white wine sauce

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Hanging out with the penguins at Boulders Beach

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 drinksCafe 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.

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Kudu, a species of antelope, is a very popular game meat in South Africa. It’s extremely tender and lean, and very tasty. Kudu Steak at Hussar Grill R169 (HK$120)

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Cream, bacon, petit pois and mint pasta R84 (HK$60)

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A huge choice of superb pizzas at Col Cacchio. This is the Carne (R98, HK$70), La Zizou is also amazing (R108)

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!).

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A Tray for 3 at The Fish Box – a must try!

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Grab a healthy juice!

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Love this statement at Around Cheese!

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Babylonstoren, in the winelands of South Africa

Imagine a place where pineapples grow next to zucchini flowers, and row upon row of planters containing brussels sprout and Romanesco broccoli saplings fighting their way sunwards out of the soil, under the protection of a beautiful French greenhouse. Picture chickens scratching around next to ducks and turkeys, before they head into their roost to fall asleep, and then wake in the morning to provide 25-30 eggs in the warm summer days, the freshest eggs you’ll ever eat for breakfast.

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The Green House

Imagine a place where dishes are separated according to colour, where 100% of plant matter on your plate is grown less than 300 meters away from where you sit. Where watermelon sits next to radish, which sits next to plum and then red cabbage.

Imagine waking up in the most incredibly comfortable bed, jumping on your bicycle for a short ride to fresh fruit juices, just-that-morning-baked bread, freshly made preserves, local Serrano-style ham and those aforementioned eggs.

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This is all a reality, and a wondrous one for us city dwellers, for many of whom freshness is more often than not limited to what you see at the supermarket, or at best a farmer’s market. It was also the beautiful setting for the wedding of one of my oldest friends, the image and memory of which will not be easily forgotten. In fact, after returning to a rainy Hong Kong after 10 days in the sunny and warm mecca of decadent fun that is a Cape Town summer, I’m seriously considering going again in a few months time.

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Beautiful views in every directly, with the sun on your face at every turn.

Babylonstoren is the vision of Naspers (South Africa’s National Press) CEO Koos Bekker and his wife, Karen Roos, former editor of SA’s Elle Decoration Magazine. They both grew up on farms, and initially purchased Babylonstoren as a weekend getaway home. It is a heritage site dating back to the 17th century, and one of the best preserved farmyards in Cape Dutch tradition. A place teeming with life, soaked in history, and what a gorgeous weekend getaway it is! If you want a real piece of the action, limited guest accommodation is available.

Eight acres of the estate is under cultivation. The gardens have been so beautifully planned, so if you visit, make sure you allow an hour or so to take a ramble around the farm to fully appreciate everything it has to offer. They offer guided tours if you are feeling particularly inquisitive.

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Zucchini Flowers in the conservatory

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Tumeric

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Preparing for the next planting …

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Did you know that pineapples grew in the soil?

The vegetable, flower and fruit gardens stock Babel, the farm-restaurant that is a number 1 foodie destination for anyone visiting the winelands. It also serves their 14-room farm-hotel, and the beautiful greenhouse, which also doubles up as a teahouse. And finally, there is a farm-shop that sells handmade preserves, breads, olive oil, wines, and more that are made on the premises.

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The Babylonstoren farm shop

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Homemade pastes, preserves, honeys and sauces

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The olive oil from Babylonstoren is wonderful

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