STUNNING AND SOPHISTICATED CAPE TOWN

About Cape Town, South Africa

​Capetonians have a right to be smug. The sheer grandeur of Cape Town’s setting, crowned by Table Mountain with sweeping bays and mountains cascading down to the sea, makes it one of the most scenic cities in the world.

Capetonians have a right to be smug. The sheer grandeur of Cape Town’s setting, crowned by Table Mountain with sweeping bays and mountains cascading down to the sea, makes it one of the most scenic cities in the world. Drive less than half an hour in any direction from the city centre and you’ll find 18th century Cape Dutch manor houses, outstanding wineries, sugary beaches and lush craggy mountains. Sir Frances Drake wasn’t exaggerating when he said this was “the fairest Cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.”

A stroll around the city centre reveals remnants of a vibrant and sometimes tumultuous history. Up until the late 1800s Cape Town was a thriving port and sea link between Europe and the East. There’s a unique style here where whitewashed gabled Cape Dutch buildings sit beside monuments to British imperial legacy—reminders of the early Dutch settlers and the British occupation. Down at the Waterfront at Nobel Square you’ll find the four life-size sculptures of Nobel Peace Prize laureates Desmond Tutu, Albert Luthuli, FW de Klerk and Nelson Mandela who helped create democracy in South Africa after decades of apartheid.

The population of about 3.75 million is comprised of approximately 40 percent black African, 45 percent coloured (mixed races) and Indian and 15 percent white. You are never far from African tribal art and music, Malay spicy cuisine, posh restaurants and beckoning beaches. Unlike the frenetic hardworking image of Johannesburg, there’s a casual vibe here. No jacket, no tie, no attitude. 

Although our Canadian dollar doesn’t buy much in the US, UK or Europe, it’s much stronger than the South African Rand; therefore you can afford to live it up at bargain prices. Here’s where to get the best bang for your Rand.

THE “YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE” SPLURGE LIST 

South Africa’s top rated Test Kitchen 

Cape Town has no lack of outstanding eateries, but one is in a category of its own. The Test Kitchen was chosen as Restaurant of the Year 2014 in South Africa by Eat Out. It also ranked 28th in The World’s 50 Best Restaurants (sponsored by S. Pellegrino and Acqua Panna).

After a recent lunch at chef/owner Luke Dale-Roberts’ culinary laboratory, I can vouch that those lofty accolades are well deserved. 

The team serves multi-course tasting menus for lunch and dinner with the option of pairing each course with a wine selected by the sommelier, or an exotic tea, such as Pink Flamingo. There is also a vegetarian menu. 

My Lunch Discovery included trout ceviche, langoustines with pickled shitake and mirin tea, curried kingklip, spring lamb and stout sponge cake. 

You really have to savour The Test Kitchen in person to appreciate the genius behind the combination of ingredients and dramatic presentations. This is the hottest restaurant in town so be sure to reserve far in advance. www.thetestkitchen.co.za

The Old Pink Lady has Class 

Capetonians call the landmark Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel “the old pink lady.” Situated a short stroll from downtown and at the foot of Table Mountain, the pastel pink old gal is quite a charmer. This is the place to celebrate with high tea. The hotel’s Librisa Spa offers all sorts of soothing and pampering services. They carry the Kalahari skin care line products using ingredients harvested from the Kalahari Desert. www.belmond.com

Taste the Wine

I have visited my fair share of wineries around the world but I found many of the estates along the wine route of South Africa’s Western Cape to be truly remarkable. Few places in the world can match these vistas where mountains tower above vine-covered valleys. The wine tastings are terrific, but many of these estates offer much more—from serious art collections to gourmet restaurants. 

For me, the jewel in the crown of the Western Cape wine properties is the Delaire Graff Estate, owned by the British diamond magnate Lawrence Graff. Situated on the crest of the vertiginous Helshoogte Mountain pass between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, there appears to be not a blade of grass nor flower bed not perfectly manicured. Inside the jasmine-scented entrance to the winery visitors may gawk at the Delaire Sunset, the largest fancy vivid yellow square emerald-cut diamond in the world, weighing in at 118.08 carats. 

The tasting room, set up like a lounge, uses only the finest Riedel stemware. There is, of course, a Graff jewelry shop should you wish to purchase some baubles along with your bubbles. 

The restaurant under the direction of chef Michael Deg serves bistro-chic cuisine inspired by daily produce from the estate’s gardens and local farmers. The property is dotted with splendid sculptures by South African artists. Just up the hill from the winery the Relais et Chateaux Delaire Graff Lodges & Spa offers villa-style accommodations and another Asian-inspired restaurant called Indochine. If you only visit one wine estate, make it this one. 

Designer Meets Mud Hut 

At Merchants on Long Street billing itself as “Africa’s first concept store,” everything in the shop was created by designers in Africa. www.merchantsonlong.com

Boutique Hotel with a View 

Open the door to the entrance of the Cape View Clifton boutique hotel and you’ll be gob smacked by the view of the sea and beaches below. Every luxuriously appointed seafront suite has a private balcony. There’s a pool, gym and breakfast is included. This is a spot for the discerning traveller who doesn’t want to be the anonymous guest in room 2004. www.capeviewflifton.co.za

THE “CHEAP THRILLS” SAVE LIST 

Spend Saturday at the Neighbourgoods Market 

On Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Neighbourgoods Market in Cape Town is the place to stroll and graze. It is located on Albert Road in the industrial neighbourhood of Woodstock inside The Old Biscuit Mill. Vendors are dishing out all sorts of goodies from smoothies to pizza to dim sum to curries. There is usually some musical entertainment to enjoy with your food and drink. Besides all the good refreshments, a number of stores and stalls sell unique and unusual clothing, leather goods and household items.www.neighbourgoodsmarket.co.za

Nothing but the Truth 

OK I admit it. I am a coffee snob. I make it my mission to find the best espresso and baristas everywhere I go. In Cape Town at Truth I hit the jackpot. Owner David Donde has made coffee his lifelong passion and Truth, at 36 Buitenkant Street, is a shrine to the beans. 

The centerpiece of the coffee emporium is a 1940 Probat cast iron roaster. I’m told there are only a few left in the world. The roaster is fueled by re-cycled cooking oil from local restaurants. 

The scene at Truth is described as “steampunk.” Think neo-Victorian retro punk inspired by the 19th century steam-powered machines. The wait staff wears outlandish costumes including funky hats, aviator goggles, leather jewelry, aprons and vests. The décor is an eclectic collection of antique organs, typewriters, safes and books. They have the longest communal table in town.

If you’re really serious about your java, Truth offers barista courses for fun or your future career in coffee. www.truthcoffee.com

Tapas for Two 

The unique tapas and presentation at the Chefs Warehouse & Canteen are so good you won’t believe the price. Approximately $45 buys multi courses of tapas of the day for two. The funky chic canteen with communal tables is also a shop selling cookware, gourmet groceries and cookery books.www.chefswarehouse.co.za

Simple and Sweet Splendida

Located on the Mouille Point Promenade, on Cape Town’s “platinum mile,” La Splendida has 24 art-deco style rooms, some overlooking the water, some overlooking the mountains. Prices are reasonable for this part of town.www.lasplendida.co.za

Glamping at the Grand Daddy 

Smack dab in the centre of Cape Town on Long Street, The Grand Daddy Boutique Hotel offers nice rooms but you might also try “glamping” in one of seven vintage Airstream trailers located on the roof. Each one is decorated with a different South African theme (safari, wine lands, beach house, etc.) You can also take in a movie under an African sky at the Pink Flamingo Rooftop Cinema. Order a picnic basket and a bottle of bubbles. www.granddaddy.co.za

Nice Old Bags 

Original T Bag Designs empowers members of the impoverished Imazamo Yethu community to turn discarded tea bags into works of art in the form of greeting cards, table wear, ornaments and more. Buy a piece of tea bag art and you are helping create sustainable jobs.www.tbagdesigns.co.za

All About Fish

Willoughby & Co., Purveyors of Fine Seafood doesn’t have a fashionable seaside location but if you want fresh fabulous fish, this is the place. It’s on the ground floor of the upscale Victoria Wharf mall at the Waterfront. The extensive menu offers everything from fresh oysters to Malay prawn curry to fish and chips. The sushi is sublime. Like many restaurants in Cape Town, you can bring your own wine for a small corkage fee. www.willoughbyandco.co.za

Of All the Gin Joints 

Downtown at 219 Bree Street, head into Mother’s Ruin Gin Bar for a choice of more than 70 brands of today’s trendiest liquor. Mother’s Ruin, a moniker that the spirit earned in the 1720s, when it was the most widely abused form of alcohol in the world, is the first dedicated gin bar in Cape Town. Union Jack cushions and more whimsical touches play tribute to the tipple’s British origins. Sure you can have a classic martini, but if gin’s not your preference, consider Fig Bellini, created for Champagne lovers. 

Heavenly 

Hemelhuijs is an Old Dutch word meaning heaven house or church. Open only for lunch, this artful spot on Waterkant Street serves freshly squeezed juices, intriguing salads and light main courses. For brunch, consider the poached eggs with artichoke, hollandaise sauce and smoked trout or French toast with pecorino cheese and homemade prickly pear syrup. The restaurant doubles as a shop for their home collection of dishes and more. 

Everything is here is done with great taste; even the illustrated menu is a piece of art. Open daily from 9 to 4, except. Sunday. www.hemelhuijs.co.za

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