Cape Town is one of the world’s great bucket-list cities – a must-visit, feel-good place with jaw-dropping sights, loads to see and do and a lively cosmopolitan pulse. Read on for our guide to the ultimate city break and Cape escape
CAPE TOWN ACTION PLAN
Collect your hire car at the airport and check into your hotel for a quick freshen-up. Take a peek at Table Mountain. If you can see the top, go for it. A frothy layer of cloud, known as the ‘tablecloth’ can obscure the landmark for days on end, so you should aim to get up there at the first clear opportunity.
A return ride on the cableway (www.tablemountain.net) costs R245 and you’ll need an hour or two to walk the summit trails and soak up the views: Cape Town lapping the lower flanks of the mountain, spilling towards the harbour and the dragon-backed ridge of Lion’s Head and Signal Hill; Robben Island, a smudge in Table Bay; a line of surf sweeping northwards along the Atlantic seaboard.
Off-road scooters with chunky all-terrain tyres are the latest way to explore Table Mountain. Scootours (www.scootours.co.za, R450) offers guided trips starting with a 5km run down Signal Hill into Bo Kaap before tackling a track on the big mountain itself. Great fun and easy to handle, the scooters get you to some incredible viewpoints overlooking Cape Town and beyond.
Back at sea level, head to the Nelson Mandela Gateway where ferries make the 12km crossing to Robben Island (www.robben-island.org.za, R320). Each 4hr excursion includes a fascinating tour by former political prisoners. You’ll see infamous sights such as the Lime Quarry and a graveyard of leprosy victims. The most moving experience, however, is to see the Maximum Security Prison where thousands of South Africa’s freedom fighters were incarcerated. To look inside Nelson Mandela’s prison cell is to witness one of the most poignant places in South Africa’s history.
Back at the Victoria & Albert Waterfront (www.waterfront.co.za) visit the impressive Two Oceans Aquarium (www.aquarium.co.za, R150) to experience the new Ocean Exhibit where a 10m walk-through tunnel provides amazing views of rays, turtles and sharks. The Waterfront is also Cape Town’s hub for shopping and eating out. Browse over 450 shops or stroll the bustling boardwalks of this restored historic dockland. There are over 80 eateries, offering everything from gourmet burgers to fresh seafood.
One of the newest, most exciting places to eat out in Cape Town, The Shortmarket Club (www.theshortmarketclub.co.za +27 21 447 2874, mains from R120), opened in June and can be found in a heritage building off the City Bowl’s Bree Street. The opulent interior is rich in leather, wood and stained glass. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, expect trendy dishes ranging from shiitake brioche toast soldiers with boiled eggs to Saldanha Bay oysters and lamb rump with roasted fennel fondant.
THE CAPE PENINSULA
Get an early start for a spectacular day exploring Table Mountain National Park and the Cape Peninsula (www.cpnp.co.za). Organised tours cost around R930 (www.daytours.co.za). Otherwise, hop in your hire car and drive south to Simon’s Town, overlooking False Bay. The African penguin colony at Boulders Beach will keep you spellbound for hours – over 2000 of the endearing birds can be viewed close-up from boardwalks – but tear yourself away and continue south to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope. The views from the lighthouse are wonderful and southern right whales may be seen August to December.
Heading north along the Atlantic seaboard towards Cape Town, Chapman’s Peak Drive is a breathtaking 10km route etched into sea cliffs. Beyond Hout Bay, head inland along the eastern flank of Table Mountain to Kirstenbosch (www.sanbi.org). The new 130m-long Boomslang walkway snakes through the treetops at these famous botanical gardens, providing panoramic views across the canopy to the mountains beyond. Home to over 7000 plant species, the gardens are particularly dazzling during spring.
Allow at least a half-day for a township tour. Andulea (www.andulela.com) offers cultural trips where you can play football with locals, join an African beading class or take part in a township drumming session.
The N1 whisks you the 50km or so from Cape Town to Stellenbosch in no time at all. Located in the heart of the Cape Winelands (www.winelands.co.za), this palatable town with its oak-lined avenues and Cape Dutch, Georgian and Victorian architecture is perfect for a gentle stroll. Find a pavement cafe to soak up the atmosphere. Vineyards are clearly signposted and many offer tasting tours.
The N2 highway heads eastwards from Cape Town towards the Garden Route where myriad highlights include canoeing at Wilderness, hiking the coastal forests of Tsistsikamma, dolphin spotting in Plettenberg Bay and steam train rides and oyster slurping at Knysna. Drive on beyond Port Elizabeth where Addo Elephant National Park and various private game reserves provide malaria-free, big five game-viewing.
Heading north from Cape Town, visit West Coast National Park for birdwatching and game viewing on the Postberg Peninsula and sea kayaking in Langebaan Lagoon (www.gravity.co.za). Around 200km north of Cape Town, the Cederberg Wilderness Area is a magnet to walkers, as well as a prime spot for Bushman rock art and spring flowers.
Sensational places to stay
Take your pick of three of the Cape’s most stunning properties
The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa
Best for: Style and luxury between mountain and sea
Part of the award-winning Red Carnation Collection, this stunning 70-room hotel has an idyllic location overlooking the glittering waters of the Southern Atlantic and flanked by the towering ramparts of the Twelve Apostles – the dragon-back range extending south from Table Mountain. The ‘12A’ is perfectly placed for exploring the Cape Peninsula and Cape Town – although you will find it hard to drag yourself away from such a welcoming and stylish retreat. As well as serene accommodation and one of the Cape’s finest restaurants (the Azure), the hotel boasts a holistic spa, private cinema and helicopter transfers to and from the V&A Waterfront.
• Rooms from R5032 per night, including breakfast AND taxes
• Tel: +27 (21) 437 9000, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, 12apostleshotel.com
Three things you’ll remember most:
1 Sipping a cocktail at the hotel’s legendary Leopard Bar Terrace, gazing at the sunset and keeping watch for dolphins and southern right whales cavorting in the sea below. Try the Cosmo and Vanilla Chocatini, a vodka martini made with white crème de cacao, garnished with a chocolate flake and maraschino cherry.
2 Fresh, melt-in-the-mouth seafood served at the Azure Restaurant, followed by dessert and coffee on the terrace overlooking the ocean – or a gourmet picnic laid out for you on fynbos-speckled mountain slopes behind the hotel.
3 The glorious sea-facing rooms, light and airy, decorated in cool colours and rich fabrics, with a sunken lounge, private balcony and state-of-the-art technology. You can also choose equally mesmerising mountain-view rooms.
Best for: A superb location in the heart of Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront
Sitting pretty on the V&A Waterfront, this luxury hotel nuzzles between a working harbour and a multi-millionaire yacht basin. It is perfectly located for the Waterfront’s shops, restaurants and bars, as well as the Two Oceans Aquarium and boat trips to Robben Island. The Signal Restaurant is renowned for its tasting menu, pairing Cape wines with delicious local meats and seafood, while the spa was ranked Africa’s finest in Travel and Leisure’s 2015 World’s Best Awards. The two-bedroom suites strike a fine balance of style and home comforts with their private en suite bedrooms, large balcony, fully-equipped kitchen and separate lounge and dining area. A great choice for families or friends travelling together.
• Luxury double rooms from R6930 per night, including breakfast, taxes and fees.
• Tel: +27 21 410 7100, email: email@example.com, capegrace.com
Three things you’ll remember most:
1 Experiencing the taste sensation of perfectly paired Cape food and wine from the tasting menu at Signal Restaurant. Try rooibos-smoked salmon fishcake with roasted leek velouté and asparagus with a glass of Kleine Zalze Family Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2015.
2 Afternoon tea with homemade scones, strawberry jam and cream and a pot of loose-leaf tea or, if you fancy something stronger, an aperitif at Bascule Bar at the water’s edge, where you can choose from over 500 varieties of whisky.
3 Ultimate pampering at the Spa at Cape Grace with its Kalahari Signature Massages and QMS Medicosmetics Anti-ageing Treatments.
Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Lodge
Best for: A luxurious wilderness Cape escape
Two and a half hours north of Cape Town, this fabulous, five-star retreat is located on a private reserve in the Cederberg Mountains, home to over 130 Bushman rock art sites and an equally fascinating range of flora and fauna. With just 16 luxurious guest rooms and suites, plus a private villa, Bushmans Kloof provides an intimate and luxurious gateway to this rugged corner of the Cape. The resort has been showered with international awards. Elegantly furnished rooms overlook landscaped gardens, dotted with crystalline swimming pools.
• Stays from R5900 per night, on a full board basis, inclusive of food, activities, taxes and fees Tel: +27 21 437 9278, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, bushmanskloof.co.za
Three things you’ll remember most:
1 Guided excursions to Bushman rock art sites, some of which date back more than 10,000 years. Other activities at Bushmans Kloof include hiking or mountain biking to spectacular rock formations, game drives in search of Cape mountain zebra and other wildlife, canoeing through sandstone gorges, fly-fishing and incredible stargazing.
2 Dining under the stars at Embers – a dramatic candlelit, clifftop venue with succulent grills, salads and home-baked breads. You can also enjoy a picnic in the reserve or a romantic meal for two in the River Boma. At the heart of the lodge, the Homestead has a fine restaurant and impressive private art collection. For wine lovers, the pride of the cellar at Bushmans Kloof is a superb Bouchard Finlayson selection.
3 Total rejuvenation for body and soul at the spa, which includes an idyllic outdoor gazebo overlooking the calm Boontjes River. Treatments fuse ancient African traditions with the aromatic power of indigenous Rooibos and fynbos.
Visit Cape Town Tourism (www.capetown.travel) or download the free Official Guide to Cape Town travel app for essential visitor information, opening hours, maps and hundreds of recommendations and insider tips to must-see sights and off-the-beaten-path adventures.