Mother City

HR-shutterstock_392701777Cape Town, South Africa’s ‘mother city’, has it all – exquisite beaches, breath-taking scenery, world-renowned gastronomy and buzzing nightlife. Here are our five top reasons to visit…

Dominated by Table Mountain and surrounded by the wild Atlantic, Cape Town has unquestionably one of the world’s most beautiful (and recognisable) city backdrops. Central Cape Town with its grandiose colonial buildings and lovely public gardens lies in the steep-sided bowl created by the mountain. Atmospheric Victorian suburbs stretch around the lower slopes, while the Atlantic Seaboard with its trendy promenades and nightlife strips hugs the shoreline. But despite being a considerable urban hub, its surroundings are surprisingly untamed, characterised by a mountainous spine stretching between two rugged coasts down to Cape Point. It is this mixture of environments, and its cosmopolitan communities, which make Cape Town such an instantly likeable and captivating city. Few places in the world can offer mountain hiking, lazing on a beach, tasting world-class wines and shopping in a glitzy mall, all in one day.

1 Table Mountain
Cape Town is defined by this 1073-metre flat-topped mountain; its sheer slopes and ‘tablecloth’ of swirling clouds have for centuries intrigued seafarers, and it continues to astonish visitors today as it dominates almost every view of the city. The dizzying ride to the top in the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is one of Cape Town’s must-dos, and the more adventurous can ascend on foot; about a three-hour stiff but exhilarating hike. Once at the top, an extensive network of paths lead to lookout points with spectacular views of the City Bowl, the Cape Flats, Robben Island and the Twelve Apostles chain of mountains stretching south along the Cape Peninsula. Also consider driving or walking to the top
of nearby 350-metre Signal Hill; also great for views and a fine place to watch the sun sink into the Atlantic with a sundowner in hand.

2 Kirstenbosch National Botanical  Garden
South Africa’s oldest (1913), largest and most exquisite botanical garden has manicured lawns, flower beds and avenues of well-pruned trees stretching up the eastern slopes of Table Mountain. Visit the Herbarium, which houses over a quarter of a million specimens of plants, the scented flowering Fragrance Garden, or follow The Dell, a beautifully shaded path snaking beneath a dense forest of giant trees and a fern-lined stream. The newest attraction is the curvy Tree Canopy Walkway, also dubbed the ‘Boomslang’ meaning ‘tree snake’, a 130-metre-long steel and timber walkway that starts at ground level and climbs up above the trees with marvellous views of Cape Town’s southern suburbs from the top. Perhaps the most enjoyable way of experiencing Kirstenbosch is at one of the Sunday sunset concerts (November-March); the drill is simple – take a cool box and picnic on the lawns while enjoying anything from rock or jazz bands to classical and opera recitals.

3 Cape Peninsula
Allow a day to tour the spectacular Cape Peninsula with its spine of mountains, golden beaches and beautiful bays. The stunning coast road winds its way through the city’s swanky suburbs on the Atlantic Seaboard on the western side, and down to Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of the peninsula (part of the Table Mountain National Park). Here you can climb to the lighthouse or hike on the wild beaches, before returning to the city via the quaint fishing villages of the False Bay area on the peninsula’s eastern coast. On the way, take a boat trip to see the Cape fur seal colony offshore from Hout Bay on Duiker Island, enjoy the hair-raising Chapman’s Peak Drive, which is carved perilously into the cliffs above the sea, and be entertained by the comical African penguins at Boulders Beach. There are many quirky shops, craft markets and art galleries to grab your attention along the route, and ample places to stop for lunch – be it simple fish and chips or a gourmet seafood meal.

4 Cape Winelands
Just a short drive from the city is South Africa’s oldest and most beautiful wine-producing area. This fertile series of valleys links the historical towns of Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek. The real architectural gems are the fine white-washed Cape Dutch homesteads, some of them centuries old, which offer wine-tasting alfresco under oak trees or underground in the cool cellars. In the southern suburbs, Groot Constantia is the oldest wine estate in the Cape (dating back to 1659) and is one of several vineyards on the Constantia Wine Route. The variety of South African wines is astonishing – try the full-bodied red Pinotage, a grape variety created in South Africa in 1925.

5 Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Cape Town’s original Victorian harbour is a lively district packed with shops (selling everything from crafty souvenirs to luxury brands), pumping bars, gourmet restaurants and all kinds of entertainment from comedy clubs to movie theatres – all are joined by pleasant waterside walkways. A number of original historical buildings remain around the basins and it’s still a working port too, which adds to its jaunty maritime charm. Attractions include the Cape Wheel, a mini-replica of the London Eye, a number of museums covering a range of topics from South African rugby to military history, and the Two Oceans Aquarium (a must for children) with its giant tanks showcasing a multitude of colourful fish, kelp forests and (most famously) sharks. Boat companies along Quay 5 offer all manner of cruises, from short harbour tours by tug to leisurely sails to Camps Bay on sunset catamarans. An exciting new attraction is the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, currently being developed in the old grain silo complex.