All photos, Kelsy Chauvin
I’d circled around the idea of visiting South Africa for far too long. A few months ago, I finally endured that 16-hour-long flight to arrive in sunny Cape Town. This port city has gone through a century of tribulations and triumphs, and today is one of the world’s great destinations. From its beautiful perch on the south Atlantic, travelers can find excellent hotels, unforgettable restaurants, sandy beaches and historic sights. (Not to mention the favorable exchange rate with the South African rand.) Here are some highlights from my journey.
Downtown, I loved Long and Bree streets. They’re busy eating and drinking strips lined with friendly eateries like the Odyssey Gastropub (199 Bree St; 27/21-422-4084; www.theodyssey.co.za/), Bacon on Bree (217 Bree St; 27/21-422-2798), whose name says it all, and La Parada (107 Bree St; 27/21-426-0330; laparada.co.za), for tapas and local wines. Mingle with local Cape Towners, or just people watch from the upper balcony of favorite local hangout Neighbourhood (163 Long St; 27/21-424-7260; www.goodinthehood.co.za/).
From there, you can wander toward the pastel-tinted neighborhood of Bo-Kaap, the Malay quarter whose brightly painted houses are among the city’s most iconic sights.
Don’t be thrown off when you hear that the Old Biscuit Mill (375 Albert Rd, Woodstock; 27/21-447-8194; www.theoldbiscuitmill.co.za/) is Cape Town’s hottest shopping-eating-drinking village. Yes, there are delicious baked goods to enjoy — but really the mill is a repurposed factory in busy Woodstock, an industrial neighborhood now home to galleries, cafés and boutiques. On Saturdays at Neighbourgoods Market (73 Juta St; 27/81-416-2605; www.neighbourgoodsmarket.co.za/), hit the tantalizing food hall for local, seasonal specialties to eat in the courtyard, and grab specialty edibles to bring home.
Drift through De Waterkant, just to the north of Bo-Kaap, toward the Victoria & Albert Waterfront (www.waterfront.co.za/). Browse local crafts at the Watershed open-air market, and check out some of Cape Town’s cool public art and sculptures along the harbor promenade.
From the marina you can catch a ferry to Robben Island (http://www.robben-island.org.za/) where Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners were jailed during Apartheid. It’s now a UNESCO World Heritage site, and a powerful landmark that’s well worth the scenic boat ride. (FYI, the island also is home to a sizeable penguin colony.)
Enjoy the great exchange rate and support the local economy by splurging on high-end experiences. The One&Only Cape Town (https://www.oneandonlyresorts.com/one-and-only-cape-town-south-africa) is one of the city’s newer luxury hotels with views of either Table Mountain or the V&A Waterfront. (And it’s home to Africa’s sole Nobu restaurant.)
Or go classic with the bright-pink Belmond Mount Nelson (http://www.belmond.com/mount-nelson-hotel-cape-town/), a downtown resort whose origins date to 1899. Afternoon tea here is practically an institution, with local sweet and savory delicacies served at three seatings daily.
Touristy though it may seem, a trip up to Table Mountain is a must. You can get there via cable car or a hearty hike, but climb you must to behold its one-of-a-kind panorama across Cape Town. Or head further afield with a safari at Sanbona Reserve (http://www.sanbona.com/), where you can spot elephants, zebras and other beautiful beasts just three hours east of Cape Town.
And don’t forget a jaunt to the lovely Cape Winelands and discover the source of many extraordinary South African vintages. You’d be wise to join a tour, perhaps in the Franschoek Wine Valley (http://franschhoek.org.za/), where you can ride a tram with stops at top wineries.