31 October 2013 by David Ward
With a number of exciting events and poignant anniversaries taking place, 2014 has been a time of both celebration and reflection for South Africa's most vibrant and cosmopolitan city.
In 2014, as Cape Town looks to the future as the World Design Capital - a year-long event that will aim to bring together the city's many cultures and communities through design projects, seminars and workshops - the city will also reflect on the past, and a time when such accolades and aspirations seemed like an impossible dream. For 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's incarceration on Robben Island - the infamous prison located in Table Bay, just seven kilometres from the Cape Town coast - as well as the 20th anniversary of his 1994 inauguration, when Mandela became South Africa's first ever black president and a symbol of hope for a bitterly divided nation.
Now, two decades on, Cape Town has grown and evolved into one of the world's leading cities; a multicultural metropolis where visitors can enjoy world-class shopping, dining and entertainment at the bustling V&A Waterfront, bask on the sun-kissed, white-sand beaches of Camps Bay, gorge on the natural wonders of the Table Mountain National Park and enjoy award-winning wines at the nearby vineyards of Constantia, Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. Here we take a look at the very best places to stay, eat, drink and explore in South Africa's Mother City.
Stay in Cape Town
With an abundance of hotels spread throughout the city, it's hard to know where to begin. So when it comes to choosing your Cape Town accommodation, it's the location that may ultimately help you decide. Here we take a look at a small selection of our favourites, each one reflecting a very different side to the city, from the bustling vibrancy of the V&A Waterfront to the peace and tranquility of the Table Mountain National Park; Cape Town offers something to suit all tastes.
Cape Grace - This elegant five-star hotel enjoys a wonderful location in the less-touristy area of the V&A Waterfront, known as the West Quay, with the glittering waters and millionaire's yachts of the harbour to the front and the imposing profile of Table Mountain, rising majestically above the city, to the rear. In other city's throughout the world, a hotel with just 122 rooms and suites would be considered boutique, but in Cape Town - a city famed for its proliferation of privately-run and beautifully presented boutique hotels - the Cape Grace could be considered more of a mid-size property. Regardless, the level of personal service is second to none and guests can be assured of receiving the very best in recommendations from the hotel's knowledgeable and friendly staff. Rooms here are spacious and beautifully presented, with French doors that offer wonderful views across either the harbour or Table Mountain. Take time to enjoy a drink a the popular Bascule Bar, a comfy lounge bar set right on the waterfront, which carries a selection of more than 500 whiskies from around the world.
The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa - For those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city centre, but still have access to the city's many attractions, The Twelve Apostles Hotel & Spa, located just 12 miles from the city centre and sandwiched between the mountains and Atlantic Ocean, offers the best of both worlds. In fact, this luxurious boutique property, which was voted 'One of the best places in the World' by Condé Nast Traveler USA in 2012, enjoys arguably the finest location of any hotel in South Africa. Enjoy spacious, stylish accommodation with breathtaking sea and mountain views, walk the wilderness trails of the beautiful Table Mountain National Park, dine al fresco on the very edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and, at the end of a long day exploring the delights of Cape Town, take time to relax in the hotel's spa, which was voted the best in Africa at the 2012 Travel + Leisure World's Best Awards.
Kensington Place - With just seven beautifully furnished suites and one standard room, Kensington Place is the definition of the Cape Town luxury boutique hotel experience. Contemporary, cutting edge design pervades every inch of this super-stylish bolthole, which is often referred to as the coolest luxury hotel in South Africa. With a peaceful location in the quiet, leafy suburb of Higgovale, on the lower slopes of Table Mountain and just minutes from Cape Town's attractions, the Kensington Place is the ideal base for exploring the city, while also providing a uber-cool sanctuary of peace and tranquility for those looking to get away from it all.
Eat in Cape Town
Cape Town and the nearby Winelands are awash with restaurants, and, like anywhere else, they range from the exceptional to not so great. So to make life a little easier, we've selected a few of our favourites; the very best, taste bud-tantalising eateries to help you make the most of your mealtimes in what is arguably South Africa's culinary capital.
Azure at the Twelve Apostles - Even if you decide not to stay, it's still worth making the detour out to the Twelve Apostles Hotel for dinner at the wonderful Azure Restaurant. Fine dining and even finer views make this place a Cape Town classic. Enjoy a perfectly prepared menu of local favourites, classic international dishes and the freshest seafood (the oysters here are to die for) as you soak up the awe-inspiring Atlantic Ocean views from the restaurant's stunning outdoor terrace.
Blues Restaurant & Bar, Camps Bay - Blues Restaurant & Bar offers beachfront dining at its best. This Camps Bay institution has been serving delicious food to the fashionable folk of Cape Town's coolest seaside spot for more than 25 years, and they've got both their menu and service down to a fine art. Here you'll enjoy world-class cuisine and award winning wines in a classy, yet casual environment, which perfectly reflects one of South Africa's most iconic beachfront locations.
Rueben's at the One & Only - For those who like their chefs to come with a big side dish of celebrity, Rueben's at One&Only Cape Town is the place to go. The multi award-winning head chef Reuben Riffel, who rose to fame after opening his debut restaurant in nearby Winelands town of Franschhoek, is one of South Africa's best-loved and highly regarded chefs. His latest restaurant at Cape Town's One&Only hotel in the heart if the V&A Waterfront, offers selection of tantalising tasting menus and sumptuous a la carte offerings, which blend exciting local flavour combinations with imaginative and skillful cooking techniques.
The Test Kitchen - Since moving to South Africa from England via Asia in 2006, British-born chef Luke Dale-Roberts has been making some serious waves on Cape Town's restaurant scene. After a four-year stint as executive chef at La Colombe restaurant on the Contantia Uitsig wine estate, he opened The Test Kitchen in the up-and-coming suburb of Woodstock, just round the bay from the V&A Waterfront. Since then, the restaurant, which seats just 65 guests, has set the standard for creative cuisine in Cape Town, garnering multiple awards and featuring in the list of the world's top 100 restaurants where it recently placed at an impressive 61st. An industrial design of exposed brickwork, pipes, ducts and steel - created through a collaboration of local artists, craftsmen and designers - characterises the space, where diners can see and hear the chefs at work in the restaurant's open kitchens.
Drink in Cape Town
Café culture - Just a decade ago, South Africa had no café culture to speak of whatsoever. Move forward ten years however, and a new breed of coffee shop is springing up throughout the country, and with Cape Town leading the way, this proliferation of high quality coffee outlets, such as the steam-punk inspired Truth Coffee, means that cool, quirky cafes, serving rich, locally roasted beans and menus bursting with imaginative caffeinated concoctions are now the rule, rather than the exception.
Camps Bay cocktails - There's nothing quite like a cocktail, craft beer or glass of locally produced, award-winning wine to round off a day's sightseeing, and after exploring the many sites of Cape Town, where better to sip on a sundowner that at one of the many stylish bars located along the palm-lined beachfront stretch of Camps Bay.
Explore Cape Town
Table Mountain cable car - Short but very sweet, the five-minute cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain offers spectacular 360° views over the city, ocean and surrounding peaks. Enjoy the peace and quiet of this remarkable setting, taking in the vast array of unique flora and fauna from a series of paths and viewing platforms as you peer down from the summit of Cape Town's most iconic natural landmark.
For more adventurous souls, and depending on the weather, there's also the chance to abseil down afterwards (advance bookings and a head for heights are essential)
Robben Island - Always a popular and poignant place to visit, Robben Island Museum will take on even further significance in 2014 with the 50th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's incarceration in 1964. Tours take three-and-a-half hours, including two half-hour ferry rides across Table Bay and serve as a chilling reminder of the price paid for freedom in the new, democratic South Africa that we know today.
Township tours - For visitors seeking to learn more about the communities that play such an important role in the day to day life of the city - away from the glossy postcard images of Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront - a visit to one of Cape Town's townships offers a unique insight into the lives of the people that suffered so much during the years of Apartheid. Despite years of poverty and deprivation, problems that are still rife in many districts, many of these communities are now thriving havens for local music, arts, crafts and sport, and provide visitors with one of the most inspiring experiences that Cape Town has to offer.
Spend a day at the beach - Cape Town is a beautiful city, surrounded by spectacular coastline and some truly stunning beaches. Which one you choose depends on what you want from your beach experience, just remember though, that the waters along South Africa's Atlantic coast are generally very cold, so swimming may be fairly low on the agenda.
For gourmet sunset picnics, scores of beautiful bronzed bodies and the chance to mix it up with some of the city's most affluent locals, Clifton Beaches, around a ten-minute drive from the city centre, are your best bet. There's four beaches to choose from here, with Clifton 4th being the most popular.
For a totally different vibe, head to Llandudno Beach, 20 kilometres south of the city. Don't worry, this gorgeous stretch of sand has little in common with its Welsh namesake, but is a popular spot with the locals and a good place to try your hand at surfing and body boarding - if you can handle the often icy chill of the Atlantic - and also makes a great spot for a romantic beach picnic.
If you're after something really secluded, the tiny, boulder-flanked Beta Beach, just ten minutes from the city, is well worth considering. It's absolutely perfect for a day of uninterrupted sunbathing and maybe even a swim - the waters here are calm and tend to be few degrees warmer than some of its larger Cape Town counterparts.
Dive with sharks - One for the adrenaline junkies - or the plain daft - shark diving is one of Cape Town's most popular activities. South Africa is fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to have one of the world's most diverse shark populations, which include the mother of all marine killing machines - the infamous Great White Shark. And its with these cuddly ocean-faring critters that you can spend a day as you travel 110 miles across the sea to Gansbaii, known as the Great White capital of the world, for the chance to climb into an underwater metal cage and come face to face with one of the most fearsome, yet surprisingly beautiful, fish in the sea.
Visit a penguin colony - A visit to Boulders Beach, located in False Bay between Fish Hoek and Cape Point, offers the unforgettable chance to spend the day in the company of a breeding colony of African Penguins. In 32 years, the colony has grown from just two breeding pairs in 1982 to more than 3,000 birds today. The adjacent beaches offer the chance to swim in close proximity to the penguins, as well as view them from a series of boardwalks and platforms, which have been erected on neighbouring Foxy Beach. Boulder Bay is part of the Table Mountain National Park so there is a charge of R35 for adults and R10 for children.
Immerse yourself in Cape Town's art scene - Cape Town is fast becoming South Africa's creative capital, a fact demonstrated by its status of World Design Capital 2014, as well as an explosion of galleries and contemporary art spaces, which are popping up across the city, especially in the Woodstock district, which is fast becoming a home from home for the city's avant-garde and bohemian communities. As well as a burgeoning and highly creative modern art and design community, visitors to Cape Town also have the chance to visit more established galleries, including the Irma Stern Museum, which houses a collection of works by one of South Africa's most celebrated artists, and the South African National Gallery, which houses important works from across the world.
Shop 'til you drop - From designer boutiques to street traders dealing in traditional antiques and handicrafts, Cape Town has a myriad of shopping options to please even the most avid shopaholic. Spend a morning exploring the quirky design stores and antique shops along Kloof Street, before heading to the city centre favourites of Long Street and Greenmarket Square, where you'll find a varied selection of stores and market stalls trading in tacky souvenir-style curios to handmade garments and high-end African art. For a complete contrast, make your way to the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock - home to the aforementioned Test Kitchen restaurant - where you'll find a small but intriguing selection of stores selling everything from African ceramics to French-inspired, handmade glassware and jewelry.
Explore the Cape Winelands - South Africa is renowned for its world-class wines, and many of the vineyards that produce the country's best-loved varieties are just a stone's throw from Cape Town. While its ideal to spend a few days staying in the heart of the wine region itself, if you're short on time it's still possible to get a taste of the Cape Winelands on a long day trip from the city. Most tours will visit a number of different wineries in the towns of Paarl, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch and include tastings at each, with the chance to try a number of different reds and whites including Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chiraz, Merlot and many more.
Take a walk on the wild side - While the vast, wildlife-rich expanses of the Kruger National Park offer arguably South Africa's best game viewing, there are also a number of superb private reserves within a short drive of Cape Town. The best known of these is Aquila Private Game Reserve, just an hour-and-a-half drive from the city, where its possible to see rhino, lion, cheetah, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe, ostrich and baboons. For those determined to see the fabled Big 5 (elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard), Fairy Glen is just an hour from Cape Town and can be easily reached on a comfortable day trip. There are also chalets available if you prefer to stay overnight.
Gateway to the Garden Route - Beyond Cape Town, running east along the coast to Port Elizabeth, the Garden Route is South Africa's most popular self-drive. Begin with a few days exploring the best of the Mother City before making your way to the Cape Winelands and on to Hermanus, the world's whale-watching capital. From there you'll take in the pretty coastal towns of Knysna and Plettenburg Bay, or head inland to the spectacular mountain landscapes of the Klein Karoo, home to some of South Africa's most dramatic scenery. Finish your tour with a Big 5 safari at one of the spectacular Eastern Cape game reserves near Port Elizabeth.