Cape Town Uncovered

Explore Cape Town like a local with the guide to its hidden gems, starting with a suburb that’s bathed in bright colours.

Well, we have a right to be smug living in the world’s most fantastic, amazing, cool and beautiful city (yes, we might be arrogant, too). Established in 1652 by the Dutch East India Company as a victualling station for sailors making the long trek from Europe to their colonies in the Indian Ocean, the Mother City boasts a lot more than a gorgeous big chunk of rock. There are exquisite white beaches, stunning vineyards, fabulous restaurants and some interesting culture to enjoy.

Rock Star

Let’s start with that big chunk of rock. Table Mountain is on everyone’s to-do list, and for good reason. Going up in a cable car and strolling around the mountaintop or gazing up at its beauty from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront may not change your life, but these experiences will set a new benchmark for ‘classic view’. In summer (December to February), the cable car runs from 8am to about 9pm. So avoid the tourist hordes with a trip in the evening.

Pack a picnic and a bottle of Méthode Cap Classique (the South African version of champagne), and head up at 6pm to watch the sunset over the city before descending back to the town, just in time to check out its nightlife. Off the M3 (the main arterial heading south), you’ll find the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden. This 36-hectare garden, established in 1913, features a maze of trails including two relatively easy ones (the Nursery Ravine and Smuts Track), which wind up the eastern slope of Table Mountain to its summit.

Also, make your way further south of the city to Kalk Bay. This fishing village wraps around a picture-perfect harbour, and its main road is filled with antique shops, bookstores and restaurants. Harbour House and Live Bait both serve seafood caught just metres away.

Hot Plates

For a culinary experience like no other, the inner-city suburbs are the places to be.

One: After stints in London with the likes of Giorgio Locatelli, young chef Peter Tempelhoff is resident cook at The Greenhouse. Here, he creates an intimate fine-dining experience with a focus on local produce.

Two: After leaving his popular restaurant Manna Epicure in Cape Town’s Kloof Street, chef Jacques Erasmus didn’t venture far, opening Hemelhuijs. Erasmus’s version of the frikadelle (meatballs), served with mash and old-fashioned tomato and onion salad, is something to behold.

Three: The Woodlands Eatery is in Vredehoek, an arty, inner-city suburb. This unpretentious local secret serves up fare described as ‘haute-comfort cuisine’.

Four: Societi Bistro is in an old Georgian-style house but the food is anything but stuffy. Expect quality Italian fare paired with a classy wine list.

Five: Café Paradiso is familiar territory, with a not-to-be-beaten view of Table Mountain. Enjoy the vistas with dishes such as succulent lamb salad or the salt and pepper squid.

Taking Stock

Sharing its name with the renowned concert that rocked the world nearly five decades ago, the suburb of Woodstock in the north-west of Cape Town was, until recently, anything but cool. It has undergone a revitalisation and is fast becoming South Africa’s answer to New York City’s Lower East Side. Leading the charge is the Neighbourgoods Market, which first brought organic food producers and the public together in 2006 in The Old Biscuit Mill, a historic but rundown building. Over the last five years, the mill and its surrounding area have come back to life with artists workshops, retro furniture stores and restaurants. Look for The Test Kitchen, chef Luke Dale-Roberts’s new award-winning restaurant, and Superette for gourmet takeaway options so your exploring is uninterrupted.

Cape Capers

Explore the multicultural heart of the city before tucking into some traditional delights.

History: Bo-Kaap means the ‘high Cape’ and the neighbourhood is found on the slopes of Signal Hill. It’s a maze of colourful houses inhabited by the descendants of Indonesian slaves, transported by the Dutch East India Company in the mid-17th century. Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, the area maintains its Muslim influence, with beautiful historic mosques to explore.

Delights: Listen out for the Noon Gun fired from Signal Hill, which has marked midday for more than 200 years. Afterwards, head to Biesmiellah for food with an Indian twist. The Bo-Kaap Crafts & Food Market Day offers traditional street food including smoked snoek, a native fish. Bo-Kaap Museum is also worth a visit. The building has been restored to replicate a typical Malay home of the 19th century.

Sleep Safari

Whether you want to be close to the action or looking to shake up your accommodation options, here’s our pick of places to stay.

One: The Grand Daddy comes with the Airstream Rooftop Trailer Park for guests looking for a different hotel experience. Seven vintage Airstream trailers form a neat ‘trailer park’ on the hotel’s roof.

Two: African Pride 15 on Orange Hotel is centrally located, with the vibrant Long Street just 50 metres away. If it’s culture you’re after, the hotel is a short walk to the South African Museum and Planitarium.

Three: Hippo Boutique Hotel shares a building with three restaurants, and more on the street. Dining shouldn’t be a problem, then.

Don’t Miss

A visit to Robben Island is just a short ferry trip from Cape Town harbour. The island was once home to many political prisoners, including Nelson Mandela, and now acts as a memorial. Stand in Mandela’s old cell and hear firsthand accounts from former prisoners who guide visiting groups, making for a moving and incredibly uplifting experience. Afterwards, wine enthusiasts should make time for a Pinotage tasting. Dubbed South Africa’s ‘very own cultivar’, it’s created from a blend of pinot noir and hermitage grapes. Two easily available varieties include a Diemersfontein 2011 Pinotage with hints of dark chocolate and plum, and a Beyerskloof Pinotage Reserve, ideal with venison. Complete your exploring at Clarke’s Bookshop. If you have a spare hour or two, browse the shelves for rare and out-of-print books.

The Mighty Pen

Conrad Botes started the comics anthology Bitterkomix in the early 1990s with fellow art student Joe Dog (Anton Kannemeyer).

What do you think of the Cape Town art scene?

It’s very vibrant. There’s a lot going on, with young artists emerging and independent galleries springing up. It’s a good time for art in South Africa.

Why did you decide to move your studio to Woodstock?

It’s really taking off as the arty area of the city, with galleries like the Stevenson and Whatiftheworld. And now you’ve branched out into furniture design too. It’s not really to make money out of as yet. I’ve always loved good furniture and [design] is a way for me to indulge in that.

What’s happened to Bitterkomix?

We’re still putting it together occasionally, but it’s in the form of a journal now. We’ve published it in Europe mostly.

Which young South African artists impress you?

Nandipha Mntambo, who works across several media, and photographer Zanele Muholi. 

Words by Patrick Farrell - Published in Voyeur January 2012
Quick Facts 
Population 3,500,000
Time Zone GMT +2 hours
Languages Afrikaans, English, Ndebele, Northern Sotho, Sotho, Swazi, Tswana, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa and Zulu.
Currency Rand
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