Features

The charms of Cape Town

6 Dec 2023 by Hannah Brandler
Table Mountain, Cape Town (Credit Alexcpt/iStock)

Catch some winter sun in the South African capital, a hotspot for adventurers, foodies and wine connoisseurs.

The summit of Table Mountain emerged as our plane descended into Cape Town, its rugged features and magnificent cloud-reaching stature a rather daunting introduction to the hike scheduled for the following morning. Capetonians in our cabin remarked on the rarity of such a crisp, clear view of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is normally cloaked by the ‘tablecloth’ – the nickname for the mist and cloud formations that drape over the plateau.

Grateful for the clear weather conditions and free from jetlag – Cape Town is only two hours ahead of the UK – we set our alarms for 5.30am to avoid the heat of the day, and readied our stamina for the summit. There are several hiking routes, but the two-hour Platteklip Gorge trail offers a scenic staircase up the front face of Table Mountain and much of the ascent is in shadow at this early hour. The experience is tremendously meditative, with body and mind laser-focused on the steep climb and surrounding nature, and we were rightfully rewarded once we reached the flat top, 1,085 metres above sea level, complete with bird’s eye views of the toy-like city and glistening ocean.

Aside from the scenic vista, the national park features more than 1,500 floral species – some of which are endemic to the area – while its crevices are home to fauna such as cute rock hyraxes, small mammals otherwise known as ‘dassies’. For an ache-free ride to the bottom of the mountain, the Aerial Cableway boasts a rotating floor offering 360-degree views of the cliffs, city and coastline.

Attractions aplenty

Should you be averse to heights, the cosmopolitan city has countless other adventures on offer, not to mention 300 days of sunshine per year – a particular draw for readers fed up with Britain’s dark and drizzly winter. Options include kayaking down the coastline, soaking up the rays at pristine sandy beaches (some of which are populated by African penguins) or wining and dining your way through the city at remarkably affordable prices.

Another highlight is the lively V&A Waterfront, a 132-hectare marina development brimming with shops, restaurants, and glittering views of the Atlantic Ocean – plus Blue Flag certification thanks to preservation of the marine ecosystem.

The working harbour attracts more than 24 million visitors annually, with open-air concerts, art exhibitions and street food stalls during the summer months (October-April). Save room in your suitcase for purchases at the Watershed, an indoor market featuring bespoke ceramics, textiles and products from more than 150 South African designers.

From the Waterfront, you can also educate yourself on the country’s sombre history of Apartheid, with a 20-minute ferry departing the Nelson Mandela Gateway for Robben Island. Now a living museum and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Robben Island was a site of exile and imprisonment from the 17th to the 20th centuries but most notorious for the incarceration of thousands of freedom fighters in its maximum security prison from the mid-1960s until the 1990s. Tours conducted by ex-prisoners include visits to areas such as the house where Pan Africanist Congress leader Robert Sobukwe spent nine years in solitary confinement, the lime quarry where prisoners endured hard labour, and Nelson Mandela’s 2×2-metre cell in the B-Section of the prison.

Cape winelands (credit konstantin kalishko/iStock)

Weekend in the winelands

No visit to Cape Town is complete without a trip to South Africa’s famous winelands, located just an hour’s drive from the city. We spent our last night in the quaint town of Franschhoek, named ‘French Corner’ by the Dutch due to the settlement of French Huguenots in the 17th century. Today the valley features rows of verdant vines surrounded by majestic movie-set-like mountains.

To make the most of the offerings, we boarded the double-decker open-air Wine Tram (winetram.co.za), which stops at various estates and gives visitors the opportunity to take part in tastings, tours, strolls and wine-paired lunches – it’s advisable to secure reservations at least 24 hours in advance. The tram operates along tracks originally built in 1904 for farmers to transport produce to markets, and was transformed into a swish wine adventure in 2012 after lying dormant for two decades.

There are five routes available and if you’re feeling brave and boozy then you can manage up to nine wineries in a day. Suitably merry, our experience culminated with sparkling wine in each hand at the 325-year-old Grande Provence Heritage Wine Estate, whose lush gardens double as a beautiful gallery showcasing sculptures by South African artists.

Our trip in the Mother City may have come to an end, but we left prepped for the British winter, with the clinking bottles in our suitcases thankfully staying intact on the 12-hour flight home.

WHERE TO STAY

One&Only Cape Town

This luxury hotel offers 133 rooms and suites in the city’s marina, with its recent refurbishment in 2022 involving local designers, artisans and suppliers. Highlights of the property include a lobby with magnificent views of Table Mountain, a wine studio where you can create your own blend, and an island dedicated to spa facilities. See our review at businesstraveller.com/tried-and-tested. oneandonlyresorts.com

Mont Rochelle, Franschhoek

Located at the foot of the Klein Dassenberg Mountain Range, the 26-room hotel and vineyard belonging to the Virgin Limited Edition collection is a picturesque retreat for wine lovers. On-site activities include a tour of the cellars with winemaker, Michael Langenhoven, or a gourmet picnic in the scenic grounds. Larger groups, meanwhile, can book the 740 sqm four-bedroom Manor House villa, complete with two heated swimming pools, a games room and, naturally, an outdoor kitchen. virginlimitededition.com/en/mont-rochelle

Mont Rochelle, Franschhoek
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