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March 24, 2016

9 Things You Must Do In Cape Town

Text by Shirin Mehta. Photographs by Charu Kholsa

From shopping hotspots to the hippest neighbourhoods and the coolest restaurants to wine estates, we tell you the best ways to soak in the culture of Cape Town!

“Here in Cape Town we are laidback almost to the point of horizontal,” states an unabashed Capetonian. And yet, city denizens, while displaying an attitude of sangfroid, will, at the drop of a hat, put on their ‘takkies’ (local lingo for sporting shoes) and dash off to climb the nearest hill, most likely their beloved Lion’s Head. It is this dichotomy that makes the city ever more interesting.

1. Walking the Waterfront
Spend up to a couple of days wandering around the picturesque Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, a part of Cape Town’s 150-year-old working harbour. Explore this historic area, as we did with our insightful driver-guide, Wayne Maddams, starting at the Chavonnes Battery, the oldest corner of the harbour dating back to 1725. Grab a meal with a view at the many waterside restaurants and cafes or head to the V&A Food Market with its fresh produce and artisanal food selections. Visit the Two Oceans Aquarium. Enjoy spectacular city views from the brightly lit Cape Wheel. Shop till you drop at the Victoria Wharf Shopping Centre which has over 450 stores from luxury brands to high-street labels. Catch up on souvenir shopping at The Watershed. Book a tour on a pirate ship or take a sunset cruise, hoping that the wind will whip up a fine adventure on the high seas as well as the champagne in your plastic glass.

2. Traipsing on Treetops
Walk on treetops on the new  Boomslang aerial walkway, at the 103-year-old Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (part of a UNESCO World Heritage site) at the foot of Table Mountain. Boomslang is Afrikaans for ‘tree snake’ and this suspended marvel of engineering looks like an inverted reptile skeleton with a steel spine and ribs, and offers outstanding views. The garden is home to 7,000 species representing the Cape Floral Kingdom, the area’s indigenous flora. Walk gently uphill through paths and greens, under giant trees and past small shrubs, next to water pools and manicured beds. The Cycad Amphitheatre (a temporary exhibition featuring dinosaur sculptures adds great drama to the scene) and the Gondwana Garden feature plant fossils that are 200 million years old. A braille walk, cheetah sculptures by Dylan Lewis (who was a taxidermist before he turned sculptor) and idyllic spots to picnic in, while Egyptian geese with their line-up of babies walk slowly past and hadeda ibis scrabble in the dust, make this paradise indeed. Summer concerts are a special attraction.

3. Cable to the Table
Hope for short queues and still weather, but take the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway to Table Mountain, one of the world’s New Seven Wonders of Nature, for impressive views, easy walks, strenuous hikes, or merely to relax at Table Mountain Café or shop for souvenirs at Shop at the Top. The more adventurous may hike the Platteklip Gorge trail up the face of the mountain. Abseiling is offered at the upper cable station for the super-adventurous. Mountain biking is allowed below the lower cable station while paragliding is more commonly done from Lion’s Head or Signal Hill.

4. Market Morning
On the urban fringes of the Central Business District (CBD), Woodstock is the trendy suburb where the yuppies are moving in, leading to a revitalisation and revamp of stores, corner cafes, galleries and malls. A visit to the Salt Circle Arcade mall reveals a second-hand bookstore made for browsing, rustic furniture outlets, a jewellery workshop and a home-brew shop. The Woodstock Exchange too boasts artisan shops and studios. Walking down Albert Road, you will witness impressive urban art works and colourful graffiti, antique and second-hand furniture shops, cafes and restaurants. On a Saturday morning, head to The Old Biscuit Mill for the Neighbourgoods Market where food stalls, live music and a great vibe dominate under a huge Bedouin tent. Here are located the Art Lab, a digital imaging facility, a pottery workshop and restaurants including The Test Kitchen, ranked amongst the top 50 restaurants in the world. Good luck with getting a booking there but you may get luckier with the incredibly situated Pot Luck Club where the food is rivalled only by the stupendous view. The area having emerged as a leader in the craft beer movement, a visit to a brewery, like the Devil’s Peak Brewery with a view of its namesake, is a must.

5. Candy Land
Keep your camera at the ready as you wander into Bo-Kaap, Cape Town’s most colourful district, one of its oldest residential quarters, also known as the Malay Quarter, located at the foot of Signal Hill. Associated with the Muslim community of the Cape, the area features cobbled streets with row houses painted pink, purple, green, blue, in vibrant disarray. While some opine that this could have been a reaction to the mainly white Cape-Dutch architecture or a creative assertion of a newly found freedom (in the past, slaves who were imported to the Cape were housed here), it is enough to enjoy the colours and take a photograph against the brilliant-hued homes. The Bo-Kaap Museum showcases local Islamic culture and heritage. Minstrel parades or kaapse klopse, held on January 2 every year, were started by slaves who traditionally enjoyed the day as a holiday, ending in the Bo-Kaap district.

6. Long and Short of it
The CBD displays a big-city vibe as well as being rich in heritage, culture and nightlife. A mix of architecture lends a distinctive air with early Dutch buildings, British Victorian architecture, French influences as well as modern buildings. Swing around the Castle of Good Hope built in 1666 and the City Hall nearby where Nelson Mandela stood to deliver the famous freedom speech in 1990. The CBD centres around Long Street with its restaurants and vintage and second-hand boutiques. Church Street is for art lovers and is spangled with galleries displaying modern South African art. Visit the Company’s Garden where the Dutch settlers in the 1650s first grew their fruits and vegetables, today a place for outings and outdoor picnics. Bordering the garden is the Iziko South African Museum, a natural history and science museum. A must-visit is the buzzing Greenmarket Square with its souvenir stalls, antiques and African market, between Longmarket and Shortmarket Streets. There is much entertainment for the evening on Long Street as well as nearby Bree Street. And for some luxury on call, check into Taj Cape Town, a hotel that will remind you of home.

7. Cool Restaurant Strip
While Long Street in the CBD, with its Victorian shops and cafes, clubs, sundowner pubs, bars, filigreed balconies and white facades, is considered the ‘party street’ by the younger set which may liken it to a mini Bourbon Street (in New Orleans), it is Bree Street close by that is reinventing itself into the city’s most trendy street. Business establishments, bicycle shops and offices are being increasingly swamped with boutiques, stores and restaurants. Beat the rush with an early lunch at the very popular Chefs Warehouse & Canteen and discover the best tapas in town. Further down, Charango Grill & Bar is the city’s go-to for great Peruvian cuisine. On a hot afternoon, drop in at Weinhaus + Biergarten for some cold craft beer or visit Jason Bakery on its strategic corner, touted as the finest artisanal bakery around. Birds Café and IYO Burger for the best burgers in the city. Bocca Restaurant, across the road, serves tapas and Neapolitan-style thin-crust pizza. Mother’s Ruin Gin Bar for your after-work G & T and the controversially named Orphanage, for some of the most expensive cocktails.

Stores worth mentioning here are Kluk CGDT for couture gowns, Avoova for fine handicrafts, Kirsten Goss Jewellery and Skinny Laminx for illustrated fabric, among others. First Thursday every month is dubbed First Thursdays Cape Town, and means late-night at Bree: its art galleries stay open, offering events and wine tastings, and people unusually roam the street at night, all beautifully dressed and swinging to the carnival atmosphere with Cape Town’s famous food trucks adding their might to the evening’s merriment.

8. Of Wine Trails
Twenty minutes’ drive from the CBD brings you to an area of big houses along long driveways with tennis courts, swimming pools and stables, walking and riding trails and a general feel of the English countryside. Constantia is one of the oldest regions in Cape Town and home to some of the country’s oldest wine estates. For those with little time to go further afield into the Cape Winelands region, this is a perfect alternative. Visit for walks amidst panoramic scenery, for world-class golf greens, one of the area’s numerous spas, or just to lunch at a wine farm’s stellar restaurant. We visit two, both worth recommending. Open Door Restaurant at the Constantia Uitsig Wine Estate is a bustling, bistro-style restaurant with an open kitchen, parquet flooring and wooden tables. We have delicious octopus ribbons with fried anchovy and the pan-roasted linefish which today is yellowtail, all washed down with a refreshing Chenin Blanc. Another afternoon sees us enthralled by award-winning chef Mike Bassett’s contemporary fusion menu at his new venture, Myoga, in the Vineyard Hotel and Spa. In a stunning setting, we enjoy heirloom tomatoes with toasted cheese ice cream (outstanding!), sea bass with risotto and shrimp, hoisin baby kabeljou (a local fish) and a dramatic death of strawberry shortcake, a strawberry bombe and white chocolate sponge that melts unexpectedly under warm strawberry coulis. Live the experience as you walk through the estate’s six-acre garden or relax through a treatment at the spa.

9. Art in a Silo
We are at the Zeitz MOCAA Pavilion at the V&A Waterfront, scrutinising the model of the under-construction Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (Zeitz MOCAA). The 500-million-Rand project was announced as a partnership between the V&A Waterfront and former Puma CEO and chairman, Jochen Zeitz, whose Zeitz Collection is one of the most representative compilations of contemporary art from Africa and its diaspora and has been gifted in perpetuity to this non-profit institution.

The V&A Waterfront wanted to repurpose the historic, heritage-listed Grain Silo Complex, an icon of the Cape Town skyline and disused since 1990, in a manner that would combine ingenuity, resourcefulness and beauty. This complex consisted of 42 vertical concrete tubes, 57 metres tall, with no open space to experience the volume from within. Architect, Thomas Heatherwick, developed a solution by carving galleries and a central space from the silos’ structures to create a cathedral-like atrium filled with light from a glass roof, resulting in an oval hall surrounded by concrete shafts overhead and to the sides. The other silo bins will be carved away above ground level leaving the rounded exterior walls intact.

The museum will have galleries, education areas, a rooftop sculpture garden and is scheduled to open in the second half of 2017.

A chef’s recommendations
Chef Jocelyn Myers-Adams, Head Chef at The Table Bay hotel on the V&A Waterfront, never sits down on the job – literally. She believes in the simplification of what she calls Cape Town’s ‘comma cuisine’, where too many things are happening at the same time on the plate. While she describes the food here as “a big history of a melting pot of different ethnicities and cultures,” she adds, “South Africans have a very warm palate which can translate into sweetness.” She is the ambassador for simpler food “with quality becoming more important. I am pushing for edible indigenous foodstuff in South Africa. There are thousands of species of fynbos, some of them edible, that no one has looked into. Since this was a colony, a lot of foodstuff was imported and the indigenous stuff was not discovered,” she says.

So, the young chef conducts foraging tours to pick up edible plants even from the V&A Waterfront. She has added wild olives, wild rosemary, hibiscus and soutslaai that grows in the coastal areas which means ‘salt salad’ in Afrikaans, and has a “thick leaf, meaty almost, crispy and gorgeous.”

Some of the places she loves to eat are at the Spier Wine Farm, at their farm-to-table restaurant that has a hoghouse as well; The Roundhouse Restaurantthat offers the best picnics in the summertime, with incredible views; The Pot Luck Club which is good fun; The Foodbarn Restaurant in Noordhoek and Cheyne’s at Hout Bay which makes the best baos in town including duck-and-apple and softshell crab baos.

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