If there’s one thing Cape Town doesn’t lack, it’s natural splendor. Whether you’re hiking Lion’s Head or simply parking your car on a side street, you’re sure to be greeted by a staggering vista, be it beach or mountain. Even now, in the depths of winter, this picturesque destination on the tip of Africa sparkles under its carpet of lush emerald grass. Here’s our guide to the best of the Mother City. –by Sarah Khan
Where to Eat Now
The top reservation in Cape Town is at chef Luke Dale-Roberts’s Test Kitchen; if you can’t get a table there, aim for its sister restaurant, Pot Luck Club, recently relocated to a sixth-floor perch overlooking the city in the Old Biscuit Mill. At both spots you’ll sample his seasonally evolving menus filled with innovative dishes like Asian-style shortribs and beef fillet with a chocolate-coffee sauce. In the nearby village of Noordhoek, another local top chef, Franck Dangereux, serves up fine dining in a revamped barn called, aptly, The Foodbarn. If you’re looking to try Cape Town’s unique, distinctive Cape Malay cuisine—a fusion of Dutch, Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, and African flavors—head to the atmospheric Cape Quarter complex where, tucked away on a cobbled piazza, you’ll find Cape Malay Food Market. Order the samoosas (similar to Indian samosa pastries) and the bobotie—a spicy minced-beef entrée topped with a crispy, savory egg custard, often referred to as South Africa’s national dish.
Where to Drink Now
Scene-seekers head straight to the sexy Shimmy Beach Club, which opened last December on a private swath of sand at the V&A Waterfront. Those looking for a slightly more mellow atmosphere without compromising on gloss prefer the vibe at Asoka, a stylish lounge set in a Victorian house on Kloof Street redone with an Asian aesthetic. In the mood for something even more low-key, but with plenty of character? Tagore’s, in the artsy, bohemian "Obs" district—short for Observatory—is an intimate space cluttered with vintage knickknacks and packed with revelers grooving to jazz bands several times a week.
What to Do Now
Every Saturday morning, beautiful Capetonians descend by the droves onto the Old Biscuit Mill for the weekly Neighbourgoods Market, where they buy locally made clothes and accessories and feast on fresh biltong, steak pies, and salted-caramel ice cream served up by dozens of area vendors. If the weather cooperates, pack a basket with goodies and drive straight to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens—nestled on the slopes of Table Mountain, it might be one of the world’s most spectacular picnic settings. On the first Thursday of every month, Cape Town galleries stay open late and the streets are filled with aspiring art patrons looking for their culture dose.
Where to Stay
Stepping into Cape Town’s iconic "Pink Lady," the elegant Mount Nelson, will bring you back to a colonial era; if you’re not staying there, at least stop by the Nelly for the lovely afternoon high tea. At the V&A Waterfront, Cape Grace is a classic grande dame with 120 rooms and suites with nautical touches. Just off Kloof Street, in the heart of a posh neighborhood filled with buzzy restaurants and shops, the Cape Cadogan is a gracious boutique hotel in a lavishly restored 18th-century home. If you’d prefer to be right on the water, head straight for Ellerman House, in nearby Bantry Bay. The opulent manse boasts gardens overlooking the ocean, and is home to one of the finest art collections in South Africa.
Where Else to Go
At least one day of your Cape Town visit should be dedicated to the Peninsula drive, with stops at Kalk Bay, Simon’s Town, Chapman’s Peak, Cape Point, and the Cape of Good Hope—no trip to Cape Town is complete without a break at Boulders Beach, to pay a visit to an absolutely adorable colony of African Penguins sunning themselves on the sand. If you have more time, then add a day trip to the Winelands as well: the stunning farm resort Babylonstoren is only about half an hour from Cape Town; a bit farther along is the historic village of Franschhoek, the heart of South Africa’s wine country, and home to luxurious resorts, world-class restaurants, and charming boutiques. Stop for tastings at Haut Espoir, Moreson, or Anura; have dinner at the original outpost of Reuben’s, run by South Africa’s most celebrated chef, Reuben Riffel; then retire for the night at La RÃ©sidence, a tranquil retreat nestled on a sprawling 30-acre estate. Bastille Day is celebrated with gusto every July in Franschhoek, a tribute to the burg’s French heritage.
Sarah Khan is a freelance writer based in Cape Town. You can read about her adventures in Africa at www.southafrikhan.com, or follow her on Twitter @BySarahKhan.