Driven by design
Attractions beyond the Table Mountain beat
WHITEWASHEDW GABLES: Off the menu this visit are Table Mountain’s famous cable car, Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned), vineyard country near Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek, and fenced former farmland where wild animals roam after relocation from traditional habitats. Instead, a 15-minute drive from Cape Town brings me to Constantia, the oldest and smallest of 17 South African wine districts. Its landscape is studded with splendid Cape Dutch design. Vines were first planted here in 1685 and still-flourishing Constantia’s eight producers have cellar doors. The area boasts upscale B&Bs, hotels and restaurants, including Jonkershuis, adjoining the historic Groot Constantia winery, where pan-Euro cuisine is influenced by spicy Cape Malay flavours. More: constantiawineroute.com; jonkershuisconstantia.co.za.
BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL: Arguably the city’s most colourful precinct, Bo Kaap was named the Malay Quarter in the apartheid era. Cobbled streets are lined by gaudily painted houses with gorgeous Table Mountain views. Though called Malays, its early inhabitants were slaves shipped from Java, Indonesia, another Dutch colony. Officialdom decreed this Muslim subgroup as part of South Africa’s Cape Coloured (mixed-race) minority. These days, “Malays” still dominate Bo Kaap but white newcomers have pushed up prices. Residents include architects, graphic designers, artists, writers and musicians. Across the city is District Six. The name has stuck since apartheid rulers forcibly moved out mostly Cape Coloured residents. Some have trickled back to this now-trendy precinct where a formerly derelict building has become one of Cape Town’s main theatres, the Fugard (named after playwright Athol Fugard) and the Fugard Theatre Bioscope (an art house cinema). From nearby Signal Hill the dull thud of an old cannon marks noon each day. More: capetown.travel.
PENGUIN PARADE: Boulders is named aptly for its gigantic granite rocks that shield expanses of powdery white sand. It’s just outside naval Simon’s Town on the way to Cape Point, Africa’s southeast tip. The Simon’s Town suburban train meanders along the ocean’s edge and in wild weather waves break across the railway line. Boulders is famous for daily parades of penguins waddling across a street to their burrows. This 3000-strong cartoon-cute community comprises a small variety called African penguins, different from those along Australia’s coast. More: capetown.travel.
ALMOSTA GERMANY: Tidy Genadendal (“valley of grace”), South Africa’s first mission settlement, is a speck of time-warp Germany plopped in the veldt. It was established in 1737 by Moravian missionaries whose former homes are now within Czech Republic borders. The architecture is classic German, the central square shaded by an imposing church famed for its choral singing. Across the square are a museum and South Africa’s oldest operating printing press. The 6000-strong overwhelmingly Cape Coloured population was largely ignored as a puzzling oddity by the apartheid regime; the present government seems to take a similar view. My visit follows a two-hour drive from Cape Town with knowledgeable guide Brian Vandayar, who runs Jorvan Tours. Longer trips include overnights in the nearby villages of art colony McGregor, where former farm workers’ whitewashed cottages have been reborn as upscale B&Bs; Lord’s Guest Lodge, just out of town, features delightful rural accommodation, while Greyton is a hideaway for transplanted Cape Town creatives. More: jorvantours.co.za; tourismmcgregor.co.za; lordsguestlodge.co.za; greytontourism.com.
GREEN SCENE: Along De Waal Drive, a freeway from downtown to leafy eastern suburbia, I pass the British-built Rhodes Memorial (a colonial hero or greedy villain, depending on your viewpoint), Groote Schuur Hospital where the world’s first heart transplants were performed by Dr Christiaan Barnard in 1967, and the sprawling University of Cape Town. My destination, 20 minutes from downtown, is the 528ha Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, where displays of local and foreign flora line paths to an aerial walkway above the treetops. The garden presses against Table Mountain’s rear. Fit visitors head up hiking and climbing routes from Kirstenbosch to the mountain’s summit from where cable cars provide effortless descents. More: sanbi.org.
CITY STARS: Just beyond the business district, Castle of Good Hope is a five-pointed fort ddeemed South Africa’s oldest existing colonial building. It highlights Table Mountain views and often hosts art exhibitions and offers guided tours. Nearby, I wander through a City Hall built of limestone imported from Bath, England. From one if its balconies, Nelson Mandela addressed a celebrating crowd hours after his release in 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment. The hall is also the main concert venue of the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra. More: sa-venues.com; cpo.org.za; castleofgoodhope.co.za,
BEACHSIDE BEAT: Camps Bay, with its Table Mountain backdrop, is considered one of Cape T Town’s best. Not as youthfully hip as nearby Clifton, where canoodling couples seek privacy behind big boulders, it attracts a mature, mostly moneyed crowd and is home to several of Cape Town’s top restaurants. Camps Bay is renowned for beachwear shopping and has a good night-life scene, including township jazz at Dizzy’s bar and restaurant. More: campsbayinfo.com, dizzys.co.za.
DESIGN CENTRAL: Cape Town beat 56 other contenders to become World Design Capital for 2 2014. Aside from a vibrant fashion scene and repurposing of old buildings, practical innovations include improving service delivery to dirt-poor shanty-dwellers. One program aims to make shacks less of a fire risk by improving blaze-fighting capability. The idea is to encourage “reblocking”, involving the creation of neat rows of shacks on prescribed rectangles alongside road grids, rather than continuing the chaos of unpoliced bunched- together growth, meaning people die or become homeless because fire trucks and ambulances can’t reach them. Critics call the program well-intentioned but slow. More: wdccapetown2014.com.
WINE AND DINE: Cape Town’s most memorable dining encompasses Moyo, just outside Kirstenb bosch’s entrance, which specialises in cuisine from across Africa and offers a wide choice of South African wines. Sometimes there’s live music and its shop sells textiles and handicrafts. A quiet, classy alternative is the Roundhouse, in a 300-year-old structure built to repel seaborne invaders (who didn’t arrive). Overlooking Camps Bay, the Roundhouse menu is classically European. Local fish is popular as is slow-cooked lamb from the Karoo region. The laziest option involves heading to the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, a combined working port and tourist precinct where the busiest restaurants include Balducci (steakhouse), Balthazar, (wine bar), and The Greek Fisherman for seafood. V&A pub lunches are popular, as is a food court. More: moyo.co.za; theroundhouserestaurant.com; waterfront.co.za. BOLD MEETS OLD: Belmond Mount Nelson is Cape Town’s most famous hotel and its most expensive. This grand pile opened in 1899, the first with hot water, and reigns supreme over a city awash with accommodation, many on or near the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront. Among the newest is The Silo (pictured) in the upper levels of a repurposed grain store. It’s a member of the Royal Portfolio, a small chain of opulent lodgings. The Silo’s rooftop bar is Cape Town’s hottest spot for predusk drinks and its lower floors are set to open as the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, hosting the continent’s largest art collection. South Africa’s biggest chain, Protea Hotels (now Marriott-owned) has 10 Cape Town properties, including the opulent African Pride 15 on Orange and Protea Hotel Fire and Ice. More: belmond.com; theroyalportfolio.com; protea.marriott.com.
Chris Pritchard was a guest of South African Airways, South African Tourism and Protea Hotels.
• southafrica.net • flysaa.com
Cape Town’s Camps Bay, top; vineyard in Constantia; above; Keys Ceremony at the Castle of Good Hope, above right; penguins at Boulders, below