I think everyone who visits Cape Town, immediately falls in love with the city. It’s not a city like Paris or Prague, where it’s the buildings and streets that are just beautiful and stunning. In Cape Town or the Mother City as it’s also called, you’ll be enchanted by the views: the ocean to one side and the mountains to the other and nature in general, the sun, the vibe, everything.
It’s a windy city, but mostly sunny and wait until you’ll see the sunsets; they’re one of the most beautiful you’ll ever see. And all the trips you can do from there – you can go southwards to see the coast and the Cape of Good Hope, or you drive inside the country to go for wine tastings, safaris or continue towards Namibia, or explore other parts of South Africa. People are very friendly and welcoming and if you behave like a responsible person with some common sense, you won’t feel unsafe. Of course, some parts of the city are more dodgy and dangerous than others, but that’s also the case with most European cities, let alone South America or parts of Asia. You don’t have to wave with your Rolex or your golden earrings, but you probably wouldn’t do that in other cities either (in case you own any of the two).
To make your choices easier, here’s my food and sights guide to Cape Town. I went for 9 days; arrived on a Friday, stayed until Wednesday morning, left for Franschhoek, the wine country, until Friday evening and came back to Cape Town for two more days. It was an amazing time with beautiful views and moments and sometimes it’s even hard to believe that nature wise such a perfect place exists.
1. Things you should see
When looking from the Waterfront it’s the mountain between the huge Table Mountain and the smaller Signal Hill. You can take a car and park right at the bottom of where the mountain starts and climb up. The climb is around 45 minutes to one hour I’d say and mostly manageable, except for one part of the route where you have to decide whether to take the shorter way and climb up some metal ropes, or to take 5 minutes longer and walk around the mountain. The steps can be quite high so maybe a bit hard to climb with small children or people who are not that fit. Once arrived on top you’ll have a mind-blowing view over Cape Town, Table Mountain and on Camps Bay. Go early, because a) there are less people then and b) temperature-wise it’s much more convenient. There’s no cable car going up, so the only way is walking.
Who doesn’t like penguins?! A short drive towards South from Kalk Bay and you’ll reach Simon’s Town and the famous Boulders Beach, where penguins come as close as a meter towards you if you’re lucky. But be careful, they bite and can become aggressive if you’re getting on their nerves. Also, be respectful and don’t feed them (I’m not sharing my food anyways…with anyone)! In the area, you’ll also see another animal, whose name or species I haven’t figured out, but they look like huge guinea pigs or another cute animal. After enjoying the view and the walk, stop for a coffee, or as I did, for a red latte (made from Rooibos tea) at Mig 21, a quite peculiar place with very nice people.
Chapman’s Peak Drive
Do this tour before sunset. The light and the views are breathtaking and once you’ve done it, you’ll discover why. Driving back from Cape Point you can take several routes, but the one you should take back is the one along the ocean on the Western side. The route starts at Hout Bay and will lead to Cape Town. It has plenty of viewpoints and the closer you get to Cape Town the nicer the views get. It’s closed sometimes, because of rocks falling down on the road.
2. Where to dine like a royal
Cape Town is the absolute dream for anyone interested in good food. The ingredients in general are fresh, meat is amazing, menus are creative and everything is very cheap compared to Europe. I was really surprised by all the amazing dishes I got to try in the city and in Franschoek. No matter where we went, food was very nicely presented, ingredients were very fresh, often from the own garden or the farmers market nearby. When I order a garden salad in Europe, I often get the same salad, made from 2 maximum 3 different kinds of salad, a few tomatoes and some other vegetables. In Cape Town, all the salads were different. Some had flowers in them, some weirdly shaped green leaves I’ve never seen before and all of them were super crispy and fresh. The same goes for the side dishes, meat and fish. Fresh, very aromatic and tasteful and all beautifully combined, as if the dishes were made to sit on a plate together.
The Test Kitchen
You should try The Test Kitchen if you’re looking for something really different. This restaurant currently is number 63 of the 50 world’s best restaurants and is a must go to, located in the Woodstock area of Cape Town and in the Old Biscuit Mill, where a food market is taking place on Saturdays. Bookings open 3 months in advance at 8am and you should be quick as seats are gone very fast. When I made my reservation, the place was fully booked after 40min. 40min!!! for a 3 month period. But it’s worth it. I don’t want to tell too much, to keep the tension, but it was an experience I won’t forget any time soon.
One pre-starter snack/amuse bouche was wagyu biltong on a liqurice stick, the beef was soft like butter, full of taste and together with the liquorice a great mix of flavours. Another “snack” was the billionaires shortbread reinvented with some incredible foie gras. After some of these little teasers and delicious cocktails, you head from the dark room to the lightroom, where the main dining experience takes place. Starters like 12 hours smoked sea bass tartare, lovage oil, horseradish snow or scallop, cauliflower and cheese, black garlic salsa paired with some excellent wines marked a great beginning of that evening. It continued with more and lots more wine and main dishes like Springbok with a beetroot reduction, coconut nibs, bone marrow and hazelnut or beef sweetbread, asparagus, peas, morel, porcini hollandaise (God, I’m drooling). This was a truly unique experience and I would repeat it any time. Waiters are very nice and just about the right amount of easy going and the place is non-pretentious and welcoming, especially if you sit at the counter and look into the kitchen, as we did. Don’t miss the wine pairing, either the simple or the advanced one, with wines from vineyards as Klein Constantia or Jordan, all carefully paired with every dish.
Chef’s Warehouse Beau Constantia
We didn’t dine at Chef’s Warehouse at Beau Constantia, but had quite an extensive and wine-heavy lunch. The restaurant is located in one of the oldest wine regions in the area (Constantia, which is btw. also an amazing area to visit), in a glass building overlooking the vineyards. The concept is easy: 7 dishes, to share between the table, paired with wine or not, your choice. It’s an open kitchen so you can observe the team of Ivor Jones at work, creating dishes that will stay in your mind.
It would be worth already just to visit this place because of the view – the amazing food that you’re getting is like 10 cherries and a big portion of cream on top. You could see that each dish was prepared with a lot of love, starting with the first thing to nibble on, their homemade potato bread with creamy butter served with basil oil and olives. It started with coal seared tuna, anchovy & parmesan custard, grilled & smoked tomatoes and Korean chili oil (indeed, this is one dish), then, linefish sashimi, tamarind & apple dressing, BBQ baby carrots, blackened leak oil and buttermilk mousse and the third, seared blesbok rump tartare, crispy celeriac and smoked garlic aioli. The food journey continued with cauliflower risotto, cabanossi, lemon gremolata and mature cheddar & tempura purple kale, pickled lemon, ricotta and cashew dukkah. And on a final note: linefish bahij, pickled red onion & smoked snoek salad, BBQ Jalapeno & Red Onion Cream, then Vietnamese pork sausage, BBQ pork broth, rice paper and a herb salad (told ya!) and finally slow roast lamb rib, charred red pepper salsa, garlic and parmesan puree. Waiters are very nice and explain you each ingredient that you can find on your plate one by one. If you didn’t have enough head up to their wine tasting section and make sure to bring some wine home.
3. Where to go for a light lunch
El Burro Tacos
After all that long dining evenings, we were craving for some more simple meals. El Burro Tacos is a perfect destination for that. Buzzy place, relaxed atmosphere, some tables and sofas and some stools by the window. We ordered some nachos with guacamole and then a bunch of Tacos, filled with chorizo or fish or chicken or pork or veggies. It was delicious. And afterwards, we headed to the bar just across the street. In the evening it’s a buzzing place with plenty of young people hanging around here and enjoying some Mexican food.
4. Where to head for drinks
An amazing location for having a drink is the Silo Hotel, a fairly new hotel located close to the V&A Waterfront and just next to the newly built Mocaa Zeitz Museum of Modern Art, so a perfect spot to head before or after visiting the exhibition. The bar is located at the top of the hotel and you have a very nice view over the area. Cocktails are great and very innovative, with ingredients like truffle or rooibos. They also have little snacks, like charcuterie platters with local meat and cheese, which are amazingly good and fair priced.
5. Where to stay
Camps Bay Retreat
When we arrived at The Caps Bay Retreat I was quite speechless. An amazing older house, located in Camps Bay, which is a 15min drive away from the Waterfront. Big armchairs, old beautiful rugs, dark brown wooden furtniture, chandelliers and a lot of interesting old artpieces and decoration make you feel at home at this place. There is a pool and a private way down to the beach, which is beautiful, both in summer and for slightly colder autumn walks and there is also a small tennis court and a spa. We had a beautiful room on the first floor with a small veranda overlooking the beautiful garden (which is also the perfect spot for a sundowner) and looking right at the ocean. In the rooms, too, furniture and decoration is chosen very carefully. The breakfasts at the hotel were amazing, with a nice menu to chose from every morning and an additional buffet, fresh green juices, fruit, pastries etc. I usually went for the eggs benedict, which was just perfect. What’s also perfect there is coffee: from red latte to flat white or filter coffee – they have everything. Dinners are not as fancy as in some of the restaurants in the city, but also very good – I had the steak with vegetables and it was very tender and tasteful. Staff is incredibly friendly and helpful.
6. What to do if it rains?
You’ll be surprised, but there can be rainy days, too in Cape Town. Visiting the new contemporary art museum Zeitz MOCAA, that was opened in the beginning of October 2017, seems to be the perfect solution for such a day. The museum hosts installations, photos and paintings from young South African artists and is meant to constitute a place where cultures and people with different backgrounds meet. Some art I found fascinating, some deeply disturbing, but I’ll let you have your own judgment! And even if you’re not a fan of contemporary art, it’s worth a visit just to see the architecture of the building from inside and to go upstairs to the terrace to have a sneak into the Silo Hotel next door.