When in Cape Town…
In the midst of the busyness, demands and routines of daily life, a planned interruption - aka a midweek getaway - is a real spoil; an opportunity to recharge and gain perspective. And if you are in a quandary about whether it should be the sea or the mountains - your dilemma stops at booking tickets to the Mother City. She will welcome you with her unmatched natural landscapes, local sights, diverse culinary delights and clean air, allowing you to just breathe.
By no means a conclusive list - as there is always a next time - here are my 12 tips of how to spend your time when in Cape Town:
#1 Keep your itinerary flexible
Cape Town’s weather is as unpredictable as the friendliness of her people. Pack a t-shirt, a jacket, a windbreaker, a beanie and an umbrella as the weather can turn on a dime. If the sun is shining and the breeze is gentle, outdoor activities take priority; within a few hours the wind may be howling and the rain may be pouring. (To be fair, Cape town has the mountains, the sea, the winelands, a flourishing vegan culture and the winding Chapmans Peak road - she cannot also have the perfect weather!).
#2 Find your inner steampunk...or not
One way to escape the daily grind is with another daily grind - this time in the form of coffee. The travel bloggers and coffee aficionados are quick to tell you that you have to visit TRUTH Coffee Roastery in Buitenkant street. As a lover of a single shot cappuccino - (please don’t judge) - this was our first stop.
Be warned, the avant garde vibe and steampunk interior design will assault you - it’s like stepping into a parallel universe - which is obviously the aesthetic they were going for. The Daily Telegraph has named it the best coffee shop in the world, but to tell you the truth, I am not sure I agree with them. The service was poor, the waitrons unfriendly, the coffee had an acidic aftertaste and they didn't serve cappuccinos - so things quickly went downhill from there.
Maybe I don’t have enough ‘coffee snob’ in me and maybe they were having a bad day - we all have them - so let’s give them a chance. And a couple of days later we did give them a second chance, but this time at their TRUTH coffee outlet at the V&A Waterfront Food Market where they certainly redeemed themselves. Hasting - he prefers ‘Sting’ - was the perfect barista, serving up the joy of a single shot cappuccino which was as smooth and delicious as promised on the label, living up to their brand slogan.
#3 Pop around the corner
Cape Town is a city of many hidden treasures and unexpected delights. And if you are keeping your itinerary flexible (tip #1), then you have the time to drive around and explore off-the-beaten track and interesting places en-route. (BTW - it is really difficult to get lost in Cape Town - you may drive around in circles, but the mountain will guide you and all roads seem to lead to the city).
Popping round the corner from Buitenkant street, we parked in Commercial street and found an impromptu photo op - (Cape Town is like that) - some buildings that were brightly painted. (No, not the Bo Kaap - that was still on our itinerary - see #4).
From there we drove around the corner into Spin Street and discovered the most charming little coffee shop cafe and bakery called Bread, Milk and Honey. We had to stop! This is one of those places that gives you an authentic warm hug as soon as you step over the threshold and you get the sense that the local patrons are treated like family.
#4 Live in colour
The Bo Kaap (formerly known as the Cape Malay Quarter), with its historical rows upon rows of colourful homes, is probably one of my favourite spots in Cape Town. If you want an authentic vibe, just wander around; the aromatic spices, the wrinkled smiles and the laughing children - with their broad accents - all tell a unique story.
Of course you can book a guided tour with Rafik (which will include Cape Malay koeksisters) or you can do what we did - just walk the cobbled streets taking photos and greeting the locals. It is hard not to wonder at the real life stories, heartbreaks and joys behind the painted doors and colourful walls.
#5 Set your camera to street art
Urban art may not be your go-to, but when in Cape Town it should be. Woodstock and Salt River walls are where these creative expressions of street art come alive.
Once again, you can book a guided tour - (probably a wise idea as I am not sure these are the safest areas to just walk around). It is all about appreciating the neglected alleys and dilapidated buildings as they are transformed, adding life, fun, story and altering a wasted space into something that makes people pause, admire, be offended by, or get excited about. Whatever your reaction - it is worth capturing on camera.
#6 You take the high road & I’ll take the cycle path
There are many ways to experience Cape town’s local scenery and sights - open top bus tours, helicopter rides, boat trips, hiking or cycling. Cycling from the V&A waterfront along the beach to Sea Point and back is a must-do. And not to worry if you haven’t ridden a bike in years, it really is just like riding a bike! The route is flat and even if you have left your takkies at your airbnb, not to worry, you can embrace the 'Kate Effect' and do it in boots.
The cycle to Sea Point is about 4 km and you get to stop and take photos at the Mouille Point lighthouse and the controversial sunglasses sculpture by Michael Elion at Sea Point’s promenade which are a memorial to Nelson Mandela and face Robben island.
#7 Visit a wine farm...or two
Cape Town is wine country and no visit to this part of the world would be complete without visiting a wine farm. You do not have to venture further afield to Stellenbosch or Franschhoek - (keep that for next time) - as Constantia is on your doorstep if you are staying in the Mother city.
From Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia to Uitsig wine farm with its Blockhouse restaurant - (order the croissant French toast with berries or the smashed avo and salsa toast) - opportunities abound to appreciate the exceptional landscapes that these farms are nestled in as well as the wines that they produce.
#8 Wander in nature
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens will never disappoint - no matter what time of the year you visit. As you walk around you feel as if you are shut off from the rest of the world - just for a moment.
“The trees will tell their secret to those who tune in.” - Steven Magee.
This is the place to go to calm your mind and relax your body. Everywhere you look offers you more moments of natural beauty.
#8 Experience the difference 1080m makes
Built in 1929, the cable car to the top of Table Mountain is an iconic tourist attraction and one of the new 7 natural wonders of the world. The panoramic views from the top of Table Mountain are a muse for poets, artists and photographers. Pack a jacket and a beanie, because the sun shining at the bottom can be very misleading!
#9 Get a ‘Jeffrey’s Bay vibe’
Of course, poised on the Atlantic seaboard, Cape Town boasts a unique beach scene - from Camps Bay and Llandudno to Hout Bay, Fish Hoek, Noordhoek, Muizenberg, St. James and Kalk Bay.
We took a leisurely afternoon drive to St James where your photos have colourful beach huts as a backdrop.
We then ambled into Kalk Bay and definitely felt the chillaxed ‘surfer’ vibe among the beachside cafes, ice-cream stalls and delightful antique, decor, gift and clothing shops. According to timeout.com, Main Road in Kalk Bay - with its historic sea front homes and charming shops and eateries - is ranked as one of the top 30 coolest streets in the world.
#10 Eat (ethically sourced) fish & chips at Snoekies
Snoekies at the Hout Bay wharf is a household name and renowned fish and chip stop since 1951. Get takeaways and sit on the beachfront enjoying fish or calamari cooked the old-fashioned way. Watch out for the sea gulls as they are eager gatecrashers to your meal!
Snoekies is the ideal stop after the incredibly scenic drive along Chapman’s Peak. We even got to interact with the local pet seal (which is a good plan B as on this trip we didn’t have time to play with the penguins at Boulders Beach...next time).
#11 Be a tourist
It’s really ok to be a tourist and do some of the cliched touristy things. Take the instagram photos, go on the Wheel at the V&A Waterfront and strike your pose at the yellow sign post framing table mountain in the background.
These are memories you will want to look back on to say “I've been there and I got the T-shirt.” And then go ahead and actually buy the Cape Town T-shirt if you want! (Anyone who teases you is just jealous).
#12 Embrace slow time
Maybe it’s because we were in holiday mode, or maybe there is something in the air, but when in Cape Town, time really does seem to slow down. Nobody seems rushed and the locals just seem content to amble along at an unhurried pace. Coming from Jo’burg, this was a welcome reprieve.
Now, if only we could get some of our Joburg friendliness to rub off on the locals, as we did get the feeling that Capetonians are a little reluctant to share their beautiful part of the world with the rest of us. But we will be magnanimous as we do have the perfect weather in the City of Gold!