To those escaping the hot sultry days of Dubai, the relatively cooler Cape Town is quite a contrast. Surrounded by water on three sides, the city sparkles. The brooding Table Mountain – looming up over 1,000m from sea level – is sometimes covered in its white table cloth, but the weather in town is consistently pleasant, the thermometer usually hovering around the 27°C mark.
The view from the Table top – after either a tiring but exhilarating 2.5-hour trek or a cushy seven-minute cable car ride (beware the queues after 11am) – is a good way to orient yourself and underlines the rich diversity of the Mother City.
Immediately below is the City Bowl business district, punctuated by old suburbs like Cape Malay, dotted with pretty coloured cottages and quirky restaurants, the stylish villas and boutiques of the Cape Quarter, and the swanky Victoria and Albert Waterfront area beyond.
Between Signal Hill and the jagged Lions Head (a considerably harder climb) is a glimpse of the spectacular beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay, backed by the rugged Twelve Apostles. In the opposite direction are the lush vineyards of Constantia and superb Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.
The city is a fascinating polyglot of Europeans (Dutch and English), Africans, Asians (Malays and Indonesians) and everything in between. The cosmopolitan mix is reflected in the range of restaurants, from the touristy but fun Gold (African food, music and dancing) and bustling Millers Thumb (try the Cape Malay baked fish) to the award-winning Test Kitchen (international fusion). And for one of the world’s most spectacular cities, it is remarkably cheap. The current exchange rate (around 4 rand to a dirham) means dinner will usually cost less than a meal at a restaurant of the same class or standard in the UAE.
The luxurious and utterly charming Vineyard Hotel in Newlands is slightly out of town, round the back of Table Mountain, but it is an idyllic spot on the banks of the Liesbeek River, set in lush gardens with a beautiful pool and three restaurants. Myoga, the fine dining option, is outstanding. It’s also an excellent base for exploring the Kirstenbosh Botanical Gardens. Rates from around Dh610 including breakfast for two. Visit www.vineyard.co.za.
A more central option is the Radisson Blu Hotel Waterfront at Granger Bay. The rooms are spacious, breakfast is served on a big terrace from which you can watch dolphins frolicking, and it’s a 10-minute walk from the attractions of the V&A Waterfront. Doubles from around Dh900, room only. Visit www.radissonblu.com.
Never mind the freezing waters; the beaches of Cape Town offer spectacular views over the Atlantic as well as the right dose of seclusion.
The four superb beaches of Clifton are a short cab ride from the city centre. They are separated by large boulders but you can walk between them. The best is No 3 – the least overlooked, with the smallest waves (though the water is still freezing). There are no facilities but plenty of roving food and drink vendors. Twenty minutes further on, Beta Beach is rockier but more secluded and there is a natural bathing pool.
For the more adventurous, a great way to see the coast is by tandem hang glider from either Signal Hill or Lions Head depending on weather. The spiral descent to the beach takes about 25 minutes and costs around Dh280. Visit www.paraglide.co.za.
Your taste buds will be gratified at the Pot Luck Club. Sister restaurant to the Test Kitchen and located in the same building – the six-storey Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock – it has an eclectic menu of sharing dishes, such as springbok carpaccio with smoked pine nuts or lime and miso-cured trout.
But it’s the desserts that stand out – they’re works of art. It is hard to book, but Capetonians eat fairly early and I turned up after 9pm and got in easily.
A bit afield is Lekker Café in Kalk Bay, a laid-back establishment serving a mix of the unfamiliar – biltong salad with goat’s cheese and figs – and the reliable – all-day brunch, home-made lemonade, and great cakes.
Heading up Kloof Nek Road towards the Table Mountain cable car station, you will pass a restaurant on the first-floor veranda. This is Rafikis housed in a Victorian building with just a hint of the Wild West. In nearby Park Street, tables are set in the small front garden of Rick’s Café, a rambling old house with a Moroccan-themed interior and Humphrey Bogart movie posters.
Make the 45-minute journey by car to Mont Rochelle in Franschhoek. Founded in 1688, it’s set within its own grape plantation. Franschhoek translates as French corner and it really feels like you have been whisked to Provence, with gastronomy to match.
The boutiques of the Cape Quarter are worth a browse. It’s quieter and more distinct than the V&A Waterfront precincts. But the Watershed, in the V&A complex is a huge warehouse-style emporium selling authentic African ceramics, furniture, jewellery and textiles. I particularly liked a stand selling heads of African beasts – lions, rhinos, antelopes, etc. – made from old car parts. Did you think they were real?
No trip to Cape Town is complete without a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, from where dramatic city views unfold.
Set aside a morning to visit Robben Island, where all the guides are former inmates and will tell you in detail about Nelson Mandela’s 18 years of incarceration here. On the boat trip over you might also spot whales, seals, and dolphins.
The Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden boasts a lovely walkway that weaves through the trees, offering panoramic views of the city.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden nestles at the foot of Table Mountain, and spreads up its slopes. The gardens reflect the botanical diversity of the Western Cape with giant stinkwoods and yellowwoods, a spectacular Protea display, and a steel-and-timber walkway that weaves through the tree canopy, offering panoramic views of the city sprawled below. The shop is good for presents too.
Emirates flies daily to Cape Town, Dh4,715 return.