Cape Town’s natural setting never stops changing and impacting on mesmerised visitors. Clouds sweep down the granite face of Table Mountain, Atlantic breakers crash onto soft beaches, and the blazing African sun ignites towering palms and vivid hibiscus.
Cape Town has soul. Africa’s most passionately creative city has become a playground for artists, designers, chefs and entrepreneurs.
With the weak Rand and low prices, British favourite hotel, the flamingo pink Belmond Mount Nelson, is booked well into autumn, flights are full, everyone wants some of the stardust.
The Mount Nelson is the antithesis of the international shiny hip hotel reeking of new money and glitz. It sits comfortably in its history and has an air of cultured sophistication, the staff and return guests forming a warm family. There isn’t another hotel in the world where I feel more welcomed and cherished. We’re all one here, is the overall feeling, down to Noku remembering my style of breakfast, a lounger laid out for my morning swim, and even the two resident Egyptian geese waiting to do our laps together.
Set in sublime grounds modelled on classic English gardens, with oak trees and glorious white-fringed herbaceous borders, it has the air of colonial England still intact.
I sunned myself like a contented lizard at the cottage pool, buried in those good books I’d been storing up all year.
As a foodie I was in awe of La Colombe, which sits above a glorious valley of green and purple vineyards and forests, against the backdrop of Table Mountain. The dishes are astounding, each mouthful so lush and flavoursome, with a chilled Uma Mira wine I fell in love with. Two days after dinner we went back for lunch and lovely French manageress, Jennifer, had the wine waiting at our table with a real touch of elan.
Cape Town still has that messy character of change, a mix of Africa and a European outpost. It’s a haphazard charm and emerging hip that is quirky, vibrant and exciting.
Restaurants like Grand Cafe & Beach, and Bombay Bicycle are of that ilk, super cool, and bursting with imagination.
I spent my meal at Grande Cafe with my toes in the soft white sand, watching the moon rise over the waves, eating delicious fish. Bombay Bicycle is magical in candlelight, a kind of Aladdin’s cave with swings, hanging drums and a clanging 2 for 1 bell ringing out at 10pm. I loved it, but did ask the waitress if I was the oldest person there and she replied sheepishly, You’ve obviously got a very young spirit.
There’s almost a heady spirit in Cape Town today. It offers a sense of freedom and creativity that many European cities have lost, past their prime and struggling in faded glory.
Cape Town’s Jewish community is strong and welcoming, recently putting on its first Jewish Literary Festival, with a thriving Holocaust Centre taking educational programmes to high schools in outlying areas examining the Holocaust, racism and prejudice. The Mount Nelson is round the corner from the Jewish Museum and the hotel actually held the first Jewish service in the city in mid 19th Century.
I braved the climb to the top of Lion’s Head over several hours with a friend’s son who virtually jogged ahead of me and refused to entertain sighing or flagging. The views kept changing, ever more spectacular, with a real sense of bonhomie amongst climbers some of whom bring their dogs in backpacks or let them scramble up. The extraordinary thing is this is the centre of the city, and back down you’re in a restaurant minutes later. We went to Rumbullion in Camps Bay, a real favourite for families on a Sunday afternoon where you arrive for lunch and stagger home in the evening. Cockerels strut up to your table, kids are playing and there’s a kind of joy in the air. The food is fresh, casual, picnic style in the sun.
Back at the Mount Nelson I loved to flop into the classic Planet Bar, and then move to fine dining at Planet Restaurant, which reminds me of a nocturnal scene in an old movie, with its starry carpets, and tinged blue atmosphere. It is elegant, deliciously fresh, with seamless service.
You find yourself sitting at the next table to Idris Elba or Daniel Radcliffe, because the city is suddenly full of British and Hollywood stars making new movies here.
Round the corner is the best Japanese Cape Town has. Kyoto is so peaceful and spa-like, you almost expect a massage in between the light, piquant courses. I loved the delicacy of their seaweed and mustard cabbage, and the fresh fish from the cold Atlantic is amongst the best in the world.
Don’t miss Mano’s along the Green Point Rd where you sit outside in the warm evening breeze on a perfect Cape Town evening, in a buzzy, exuberant atmosphere and eat really well. Mano’s is an institution packed with CapeTonians who appreciate its home made, simple dishes and gorgeous waitresses!
This great city built on a bay has preserved its historic buildings, wooden houses and Dutch gabled architecture, and shunned chain stores and bland tourist traps.
Walk down Long Street, up Bree, wander into old fashioned record shops, lively coffee bars, and my favourite jewellery shop, Linde, on Shortmarket street, where they really care about giving you personal, top service and have innovative designs.
For white born Africans the one thing worse than staying in the burning issues of crime and corruption .. Is leaving. And what place on earth doesn’t have it’s major problems? The one leg walks towards the west while the other remains in the third world’s beating sun, sea and mountains. I’m already booking my next trip-that is, if I can get on the plane.”