South Africa’s urban gem is surrounded by stunning scenery and some of the finest vineyards, as Paul McCarthy discovered.
Waves crash against the rocks as the vast ocean stretches over the horizon. We line up for photos at one of the most famous coastal landmark in Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet, and the next stop south is the Antarctic.
Our guide Latifa had arrived early that morning to start the tour, but we are not in any rush to get to the cape, as there are many things to see along the way.
As we head out along the peninsula, around Hout Bay and along the stunning Chapman’s Peak coastal drive, Latifa takes a detour to a place of great reverence and beauty that is integral to the history of the Cape Malay peoples. The community is mostly descended from slaves transported to the cape by the Dutch colonisers during the 16th and 17th centuries, from Indonesia, Java Malaysia, and elsewhere in Asia.
Sayed Mahmud was a spiritual and religious leader of the Malaccan Empire in the 17th Century. He was one of the religious advisors captured on the Cape and was banished to Constantia. His Kramat, or shrine, is one of a series that populate the area, including one on Robben Island. Observing the Muslim traditions, we take off our shoes and enter the shrine, where people had gathered to pray for an upcoming journey. I leave feeling privileged to have been welcomed so warmly into this place of great meaning and reverence.
We stopped for lunch at the Hub Café in Scarborough (thevillagehub.co.za), where organic food in the deli, bar, restaurant, and shop are available from Natasha and her team. The town is a popular spot with bikers, cyclists, and hikers, and it’s easy to see why.
After reaching Cape Point, we return by the eastern side of the peninsula, where the fishing town of Calk Bay and the period architecture of St James are worth a visit. However, it is the Boulders Bay Penguin Colony that draws many to these shores. Wooden walkways allow visitors to view the African penguins in their natural habitat and there is also a new information centre. Children will love the penguins and their antics and Boulders Beach is also worth a stop for safe and enjoyable swimming.
Cape Town is a tourist mecca, and many varied attractions abound. A good place to start the day in Cape Town is breakfast at the weekly Market Day at Oranjezicht City Farm Market at Granger Bay (www.ozcf.co.za/market-day). The market is held every Saturday from 9am to 2pm, with plenty of seating to enjoy the fresh food and drink.
A living example of Cape Malay culture can be experienced in the Bo-Kaap district. The former township on the slopes of Signal Hill is filled with brightly coloured houses from the 17th and 19th Century, as well as the first mosque built in the city. Cape Malay cuisine has played a huge role in South African dishes but to fully appreciate the wonderful cooking, have lunch in one of the local houses, where you will be served samosas and fried chilli bites along with a chicken curry full of spices and flavours.
The port area, now called the V&A Waterfront, has been transformed into a vibrant shopping area full of local craft makers, selling everything from fashion to jewellery, including curios such as guitars made from oilcans to great white sharks made of wire. Empowering locals is a major aim of the country, and organisations such as Township (township.co.za) promote local fair trade businesses, producing goods high in quality that also help people improve their circumstances from the poverty that is still evident in many areas.
For a luxurious stay in the heart of the city, the five-star Cape Grace Hotel is simply magnificent. The hotel was refurbished in recent years with artists and workers from the local area and townships used to create a style that is both modern and distinctive. While there, pamper yourself with a visit to the Spa, or work out at the fitness studio, then treat yourself to a whiskey tasting at the Bascule Bar, where over 450 different whiskeys are available.
One issue sure to interest Irish visitors is the warning signs to conserve water, as the region undergoes a prolonged drought. The problem is very serious, and one which locals and visitors are asked to do what they can to not waste this precious resource.
No visit to the Western Cape would be complete without a trip to the winelands, just one hour’s drive away. To whet your palate, combine your visit to Table Mountain, which dominates views in Cape Town, with wine tasting on a Wine Safari.
Guide Henri Bruce takes us through the restricted barriers and journeys to remote lookout points. Henri, a former tennis coach, is passionate about the land and the area. We stop overlooking a beautiful view of the city, and sip on some of Durbanville Hills’ finest wines. Then after a trip to the other side of the mountain, Henri set up a picnic lunch while we ate and sipped more wine with views of both Camps Bay beach and Lion’s Head beyond. Who said mountain climbing had to be difficult. (www.durbanvillehills.co.za/buying-tasting/table-mountain-wine-safari)
The small town of Franschhoek, one hour from Cape Town, was settled by French Hugeunots in the late 1600s, and still celebrates Bastille Day with a festival of all things French. The main street is full of galleries, restaurants and historic buildings. For lunch, head for Roca Restaurant on the Dieu Donne vineyard (www.rocarestaurant.co.za). The view across the valley is simply breathtaking, and surely one of the finest in any dining establishment anywhere. Try the kingklip with risotto, accompanied by a crisp white, you won’t be disappointed.
Wine tastings, of course, are a must, and a useful way to sample a wide range from different vineyards is the wine tram. For a more exclusive offering, the Wine Studio at the Leeu Estate combines luxury with exquisite wines managed by the Mullineux & Leeu team. The estate, about 2km from Franschhoek, houses a collection of stunning artworks, as well as an exclusive boutique hotel in the restored 19th Century Manor House. We stayed in the manor house, in spacious, sumptuously furnished accommodation, with views across the estate and valley. Stay for dinner in the adjoining restaurant, which serves delicious locally sourced organic and ethnically farmed produce.
The university town of Stellenbosch in the adjoining valley is also a haven for wine lovers.
In the heart of the town, you will find the Oude Werf Hotel (oudewerfhotel.co.za). Situated on the site of the first church in Stellenbosch (Oude Weft is Afrikaans for old churchyard), the hotel is the oldest continuously running hotel in the country. The hotel also boasts a restaurant that uses Cape flavours with a gourmet twist. For dinner, try the ‘Oude Werf Trio’ - braised oxtail, mini bobotie and yellow rice, mini chicken pie and caramelised sweet potato - three classic Cape flavours beautifully presented. As you dine, you cannot fail to notice the oak tree inside the restaurant. During renovations, rather than cut it down, the building grew around the tree, a feature you will see elsewhere in the town. The ruins of the original church are also on show underneath the kitchens.
There are many options to stay in Stellenbosch. One is De Zalze Lodge, part of the Kleine Zalze Estate on Strand Road (dezalzelodge.co.za). De Zalze Lodge is the farm’s very own Cape Dutch style country house overlooking the lush vineyards and breath-taking Stellenbosch mountains. Nestled against the first fairway of the Kleine Zalze Golf Course, this luxurious four-star establishment is relaxed yet pristine. While there, further wine tasting will of course be on the agenda, while also enjoy a game of golf on one of the regions top-rated.
As we leave Western Cape to travel to the airport, it’s easy to see why over 10m international tourists visited South Africa last year, and why I’m already planning my return.
Flights: KLM fly daily from Dublin to Cape Town via Amsterdam Schiphol.
Economy fares start from €549. See www.klm.com or call 0044-20-7660-0293.
Where to stay: In Cape Town, the Irish Examiner stayed in the five-star Cape Grace
Hotel (capegrace.com) at the V&A Waterfront. In Franschhoek, we stayed at Leeu Estates boutique hotel (www.leeucollection.com).
In Stellenbosch, accommodation was at De Zalze Lodge (www.kleinezalze.co.za).
Tours: For a variety of tour options tailored to
every taste, contact Cut Above Travel & Tours (www.cutabovetours.co.za).
Other operators include MoTown Tours and Escapeto the Cape.
Eating: So many to choose from, but a must is Hallelujah (www.hallelujahhallelujah.co.za) intrendy Tamboerskloof.
They don’t take bookings but the Asian fusion food on offer is divine.
Other options include Charango, and Black Sheep. For a more chocolatey escape, visit
Honest Chocolate Café at 64A Wale Street (www.honestchocolate.co.za).
Lady Bonin’s Tea (ladyboninstea.com) blends and distributes organic loose-leaf teas sourced direct from farms. The company has just opened South Africa’s first takeaway tea bar.
For an alternative night out, The Galileo Open Air Cinema (thegalileo.co.za) has a full programme of classics old and new that runs throughout the summer months beginning in No v e m b e r.
Watching The Hangover on a lawn in Kirstenbosch Gardens was a slightly surreal experience
but one to enjoy.
If your idea of a gift is a pair of socks, Sexy Socks (sexysockssa.com) are made from bambooand come in vibrant colours, but evenbetter is their commitment to give a sock
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