The Mother City offers outstanding landscapes and a vibrant cultural scene, making it ideal for a pre- or –post cruise stay, says Liz Jarvis
Located on the Cape of Good Hope, this vibrant city boasts stunning vistas and a beautiful coastline. It’s also the gateway to wine country, and has a thriving urban area, full of cafés, restaurants and shops.
Cape Town was established in 1652 by Jan Van Riebeeck and other employees of the Dutch East India Company, to provide a refuelling station for ships on their way to the Far East. The discovery of diamonds and gold led to the Boer Wars; after the second Boer War the British took control of South Africa. In 1910, the Union of South Africa was established.
The appalling system of racial segregation under apartheid lasted from 1948 until 27 April 1994. Many were imprisoned, including the late Nelson Mandela, and it drew worldwide condemnation. Today a statue of President Mandela stands on the balcony at City Hall, and Cape Town, known as the Mother City, is proudly multicultural, diverse and welcoming.
With some of its rock formations dating back 500 million years, and an impressive 3,558ft high, Table Mountain provides the magnificent backdrop to Cape Town, and wherever you go you’ll see it. But if you want to go up it you can either take the cable car, which will carry you up to the summit, so you can admire the spectacular views, or you can hike up it. It’s well signposted but if you feel more confident being escorted then the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel offers excellent guided hikes with naturalist Frank who will explain the local fynbos (vegetation) to you along the way. He’ll also offer you fresh coffee while you take photos of the views, including the spectacular Twelve Apostles, which confusingly are actually 18 peaks.
To get a real feel for Capetonian life, stroll along Kloof Street, with its artisan cafés, restaurants and shops, or visit picturesque Bo-Kapp. There are some brilliant museums covering the history of Cape Town along Museum Mile, and the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, with its striking scarlet Clock Tower and mall, is always lively and a good spot for lunch or dinner. It’s also close to the cruise terminal and the Nelson Mandela Gateway for boats to Robben Island.
If you’re spending a few days in Cape Town before or after your cruise then it’s well worth taking a cab to Simons Town, which takes around 30 minutes; here you’ll find Boulders Beach, home to a protected colony of adorable African penguins. The boardwalk surrounding the beach allow you to get fairly close to these fascinating birds (pleasingly there are no selfies allowed), and it’s an absolute joy to watch them as they waddle along the powder white sand and dive into the emerald water. During the breeding season from February until August you’ll have the added bonus of viewing chicks.
The best beaches for humans include the Blue Flag Camps Bay Beach. From June to November you have a good chance of seeing whales. And if you’re here for the wine, then there are several estates within an hour’s drive from the city; head for the Cape Winelands of Stellenbosch, a university town, and Franschhoek, which has centuries-old vineyards.
Cape Town has a lively culinary scene, and one of the hottest restaurants is the Shortmarket Club. With British-born Luke Dale-Roberts at the helm, it has an eclectic menu featuring locally sourced ingredients such as springbok, Cape Bream Sashimi and ‘waving’ octopus, as well as some really imaginative vegetarian creations. It also has a very good wine list and cocktail selection (theshortmarketclub.co.za). Other must-tries while you’re in Cape Town include a Gatsby sandwich, stuffed with meat, cheese and fries and made for sharing.
Where to stay
A Cape Town landmark, the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel is a stunning pale pink haven of refined, glamorous luxury, with rooms housed in the magnificent main buildings but also in charming rose-clad garden cottages close to one of the two swimming pools. Located at the foot of Table Mountain, the hotel has a rich history: celebrated guests have included John Lennon and Winston Churchill. Rooms are incredibly comfortable with marble bathrooms, and wifi is complimentary throughout the hotel. The signature afternoon tea and tea-tasting ceremony are not to be missed, while the Planet Bar is the perfect place to enjoy a sundowner (the raspberry vodka and passion fruit cocktail is particularly moreish). In the evening you can also enjoy supper here al fresco – we’re still dreaming about the Malva pudding. Rooms from £265 per night, including a buffet breakfast (belmond/hotels.com).