WHEN IN...CAPE TOWN

Cape Town illy.jpg

Going Native: bays, penguins and Table Mountain—Dominique Botha on how to make the most of a beautiful city...

From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, November/December 2012

DON’T take the cable car up Table Mountain. Walk instead, and have your breath taken away by the view that fuelled the Cape to Cairo railway fantasies of Cecil John Rhodes. Keep your eyes peeled for rare red disas—delicate orchids named after a mythic Norse heroine.

DO
spare your knees and take the cable car down in good time to celebrate the occasion with lunch amid the creviced oaks and fondant gables of La Colombe in Constantia. Sweeten the end of your feast with a glass of the local vin de Constance, as mentioned in “Sense and Sensibility” for “its healing powers on a disappointed heart”.

DO go to the Botanical Gardens at Kirstenbosch, for its Sunday summer concerts, cycads and the astonishing clarity of the water in the bird-shaped pool built by a Colonel Bird in 1811.

DON’T expect to befriend a penguin on Boulders Beach—they bite. But they do allow you to swim with them.

DO walk down Long Street, a seam of antique stores, cafés and drunken memories. At Clarke’s Bookshop, buy J.M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace” and the Bitterkomix compendium, the intelligent comic strip with the added distinction of being the first local publication to be banned for obscenity in the new South Africa.

DO
linger at Fiction in Long Street to hear the cutting-edge sounds of Cape Town’s electronic music scene, or head up the street to Joburg—the bar, not the city. Take a cab over Kloof Nek for a second sunset at Café Caprice in Camps Bay. Round off the weekend at Cold Turkey in Woodstock—every other Sunday at aMadoda—for beats, beer and braai (barbecue).

DO catch a boat to Robben Island, to be reminded of the depravity and generosity of the human spirit. The confines of Nelson Mandela’s jail cell stand in sharp contrast to the breadth of his humanity. Take a jaded South African with you.

DO go to the Neighbourgoods Market in Woodstock. Get there early for roast mushroom kebabs dipped in truffle oil and the best coffee in the Cape. Then trawl the Woodstock gallery circuit, along Sir Lowry Road, for local contemporary art.

DON'T park yourself in a hotel; rent the artist Beezy Bailey’s beautiful ersatz Tuscan villa in Higgovale (capetownvillas.net). If he’s in town, try to wangle a dinner invitation; he has been known to gun down passing guineafowl for an impromptu feast. Or stay at Welgelegen, a reasonably priced Victorian B&B (from £70 a night) at the foot of Table Mountain.

DO go to the Chapmans Peak Hotel for calamari en route to Cape Point. In 1488, when Bartholomew Diaz first rounded the point where two ocean currents jostle for primacy, he christened it Cabo das Tormentas. King John II of Portugal renamed it the Cape of Good Hope, to mark its new role as a seaborne trade route with the East, and in 1580 Sir Francis Drake declared it The Fairest Cape in all the World.

DO
ring an estate agent.

Dominique Botha is a South African writer

Illustration Neil Gower