Cape Town: through the eyes of travel writers

For all its scene-stealing beauty, our contributors love Cape Town’s vibrant townships and cultural heritage — not to mention its masala steak sandwiches.

By Emma Gregg, Zane Henry
Published 15 Aug 2019, 14:02 BST
Camps Bay, Cape Town
Camps Bay, Cape Town.
Photograph by Getty Images

Describe the moment when Cape Town first really made sense to you.

Zane Henry: I wish I could, but the city continues to confound me. I lived in Cape Town for 28 years before moving to London, and recently visited for the first time in nearly four years. Seeing it through fresh eyes was bewildering. The way poverty scrapes up against conspicuous opulence, the natural beauty I had taken for granted... It’s a lot to wrap your head around.

Emma Gregg: It took me a while to realise Cape Town is a city that looks its best -— and by that, I mean drop-dead gorgeous — from a little distance. It’s mostly down to the city’s location at the foot of Table Mountain, with the South Atlantic Ocean licking its toes. From a boat, or from the waterfront, the city looks dazzling.

What do you love most about this city?

Emma Gregg: It’s full of flavour, with a rich history and a culturally and ethnically diverse population. I love it for its buzzing artistic and creative vibe. It also has excellent coffee, food and wine (at bargain prices), and it’s easy to get outdoors and go hiking, cycling or diving.

Zane Henry: Maybe it’s trite to say this about your home town, but familiarity is a powerful thing. I love being able to say ‘howzit’ to the same guy at my favourite boerewors roll (hot dog) stand on Adderley Street.

If you were there now, what would you do first?

Zane Henry: I’d go straight to Mariam’s Kitchen in St George’s Mall for a masala steak sandwich. Afterwards, I’d head up Church Street to Deluxe Coffeeworks, grab a sunny seat and a cortado, and watch the city go by.

Is there a side to the city we might not know about?

Emma Gregg: Many tourists ignore the townships, but they’re exciting, dynamic urban spaces. You just need the right guide. Cultural tour company Coffeebeans Routes will show you around and introduce you to foodies, craft brewers, artisans, musicians or entrepreneurs.

Describe an ideal day in Cape Town.

Emma Gregg: It would have to include a stroll around the V&A Waterfront. If I’ve been away a while, I’ll catch what’s new at the Zeitz MOCAA (Museum of Contemporary Art Africa) — although Thomas Heatherwick’s architecture is superb in its own right. After a long lunch, maybe at one of the many new vegan restaurants, I’d head to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden to stroll among the proteas, listen to the birds and try to spot an owl roosting by the Boomslang walkway.

What’s your favourite  neighbourhood?

Emma Gregg: Bo-Kaap, with its brightly painted houses, is the prettiest. It’s also just uphill from many of the best independent art galleries.

Zane Henry: Sea Point, especially the Promenade. It starts at the V&A Waterfront, passing ice cream shops, an outdoor gym, a lighthouse and an Olympic-size pool that’s misted by the crash of waves against its walls. On weekends, the entire city seems to funnel down here.

What has surprised you most about Cape Town?

Zane Henry: The city has always been known for its outstanding produce and diverse culinary heritage, but on my last visit I was blown away by the cuisine. Places like the Test Kitchen in Woodstock, Belly of the Beast in East City Precinct and the Sushi Bar at Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa in Camps Bay are exemplary.

Natural selection

Crystal Pools
This hiking trail in the Steenbras Nature Reserve ends in a series of spectacular rock pools. Keep an eye on your lunch — opportunistic baboons may make off with it.

Scarborough sunsets
Many claim Cape Town’s best beach sunset is to be seen at Clifton or Llandudno, but the seaside village of Scarborough, on the edge of Table Mountain National Park, gets gold.

Table Mountain
From the top of the mountain you can admire the plateau’s wildflowers, gaze over the city and catch a glimpse of dassies (the guinea-pig-like creatures that live among the rocks).

British Airways offers four-night breaks to Cape Town, including room-only hotel accommodation and return flights, from £617 per person. 

Click to see the full list of our travel writers favourite cities.

Published in the April 2019 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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