Four Nights in Cape Town
Driving away from Tanda Tula was very hard. The peace of being on safari was all encompassing; aside from the sound of the jeep, the most noise we’d heard since we arrived was the singing of the staff at Tanda Tula. We usually take our speaker with us on holiday but luggage space was so tight MrS decided to leave it behind, so we hadn’t even heard music for a week.
Arriving at Cape Town airport was an assault on the senses for sure, we hadn’t seen more than 30 people in anyone place since Jo’berg.
The driver of our car was lovely and, after asking, pointed out landmarks on the way to our hotel and offered us tips and pointers for our time in Cape Town.
We were staying in Camps Bay, just south of Cape Town. When we were booking the holiday, we were offered the choice between hotels in the Victoria and Alfred or Camps Bay, but I knew that the dock area was quite touristy so, after some research we opted for The Marly at Camps Bay.
A boutique hotel, The Marly is part of a complex, which contains restaurants, bars and shops. It has just 8 rooms, 4 with a sea view and 4 with a garden/mountain view. Oddly the main reception entrance opens on to a private floor of the multi-story carpark, however there is a private lift down two floors to the main promenade for guests (accessed by an electronic key).
Our room was almost as big as the whole of our ground floor back home. I’m not exaggerating when I say it was stunning. The décor was opulent without being OTT (we stayed in a beautiful boutique hotel in Rome last year but it was a little ‘style over practicality’) and the balcony was almost as big again as the room. The only bad point? I wasn’t allowed to use the bath due to the water shortage.
When I stood on the balcony I was slightly worried we would be bothered by noise, but in truth we didn’t hear a thing.
Part of the complex, and related to the Marly, are the restaurants Umi, Zenzero, Paranga and La Belle Bistro and Bakery which is where guests have their inclusive breakfast.
As with our trip to Italy I had researched Cape Town extensively for things we should do and places we should go to eat. I’d booked two restaurants in advance for Sunday and Tuesday but also left Saturday and Monday free to explore Camps Bay restaurants.
On the Saturday night we ate at a great little place recommended on Trip Advisor called The Butcher (not to be confused with the Butcher’s Shop and Grill just up the coast). After the rich food at Makanyane and Tanda Tula we were happy to have some crispy calamari and one of the best steaks I’ve ever had, along with a lovely SA Pinotage*. We were determined to drink local wine wherever possible, and Pinotage is exclusive to South Africa.
After dinner we decided to take advantage of an early night and looked forward to not getting up at 5:30am.
We kept Sunday free deliberately as we knew we would be tired, so after a much-needed lie in we ate a leisurely breakfast at La Belle (which was never anything less than perfect during our stay) and decided to do what most city tourists do – get on a City Tour Bus.
I love these buses and I think they’re great if you don’t know where to go or are short on time. They’re also a really cheap way to get to the main tourist spots in any city. We took the coastal route which runs from Camps Bay down the coast road to Cape Town itself and then out to downtown Cape Town where we switched to the downtown route. Sadly, as it was Sunday the District Six Museum was closed (not such great research by me after all apparently) so we went on the circular tour thinking we’d take a walking tour from there. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that either as the timings didn’t work for us so we decided to take a 5-minute walk to Bo Kaap ourselves while we waited for the next bus.
The Bo Kaap is situated in the historic area that became home to many Muslims and freed slaves after the abolition of slavery. It is a former township, situated on the slopes of Signal Hill above the city centre and is an historical centre of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town. It’s beautiful cobbled streets and colourful houses have become a big draw for tourists, although sadly the gentrification of it means that the original residents are being forced out.
That night we ate at La Mouette. La Mouette is in Sea Point and is housed in an original Georgian house with 2 floors and 4 dining rooms. It offers ‘seasonally inspired menus' which change regularly and prides itself on its 'selection of complementary wines’. The atmosphere is warm and friendly, not stuffy at all.
We had the 3 course tasting menu which started with Yellowtail, and was followed by beef fillet (with Blue cheese cream, truffle pomme dauphine, walnuts and smoked bordelaise) and finished with the most delicious dessert I’ve ever had – a deconstructed Lemon Meringue Pie, accompanied by the wine selection*.
La Mouette is an interesting restaurant. It wasn’t as ‘smooth’ as Aubergine (where we ate on the Tuesday night, more of which later), and it did feel a bit 'try hard' but the food was excellent, well cooked and presented, innovative and most importantly tasty. It was busy, although that wasn’t an issue for us, but I did see one couple baulk at their table as it was rather in the walk way of everyone (you know the sort of table). In fact, I wasn’t sure about our table initially, as it was near the fire, but that soon died out and it was fine. I would definitely recommend a visit if you’re in town for more than 2 days.
On Monday we took a Cape Peninsula Tour. I booked through Viator as the Colosseum tour we took with them in Rome last year had been brilliant. There were just 5 people on the tour including us and we took a whole day to go from Camps Bay to Cape Point and back, via Signal Hill, Chapmans Peak and Simon’s Town.
Signal Hill sits next to Table Mountain and Lions Head and is so called as signal flags were used to communicate weather warnings as well as anchoring instructions to visiting ships. The Noon Gun is still fired daily by the South African Navy.
Chapmans Peak is the stunning drive stretching between Hout Bay and Noordhoek Beach, originally built using convict labour commencing in 1915. It’s now a toll road to pay for the upkeep and is sometimes closed due to the bad weather, however even though the day was dull we took the road down the Western Cape, crossing over at Noordhoek to Fish Hoek on the Eastern Cape travelling down to Simon’s Town. We stopped at various photographic points of interest on our drive, be declined a seal tour at Hout Bay as the weather was so murky!
Cape Point is in the Cape of Good Hope nature reserve within Table Mountain National Park, which is a World Heritage Site. It includes Table Mountain stretching from Signal Hill to Cape Point, and the coastlines of the Cape Peninsula
The first lighthouse ever to be completed still stands at 238 meters above sea level. You CAN get there by funicular railway, but that would have been too easy… so we walked up, but it was worth it.
As a child my dad would talk of his days when he worked for P&O as their Chief Engineer and he always started his stories with “as we were sailing round the Cape of Good Hope…” so the place had mythical status for me. It is breathtakingly beautiful, there was a touch of Cornwall about it albeit on a much grander scale.
After a quick sandwich lunch which I unwittingly shared with a cheeky bird we drove back up to Boulders Beach.The colony of African (Jackass) penguins that live here are a huge tourist draw, but unfortunately, they are becoming more and more endangered, due to loss of habitat and food sources. However, measures are being taken to save them including the successful introduction of artificial nesting boxes by Boulders Coastal Park management.
I could have watched them for hours, unfortunately though not only was it now the end of the day but the other large coach parties which we’d managed to stay ahead of all day finally caught up with us, so we headed back to the hotel.
I highly recommend the tour, Barnabus our guide was knowledgeable and funny and clearly enjoyed his job.
That night we ate at Paranga, attached to the Marly and a restaurant which a couple of people had told us was worth a visit. Sadly, we were disappointed, we were squashed into a table in the (open) window, so we were cold; the table next to us was so close I could have used their cutlery by accident; the food was mediocre; the service was terrible and it took us almost as long to get someone to bring us the bill as it did to eat the whole meal. To add insult to injury, it was twice as expensive as the immensely superior experience we’d had the night before at La Mouette.
On Tuesday we spent the day at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Sitting against the eastern slopes of Table Mountain it is one of the great botanic gardens of the world. There are over 7,000 species of flora at Kirstenbosch, including many rare and threatened species. It probably wasn’t the perfect time of year to go, I think we were about 2 or 3 weeks early for it to be in full bloom but it was still beautiful and we could easily have spent much longer there. If you know my photography you will know I love to shoot flowers and I wasn’t disappointed, especially with the vast display of Protea flowers.
We spent our last night in Cape Town at the award-winning Aubergine. This restaurant was consistently well reviewed and its name pops up in all the ‘Top 10 restaurants in Cape Town’ articles. Deservedly so, as this was without doubt my favourite of the restaurants we ate in on the holiday. We had the 5-course taster with the wine pairing* – Cured Fish and Scallop; Guinea Fowl; Antelope Duo; Prince Albert Cheese and ‘Lime Gastrique’ all accompanied by local wines. It was outstanding, not a single wrong note in the whole meal. We weren’t rushed, the staff took time to talk about the wine and the food and it was clear they all felt passionately about what they do. I cannot rate Aubergine highly enough.
Because of the exchange rate Cape Town, and South Africa in general is crazily cheap. Even so, our meal at Aubergine came to less than £140 and we know we would have paid more than twice that in London for the same meal.
Why you should visit Cape Town
I loved Cape Town, once we got used to the bustle of life again. I was sad not to get up Table Mountain itself and I don’t think we saw the half of it, but it is an incredible city and deserves a prosperous future. Whilst we stuck to the obvious tourist areas, I never felt unsafe. In the downtown area police are everywhere on foot and the homeless don’t ask for money, rather that you go to the shop with them to buy milk or cereal or soap etc. We did get hassled a couple of times on our walk to Bo Kaap but nothing worse than central London to be honest. We used Uber in the evenings as advised by our airport driver and they were great (although after our first ‘standard car’ turned out to be a VW golf, we chose 'luxury' after that!). Camps Bay was stunning and the sea air was wonderful after the heat and dust of the scrubby bush.
If it wasn’t for the 12-hour flight it would be the perfect city break destination. We will definitely be back.
It's true what they say, they really do keep the best South African wines for themselves. We've tried to source most of those we tasted while there in the UK and it's proving very tricky.
The Butcher Shop:
Diemersdale Estate Pinotage 2016
Thelema Sutherland 2016 Sauvignon Blanc
Morgenster Lourens River Valley 2009
Keermont 2015 Fleurfontein
Aubergine Cuvee Riesling 2011 (Elgin)
Tierhoek Grenache 2012 (Citrusdal Mountain)
Savage Red 2013 (Western Cape)
Wildehurst Chenin Blanc 2011 (Swartland)
Thelema Semillion Late Harvest 2013 (Stellenbosch)
We travelled with Abercrombie and Kent who put together this bespoke package for us.
This post previously appeared on Life and Love in London in Oct 2017