Cape Town – Africa

Victoria & Albert Waterfront

Victoria and Albert Waterfront

Cape Town is naturally beautiful. It doesn’t need man-made attractions like the London Eye or the Empire State Building to captivate its visitors. It is also not your normal city break, as there is hardly time to explore the actual “city”.

Five of the top six tourist destinations in Cape Town are natural landmarks: Table Mountain, Cape Point, the valleys of the Winelands, Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and Robbin Island, where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The only one that isn’t natural, although it is by the sea, is the Victoria and Albert Waterfront.

The Victoria and Albert Waterfront is the new heart of Cape Town. It’s the perfect place for lunch or dinner. If you can tear yourself away from the designer shops and craft markets, take a boat trip or helicopter ride, or visit the aquarium. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself at this waterfront on a daily basis, even twice a day. Should you be staying in the area, you may never be far away.

Everywhere you go in Cape Town, your eyes are drawn to Table Mountain. When you see it for the first time, thoughts of climbing it go right out the window, despite having packed your walking boots. The locals don’t help by encouraging you to take the cable car. If you persevere, they will reluctantly suggest you take the route via Kirstenborsch Botanical Gardens, the easiest way up.

Without planning to climb the mountain, a visit to Kirstenborsch is a must. It’s not just a botanical garden; it's Cape Town’s answer to Central and Hyde Park. On Sundays, families and friends spend the day here, couples sleep in each other's arms and visitors walk around amazed at the beauty. The air, filled with the scent of hundreds of varieties of Fynbos, makes the surroundings even more intoxicating. Can't leave? Stay, listen to a concert and watch the sun set behind Table Mountain.

Determined to climb to the top, we decided on the route via Platterclip Gorge described as the best “step class” you can do. That was an understatement. Go at your own pace, stop frequently for water and enjoy the views. You'll eventually get there. When you do, the feeling of accomplishment is indescribable – you really are on top of the world.

Taking a change of T-shirt is definitely recommended; a stall selling “I’ve just climbed Table Mountain” T-shirts would make a small fortune. Of course, half the fun and satisfaction is that everyone already knows nothing can disguise the bright red face and jelly-like legs. The best time to do the climb is first thing in the morning; a great “carrot” half way up is the thought of brunch at the top. Cold beer and hot sausages might sound like a strange way to celebrate, but it hits the spot.

As its name indicates, the mountain is flat at the top; covered with different trails with views out towards Robbin Island, or across the city. Once you’ve rested your legs, they’re worth exploring. Should the thought of going down fill you with horror, there is always the painless option of taking the cable car, with its slowly revolving floor ensuring everyone gets to admire the spectacular scenery.

One of the highlights of a visit to Cape Town, especially if you are a wine lover, is visiting The Winelands. One day is not really enough to do this area justice. Schedule permitting, try to stay overnight in Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franshoek are the other main wine towns, the latter being a great place for lunch, although you might forget you are in Africa as the mountains and valleys are amazingly Swiss-like. When it comes to wine tasting, there are many picturesque wineries to visit; most are closed on Sundays.

The drive through Cape Town’s second wine region, Constantia and on to The Cape Peninsula National Park is equally memorable; scenery changes several times during the journey. Once in the park, you can visit Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point; the landscape is treeless and barren, and with its heather-like fynbos, it's more like Scotland.

The views from above the craggy cliffs are breathtaking. At Cape Point, take the windswept path out to the new lighthouse. This is the furthest point before the land gives way to the Pacific and Atlantic oceans; a great place to blow away the cobwebs. On the way back to Cape Town, it's worth breaking up the journey at Boulders Penguin Colony, where you can walk along the beach and watch these fascinating birds posing for the cameras.

For years Cape Town was at the top of my “must visit” list. It was everything I imagined it to be and more. With no jet lag and an exchange rate that made us feel like millionaires, we could have very easily stayed. Cape Town is now top of my “must go back to” list. If there weren’t so many places in the world still to visit, I would already be planning my next trip.