24 hours in Cape Town

Author: Max Veenhuyzen
Photography: Getty Images

Tourism might be the economic mealie-bread and butter of post-apartheid South Africa, but the country makes a tidy amount on the side from on-location filming and photography. In the Western Cape, the industry is worth an estimated $320 million annually, while the industries in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal are also good earners for each region. Take a stroll around Cape Town most Sundays and you might find entire blocks closed for filming, perhaps for a blockbuster such as Invictus or Blood Diamond, or maybe a print or TV ad for Lexus, Nokia or BMW.

Yet this impressive number of supporting roles goes only so far in explaining the unmistakable sense of déjà vu that washes over first-time visitors to Cape Town. Europe is the city's muse and major influence, meaning many Capetonians claim to have more in common with the cosmopolitan continent than with their own compatriots. But with the growth in multiculturalism, influences from all corners of the globe are being woven into the city's fabric, and for travellers, this new-found diversity translates to a staggering breadth of experiences.

Fitting all of the city's charm into a single day is tricky, but this hit list offers visitors a snapshot of Cape Town and shows why passing through the Mother City is - to borrow a local refrain - nothing but a pleasure.

10am. Get your daily hit
The coffee crop has long been important to the African economy, but the development of a thriving local espresso scene is a more recent development. Spearheading the movement in Cape Town is Origin Coffee Roasting with its zealous dedication to the bean. House-roasted single-origin coffee is its business, and if you ask, staff will wax lyrical about the farmers and farms which supply their beans.

If you prefer leaf to bean, waltz past the espresso set and into Origin's tea den. The moodily lit Nigiro (the name is Origin spelled backwards) celebrates the wonders of tea. Natural and flavour-infused blends of local rooibos are available along with imported offerings of the black, green, white and artistic show-tea varieties: tightly wrapped balls that ceremoniously unfurl in hot water.

11am. Explore South Africa's oldest neighbourhood
Bo-Kaap's cobbled laneways and Day-Glo homes make it easy to pinpoint the neighbourhood's appeal (the intersection of Church and Chiappini streets is a nexus for shutterbug travellers). Also known as the Malay quarter, it's populated by the descendants of slaves who were brought over by the Dutch in the 16th and 17th centuries along with the architectural signatures of low archways and intricate, multi-paned windows. The houses' bright, almost garish hues are a permanent show of celebration: owners treat their abodes to fresh licks of paint to commemorate birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and other milestones. Bo-Kaap is a devoutly Muslim, largely Asian neighbourhood, so best curb any hankerings for pork or alcohol and instead sate hunger pangs with an uphill trek to Biesmiellah for a filling salomie, a flavoursome curry wrapped in flaky, just-greasy-enough roti. From there, follow your nose to Atlas Trading Co, the home cook's go-to for fragrant curry-pot spices.

Noon. Enter the cradle of South Africa's wine industry
Most of the country's wine trails are dotted throughout the Western Cape, so Cape Town makes the ideal base camp for vinous discovery. Constantia is one> of South Africa's oldest grape-growing regions and the closest to the Mother City (15km down the M3 highway). The region can trace its wine history back to 1685, when Dutch East India Company commander Simon van der Stel established Groot Constantia. Today, however, many of Constantia's wine farms are modern, multi-faceted operations - Steenberg being a case in point. Golfers from the world over descend on the picturesque estate where an 18-hole course awaits (along with all the first-class trimmings, including luxe accommodation).

Moving further inland on the cape, the wine regions of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek also merit consideration, particularly the latter on account of boutique hotel Le Quartier Français. Its restaurant, The Tasting Room, is the top-placed African entry on the S.Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list. If Margot Janse's imaginative South African cuisine isn't reason enough to get you there, splendid in-house accommodation options (from luxury suites with private gardens to a fully appointed family-friendly cottage) should do the trick.

2pm. Visit the Slave Lodge museum
Fittingly, the building that was erected in 1679 to house slaves brought to South Africa by the Dutch East India Company is now a museum recognising the role of the slaves in establishing Cape Town. The corner of Wale and Adderley streets can lay claim to other historical landmarks too. The steps of St George's Cathedral provided Archbishop Desmond Tutu with a launching pad for his crusades against apartheid; race-based government legislation was passed - and abolished - in the nearby Houses of Parliament (Cape Town is South Africa's legislative capital); and the Company's Garden provides a lush green backdrop to other places of cultural significance, including the Holocaust Centre, the National Library of South Africa, and the South African National Gallery.

3pm. Catch the ferry to Robben Island
For many years, the man who ushered in the country's new democratic era was simply 466/64: Nelson Mandela was the 466th prisoner admitted in 1964 to Robben Island, the isolated prison 7km off the coast from Cape Town. To see the diminutive cell where South Africa's Madiba spent 18 years of his life - the room was barely wide enough for him to lie down - is to begin to understand the struggles South Africa has overcome to become the Rainbow Nation it is today. A tour of Robben Island rates as a must-do for visitors to Cape Town, and the trips, which take take three and a half hours, often book out in advance. Distilling such a personal experience into words is nigh on impossible; it's enough to say that the ride back to shore is decidedly quieter than the one out.

6.30pm. Watch the sunset
Don't be in a hurry to turn your back on the sea once you've stepped ashore again. Cape Town is blessed with many vantage points from which to watch the Indian and Atlantic oceans soak up the sun. In summer, the sun sets as late as 8pm, so there's plenty of time post-Robben to photograph the sky's burnt orange, lilac and dusky-gold hues. Anywhere on Signal Hill will yield enviable snaps, but the stretch of road overlooking the suburb of Sea Point is particularly popular.

7.30pm. Oysters and a glass of fizz at Twankey Bar
To answer the obvious question, the name comes from the 19th-century statue of a shepherdess that sits in an alcove above the bar's entrance. Many locals consider it an eyesore and have christened her "The Widow Twankey" after the hapless character from the Aladdin pantomime. Of course, knowing the name's backstory is not essential to enjoy the charms of this hotel bar par excellence.

The Twankey might bill itself as a Champagne and oyster hang-out, but it celebrates life's finery in a casual, colonially skewed setting that's frequented by in-house guests and Capetonians alike. Seasoned fizz drinkers might find the selection of French bubbles a little wanting, but there are no such qualms to be had about the comprehensive range of méthode cap classique, South Africa's sparkling wine. Sustainably farmed oysters from around Africa are kept on ice and opened to order before being served with traditional accompaniments including triangles of brown bread, cheeks of lemon, and vinaigrette.

8.30pm. Dinner at The Roundhouse
At this homely yet refined 1786 hunting lodge-turned-restaurant, far up Lion's Head mountain, superb views of the surrounding Camps Bay are assured. You could even do breakfast on the Rumbullion terraces (the name means "a riotous good time") Friday to Sunday. And if you're really game, join the dog-walkers and joggers who frequent the surrounding grounds for a spot of exercise. But in truth, visiting The Roundhouse is more about gaining kilojoules than burning them, and enjoying attentive, five-star service coupled with thoughtful cooking in a venue that's rich in both history and booze.

Chefs PJ Vadas and Eric Bulpitt - the latter formerly of the city's excellent Jardine restaurant - give South African twists to the familiar: their carpaccio is of eland (an African game beast somewhere between an antelope and a cow in size), and their terrines are layered with foie gras and smoked snoek, Capetonians' much-loved long and oily sea fish. They have an eye on global trends, too, with menus sporting the pickled, the foraged and the foliage. Sommelier Joakim Hansi Blackadder's stellar wine list is a highlight, as is local brandy, and the four-course menu of matched food and brandy is also worth considering.

11pm. Recharge at the Taj Cape Town
Fusing different cultures and periods is par for the course in South Africa, but no one does it with as much aplomb as the city's grandest room for the night, the Taj Cape Town. The hotel pays tribute to both the past and the present, retaining the old-world charm of its previous lives (the Board of Executors and the South African Reserve Bank once occupied the site) while offering all the facilities and amenities the jet-setting traveller could desire. Positioned to take advantage of Cape Town's myriad charms, the Taj is a destination in itself, with invigorating spa treatments at Jiva, and grand dining. And did I mention the particularly good Champagne and oyster bar attached to the hotel?

8am. Breakfast at Bread Milk & Honey
The swing door at this cosy café never stays shut for long as Capetonians regularly come knocking for nourishment to help them through the day. In the morning, business meetings are conducted over hearty uitsmijter croissants - pastries spread with seeded mustard and crammed with ham, scrambled egg and cheese - alongside espresso made using ethically sourced beans. By midday, it's the soup, salad and lunch items that lure locals. The café's house-baked treats - dark chocolate and almond biscotti, perhaps, or savouries such as bacon-and-egg puffs - make excellent snacking on the run.

For those closer to the waterfront than downtown, Table Thirteen is your number, and the café's crisp bacon, creamy three-egg omelette, crunchy corn fritters and coriander relish are your hearty, farmhouse-style wake-up call.

9am. Shop for souvenirs
While retail precincts such as the V & A Waterfront and the Cape Quarter charm and sparkle - at the latter, Daniela Dotan's gorgeous macarons and pastries alone are worth the trip - the city's many cultures are best reflected in the collected booty of Cape Town's antique and second-hand bookstores. For maximum browsability per square metre, set a course for Long Street Antique Arcade, a densely packed hub of small, often one-room stores where the inventories are as colourful as the characters who tend them. The eclectic range crosses styles and eras with impunity. One moment you're mesmerised by a 1970s Longines wristwatch; the next you're wondering which room back home would best house the over-sized replica Chanel perfume bottle. Specialist shippers can assist with getting prized purchases back safely, not that any such service was needed for the silver art nouveau cufflinks that joined me on my Qantas flight home: bold yet tempered by a timeless European elegance, they're the perfect memento of my time in Cape Town.


Qantas operates daily services from Sydney to Johannesburg and daily codeshare services from Perth to Johannesburg, both with connections to Cape Town. 13 13 13.

The Steenberg hotel and vineyards
Superior rooms from $540. Tokai Rd, Constantia, +27 21 713 2222.

Taj Cape Town
Superior rooms from $585. Wale St, Cape Town, +27 21 819 2000.

Cnr Wale St & Pentz Rd, Cape Town, +27 21 423 0850. 

Bread Milk & Honey
10 Spin St, Cape Town, +27 21 461 8425

Shop 40, The Square, Cape Quarter, 27 Somerset Rd, Green Point, +27 86 026 6266.

Origin Coffee Roasting and Nigiro Tea
28 Hudson St, De Waterkant, +27 21 421 1000.

The Roundhouse
Kloof Rd, The Glen, Camps Bay, +27 21 438 4347.

Table Thirteen
78 Ebenezer Rd, Green Point, +27 21 418 0739

The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français
Cnr Berg & Wilhelmina sts, Franschhoek, +27 21 876 2151.

Twankey Bar at the Taj Cape Town
Wale St, Cape Town, +27 21 819 2000.

Atlas Trading Co
94 Wale St, Bo-Kaap, +27 21 423 4361

Cape Quarter Lifestyle Village
27 Somerset Rd, Green Point, +27 21 421 1111.

The Long Street Antique Arcade
127 Long St, Cape Town, +27 21 423 3585

Robben Island Museum
Tours depart daily from the V & A Waterfront (bookings are strongly recommended). Nelson Mandela Gateway, V & A Waterfront, Cape Town, +27 21 413 4220.

Slave Lodge
Open Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm. Cnr Adderley & Wale sts, Cape Town, +27 21 460 8242.
V & A Waterfront
Victoria Wharf, Cape Town, +27 21 408 7600.

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