Review: Cape Town, South Africa

Horse riding on Noordhoek Beach

Horse riding on Noordhoek Beach - Credit: Archant

It’s a cliché, but Cape Town really is a city of contrasts; a sprawling metropolis surrounded by nature, where the stark slopes of Table Mountain jut into the crashing waves of the ocean, and where incredible wealth and poverty live cheek by jowl.

The stunning scene from the top of Table Mountain

The stunning scene from the top of Table Mountain - Credit: Archant

The climate is also a bit Jekyll and Hyde, at least during our visit. After the unrelenting London winter it was a bit distressing to step off an eleven hour flight into torrential rain.

A room with a view in Camps Bay

A room with a view in Camps Bay - Credit: Archant

Our spirits remained buoyant however, because as long haul flights go, ours was a beauty. KLM are becoming my airline of choice due to the free-flowing drinks, comfortable seats and great attitude of the Dutch staff

The bad weather only lasted a couple of days and our first stop was in the lush, green suburb of Newlands at the Vineyard Hotel - a 200-year-old colonial-style building boasting a rather impressive garden; six acres of landscaped beauty where giant tortoises roam free.

A busy place that caters for business customers, it still felt serene and served a cracking breakfast and in Myoga, the on site restaurant, they’ve one of the best in the city.

One great thing about Cape Town is how cheap it is to eat – roughly half the price of London.

Our delicious seven course feast, including dishes like springbok medallions, cost just £30 each with drinks. Stunning stuff.

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Despite the low cloud, the view from our room was spectacular - an uninterrupted vista of Table Mountain’s iconic peak, towering over the whole city.

Determined to make the best of things despite the rain, we headed out shopping to the Waterfront district which, it must be said, was a bit of a let down.

A collection of high-end shops in a big mall, there was very little you couldn’t find in London (though the diamonds are cheaper).

But if you like your shopping a bit more individual, you can find some boutique treats in Woodstock or backpacker haven Long Street.

After the shops, the bars come alive in Long Street and on the weekend it’s a maelstrom; travellers staggering around and music blaring into the street.

Good for a night out, but for something calmer we headed for a Portuguese influenced meal at Roberto de Carvalho’s signature restaurant.

Huge hunks of meat hung from skewers and fresh, grilled fish washed down with lashings of cheap, but quality South African wine made for a thoroughly enjoyably evening.

The following day, still amid the raindrops, we headed up to the attractive town of Stellenbosch, famous as the hub of the cape winelands.

Our expert guide from Redwood Tours picked us up and took us through the poverty-stricken townships on the edge of the city into the rich, rolling wine valley.

We told him what wine we liked and he took us to a selection of the 200 wine farms in the region to try a few, stopping for a very pleasant lunch in the Francophile region of Franschhoek.

He was a font of knowledge and we stumbled home after a magical day full to the brim with wine, history and clutching a couple of souvenir bottles.

Next stop was Blackheath Lodge – a gorgeous little guesthouse in the San Francisco-esque hills of the Seapoint suburb – a great place to stay in Cape Town.

Owner Antony Trop purchased a run-of-the-mill establishment seven years ago and used his creative nous to turn it into a boutique delight; 16 rooms each with their own individual style and feel, but all cosy, comfortable and cool.

Interesting knick-knacks adorn the walls throughout this elegant period bolthole and the whole building surrounds a tranquil, oasis-like courtyard which is a bit of a morning sun trap and has a gentle plunge pool.

Blackheath Lodge is small enough to have a very personal touch – the chef bustles out of the kitchen in the morning and cooks your eggs to order, and the incredibly friendly team are on hand to help you plan your next adventure – they even have a cute convertible mini which you can hire for day trips down the coast.

It was a wonderfully peaceful home amid the hustle and bustle of the big city, and it made the perfect base camp for our next outing; horse-riding on the legendary Noordhoek beach.

There is something truly staggering about this enormous stretch of sand, bordered by sea on one and imposing mountains on the other.

The weather had finally turned and it was a beautiful day; gently trotting down the beach while the waves lapped at our hooves was an almost spiritual experience.

We then cruised down the peninsula south of the city, which has some marvellous spots – the Cape of Good Hope, bohemian enclave Kalk Bay and the adorable penguin colony on Boulders Beach.

Another must do is scaling Table Mountain – at least by cable car - where the view of the hills rolling into the city and out into the crisp blue ocean are simply breath-taking.

The fact there was a bar at the top was the icing on the cake frankly.

For the final leg of our trip we headed to the much lauded Camps Bay, west of the city.

It’s hard not to like anywhere with white sandy beaches, palm trees and an awesome mountainous back drop, and while some of the bars on the strip are a bit Benidorm, most are pretty classy and dish up oysters and white wine while you gaze out to sea.

We fancied a spot of luxury on our last night and Pod was just the ticket – a very cool little hotel.

Our room was simple, yet elegant and had its own private plunge pool.

And their complementary late check-out was perfect for our evening flight, letting us enjoy a few extra hours, round the sophisticated pool, overlooking the beach and watching our final sunset.

There’s no doubt Cape Town is a stunning destination – the tiny time difference and great exchange rate make it very attractive for Londoners.

It’s also surrounded by some absolutely amazing places, like Kalk Bay and Stellnebosch, so make sure you take the time to get out of the city centre.