How European sophistication dances to a distinctly African beat
Time Out Bahrain staff
The Mother City, Cape of Good Hope, Tavern of the Seas, Cape of Storms, Cape Town: it doesn’t matter what you call this vibrant, lively city at the southern tip of Africa, as long as you’re able to call it home – whether it’s for a day or a lifetime. Cape Town is a city blessed with spectacular natural bounty, a diverse floral kingdom, an unusually flat mountain and an expansive, icy ocean. While its roots are firmly in Africa, giving it an eclectic energy and funky vibe, its European influences are palpable in its fabulous gourmet food, as well as the contemporary design, architecture and art.
Even Cape Town’s bitter history is now mapped out in tourist attractions. Colonial rule left the pentagonal fortification of the Castle of Good Hope; more recent oppression under apartheid made Robben Island prison famous as the place where Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years. The Cape’s legacy of slavery is remembered in the Cape Minstrel Carnival on January 2, traditionally the only day slaves were allowed off, and the slaves’ architectural prowess can be admired in the Bo-Kaap area.
Some divisions persist from the days of apartheid – leafy suburbia remains mostly ‘white’, less affluent neighbourhoods are mostly ‘coloured’ – and violent crime, although it is decreasing, remains a problem in some parts of the city. Yet modern Cape Town is also a fusion of the best the world has to offer: from the French-speaking Congolese trader in a flea market to a beachfront ice-cream seller punting his wares in colourful Cape patois, the city is a crucible of languages, people and culture. Capetonians and visitors indulge in activities as diverse as whale-watching from the coastline, hunting for antiques in laid-back Kalk Bay, soaking up the sun at some of the trendy Camps Bay beachfront bars, sourcing fresh, organic produce at a local market, hiking up Table Mountain or lazing under the trees at Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens as a band plays on the stage.
A walk up mad, bad Long Street entertains with cutting-edge shops, lively bars and great after-hours bites. Further along, up Kloof Street, the mood is more lattés and lace, with boutiques, trendy coffee shops and fine interior finds. Wherever you go, there’s something cool and quirky to experience. And even the locals never tire of the iconic Table Mountain, a view best enjoyed with a glass of the Cape’s finest, of course.
Getting there Qatar Airways and Ethiopian Airlines fly to Cape Town via Doha and Addis Ababa with return fares from about BD340 (incl. tax).
No one needs a refresher viewing of Happy Feet to be convinced that penguins can be entertaining, and the jackass penguins that nest on Boulders Beach never fail to raise a smile. There are more than 3,000 in residence, ducking over boulder to slide into the surf.
Named for its distinctive donkey-like honk, the jackass is more accurately known as the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus): although some South American penguins also bray, this is the only species to breed in Africa. The African penguin grows to about 70cm tall and weighs up to 4kg. For all its Charlie Chaplin gait on land, in water it is impressive: an average swimming speed of 7kph isn’t bad (roughly the same as Michael Phelps), but the top speed is nearer 20kph.
Calm, warm-ish waters and the opportunity to swim with penguins have made Boulders popular with tourists, and since 2004 the Simonstown Penguin Festival has been a firm fixture on Cape Town’s calendar in mid-September.
The best of the rest of South Africa
Cape Town might be the jewel in the crown, but Africa’s most prosperous country has a plethora of tourist options not to be missed. We check out the best
Kruger National Park
One of South Africa’s oldest, largest and best known national parks, this 20,000 square kilometre leviathan of conservation supports 14 different eco zones and is home to all the big five. By African standard, the parks infrastructure is superb, making getting around a doddle. You can drive your own car or, better still, hire a guide and a driver and head off into the bush. This is also one of the few national parks to offer walking safaris, which gets you much closer to nature. For the latter, contact www.africawalkingsafaris.co.za
Garden Route One of Africa’s best know road trips, hiring a car and driving along the stretch of coast that bridges the country’s Western and Eastern Capes, this is the place to get an idea of the ridiculous beauty of Africa’s southernmost seaboard. Traditionally thought to be between Mossel Bay and St Francis (though many people make the trip between Cape Town and Pot Elizabeth), this route passes through cute small towns with great seafood restaurants and reasonably priced bed and breakfasts, along with some of the continent’s best beaches. Although, at a push, you can do this in a day, spending four days on the road gives you a chance to really absorb the sea air.
Johannesburg South Africa’s biggest metropolis has got a bad reputation. It is dirty, chaotic and violent to boot. It is also the country’s beating heart and, as the World Cup demonstrated earlier this year, is not nearly as dangerous as is frequently reported, though it pays to take care. The famous township of Soweto, the former home of both Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is a must see. It is here that the roots of the anti-apartheid movement took hold – make sure you don’t miss the Apartheid Museum.
Kimberly South Africa’s ‘Wild West’, Kimberly is the centre of the country’s lucrative diamond mining, and is famous Big Hole, an open pit mine from which 22.7 billion kilograms of rock have been removed, yielding 2722 kilograms of diamonds. There are numerous great museums here documenting the industry, after which, head out into some of the most desolate and spectacular savannah on the continent.
Stellenbosch South Africa’s second oldest city after Cape Town, and the centre of the country’s thriving wine region, this pleasant university town is historic, full of great restaurants and some nice hotels and boasts a Mediterranean climate. Most people come here to sample the vino, for which this region is known around the world.