South Africa's Mother City
Cradled by a striking 360-degree panorama of a horseshoe-shaped mountain range and the sparkling sea, Cape Town is one of the most majestic metropolises on Earth. South Africa's Mother City has historically been a harbor destination, beginning with European merchants who would stop off on their way to the Indies through to today, where it remains a Riviera-like draw for a host of international tourists. That's changing, though, as progressives like Design Indaba founder Ravi Naidoo, Taj Hotel General Manager Michael Pownall and a collective of thoughtful artists and designers reshape people's perception of the town center. Home to the nation's Houses of Parliament, Cape Town's urban area is much more than its notorious Long Street—the city's main drag somewhat reminiscent of New Orleans' Bourbon Street. Together in post-Apartheid Cape Town, a melting pot of nationalities is generating a meaningful downtown community and exciting place to visit. As the World Design Capital for 2014, many more creative developments are sure to come.
Centrally located in the heart of downtown Cape Town, the Taj Hotel opened up in 2010 as an opulent antidote to the glossy hotels sprinkling the tourist-laden harbor. Its convenient proximity to the more intriguing urban offerings is just the tipping point. The Taj Cape Town boasts amazing views of Table and Lion's Head mountains and the sprawling city, including the historic Town Hall and Houses of Parliament. Nothing is left for want at Taj, and while geared toward the business-minded side of design, the rooms provide a tranquil atmosphere filled with Indian-inspired furnishings. Various rooms on the Wale Street side include a bathtub with a glass wall, allowing you to take in the majestic views while soaking in Molton Brown bubbles. Whether staying in the hotel or not, we recommend having a meal at Mint, the ground floor restaurant serving up consistently delicious fare. Try the traditional Indian breakfast, or, if you're staying at the hotel be sure to order the utterly fantastic jalapeño chili poppers—still deep fried, but a more delectable take on the classic American bar snack.
From the well-designed kitschy decor to the quirky yet super friendly staff, Royale is already a great place to grab a bite in Cape Town, but the burgers make it a must. Vegetarians will delight in an extensive menu of meat-free options, which includes patties made from lentils, marinated tofu, black beans, falafel or mushroom. Burger connoisseurs can also choose from a vast selection of meats including pork, pure beef, ostrich and lamb. If you don't start with a Classic Royale, the best bet is to go with one of their house concoctions. We recommend Jenga Jeng's BopBop burger, a beef or chicken base topped with pickles, tomatoes, red onions, homemade mustard-mayo and "Mama's Son of Bitch chili sauce". Located at the start of Long Street, dinner at Royale (be sure to book a table in advance) is a great way to start a night. Then head upstairs to The Waiting Room—a lounge that doubles as Royale's waiting room in the evening and a place to catch live bands or dance to DJs later on—or stroll over to Rafiki's about a half-mile away on Kloof Nek Road for some drinks on its expansive veranda.
Cape Town is surrounded by colossal mountains which provide a breathtaking backdrop no matter where you find yourself. While admiring them from afar is a great way to take in their beauty, we suggest you go for a hike. For an easier route, take the aerial cableway through the peaks of Table Mountain, which will give you a bird's eye view of things from the safety of a gondola. To take a less touristy path, try hiking up Lion's Head Mountain—although smaller in scale, here you can catch a glimpse of Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years) as well as the Atlantic Ocean coastline. You can reach the summit in under two hours, likely building up an appetite in the process. Wind your way down Kloof Nek, take a detour at Garden Center and head to charming Woodlands Eatery in the neighborhood of Vredehoek, a hilly area home to many of Cape Town's creative young professionals. Here you can relax over a thin-crust pizza and a craft beer from &Union or Darling Brew.
Anthony Gird and Michael de Klerk make Honest Chocolate right in the back of their Cape Town shop, dutifully stirring, molding and wrapping it all by hand. The duo's raw, organic cacao confections have become quite legendary both in town and abroad, and they continue to finesse their range, which currently includes mouthwatering bonbon truffles, infused chocolate bars packaged in paper designed by local Cape Town artists, and the ultimate chocolate spread for toast or fresh fruit. Whether you prefer dessert before or after a meal, there are two choice spots for lunch nearby on Bree Street. Birds Boutique Café is great for a fresh sandwich or savory bowl of pasta, or try Clarke's for a refined greasy spoon—the croissant-like buns on their burgers alone are worth a stop.
An ethereal landscape inspired by "the mythical garden of Babylon", Babylonstoren is located in Franschhoek, just 40 miles outside of Cape Town, north of the famous Stellenbosch vineyards. The 500-acre farm's diverse vegetation includes more than 300 varieties of organically grown plants, including prickly pears, peach trees, indigenous passion fruit and water lilies, pumpkin and more, offered up seasonally in their restaurant, Babel. A day trip to Baylonstoren is recommended for anyone short on time, but we suggest you stay in one of its 14 cottages to properly experience the surrounding Cape Winelands or Paarl Nature Reserve. Two vineyards on our list are Neil Ellis in the Jonkershoek Valley and Simonsig Estate, a founding member of the Stellenbosch Wine Route. Following that route will also lead you to the Stellenbosch Slow Food Market, open every Saturday from 9am-2pm.
Wash down lunch with a beer from &Union, a church-turned-brewery on Bree Street. Founding members of the "We Love Real Beer" micro-brewery movement, Brad Armitage and Rui Esteves opened up &Union out of a frustration for wanting quality, artisanal craft beer in Cape Town. Their handsomely packaged brews are now served in restaurants throughout South Africa, but perhaps the best way to catch the &Union small-batch vibe is at their casual beer garden establishment—a building that dates back to 1801.
The Woodstock Foundry opened in March 2012 as a bright and airy space intended for mixed creative use. Besides the working foundry, the three-story building also houses several design stores and studios, including O.live's, Dear Ray Jewelry, Selah, The Lobby Hair Shop and West Street Cafe—a great place to stop and relax over a glass of Pinotage or Viognier. On our visit, we had a chance to check out the remarkable Southern Guild exhibition, "Recollect", which featured a myriad of works by notable South African designers, such as Porky Hefer, Heath Nash, Holdane Martin, Bronze Age and Laduma Ngxokolo. For a look at South Africa's emerging contemporary artists, be sure to stop by the WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery a block away, housed in a striking white Cape Dutch style building.
As the meeting point for the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, the Cape Peninsula has a wide range of beaches to choose from. While none of them will be bound by particularly warm waters, what they lack in bathtub-temperature waves they make up for in idyllic scenery. The resort-like settings at Camps Bay or Clifton are easy to appreciate whether you're a beach bum or not, but on a hot day locals are likely to hit up the semi-private waterfront cove of Llandudno at Hout Bay. Karbonkelberg Mountain provides the backdrop to a white sand beach with crystal blue water, and the laid-back vibes make it the perfect spot to catch some rays or take in a dreamy sunset.
Prepare for a jaunt around Woodstock's renowned Old Biscuit Mill by starting at Espresso Lab Microroasters. The experimental coffee joint taps their arsenal of specialist machines—including a La Marzocco GB5, Ditting grinders and a Diedrich IR-7 roaster—to prepare the ethically sourced beans on the premises, keeping flavor at the forefront of their process. We sampled the fruity sun-dried beans from Kabado Dara, a farm in Sidamo, Ethiopia that is part of Operation Cherry Red—an initiative that challenges Ethiopian farmers to produce small batches of 100% red ripe cherries, which are naturally washed and pulped. Whether roasting beans from Africa, Panama or Brazil, Espresso Lab is serious about the slight nuances in each batch and adjusts on-site as they go. Once you have your fix, take a spin around the former mill, walk over to the freshly opened Salt Circle Arcade for bohemian threads or hit up Sir Lowry Strip to take in some of Woodstock's fine art galleries.
The brainchild of retail heiress Hanneli Rupert, Merchants on Long is a unique two-story boutique dedicated to contemporary African fashion. The Art Nouveau building houses an eclectic range of items, such as beautiful woven sweaters by Laduma Ngxokolo, Sawa shoes, Patrick Mavros jewelry, Ardmore Ceramics and Rupert's own beautiful leather goods line, Okapi. Rupert's expert eye, combined with her expansive knowledge of local artisans, makes Merchants a requisite for anyone seeking high design that thoroughly reflects the continent's vibrant minds. Located at the heart of Long Street, escape the busy bar scene after a stint of shopping by heading to the nearby Sky Bar at Grand Daddy Hotel, a rooftop saloon bedecked with seven vintage airstream trailers.