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CH Local: Cape Town

Four highlights from our guide on what not to miss in South Africa's Mother City

by Karen Day in Travel on 05 April 2012

Cradled by a striking 360-degree panorama of a horseshoe-shaped mountain range and the sparkling sea, Cape Town is one of the most gorgeous places 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 myriad 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 has generated a meaningful downtown community and exciting place to visit. As the World Design Capital for 2014, many more creative developments are sure to come.

To help navigate the bustling town center and beyond, we've added 10 jumping off points to our CH Local edition dedicated to Cape Town. Here are four highlights.

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Woodstock Foundry

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, Haldane Martin, Bronze Age and Laduma Ngxokolo.

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For a look at South Africa's emerging contemporary artists, be sure to stop by the WHATIFTHEWORLD gallery a block away, housed in a crisp white Cape Dutch style building. Currently on view is "Truth Lies Here", a solo show by Cape Town-based artist Dan Halter, who explores the "integration and disintegration of the fabric" of his native Zimbabwe.

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Royale Eatery

From the well-designed kitschy decor to the equally quirky yet super friendly staff, Royale Eatery 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 a mushroom. Burger connoisseurs can also choose from a selection of meats including pork, pure beef, ostrich and lamb. If you don't start with a Classic Royale (or the recently added Burgerac burger), 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".

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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.

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Taj Hotel

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 below—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 dotted 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 going while soaking in Molton Brown bubbles.

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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.

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Honest Chocolate

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 Capetonian artists, and the ultimate chocolate spread for toast or fresh fruit.

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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 super fresh sandwich or savory bowl of pasta, or try Clarke's for a refined greasy spoon—the croissant-like buns on their burger are worth stopping by for alone.

For more great jumping off points, check out our full CH Local: Cape Town guide.

With contributions from Cape Town designer Craig Pickard

Photos by Karen Day

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