Cape Town had picked my interest ever since I interviewed the talented Jann from Lucky Fish. I kept hearing how stunning the location of the city is, with the waves of the Atlantic ocean breaking large on its shores. How vibrant is the creative and food scene, rejuvenated after years of repression during Apartheid. How laid back is the mood. The NYTimes even had it top of its travel list recently. And all of this is true. We’ve lived like true Capetonians for 10 days and have enjoyed our balanced life of locals at the beach vs. tourists at the many landmarks (all within an easy car ride).
It was the children’s first time in Africa, and they were excited at this selling line. However, there’s one thing that we had not fully anticipated. You do not really feel like you are in Africa in Cape Town, at least the Black Africa that I have known and loved after visiting countries like Zimbabwe, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. This was, I admit, a naive and poorly-thought expectation. Cape Town is a modern and very westernised city, and mostly white (at least at first sight). Our friends explained that the lack of mixed skin colours is the sad result of years of apartheid and the fact that the extreme geography (mountains and coast line) of the city prevented the mixture even after the end of apartheid.
I am breaking our stay into two posts. Here I talk about what we enjoyed in Cape Town. And a post will follow about all the day trips / short trips that we took within a 2h drive.
Our base was an ultra charming bungalow on Clifton’s 4th beach that we rented from former Elle Decoration editor Kerryn Fischer. Kerryn now runs the editorial content agency Frank Features, and you can see photos of her beautiful beach pad here. Kerryn had prepared a list of what do to / where to go and we simply followed her recommendations and lived like Capetonians for 10days, going around with our rental car, getting pizzas at the local restaurant and walking down to the beach for sunset.
I’M SO HUNGRY
- Roundhouse Restaurant: this was one of our favourite places to hang out for a big breakfast. Wooden tables are casually (chic) set on the grass, high up above Clifton beach with a view to die for. It’s a bit hidden in the woods as you drive up towards Table Mountain so keep an eye for the road sign. It’s best to reserve (as everything in CT during December!) but we never did, and always found a solution.
- Willoughby’s, in the waterfront: ok, this is a real locals place! it’s inside a mall (a shopping mall! horror!), there’s no natural light, you queue to get a table. And it’s great!! We ate the freshest fish at the best prices!! All sorts of dishes on the long menu, but the sushi are particularly delicious. We had a great meal on our last night in town, followed by a ride on the big wheel at midnight (crazy! with 3 young children! that’s what vacations are for..)
- The Saturday morning farmers market at The Old Biscuit Mill: there are over 100 specialty traders selling their produce and handicrafts every saturday morning (starting at 9am, get there early as it gets crowded) and you get to sample delicious and creative food that you can then eat at one of the long communal table. Another locals’ gem!
- The Pot-Luck Club: there’s a big foodie scene in Cape Town at the moment, and this restaurant is the star of the current hype. Local chef Luke Dale-Roberts is behind the Pot Luck, and also the Test Kitchen and Gallery in Woodstock. You literally need to book months ahead (crazy! especially as there were at least 1/3 of the tables empty when we went..) but it’s worth it: delicious small-plates, creative dishes but not crazy that you don’t know what you’re eating, and prices defying any London / New York buzz places.
- Loading Bay on Waterkant Street: for one of the best coffee in town and hip style all around. It’s tiny but a nice little stop while visiting the beautiful interior shops all around. You can have lunch there too.
- The Grand Cafe & beach (the one near the Waterfront): everyone talks about this place so we thought we’d check it out for our last lunch. Huge pizza from the fire-oven and feet in the sand, it’s definitely an easy place with the children who can run around barefoot and make as much noise as they want. But it’s a little much to my taste, a mix of hippie-chic Ibiza style (i’ve never been to Ibiza but that’s their selling line!) with crystal chandelier hanging by the wooden bar and fancy cars parked prominently in the entrance.
WHAT DO WE DO NOW?
Going up Table Mountain was definitely the highlight of our stay. We heard of a few courageous families who hiked it up (apparently 3 to 4hours steep up) but we took the cable car and it was an amazing experience in itself. Better to go midday when there are less tourists..or plan to queue for the beautiful sunset views.
- Enjoying the beach: Clifton Beach 4th is the most popular with families. There’s a little cafe right there. And big cold waves.
- Walking around the Waterfront is a bit of a touristy thing but fun at night (especially with a stop for sushi, read above!) with a tour on the big wheel!
- Touring the colourful neighbourhood of Bo-Kaap (not too far from the Waterfront) and learning a bit about its fascinating history.
- Driving along Chapman’s Peak, one of the prettiest and scenic coastal drive. This was actually my very favorite thing to do..so much that we took this stunning coastal road at least 3 times during our stay (there’s a toll fee, be warned)
- Listening to a concert of jazz pianist superstar Ibrahim Abdullah under the stars while the children were looked after at home by super sweet babysitter Elizabeth.
CAN I HAVE IT?
My absolute favorite purchases are:
- one – actually two! – Christmas trees made of drift wood bought on a roadside on the way to the beach.
- carpets made of baobab fibers, also bought on the side of the road from a really kind woman who also came from Zimbabwe. I bought 2 carpets from her, not sure where I would put them (and actually not even sure how i would check them in the plane). But they were too beautiful to pass, and she was too poor to think twice.
In Cape Town, there were quite a few great shops for handicrafts:
- Africa Nova, in Cape Quarter on Waterkant Street (this ‘hood had quite a few great shops): really stunning pieces not only from SA but also Namibia, Burkina Faso, Senegal..
- We found a few gifts at The Old Biscuit Mill, during the Saturday market.
- This article from Conde Nast Traveller published last Nov is a must-print for the best shops in CT, put together by editor Sarah Khan.
I AM SLEEPY
We rented a house, and it seems to be the accommodation of choice in CT as there are lots of properties with good style to choose from. The site Behomm, which I absolutely love (f only, for drooling!) has quite a few available for exchange in Cape Town. But if you do prefer a hotel, here are a few highly recommended names (although we did not visit any):
Tintswalo Atlantic, on Chapman’s Peak Drive in Hout Bay looked particularly amazing and was recently fully redone (after a fire). It’s seclusion with breathtaking ocean views and lots of activities on site.
The Granddaddy on Long Street right in the city center is a fun hotel with a penthouse trailer park on its rooftop, accommodating an amazing collection of vintage Airstream caravans! The view gives onto Table Mountain..quite a special place to experiment!
Daddy Long Legs is a super central, budget-friendly boutique backpackers – with some self-catering apartment offering accommodation for 4..!- where each room is decorated by a local artist, a poet, a photographer..
A FEW MORE TIDBITS & USEFUL LINKS
- For Bicycle Lanes and paths: here
- If you ever need a paediatrician in CT, Dr Lauren Lee was a saver! (Lior had another of his asthma / bronchiolitis crisis but we avoided a hospital stay this time..pff! firstname.lastname@example.org tel: 021 434 2244
- On our last day, we met a very friendly tour guide named Ozan Yerlikaya whose company, called Travel Designer, can arrange day tours or entire trips not only in South Africa but all over the region. While we did not work with him, I enjoyed his energy and personalised approach. This is his site .
- Be careful to the legislation when entering the country with children. You must carry with you clear proof that your children are yours (i.e. official birth certificates etc..). They are very strict and gave us a little stress when our French documentation was at first not what they expected! Inform yourself before going to the airport..
I’ll be posting soon on the many day trips that we took: Robben Island in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, the Cape of Good Hope at the tip of Africa, Boulder’s Beach and the beautiful penguins, our scenic drives, and our marvellous stay at Babylonstoren in the wine country.
Stay tuned, I will try not to be too long this time *_*