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Cape Town, South Africa: From A to Z, Part 1

Like most people, I love to travel but hate to fly. The crowds, the jostling, the lines, and, worst of all, the hours of unrelenting boredom relieved only by the occasional bag of pretzels (stale) or temper tantrum (mine). And so, when I learned that a trip to Cape Town would require a 14-hour nonstop to Johannesburg, followed by another 2-hour flight to Cape Town, I jokingly thought, "Man, this place better have literally everything. I want beaches and mountains and wineries! I want chi-chi restaurants and waterfront bars and postcard views! I want rolling vineyards and world-class wines and great food and a vibrant downtown and historic architecture and sweeping vistas and. . ."

Impossibly . . . Cape Town had all of it.

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In fact, Cape Town is the only city I've ever visited that's so scenic, drivers pull onto the shoulder of a busy highway, jump out of their car, and literally risk death just to take a selfie.

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I, of course, would never do something so silly just for a photo.

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And as if all that weren't nearly enough . . . they also have penguins.

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In the end, Cape Town was such an embarrassment of riches that in the time it would take you to read a day-by-day, chronological recounting of our trip, you could have just flown there yourself. And so, here's my (mostly) A to Z list of the most beautiful, breathtaking, and beguiling reasons to visit Cape Town. [NOTE: This trip was pre-Covid. I wouldn't spend 14 hours on a plane now unless, well, it was going to Cape Town.]

AZURE
We decided to have Christmas Eve dinner at Azure, the five-star restaurant at Cape Town's 12 Apostles Hotel. Twelve apostles, twelve days of Christmas, seemed appropriate.

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Azure overlooks both Camps Bay and Lions Head Mountain, and even though just one of those would constitute a spectacular view anywhere else in the world, this is Cape Town, where such views are the norm. It's like Malibu and Tuscany went on a wine-fueled bender, resulting in the world's most beautiful baby.

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And you know the food is good when it can distract you from the postcard views outside.

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Plus, the dessert was smokin'.

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BUITENVERWACHTING
One of the things I loved most about Cape Town was how far in advance they take restaurant reservations...that is, until September rolled around and I found that my first and second choices for Christmas lunch were already booked. That, however, turned out to be one of the best things that's ever happened to me, because otherwise I'd never have discovered Buitenverwaching [Bite-en-ver-VACHT-ing] and their delicious, decadent, top-five-meals-in-my-life Christmas spectacular.

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I originally thought we'd dine outside on the patio, but the gracious reservationist, Lanita, recommended the glass-enclosed terrace for a better view. She did not steer us wrong.

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Our seven-course lunch included mozzarella espuma; marinated tuna with pan-fried baby gem lettuce and black garlic; quail saltimbocca with curried popcorn jus, chorizo, and truffles; and braised beef with crispy morels and taro crema.

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All paired with Buitenverwachting's excellent wines, of course.

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So much wine, in fact, that I could have sworn they served my dessert in a little Santa sled.

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In fact, the only bad thing I have to say about Buitenverwachting is that they continue to torture me with emails regarding all of the other spectacular-sounding food and wine events they're hosting, so much so that we have considered moving halfway around the world to Cape Town just so we can become regulars here.

I mean, it's not the world's worst plan.

CHAPMAN'S PEAK
Chapman's Peak is located on the western side of the Cape Peninsula, between Hout Bay and Noordhoek. The western flank of the mountain drops precipitously into the Atlantic Ocean and a road, known as Chapman's Peak Drive, hugs the near-vertical face of the mountain. Obviously this is not dangerous at all.

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Part of the road is carved directly into the mountain, which handily combines acrophobia and claustrophobia for those who are short on time.

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DELAIRE GRAFF ESTATE
In the U.S., Graff is known for outsized diamonds and Oscar-night jewels. But in over-the-top Cape Town, Graff is known as a paradise for wine enthusiasts, foodies, spa-goers, and art collectors . . . and those inclined to pick up a $1.2 million diamond over lunch.

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Delaire means "from the sky," and it's a fitting name for a vineyard nestled on the Helshoogte Mountain Pass, which links two of South Africa's most famous wine-growing regions, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

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Our day at Delaire began with lunch on the terrace, where we enjoyed excellent food, stellar views, and solicitous service.

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Breathtaking as they are, the mountains aren't the only African works of art around here.

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Though the day's weather was perfect, it was easy to see how cozy the indoor dining room would be in winter.

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After lunch, we retired to the wine lounge for a customized tasting.

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The wines were fantastic; so much so that we placed a very large order to be shipped home. Otherwise we'd definitely have picked up a 10-carat diamond on our way out.

ERNIE ELS
One of the highlights of the wine-country town of Stellenbosch is La Gratitude, a gorgeous 17th century Cape Dutch style mansion that houses apartments, offices, and a restaurant owned by South African pro golfer Ernie Els.

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Upstairs, the private Founder's Club is a chic, clubby spot to retire with a whiskey after dinner.

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But on this day, the warm, sunny weather dictated that we retire to the garden.

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Oh, look, it's my living room window.

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FETA CHEESE AND FANCY COCKTAILS
Trust me, I wasn't expecting feta to be on the list of reasons to visit Cape Town, either. But when you split your time between New York City and the Hamptons, where feta is stingily doled out with tweezers in pieces that are both the size and price of pearls, you know a world-class bargain when you see one.

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I was, however, expecting fancy cocktails from this cosmopolitan (heh-heh) city, and Cape Town did not disappoint. One of our favorite spots was The Bungalow, a chic beachfront spot in Clifton.

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Another was Ginja in the V&A Waterfront, a stylish spot with killer views of Table Mountain.

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And still more feta.

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GUARDIAN PEAK
Guardian Peak's philosophy, "Live with Wine," is built on the winery's belief that wine and food should be inseparable in our daily diet. Huh. Apparently I've been on a diet my entire adult life.

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Nestled under the towering peak on Stellenbosch Mountain for which it is named, Guardian Peak's stunning estate includes a winery, restaurants, expansive terrace, and well-stocked shop.

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After a customized tasting, we moved indoors to a window-side table for a multi-course lunch.

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Yes, "ladies"-sized cuts of beef. Obviously they haven't met this lady.

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HIKING LION'S HEAD MOUNTAIN
I usually prefer to do my hiking in ballet flats and white pants, or on a bike so I don't have to walk. But when I heard that Lion's Head rewarded a beginner-level hike with sweeping views of the entire city, I bought a pair of cute boots and decided to give it a go.

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As we drew nearer, the enormity of the mountain, and the stupidity of our task, became clear.

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But it was a beautiful day -- Christmas Day! -- and so we foolishly stumbled off into the bush with no water, no sunscreen, and no sense.

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Obviously I had no business being on a sheer vertical rock face with nothing but a flimsy chain between me and death by clumsiness...but the views made the risk worth it.

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And did I mention the ladders? I mean, if using one just to clean your gutters is dangerous, then using one to climb up a mountain is downright suicidal.

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Sure, it was an unconventional way to spend Christmas morning, but that was nothing compared to the penguin-palooza to come.
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Posted by TraceyG 16:05 Archived in South Africa Tagged twelve_apostles cape_town south_africa stellenbosch chapmans_peak azure buitenverwachting constantia delaire delaire_graff la_gratitude guardian_peak lions_head Comments (7)

Cape Town, South Africa: From A to Z, Part 2

JOY
The oldest residential neighborhood in Cape Town, Bo Kaap is known for its charming, joyfully colorful houses.

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Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, Bo Kaap is the historical center of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town and the oldest surviving residential neighborhood in the city.

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KHAYELITSHA
A shameful relic of apartheid, Cape Town's Khayelitsha district was formed in the early 1980s when Xhosa-speaking Blacks from the Eastern Cape moved westward to Cape Town in search of work. The apartheid regime sought to solve this "problem" by establishing new Black neighborhoods -- including Khayelitsha, which means "new home" in Xhosa -- on the outskirts of Cape Town, then forcefully relocating the Black population to these districts. In reality, the Xhosas' "new home" is the world's fifth-largest slum.

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Heartbreakingly, cardboard boxes and corrugated-metal shipping containers, which stretch as far as the eye can see, still serve as home to almost 400,000 people.

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Khayelitsha photos are not mine.

To help the residents of Khayelitsha or one of Cape Town's other districts, visit Arm in Arm in Africa.

LA PETITE TARTE
If Khayelitsha is the worst of Cape Town, then the city's trendy De Waterkant neighborhood -- an area once inhabited by slaves but now home to both Blacks and whites -- shows that cultural diversity makes an area more vibrant and interesting. Today De Waterkant features cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafés, a diverse popuation, and a great little bistro, La Petite Tarte.

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It's like they knew I was coming.

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La Petite looks like a shabby chic farmhouse, minus the stray cats and plus the extra charm.

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La Petite's menu was so good that we couldn't just order just one entrée. Which is how we ended up having bobotie, a Croque Monsieur, and a chicken pot pie for lunch.

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What is bobotie, you ask? Pronounced "ba-BOH-tee," it's a classic South African baked casserole of curried ground beef with a creamy, custard-like egg topping. So kind of like a spicy Shepherd's pie, if Shepherd's pie was one of the best things you'd ever tasted.

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We even behaved ourselves.

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Just kidding.

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MOUETTE
La Mouette, which means "the seagull," is housed in an Tudor building in Sea Point that was once home to the town's mayor.

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It was the perfect choice for Christmas dinner, suffused with soft amber light and warmed by cozy fireplaces.

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The visually stunning five-course tasting menu didn't hurt, either. Who wouldn't want parmesan custard(!!!) with cauliflower and hazelnut crumble; braised short ribs with celery root tacos; burrata with honeycomb and arugula oil; and herbed gnocchi with edible twigs and and truffle snow, all topped off with a gorgeous passionfruit curd with coconut and mango sorbet for dessert?

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Most charming of all? The chef had saved all of his original, handwritten recipes from his early days as a cook, then framed them for display when he finally got his own restaurant.

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Now that's the kind of place I can (celery) root for.

OWL COTTAGE
We knew we'd be doing a lot of driving on this trip -- from Sea Point to Stellenbosch, Clifton to Constantia, and points in between -- and so we chose our home base carefully. That turned out to be the chic seaside suburb of Hout Bay.

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We decided to stay at Owl Cottage, a charming bungalow in the Victorskloof area with a veranda overlooking the sea and Chapman's Peak, and a sweet, flower-filled patio out back.

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Inside, the cottage was bright and spacious.

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And my sister made sure it was decked out for Christmas, with a pair of homemade, safari-themed stockings.

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They were perfect for smuggling home a couple of blocks of feta.

PENGUINS
After lunch on Christmas Day, I got the best Christmas present of all time: A trip to Boulders Beach in False Bay to the see the penguins.

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African penguins are obviously adorable, but they are also hilarious, clumsily waddling about, falling asleep at inopportune times, and adopting a little spread-eagle stance when it's time for a rest.

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ROUNDHOUSE
On our first night in Cape Town, we knew we'd be exhausted from the flight and ready for some pampering. And so we chose The Roundhouse, an upscale spot nestled under Table Mountain and overlooking Camps Bay.

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Founded in 1786, the Roundhouse was originally built as a guardhouse for the Dutch East India Company, as the location was ideally situated to keep watch of enemy ships. Today it is ideally situated to have a great arrival-night meal, which on this night included cured trout with miso and tahini puree; steamed kingklip with burnt apple and fish-bone cream; beef in Rooikrans (an evergreen also known as acacia cyclops) coal oil; lamb belly with carrot and cashew puree; and Karoo Farm ostrich with caramelized milk, turnip, and sunchoke.

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Dessert #1 featured buffalo yogurt with carrot and satsuma sorbets and white chocolate caramel, while Dessert #2, which was described only as "coconut, rose, lychee, green tea," featured ice cream "soil" and a swirl of dry ice.

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STELLENBOSCH
Affectionately referred to as "Stellies," Stellenbosch is South Africa’s second oldest town and the epicenter of the Cape Winelands region.

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It's also great place to wonder why you don't just move here already.

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TOKARA
Tokara Estate is situated over 1,300 feet above sea level on top of the Helshoogte Pass outside Stellenbosch. I have no idea how to pronounce "Helshoogte," but after a wine tasting here, the variations are endless.

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The drive alone to Tokara is worth the trip.

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In addition to wine, Tokara offers tastings of its four different types of extra virgin olive oil.

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V&A WATERFRONT
The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is the oldest working harbor in the southern half of the world. It also offers one of the most stunning vistas in the city, which is saying a lot in a place like Cape Town.

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No, we didn't ride the Ferris wheel. When I miraculously made it down from Lion's Head alive, I decided not to push my luck with any more high-risk activities.

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WHISKEY
World-class whiskey in wine country? You bet your bitters there is.

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Home to one of the largest whiskey collections in the Southern Hemisphere -- over 500 whiskies from nearly every producing region in the world -- Bascule Bar in the Cape Grace Hotel complements the hotel’s nautical vibe, located as it is down a narrow stairway leading to what might well be the hull of a ship.

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You can even get your own whiskey locker.

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X, Y, Z
Look, I got nothing for these letters. We played no xylophones, we ate no yams, and we covered the zebras in my safari posts. So how about some more penguins?

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You may have spent the pandemic baking bread, organizing your closets, and learning to play the ukulele, but I spent it not blogging. But now I'm back, baby, and there's at least a year's worth of trips to catch up on! Up next? Anguilla, Antigua, St. John, and any other island that will permit disease-ridden Americans to enter the country. Click here to subscribe and you'll be the first to know when there's a new post to get you through the continuing hellscape that is the year 2021!

Posted by TraceyG 13:43 Archived in South Africa Tagged cape_town penguins south_africa stellenbosch roundhouse bobotie bo_kaap la_petite_tarte bar_bascule owl_cottage host_bay la_mouette tokara Comments (1)

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