A Hedonist's Guide to Cape Town
|HARBOR LIGHTS: Cape Town's Victoria & Albert Waterfront (Martin Harvey/Digital Vision/Getty)|
Prepare to be seduced by the sexiest, most sophisticated city on the continent, and one of the most beautiful on the planet. One of only two urban centres in the world with a national park running through it, the city fringes a vast natural playground, and offers that rare combination of mountain and sea, the proximity such that the slopes drop perpendicularly into a coastline lined with crescents of white sand.
Table Mountain National Park measures only 22,000 hectares yet includes more plant species than the entire British Isles or those of New Zealand. Aside from that well-trotted out fact, where else can you can drive along a major highway and spot wildlife grazing on the mountain slopes and, within 20 minutes of the city's compact, bustling centre, drink glorious wines in historic wine estates, surrounded by vineyards and craggy peaks?
The Cape of Good Hope was born as a garden in 1652, when the Dutch East India Company established it as a victualling station for ships passing between Europe and the East. There was never any real intention of transforming it into a permanent colony, but the abundance of fresh water, arable soil and temperate climate(not to mention the gentle nature of the nomadic San and Khoi who combed the beaches at the time) saw it not only flourish, but become a much desired outpost, fought over by the Dutch and the English, even as the German and French settled on its slopes, along with slaves from Indonesia, Mozambique, Angola, and India.
In fact, by the end of the 17th century, slaves outnumbered the Europeans, and their influence remains to this day: their mixed race descendents, known locally as "Coloureds", comprise the majority of the population, and provide the city with a unique cultural tone.
Historically, Cape Town's restorative beauty has always been a magnet for illustrious visitors, and a favoured bolthole for celebrities, yet it has always had a perception of itself as a small, slightly parochial city. But things are changing rapidly.
With the announcement that South Africa was to be the first country in Africa to host the FIFA World Cup in June 2010, the city embarked on the most concentrated effort to improve and prettify its streetscape yet. Construction projects have been immense and the gentrification and modernisation has made the city feel cutting edge and youthful, filling many with a renewed sense of pride and anticipation.
Cape Town may draw criticism for lacking the type of African identity that's recognisable in, say, Johannesburg or Durban, but it is hard not to appreciate the cosmopolitan nature of the country's oldest city. Cape Town has always had a distinctive creolised culture that reflects influences from just about every corner of the globe, and even today the city remains in flux, attracting African immigrants from as far afield as Somalia and the Congo, as well as a large flock of European swallows, here to nest far from their northern winters, or set up shop in the city's prime real estate belts, opening restaurants, bars and guest houses, their presence bringing a modern sensibility to the African beat. Like them, whether you've come to worship the sun, undertake a new adventure in the shadow of Table Mountain, or simply party up a storm, your stay here will transform you not simply into an enthused visitor, but a lifelong fan.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication