“This cape is the most stately thing,” Sir Francis Drake wrote in his journal in 1580. “The fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth.”
Who am I to question Sir Francis? But I thought I’d better hop in a helicopter just to be sure. We circle over Table Mountain, spot a couple of whales floating in the bay, soar round the majestic Lion’s Head peak and float down to land on the V&A Waterfront. Drake’s assertion confirmed: the cape is most certainly a stately thing.
When you think of Cape Town, wine regions and last summer’s World Cup come to mind. You certainly get a good view of the big stadium from a chopper, but sadly there’s a cloud hanging over the city and it needs to be blown away. This cloud comes in the form of safety concerns. In the run-up to football’s biggest event the media slammed South Africa for its crime rates, but this is a large country and, in a reputable World Cup visitor survey, Cape Town came up trumps for safety. Capetonians are proud of this and rightly so. They have cleaned up their city, renovations have taken place, and roads and airports now meet global standards comfortably.
Since we landed at the waterfront, it seems a natural place to start exploring the city. Dubai World has invested more than £600m in Cape Town’s Victoria & Albert Waterfront. And it shows. It’s well signposted, with spic and span decking and live music adding to the holiday-town atmosphere. Victorian buildings have been restored to their former glory and a vast selection of shops and restaurants look out over the docks.
There is also plenty in Cape Town for lovers of culture and history. The star-shaped Castle of Good Hope was built in 1679 and is the oldest surviving building in South Africa. We catch a ferry over to Robben Island to see where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned until his release in 1990.
For dinner, the Grand Café & Beach is the place to be. A converted boating shed in Granger Bay, the Grand has gone for an eclectic mix of old and new. Oversized chandeliers, Indian rugs and Parisian café furniture stand at odds with the corrugated walls. But it works. A warehouse-style door opens wide onto the beach, so you can choose to dine inside or out. We go for a table on the sand and order king clip fish and white wine. The menus are printed like a newspaper, tinted in the pink hue found throughout.
Preferring peace and quiet away from the city bustle, we stay at one of Cape Portfolios’ luxury serviced apartments. Perched on the rock face in the exclusive suburb of Clifton, you can lie back in the plunge pool looking out over the cool waves of the Atlantic.
The best thing about Cape Portfolios is the 24-hour concierge service. We wake up to the smell of pancakes cooking and pad through to the kitchen to be greeted by the smiley face of Gail van Niekerk, the chef who has popped in to prepare breakfast. Forget mass-produced buffet breakfasts, waiting lists at the spa and pesky pool opening-hours – with serviced apartments you can tailor-make your holiday. As if like clockwork, the bell rings after breakfast and the masseur arrives. Surely everyone knows it is essential to have a massage before heading to the vineyards?
South African wine is renowned around the world and when you’re in the area, it’s your duty to find out why. On the slopes behind Table Mountain lies the Constantia Valley, home to the most expensive property in South Africa. En-route, we stop at the Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. Part of the World Heritage Site of Cape Floral Kingdom, the gardens have over 22,000 species of indigenous plants. A few minutes’ drive on and we arrive at Constantia Uitsig, ready for our wine tasting before lunch at the vineyard’s River Café.
Continuing inland to Stellenbosch, the Waterford Estate is another unmissable stop on the wine tour. The dashing cellar master Francois Haasbroek shows us round the picture-perfect estate before we settle down to a tasting by the open fire. Wine and chocolate tasting is the name of the game, and the turkish delight chocolate served with pudding wine is so good you’ll have dreams about it. Waterford is the only South African wine stocked by Berry Bros, Britain’s oldest wine merchant, an accolade that speaks for itself.
We make our way up the Western Cape to Paarl for a wine and cheese tasting at the Fairview Winery. Founded in 1693, Fairview serves wine with a selection of eight cheeses and a good slice of humour – don’t miss Goats Do Roam. Each wine comes with a different cheese; for example the Fairview Voignier 2009 comes with white rock and apricot cheese. I particularly recommend the Pinotage Viognier blend, a world first, and quite delicious with a slice of local chakalaka cream cheese.
Driving around Cape Town’s wine region is a pleasure in itself. Roses, lilies, olive groves and vineyards line the roadside. The estates plant roses alongside the vineyards as a sensor because their delicate petals succumb to bugs and diseases before the grapes do. As for lilies, there are hundreds along the roadside because it’s illegal to pick them within 500m of the road.
The last stop on our wine tour is the Franschhoek Valley and the Mont Rochelle Vineyard, which specialises in wine tasting on horseback. We decide to spend a night in the valley at Franschhoek Haven, just a few minutes outside the village. Surrounded by lemon trees and scented with lavender, this luxury rustic cottage has an outdoor pool and bath, as well as a private golf driving range.
Franschhoek is known as the gourmet capital of South Africa, so we better get down to business. We wander down to the picturesque village lined with coffee shops and restaurants but there’s really only one place to go: Le Quartier Francais.
This boutique Relais & Châteaux hotel has a restaurant that is often called South Africa’s best. We head for the tasting room and choose the nine-course surprise menu, which doesn’t disappoint. The service is impeccable and the cuisine a form of art. With nasturtium foam, oysters, and blue gum honey (each course served with sherry, brut or wine), it’s an experience to rival anything Heston Blumenthal comes up with at the Fat Duck.