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May 09, 2012

Cape Town’s hidden gems – our experience

Mary Tebje, from MTA Tourism Leisure, and Adel Grobler, from Imagine Communications, visited Cape Town courtesy of Cape Town Tourism. This is the second in a series of three blogs, which reveals their journey to some of the city’s unexpected hot spots.

Wine and chocolate make for a great if not unexpected ombination

Just as Cape Town is full of the unexpected, so was our next visit! We headed to the Cape Town International Convention Centre to meet Deon, our paddle-board instructor and keen surfer, who was ready to show us an alternative mode of transport along the quiet canals that flow into the V&A Waterfront. Paddle-boarding is a favourite with celebrities, who seem to be impossibly stuck to the board, and Deon showed us how easy it could be, after a few sessions, so I have to save that for a return visit.

The Camissa (sweet water) stream flows down the mountainside and past the Platteklip Wash Houses, a little gem of a place with amazing access right onto Table Mountain. Named after the slave women who used to trek up the slopes to beat and clean the laundry on the flat rocks on the banks of the stream, it is a wonderful taste of the wilderness in the city, with only the stars and the mountain as your backdrop.

According to the Wine Tourism Handbook 2012, wine is one of the few products that effortlessly reflects its origin and influences...the soils, climate and winemaker all have a hand in crafting a particular type and taste. And wine is a thread that has been woven through the history and social development of the Cape, not least of all on the farms in the northern suburbs, which was home to our next stop, Durbanville Hills.

Kate, who showed us around the winery, quickly dispelled our image of a dark cellar filled with old wooden barrels. We marvelled at each 35,000l tank of their famous sauvignon blanc, which was tantalisingly within reach, but not available to us as we had to wait for the wine tasting. The tasting included chocolate, biltong, beef sticks and six lovely wines served up in a magnificent and modern tasting room. We were assailed by a few new taste combinations, not least of all the Cape Malay spiced chocolate served with an equally spicy shiraz. Who knew that a white lemon verbena chocolate, combined with a glass of unoaked chardonnay would recreate the taste of a lemon cream cookie?

Township guitars at the Guga S’Thebe Arts and Cultural Centre

The view of Table Mountain and Table Bay in the distance was a lovely distraction during our delicious lunch of local dishes, including another Cape Malay curry. Who could resist?

We spent the night at the local, and friendly, Feathers Lodge, before joining a rowdy party at the Barnyard for a musical tour of the world.

The District Six museum, established in 1994 uses the memories, experiences and history of those involved in the forced removals that took place between 1966 and 1980, when 60,000 local residents were removed to outlying areas now known as the Cape Flats. Bulldozers flattened their houses in District Six and much of the rubble taken to the Waterfront and used as landfill.
Our guide Norman, from Roots Africa Tours, told us that the word ‘shanty’ is from two old Irish words; shan, meaning old, and ty, meaning house. Two of the areas on the Cape Flats are Khayelitsha and Langa. Khayelitsha is a local word that means ‘new home’, while Langa means ‘sun’.

Meerkats at the Bay Harbour market

The Guga S’Thebe Arts and Cultural Centre in Langa is wonderfully decorated with ceramic murals and within the centre we found artists creating ceramics, water colours and textiles. We visited Sandile Mdekazi’s mosaic studio, and watched him work on new pieces to be sold in the cultural centre and he hoped, further afield.  We visited the Pilane ‘Go Well’ Project, which was established in 1995 in Khayelitsha, to teach women traditional weaving skills and who would then be in a position to start their micro-businesses. Guess who dived into the shop and emerged with armfuls of goodies?

By now we were getting hungry, and it was time to visit a restaurant that has appeared in the media around the world – Mzoli’s. Fine dining it is not, but if you are fan of braaied meat, then this will be your idea of heaven. Busy on a Friday afternoon, the weekend had clearly started early, and the locals were seated around big platters of meat smothered in BBQ sauce. Dotted about where a few conspicuous tourists, bravely tucking into local delicacy chakalaka (spicy salsa) with pap (smooth maize porridge). This is definitely a place to get your hands dirty with delicious food, and the chance to live like a local.

We spent a quiet evening in the SWI Lodge, which has rave reviews from almost everyone we came in contact with. We tried to stay out of the way of a wedding party that was busy adding finishing touches to their banquet taking place the next day, and so retired to a local restaurant to get stuck into some ostrich steaks – must have been delayed meat withdrawal from the lunch stop earlier.

Art on the Wash house walls

Cape Town is often accused of being full of good-looking, yoga mat holding, trendy people, and we may have found the place where they all meet. The Cape Quarter bills itself as a lifestyle village, with plenty of opportunities for shopping and people watching. Of course, we wanted to scoop up even more goodies to take home, but with suitcases already full we had to walk away. However, that didn’t stop us buying from the Bay Harbour market, in Hout Bay. It doesn’t have the polished edges of some of the other well-known establishments, but therein lies the charm. We tasted beer, ate pizza and fell in love with a few meerkats!

Our final stop was the beautiful Steenberg estate, watched over by the Elephants Eye on the mountainside at the Silvermine reserve. Amazing views of the mountains and sea set the scene for wine tasting and authentic Spanish tapas in Bistro Sixteen82 with our lovely host, Gaby. Bought by Graham Beck in 2005, this estate and hotel have never looked back, and we could have quite happily cancelled our flights home and settled beside the pool...forever.

Later that evening, we pounced on Steenberg estate's recently opened Gorgeous champagne bar – truly a spot for the young and the beautiful.

We had come to Cape Town to experience the unexpected city, and found new friends, stories, characters, resourceful women, music, pioneers, art, history, beauty and taste, just like the beautiful artwork hanging on the walls of the Platteklip Wash Houses.

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