South Africa, Day 6: Cape Town


We arrived in Cape Town on a cold, windy and drizzly afternoon and checked into the gorgeous Cape Grace Hotel. The hotel is right on the waterfront, and looks out over a cozy little harbor that would make any New Englander feel right at home. The rooms are huge, and have such nice little touches as a drawer full of cotton swabs, tissues and nail kits; fabric soap (for washing socks in the sink); air freshener in the toilet; and bath salts. (Really, it’s the little things like these that make a huge difference.) The hotel also has several BMWs to drive guests around the city (complimentary!) within a 12-mile limit.

The spa at Cape Grace is surprisingly small for all the hotel’s grandeur and opulence. The sauna and steam room can only fit about four people comfortably, and instead of a Jacuzzi they have a mineral bath…in a bathtub. Some ladies in the group did try the treatments at the spa, however, and had nothing but good things to say. The hotel’s fitness room will open next week, and sounds like it will be very nice.

Close to the hotel is a lovely little shopping district with a large mall that includes the usual shops one would expect in a normal shopping center, and a few one wouldn’t. (Hugo Boss, Evita Peroni, L’Occitane en Provence, etc.) Our guide, Owen, from Roots Africa Tours is a local of the city, and clearly loves his hometown. His insider knowledge was very useful, and he had great stories for every spot we visited. Really, ask for him by name. He’s excellent.

On Friday morning, I woke up with what I can only assume was a massive case of food poisoning (for charity’s sake, I won’t mention the name of the restaurant we dined in the night before), and wound up spending the whole day in bed. Bless the staff at the Cape Grace, though—they called in frequently to see how I was doing, offered to call for a doctor and brought some tea to my room before I could think to ask for it. (When you’re feeling rotten in a foreign city, it’s good to know people are looking out for you.) I missed out on a tour of Cape Town (d’oh!), wine tastings (D’OH!!!), a helicopter ride (Argh!!!) and a spa where fish eat away the dead skin from feet (wait, what?).

On Saturday, I woke up feeling much better (roiboos tea is wonderfully soothing), and was able to rejoin the group for a tour of the very scenic Hout Bay (with a great collection of tchochkes for purchase—again, haggle!). We crossed the peninsula to visit the penguin colony at the Boulders—and, really, is there anything cuter than a bunch of penguins running all over a pristine beach? (Though the mama penguin we saw guarding her chick and egg was less cute and more “If you come near my babies I will cut you!”).

Mama Penguin Guarding Her Chick

For lunch, we went to Noon Gun, a mom-and-pop Malaysian restaurant that really feels like a family-run place. Everything tasted home-made and wonderfully flavorful. (Try the lamb. Or the beef with sweet rice. Or the snoek. Or…really, anything. We sampled it all, and nothing disappointed. Just be certain your car can handle the steep ride up the hill.)

Needing to work off lunch, we decided to tackle Table Mountain, which looms majestically above the city. Since time was tight, we opted to go up via cable car instead of hiking (though we were assured that the hike was fairly easy, and takes only about two hours—a great way to spend an afternoon, if we’d gotten an earlier start.) The cable cars are circular, and rotate so that everyone inside can get a view.

Cable Car at Table Mountain

And then there’s the top, where the city and the sea stretch out for what seems like ever. There are no words for describing the views from the top of the mountain, and pictures can’t do it justice. It’s just amazing.

For dinner, we went to Mama Africa’s, a homey little joint with loud music, funky drinks and eclectic food. The vegetable samoosas and chicken-peanut-and-spinach stew were quite tasty, and I heard good things about the grilled prawns and lamb chops.  The restaurant is on Long Street, which is the heart of the city’s nightlife district. Lots of loud bars and pubs line the avenue—several members of our group stopped by at Grand Daddy’s, a nightclub attached to a four-star hotel. (Hey, at least guests aren’t drinking and driving!)

A word of advice: When visiting Cape Town, get all the cash you’ll need for your visit at the airport, because ATMs are not plentiful on the streets, and many of the little shops and stands are cash-only. The hotels (or at least the Cape Grace) charge a substantial commission for changing cash, and will refuse to change any money that is marked in any way.