Cape Town

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Cape Town is a fascinating mosaic of Asian, European and African traditions. These streams of history flow together in the city but, particularly because of the legacy of the apartheid system, visitors to Cape Town are often amazed by the dramatic contrasts that remain between different areas. Nature, too, creates very different sub-climates around the mountain so the vegetation varies a great deal, as of course do the vistas. The city, however, is connected by fast freeways. Thus, twenty minutes from the wine farms of the leafy Constantia valley you could be on a beach, in the bustling city centre or in a shanty township. It is truly fascinating to discover the different areas and experience the diversity of culture in the city.


Camps Bay, Bantry Bay, Llandudno and Clifton are the suburbs of foreign house prices. The impressive apartment blocks built into the mountain sides and the old cottages above the fabulous Clifton Beaches have been snapped up by overseas buyers. Expect to see jet skis on the roof garages. Clifton is very sheltered and the perfect place for a picnic at sunset. Camps Bay is picturesque and there are some excellent restaurants and cafés. This is the place to hang out and be cool ' but you will be very cool indeed if you try to swim in the sea ' the arctic currents don't know they?ve reached Africa.

Sea Point/Greenpoint are a little crazy. The Sea Point Promenade is the best microcosm of humanity you could hope to find. Roller bladers, women in saris, guys rugby training, Jewish women with small dogs ' it's all here. The mountain backdrop, tall apartments and the open lawns along the crashing sea ' it's a perfect place for a sunset walk. The main road has every kind of shop and plenty of restaurants. There is also a small 'red light? aspect too. A lively, slightly seedy area, perhaps best compared with Bayswater/Paddington in London. It's worth a visit and many hotels, B&Bs and hostels of all standards are easily found off Main road.


The old docks have been excellently converted into The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, a very large complex of hotels, restaurants and bars, shops (galore), cinemas (including IMAX), two craft markets and a truly wonderful aquarium. Here you will also find numerous companies offering boat trips, including the Robben Island Ferry, and fun things such as jet skis and helicopter trips. The information desks are helpful and there is VAT refund too. It is a very easy and secure place with lots to do ' but a word on prices, you can find most things cheaper elsewhere, especially jewellery.


All the diversity of Cape Town is meshed into the city centre. It is a surprisingly small area and is best covered on foot - but be prepared to fend off hawkers and some street children. Keep your wits and your wallet about you and don't stay out after dark. St. George's Mall and Greenmarket Square are the undisputed heart of Cape Town; abuzz with vibes, sounds and crafts of Africa, all mixed up with European heritage. In contrast, The Company Gardens are beautifully peaceful and historically very interesting ' take a walk along Government Avenue, past Parliament, and spend some time in the SA Museum ' its great fun. The Mount Nelson hotel is at the top ' the perfect place for high tea.

It is worth driving around the Grand Parade: The Castle and the City Hall are important buildings, and Adderley Street also has many of the grandest buildings in Cape Town. Just above the city centre is the Bo-Kaap - see the brightly coloured homes and notice the Malay influences.

At night the centre empties out of all but street people ' it is best seen by day. The exception is the top of Long Street which is abuzz with nightlife, and check out the cafés and restaurants of upper Kloof Street nearby in Gardens.


If you love rugby or cricket head for Newlands and there is a large, up-market shopping centre nearby in Claremont, Cavendish Square. On the mountain slopes you will find Kirstenbosch Gardens ' a definite 'must see?. Around the corner is Constantia ' here are some historic and wonderful wine farms (such as Groot Constantia and Klein Constantia), a very impressive shopping mall and some of the best restaurants in the country. There is an extensive walking trail across the Constantia valley.

On the other side of the mountain explore Hout Bay ' the land of very horsey, independently minded people living in a fabulous valley. The fishermen in the harbour are a highly spirited bunch. You can take sea trips from here (see the seals on Duiker Island). If the Chapman's Peak drive is open it is a 'must do? ' magnificent.


The south peninsula is mountainous and largely National Park ' plus some very charming seaside towns ' notably the very British Simon's Town, the fishing village at Kalk Bay, gorgeous Noordhoek and Kommetijie and rustic Scarborough. The beaches are fabulous ' and the Penguins think so too ' check out the little guys at Boulders Beach near Simon's Town. The water is much warmer on the eastern side of the peninsula. Cape Point and its massive Nature Reserve are within easy reach and it is worth taking some time to explore the reserve. For a famous picture stop go to the colourful beach huts at St James and Muizenberg.


The winelands are an extensive area of wine and fruit farms in a mountain setting less than an hour from Cape Town. There is a certain charm and dignity to the area and some very pretty towns. There are many wine farms, in all styles and sizes? but the taste and price are bound to please. Check out a variety of big and small wine farms in different areas, but beware of weekend closing. Don't miss the restaurants of Franschhoek and spending time exploring the great beauty of Stellenbosch.


To get some valuable insight into South Africa's political history and cultural diversity take a township tour (specialist companies include African Dawn and Grassroutes). For many people this turns out to be the unexpected high point of their visit to Cape Town ' the resilience, enterprise and hope of these poor communities is very inspiring and the stories of the past are a sobering insight into social planning gone mad. It is not recommended that you try to tour the townships on your own, take an organised tour with a specialist company.


Predominantly Afrikaans, modern and suburban, these areas lie along the N1 freeway. The classic view of Table Mountain is best viewed from Blouberg. Century City is set to rival the Waterfront as Cape Town's major leisure complex. The Durbanville Hills may of interest to wine enthusiasts and the Tygervalley Centre for those born to shop.

History of Cape Town

Cape Town is a unique city ' a blend of Asia and Europe in Africa. It is dominated by, and owes its existence to, the steep and coarse grizzled and gnarled slopes of Table Mountain that tower 1000m above the sea, surrounding it on three sides. A sandstone soil and small mountain streams gave life to prehistoric peoples and animals living on its slopes. The City also attracted sailors and farmers of the trading nations and today has a population city of 3 million people descended from every corner of the world.

Long before the Himalayas or the Rockies were formed, Table Mountain began to rise out of the sea (by isostacy) at the South-Western tip of Africa. The emerging relief has been checked and scarred by the erosion of sea, wind, rain, fire and ice. Today Table Mountain is a fantastic array of buttresses and ravines, most famously evident in the 'Twelve Apostles?. Homo Erectus saw similar sights 750,000 years ago ' and left abundant stone tools for our museums. The fossilized footprints of 'Eve? ' 117,000 years old ' are one of the finest relics found near Cape Town.

Relatives of the Bushmen, the Khoi, were maintaining a hunter/gatherer and herding economy around the mountain when in 1503 the first European saw, and then climbed Table Mountain. He was a Portuguese Admiral, Antonio de Saldanha, and he was navigating the route to India bravely pioneered by his compatriots Bartolomeu Diaz (1488) and Vasco de Gama (1497).

As the new route from Europe to the East flourished, so more sailors saw the Mountain and its peninsula. Francis Drake in 1580 described it as 'the Fairest Cape in the whole circumference of the globe?. The British, in particular, developed trade with the Khoi but no European settlement was developed. However, in 1647 a Dutch ship, the Haarlem, was wrecked in Table Bay and its large crew marooned for a year. Their survival convinced the Dutch East India Company that it was safe enough, and the land sufficiently fertile, to justify building a permanent supply station at the Cape. Thus, on Christmas Eve 1651 Jan van Riebeeck, a commander in the Company (out of favour following allegations of fraud), was dispatched from Amsterdam with three ships and a daunting task to establish a station at the Cape capable of supplying passing ships with fresh food and wine.

Van Riebeeck arrived in April 1652, constructed a wooden fort and laid out the Company gardens, part of which remain to this day. He set to work on vine growing and produced wine within four years (February 2nd 1659). Work soon began on a stone Castle and a parade ground ' these can still be seen. Subsequent Governors, in particular, Simon van der Stel (1679-1699), expanded the settlement dramatically. Huguenot refugees from France helped to develop the areas of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, Paarl and Wellington as notable wine growing regions.

The Company provided slaves from the East to help with the work ' indeed slaves sometimes outnumbered Europeans in the settlement. The influence of Asia can be seen in the architecture of Cape Town, the taste of its spicy food, the style of its music and festivals, even in the grammar of the Afrikaans language that evolved in Cape Town from Dutch. Asian blood is also evident in much of Cape Town's population.

Cape Town became known as 'the tavern of the seas? ' a welcome half-way house on the long journey between North and East. Her strategic importance was (and remains) crucial to world trade and with the threat of Napoleon seizing the settlement, the British garrisoned the elegant Dutch town in 1795.

Under Imperial British rule the city grew. Among the whitewashed Dutch buildings large colonial, neo-classical buildings were arranged. The old farmlands became suburbs and, with the discovery of diamonds in the hinterland, the docks and city expanded rapidly. Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902) made his home in Cape Town ' buying vast tracts of the mountains slopes, which today are public forests, the Botanical Garden at Kirstenbosch and the highly acclaimed University of Cape Town.

Following the formation of the modern South Africa in 1910, Cape Town became, and remains, the nation's Legislature. The iniquitous apartheid laws drafted in that Parliament limited black migration to the city and divided white people and 'coloured? people (those of mixed racial descent). The mountain slopes became leafy 'white suburbs? while the townships on the sandy plain were variously designated 'coloured? and 'black?. The racial division of suburbs ended in 1990, but racial and socio-economic differences between areas remain marked. A huge migration of black people followed the easing of racial laws, and the city has grown vastly in the last decade and is now one third Xhosa (Mr Mandela's tribal group).

The city centre has changed too, particularly the reclamation of land and subsequent development of the foreshore in the 1940s. The highly successful development of complexes such as the Waterfront, followed in the 1990s. Many new hotels and the refurbishment of traditional attractions ' such as the Cable Car, Kirstenbosch Gardens and Cape Point ' have positioned the city as one of the world's emerging prime tourist destinations and an important growth point in Southern Africa.


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