“Cape Town is like no other city in Africa. I’ve lived here on and off for 15 years; currently I’m in Bakoven on the Atlantic Seaboard. Not only is it spectacularly beautiful, surrounded by mountains and ocean, but it has a totally unique atmosphere. Whereas Johannesburg is about networking and business, Cape Town is more meditative, creative, inward-looking; it has a different energy. It’s a city that relies on its natural attributes. The nearby Winelands and exceptional local ingredients feed a vibrant culinary scene, with new restaurants and bars opening almost weekly, while the surrounding, easily accessible landscape inspires a very outdoorsy life, even in winter.
Considering the number of beaches in Cape Town, it’s interesting that we don’t have a range of beachside hotels to rival Miami’s. But Pod hotel in Camps Bay is great for those who want to stay within a short walk of the sand – and the bars and restaurants of the main strip. It’s very sleek and contemporary, all grey and glass and lime-washed timber, and some of the rooms have their own sunbathing patios and plunge pools.
For something more traditional and with a very different – but equally lovely – setting, I recommend The Cellars-Hohenort Hotel, located on the slopes of Table Mountain in Constantia, a green suburb of Cape Town. Rooms are stylishly chintzy, in keeping with this 100-year-old Dutch gabled manor house. It has a fantastic restaurant, The Greenhouse, where you can eat Cape Malay-scented seabass. Generally it’s a very calm spot surrounded by rolling lawns and acres of garden.
But the hotel that’s unbeatable for views is Tintswalo Atlantic. It hugs the shoreline beneath Chapman’s Peak, and after being burnt to the ground during the wildfires of 2015 it has been painstakingly rebuilt, with 10 sun‑decked rooms facing the water, furnished with carved doors from Zanzibar and elsewhere and shell-decorated walls in the bathrooms.
An ideal day in Cape Town starts outdoors. Capetonians are hugely into fitness, and Cape Town has one of the most beautiful seafront runs in the world, winding out of the city all the way from the Green Point Lighthouse in Mouille Point to Camps Bay. A good way to get a sense of place – and rid yourself of jet lag – is to climb Lion’s Head before it gets too warm. Or you might try free diving with my friend Hanli Prinsloo, who runs one-day and longer courses from the city, where all profits go to her ocean conservation and education foundation I Am Water.
Afterwards I would head for breakfast, and coffee. Coffee is a culture all of its own in Cape Town, and each neighbourhood has its own star spot with its own distinct character. It’s fun to cruise between them during your stay to get a sense of the people who live here. The one I like right now is Baked, in Bakoven. It’s a great brunch spot with a focus on exceptional pastries, and at the weekend it’s packed full of cyclists. The breakfast wrap of scrambled eggs and pancetta is particularly delicious. There’s a coffee shop on Bree Street, right in the city, called Jason Bakery, where you can also buy delicious bread; it attracts a hipster Cape Town crowd – lots of beards and tattoos. In De Waterkant it’s all about Origin Coffee, which has its own roasters and is frequented by stylish design creatives. And in Wynberg, a southern suburb of the city, Four & Twenty Café is where you’ll find all the chic young mothers – and also a great brioche tartine stacked with porcini and a poached egg.
To get beneath the surface of the city, it’s important to engage with its history. One of the reasons people love South Africa is because it’s a forward-thinking, and forward-facing, country; but it’s hard to understand how much we’ve progressed unless you understand where we’ve come from. So I do think it’s important to take some time to visit places such as Robben Island and the District Six Museum that tell the story of apartheid in South Africa.
You can also get a great contemporary perspective on life here, because Cape Town is the place to see really interesting modern African art. I’d head to Gallery Momo, close to Long Street, as well as the Blank Projects, WhatIfTheWorld and Smac galleries in Woodstock. Igshaan Adams, represented by Blank Projects, makes incredible woven tapestry pieces and prayer mats inspired by his Muslim-Cape Malay heritage.
Lunch here is a hugely social affair – more so than dinner – and in summer it rivals the long, chatty meals you’d have in France or Ibiza, especially when eaten in sight of the sea. Grand Café & Beach on Granger Bay is the perfect setting: a lively beach club and restaurant housed in a converted warehouse with sand underfoot. A lovely idea for summer is to get a picnic of bread, salad and wine from the popular Giovanni’s deli in Green Point, then drive to Kirstenbosch botanical gardens. Take a rug and find a quiet spot in the shade on one of the wide lawns. Afterwards, there are walks through flower gardens with brightly coloured sunbirds or evening film screenings under the stars.
Capetonians are a health-conscious bunch, and there are lots of restaurants catering to this crowd. Sexy Food on Bree Street is great for a sprouts and micro-greens salad among the yoga hipsters. Culture Club Cheese is also on Bree Street, but could not be more different: an emporium dedicated to sourcing and selling the best cheeses in the country. They also have a great menu of raclette, goat’s cheese salads and croque-monsieurs. Bacon on Bree is similarly single-minded in its offering, serving bacon butties and BLTs with craft beers.
If you’re in the mood for shopping, there are some interesting South African fashion designers I stock in my concept store, Merchants on Long. Sindiso Khumalo makes womenswear in strong, graphic prints, while MaXhosa by Laduma is the Missoni of South Africa, producing Xhosa-inspired knitwear in covetable geometric prints. My friend Tammy Frazer makes amazing perfumes in pretty glass bottles and her atelier near De Waterkant, Frazer Parfum, is worth a visit for unique souvenirs. She themes her scents around her travels – I wear one inspired by Namibia. There are also some very talented ceramicists working in Cape Town, including Astrid Dahl, who sells her delicate, sinuous work through Southern Guild in Woodstock. For those looking for original jewellery, it’s worth seeking out art and artefacts store Quagga Rare Books and Art in Kalk Bay. I buy antique tribal decorative pieces and customise them to wear as jewellery. Capetonians are nothing if not inventive.
For a night out, I like a place that changes its name from day to night – for lunch it’s The Bitch’s Tits, and for dinner it’s The Dog’s Bollocks. It’s located behind a car workshop and it feels very LA. They do tacos and burgers and it’s a great spot if you’re looking for a social place to have dinner before going out. Then you might head to Outrage of Modesty, a tiny new experimental cocktail bar using foraged ingredients to create incredible drinks.
For dancing, Coco is a hip-hop club that’s lots of fun and has a mixed crowd – Nigerians, Angolans, a big contingent from Jo’burg. If you want to talk rather than dance, there’s a lovely café nearby called Yours Truly that’s open until 2am. But my favourite bar and restaurant is a speakeasy called the Duchess of Wisbeach on Sea Point. There’s unpretentious food – roast chicken, fish and chips, gnocchi – plus music and dancing. And the next day you’ll appreciate why coffee and exercise have become essential to the Cape Town way of life.”