South Africa: After the games, a country that's hard to match

Football fans may have been happy to visit South Africa in winter, but for the rest of us, spring and summer in the southern hemisphere is far better, says Daralyn Danns


By Daralyn Danns, August 12, 2010
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Cape Town and Green Point Stadium, built for the World  Cup, with Table Mountain dominating the skyline

Cape Town and Green Point Stadium, built for the World Cup, with Table Mountain dominating the skyline

The only sound was the waves crashing on the white sands as we gazed up at the Milky Way and the Southern Cross twinkling in the night sky over Lambert's Bay. It was a magical end to our stay in the Cederberg.

This dramatic setting has turned Muisbosskerm, an unpretentious beach restaurant, south of Lambert's Bay on South Africa's West Coast, into a hot spot for locals and tourists visiting the Cederberg region.

The Cederberg wilderness, a two-hour drive north of Cape Town, is a favourite destination with Capetonians wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. 

It is renowned for its stunning rock formations as well as its varieties of vegetation - mainly fynbos (fine bush) - and the Cape Mountain leopard, which is, apparently, very shy so you have to be extremely lucky to see one. What you must see is the rock art, some of it thousands of years old, created by the Bushmen who once inhabited these mountains.  

Also on the itinerary was a wine-tasting at the Cederberg Private Cellar, which claims to be South Africa's highest winery where we sampled a Cederberg Sauvignon Blanc and a Cederberg Cabernet Sauvignon. We then headed to Rooibos Ltd for a cup of "healthy", caffeine-free tea which has taken the world by storm. Rich in antioxidants, rooibos - or redbush - was first exported from South Africa in 1904 by Benjamin Ginsberg, a Russian Jewish immigrant.  

 After 48 hours in the Cederberg, we left Clanwilliam (and the excellent Clanwilliam Lodge) for Franschhoek in the heart of the Cape Winelands.

 With its Cape Dutch-style buildings, surrounded by mountains thickly carpeted with lush green vines, it is hard to imagine a more picturesque setting than the Franschhoek valley.

Franschhoek, meaning French Corner, was settled by the French Huguenots who fled to the Cape in the late 1680s to escape religious persecution and began making wine there.

A stroll around the magnificent Grande Provence wine estate with its 300-year history is an idyllic way of soaking up the atmosphere and the history. It also has an interesting gallery showcasing contemporary South African art as well as offering rather good wine-tastings. 

As the gourmet capital of South Africa, Franschhoek is bursting with award-winning restaurants including Reuben's, whose Cape Salmon was memorably delicious, and Monneaux Restaurant, at the Franschhoek Country House & Villas which has permitted fish on the menu.

Because of their perennial popularity, it is advisable to book restaurants in advance.   

Some of the best shopping in the Cape is to be found in the main street of Franschhoek village which is awash with gorgeous boutiques selling everything from clothes and crafts to housewares, along with antique shops and art galleries. Skip the Huguenot Memorial Museum at the end of the main drag, but do take a look at the impressive Huguenot Monument.

I stayed a couple of nights at the five-star Franschhoek Country House & Villas, but if you prefer not to keep moving around, it is easy to take a day trip from Cape Town, an hour's drive away. 

En route to Cape Town, we dropped in to the Waterford Estate in Stellenbosch's lush Blaauwklippen Valley, for one of the famous paired tastings of chocolate and wine.

Seated in gardens against a backdrop of mountains, vineyards and citrus groves, sipping reds while crunching on handmade chocolate creations, is an extremely pleasant way to spend a morning . Heading into Cape Town, nothing quite prepares you for your first sighting of the legendary Table Mountain. Flanked by Devil's Peak and Lion's Head and Signal Hill, it dominates Cape Town, visible from every point.

A cable-car ride to the top is a must for spectacular views of this sprawling, beautiful and very green city, but be prepared to wait until the weather is clear. If you go when the mountain is covered by white cloud - or the "tablecloth", as locals call it - you will see nothing.

The legendary Mount Nelson, one of Cape Town's most elegant and historic hotels, has hosted countless celebrities including Morgan Freeman, Charlize Theron and Agatha Christie.

Set in beautiful gardens, it is an oasis of tranquillity in the middle of the city, and even if you don't stay there, you have to experiencing its legendary afternoon tea.

A vast and delicious feast of every type of teatime treat from dainty smoked salmon sandwiches to home-made gateaux, and endlessly refilled cups of tea, it is stunning value at just 165 rand (£14), and is likely to render you too full to eat dinner.

Instead, linger over a cocktail at the hotel's new Planet Bar, where Cape Town's well-heeled hang out.

From the Mount Nelson, it is easy to explore the old historic centre of the city and the Cape Town Holocaust Centre and Jewish Museum. Also recommended is the Gold of Africa Museum.

Join the locals and go in the evening to learn how to play the drums before enjoying African food (you can make special dietary requests when booking) followed by singing and dancing. For quirky boutiques, cool bars and restaurants head to Long Street and Kloof Street.  The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is home to many of the city's smartest shops and countless eateries.

For pre-dinner drinks, the place to go is the Bascule at the Cape Grace, one of Cape Town's chicest hotels.

By day, take a trip to Cape Point, in the southern section of Table Mountain National Park, an hour away from the city past sandy bays and quaint
villages.

En route, stop at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, home to an amazing array of South African plants, and Boulders Beach in Simonstown, to see its colony of African
penguins.  

It used to be thought that Cape Point was where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet, but it is now believed that they actually meet at the southernmost tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas. 

But looking down at the craggy cliffs and the ocean from the Cape of Good Hope (within the same section of Table Mountain National Park), you could almost imagine the thrill that the Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias felt when he discovered it in 1488.

On the way back, we took Chapman's Peak Drive, a spectacular nine-kilometer corniche, running along the coastline between Noordhoek and Hout Bay, stopping at Camps Bay, a suburban beach area of Cape Town awash with restaurants, for a much-needed sundowner.

It is 20 years since Nelson Mandela became a free man, and it would be foolish to deny that South Africa has its challenges: visitors can see townships and there is poverty.

But, standing on Robben Island, where Mandela spent 18 years as a prisoner, listening to a former inmate's account of life there, you realise how much the country has already accomplished.  

The Capetonians I met were proud that South Africa hosted the World Cup - and hosted it so successfully and peacefully. The event brought infrastructure improvements, including better roads and transport and, of course, the magnificent new stadium. Now that the crowds have gone home and the weather is about to warm up, you can enjoy the legacy of 2010.

Getting there
South African Airways (www.flysaa.com) flies from Heathrow to Cape Town from £897 return; Clanwilliam Lodge (www.clanwilliamlodge.co.za) has double rooms from R900 (£80); Franschhoek Country House & Villas (www.fch.co.za) has doubles from R2,590 (£230) including breakfast; Mount Nelson (www.mountnelson.co.za) has superior doubles from R4,900 (£435), including breakfast and a free shuttle within a 10km radius. South African Tourism: www.southafrica.net 

Jewish Capetown
● Most Jews arrived between the end of the 19th century and 1930, many from Lithuania and Latvia.
● There are now around 16,000 and some 20 synagogues, including three Reform, mainly in Sea Point.
● The South African Jewish Museum was opened by Nelson Mandela in 2000. Adjacent is the Grand Synagogue, South Africa's oldest, built in 1863. The Holocaust Museum is in the same complex.
● Kosher restaurants includ Café Riteve, next to Jewish Museum; Avron's Place, 19-33 Regent Road, Sea Point 
● Steve Bolnick is a Jewish tour guide www.stevebolnicksafaris.com

Last updated: 3:33pm, August 13 2010