Unveiling the Cape

We suggest places to stay, play and enjoy the views in Cape Town


Whenever the time comes to embark on a pilgrimage to a city's top must-see tourist attraction my heart sinks, usually with good reason. So as I boarded one of the many buses driving up to Table Mountain my ticker was at knee level. And the souvenir shop and queues for the packed cable cars did nothing to raise my spirits.

However, set foot at the top, walk a few yards and you realise you are somewhere very special.

Table Mountain is vast, the crowds melt away into its vastness and you are taken over by the flora and fauna and the views. And what views!

Of all the English-speaking ocean-side cities in the world - Sydney, San Francisco, Vancouver, even Bournemouth - Cape Town is the one the Almighty has favoured most. And that favour, even more than the wonderful climate and numerous beaches and bays, is the mountain and the range of which it is part.

From Cape Town looking upwards it is a dominating magnificence; from the top looking down the city is like a carpet running down to the sea.

Getting there

Fly: Qatar Airways flies daily from London Heathrow to Cape Town via Doha. Round-trip prices start from £747.
Stay: Steenberg Farm has rooms from ZAR2650 (approx £150) per room per night on a bed and breakfast basis.
Cape View Clifton guesthouse, where rooms start from ZAR2700 (approx £152) per room per night including breakfast.

I stayed at two places outside
but close to Cape Town, both rather fine, both made most memorable
by their views.

At Steenberg, the vineyard closest to the city, is a five-star hotel, a series of serene, white one storey-buildings set in formally laid-out gardens, surrounded by vineyards on a farm established nearly four-and-a-half centuries ago.

Relaxing in a comfortable bedroom with adjoining sitting room and small private garden area of your own is pleasant enough; walking through gardens with dramatic mountains as a backdrop is delectable.

One might even imagine (though I know this wouldn't be true) that losing your ball in the large, rather beautiful duck-crowded lake on the gorgeous hotel golf course might bring only modified pain.

Steenberg has a high-calibre formal restaurant and a relaxed and very stylish bistro popular with Capetonians drinking good Steenberg wine. We are of course in territory rich in local produce from land and sea. It would be hard to find a piece of fish that isn't fresh and succulent.

In the course of a few days I had delicious hake, tuna, angel fish and yellowtail at Steenberg and in eating places round the city, most memorably at the Harbour House in Kalk Bay, a charming little bohemian resort still not yet overtaken by the growing affluence that is enveloping and developing the Cape and which is full of "vintage" shops ranging from tatty to terrific.

Here are two things the visitor should know: thanks to the sterling-rand exchange rate the prices are kind to us. And the people are very kind too. Folk seem to have a real desire to please, even if waiters in the good eating places do go on a bit, telling you rather more than you need to know about what's in your dish.

This is a place where they take pleasure in making the stranger feel at home. Nowhere more so than at Cape View Clifton, a gem of a place that describes itself as a "boutique guesthouse".

Set high in a Cliffside, elegantly decorated in white and subtle greys, it accommodates 20 people in a top-class but informal way - there's a three-bedroom and a two-bedroom apartment and individual rooms with balconies looking down on the beach and bay from a great height and straight across at the mountains.

It is a million-dollar view with billion-dollar sunsets. Sit on the deck, lounging, dipping in the small pool or eating the food the friendly staff prepare in the open kitchen and you will feel you're in heaven.

The Cape is where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet, where warm waters meet cold.

I ventured down to the beach at Clifton on a warmish day having been told by someone: "It's the Atlantic…the water is cold."

But are we Jews not the people who walked into the Red Sea up to our chins before it parted? I walked straight in. The March water was quite warm enough for me.

Cape Town is a vibrant place, there's plenty to do and though not beautiful itself it is surrounded by beauty. It is a thriving city though, with enormous shanty towns from which tourists and many others tend to avert their eyes.

A short boat ride away is Robben Island (Cape Town's number two must-see). The prison cells are still there and the exercise yard and the quarry where the inmates did hard labour. The tour guide was interesting and informative and there are former prisoners there who recount their experiences.

It's a bleak place, though the colonies of penguins seem to like it and though two decades incarcerated here seems unbearable it was also a cradle of redemption - here Mandela, Walter Sisulu and the others prepared one of the twentieth century's great political miracles.

It would be a mistake to leave Cape Town without visiting the excellent Jewish Museum, which is in a compound also containing the city's main shul and the smaller one built in 1840 when the first Jews arrived. The museum tells the very interesting story of the South African community engagingly and quite brilliantly. On the lower floor is a life-size reconstruction of a shtetl in Lithuania from where the vast majority of the later turn-of-the-century immigrants came.

I flew to Cape Town on Qatar Airways, changing at Doha. On the way back I thought I would test their kosher food credentials. I ordered it and there it was - sourced, blessedly, from Paris. They passed with flying colours.

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive