A CAPE OF MUCH HOPE; Travel Editor Lisa Piddington Visits South Africa's Western Cape - Offering More Than Just Beaches for the Long-Haul Tourist
Piddington, Lisa, The Birmingham Post (England)
Sir Francis Drake's chronicler described the Cape of Good Hope as 'the most fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth'.
The beautiful South African city of Cape Town may not have existed at the time those words were penned, but with its position nestling between Table Mountain and the ocean, it is very easy to agree with the sentiment.
There is also something extremely apt about the name Cape of Good Hope, the area of land jutting out at this most southern tip of Africa - as this is a country that, despite its history of violence and apartheid, seems to possess a great deal of hope for the future: both for its people and its growth as a tourist destination for the new millennium.
My tour of the the Cape started in Cape Town itself, staying at the stylish Kensington Place Hotel in Higgovale. But unfortunately as I arrived, so too did the rain and mist. Only days before, people kept telling me, it had been wonderful weather.
So for two days I was able to see neither the splendour of the mountain nor the sea.
Ah well, a great way to test out any city is to visit during bad weather to see what it can offer the traveller searching for shelter from the rain. After all, when the sun is having a good day then anywhere (or almost anywhere) looks pretty.
First stop was the city centre. Hiring a car is essential, both for exploring Cape Town and its environs and especially if you plan to extend your visit with a drive along the Garden Route.
Car parking in the city is easy. . . either park in the street and pay a self-appointed attendant to watch your car for a couple of rand (about 20p) or chose one of a number of multi-storeys, more expensive but cheap compared to British prices.
(A word about the parking attendants, everyone seems to use them and we had no problem when we did choose to. However, pay them when you return to your car and not before).
The main city centre streets are built round Greenmarket Square. Here you can buy those African knick-knacks that look wonderful on the stalls and maybe just a little dodgy when you place them between the chintz and Ikea on your return to England.
From here you can explore a little of Cape Town's history without straying off the well beaten tourist track. The streets around the market - in particular Long Street - reflect the harmonious blend of architectural styles in the city. Between the high-rise office blocks, a number of Edwardian and Victorian buildings have been meticulously preserved.
Hop into the car again - no one seems to walk here, either out of laziness or fear of crime - and it's a short drive to the famous Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.
Much like a giant Brindleyplace, this major tourist attraction evokes images of the early activities of the harbour and is one that Capetonians are rightly proud to show off.
Much of its charm lies in the fact that it is still used as a busy commercial harbour and is set in the midst of a huge entertainment venue with pubs, restaurants, speciality shops, craft markets, theatres and cinemas.
And if the rain is still persisting then there's an indoor craft centre, the Two Oceans Aquarium and the Maritime Museum focusing on the history of shipping from prehistoric times to the present day to keep you occupied.
A must-see though is Vaughan Johnson's wine shop, famed for its vast choice of South African tipples at reasonable prices. Bottles start from just under eight rand (around 80p) for a 'very reasonable white'. Well worth a visit and well worth saving room for in the suitcase.
The V&A also offers boat trips to Robben Island, lying about seven miles north of Cape Town.
It has, over the years, become synonymous with the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, as it was here that activists like Walter Sisulu, Govan Mbeki, Ahmed Kathrada, Robert Sobukwe and, most famously Nelson Mandela, were imprisoned. …