World Cup 411: Top Insider Sites in Cape Town
From June 11 to July 11, football fans from around the world will descend on South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The 20-hour flight for Americans means it's worth staving off jet lag for another week or two and sticking around to explore the country. Of the nine cities where games will be played, Cape Town is by far the most desirable place to spend the extra time, and its in close proximity to one of the most stunning wine regions in the world. We've compiled a list of top insider tips for what not to miss in Cape Town. Here it is:
Gallery: What to See In Cape Town
Saturday at The Old Biscuit Mill Neighbourgoods Market
An old Victorian Mill has become ground zero for the artisanal food movement in Cape Town. An artists' collective started the wildly popular open-air market held each Saturday. The Biscuit "Mull," as it's pronounced by locals, is filled with beautiful stalls selling local cheese, biltong (the popular South African jerky), organic chocolates, and other prepared foods, but the real scene is under the large tent where vendors prepare fresh grilled pizzas, hash brown eggs Benedicts, bloody Mary's, Cape Malay curry dishes, crepes and more, all prepared to order and eaten at jam-packed picnic tables. The Mill has served as an incubator for several local, artisanal-food businesses, too, such as Knead Bakery and &Union (see below), which both now have shops in town.
The Grand Daddy Hotel Sky Bar
The glamorous Grand Daddy Hotel (right) on downtown Cape Town's hopping Long Street has a little secret: Seven Airstream trailers sit perched on it's roof in a playful "penthouse trailer park." Guests can rent a themed Airstream rather than a room and stay under the stars with the comforts of restaurants and concierge a few floors away. For the not-so-adventurous, take a look at the "trailer park" by grabbing a drink at the hotel's tented rooftop bar adjacent to the trailers. And even though it's winter, the sky bar comes equipped with heaters so visitors won't catch a chill while chilling.
Cocktails at The Roundhouse
It's difficult to find a bad view in Cape Town. The way the peninsula-city surrounds the 12 Apostles mountain range means that almost no matter where you are, you've got ocean to one side and dramatic mountains on the other. But it's possible The Roundhouse Restaurant has one of the best views in town. The round building dates back to 1786 when it was constructed as a guard station to lookout over Camps Bay, in the 19th century it was used as a luxurious hunting lodge for the extravagant Lord Charles Somerset and later it served as a hotel and various other purposes until it opened as a restaurant in 2008. The fine-dining establishment is a good spot for a romantic dinner, but drinks at sunset are when it's truly in its glory. The mature, tree-covered stone patio is just the setting for a drink from their list of boutique wine and spirits from all over the world.
Table Mountain Views
Table Mountain is no secret, the flat-backed mountain lords over Cape Town in stunning fashion, sometime surrounded by white clouds, or the "table cloth" as locals call it. But looking at the mountain is not good enough. Visitors must climb or ride to the top for the dramatic 360-degree views of the city beneath. Get the best of both by hiking up the steep 1.86 mile Platteklip trail which can take as long as three or more hours because of it's stair-step route, but hikers are rewarded at the summit's plateau with great views and restaurant. Buy the wine and cheese plate and reward your work. Then take the Cableway down (170 rand or $20) for more gorgeous views, but with less work.
Cape Malay Dinner at Groot Constantia Winery
There are few better examples of the stunningly simplicity of Cape Dutch architecture as Groot Constantia Winery, who's oldest building dates back to 1685. Spend some time walking the lovely grounds, poking in and out of the thatch-roofed outbuildings on the property, some containing vintage carriages. Do a wine tasting (28 rand a person, or $3.50 at 7.79 rand to the dollar) or a cellar tour (33 rand or $4.24). Guests are welcome to bring a picnic and eat on the grounds, but a better option would be to eat a traditional Cape Malay dinner at the on-site Jonkershuis Restaurant. Try the beloved bobotie, a baked minced-meat dish similar to moussaka, or one of the Cape Malay curries, brought to Cape Town by Indonesian immigrants in the 17th century.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
No visit to Cape Town is complete without a visit to these stunning gardens (admission is 35 rand or $4.50). The gardens cover a gorgeous swath of land at the foot of the dramatic Table Mountain, which means the gardens literally continue right on up the mountain. Visitors could begin or end a hike at the gardens if they wished. The bold protea, South Africa's national flower, grows in wild bushes as you get higher in elevation at the gardens. And once visitors have traversed the paths up in elevation they're rewarded with incredible views of the bay. During summer, concerts are held in the gardens, but any time of year this is worth spending a half-day.
Beer Tasting at &Union
The year-and-a-half old "beer salon" (whose name is short for Brewers & Union) opened by two 30-something foodie entrepreneurs, is a Cape Town hipster hot spot. Housed in a stone-walled church basement (hence the reason "brewers" had to be struck from the name), the well-designed, organic-mod bar/shop specializes in natural or "real beer," as they call it. The owners are passionate about artisanal beer (something previously unavailable in South Africa) and work with the producers to tailor their own line of brews, which rotate seasonally. They've also created a culture around it, offering educational tastings where they literally preach the gospel of artisanal beer (100 rand or $13), Puma-sponsored concerts and more. During the World Cup they'll be taking a mobile &Union to the stadiums. The "salon" also serves homemade chacuterie made from local meats like springbok, which they pair with beer during the tastings. The owners hope to do for beer what they've already done for coffee with their hip chain of Vida e Caffé coffee shops.
Sirloin at Headquarters Restaurant
Carnivores flock to the year-and-a-half old HQ for it's straight-forward approach to beef. The menu has three items: sirloin, salad and French fries (or chips as the South Africans call them). The small menu means the kitchen can concentrate on getting your sirloin done right, and they do. Your free range steak from Namibia, South Africa's neighbor to the north, comes covered with cafe de Paris herb-butter and melts in your mouth. The restaurant's located among the quaint cobble-stone streets of Heritage Square in the city center. The warm-industrial decor give it a hip wash and the large bar/waiting area with fireplace (it is winter in Cape Town in June!), exposed-beam ceiling and leather sofas call for a pre and post-dinner cocktail.