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A panoramic of the Victoria & Alfred waterfront and harbor, with famous Table Mountain in the background - Getty Images/warrengoldswain

Mr. Harper's Notebook: Things to Do in Cape Town

By Andrew Harper

The Harper Way | May 10, 2017

Cape Town has a setting of astonishing drama and beauty. The massive slab of Table Mountain rears up like a gigantic fortress; in winter, huge Atlantic breakers smash into the boulders that protect the city’s harbor, while in summer, a placid expanse of turquoise edges the glistening white sands of Camps Bay. A major port with an intriguing history, an ethnically diverse population and a thriving cultural scene, Cape Town also possesses a downtown that is a delightful hodgepodge of Cape Dutch, Georgian, Victorian, art deco and contemporary architecture. Cape Town has become one of the world’s great food cities, with a wide choice of distinctive restaurants, and it has an exquisite and easily accessible hinterland with some of the world’s most attractive vineyards.

Explore the Wine Shops

The eponymous owner of Vaughan Johnson's Wine Shop Photo by Andrew Harper

A must on my Cape Town itinerary has long been a trip to Vaughan Johnson's Wine Shop in the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. The affable Mr. Johnson knows the South African wine scene in detail. On my most recent visit, however, I found that he is now concentrating on wines of special value — his “100 best.” For a much larger selection, head to Caroline’s Fine Wine Cellar. Started by Caroline Rillema in 1997, this is where you will find big-name wines such as Rust en Vrede, Warwick, Delaire Graff, Hamilton Russell and Boekenhoutskloof, among others.

Shop Local

Be sure to visit Africa Nova and browse the contemporary paintings, jewelry, ceramics and textiles. This upmarket shop focuses on supporting local artists, craftspeople and designers in the heart of the De Waterkant district.

An array of African art and crafts at Greenmarket Square in Cape Town, South Africa Flickr/awoodvine

At the historic center of Cape Town, you will find an array of African art and crafts at Greenmarket Square.

The interior of the Watershed as designed by architect Heinrich Wolff - Photo by Dave Southwood
The Watershed features more than 150 local designers, craft booths and textile vendors - Photo by Dave Southwood

The vibrant, design-forward Watershed by architect Heinrich Wolff is a striking addition to the V&A Waterfront. Spend the afternoon exploring the renovated open-air marketplace with more than 150 local designers, craft booths and textile vendors. We particularly liked the modern South African tableware from Odeon.

Take a Drive

View of Hout Bay during a sunny day from Chapman's Peak Drive Getty Images/ConnorSkye

When the sun is shining, make a counterclockwise circuit of Table Mountain. Drive southwest, through Bantry Bay and Clifton, and pause for a coffee overlooking the white sands of Camps Bay before continuing south along the rugged, wave-dashed Atlantic Coast to picturesque Hout Bay. Then head back north through Constantia, the city’s most desirable residential neighborhood, past the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden and the University of Cape Town. I guarantee that you’ll start looking at real estate agents’ windows.

Visit Wineries

The main house and grounds of Groot Constantia near Cape Town, South Africa Courtesy of Groot Constantia

South African wine is synonymous with the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek regions east of Cape Town. But wine production began in Constantia, now one of the city’s southern suburbs. There, Groot Constantia still makes superb wines. In a handsome facility that would put many Napa wineries to shame, we have enjoyed notable bottlings such as the Blanc de Noir and the Gouverneurs Reserve Red, a fine blend. Ask to taste the coveted Grand Constance, a sweet Muscat wine of great distinction.


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Andrew Harper Photo Andrew Harper is the editor of The Hideaway Report, a luxury travel newsletter that first appeared in 1979. He travels anonymously and pays his own expenses in pursuit of unique properties that offer unusually high levels of personal service. Hotels have no idea who he is, so he is treated exactly as you might be.

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