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'Cape of Renewed Hope'
IT is one of those perfect sunny days that Cape Town is famous for and I am basking in the balmy Cape climate as I listen to live music and nosh on delicious canapes freshly prepared by some of the city's top chefs. The annual Constantia Fresh Festival is in full swing and conversations buzz as the city's fashionable set dines on gourmet food and fine wine at this prestigious outdoor food and wine festival.
Located on the spacious grounds of the Buitenverwachting estate in Constantia, the oldest and one of the most affluent suburbs in South Africa, this festival is a showcase of Cape Town at its best - sophisticated and urbane yet laid back and friendly.
With iconic landmarks such as the Table Mountain range and Cape Point, as well as a thriving lifestyle and entertainment scene that includes the chic City Bowl district and the exceptional Cape Winelands region, it is no wonder that the city frequently features on annual lists of best places to visit, including those by The New York Times and The Telegraph. Still, despite the good press, the city remains relatively overlooked by tourists from this region, although that may not remain the case for long.
After all, there is no lack of ways for travellers to indulge in the charms of Cape Town. Art and design lovers can shop for contemporary African homeware and furnishings in the hip Woodstock neighbourhood or hunt for local crafts and goods at The Watershed markets located at the beautiful V&A Waterfront.
For those who prefer to travel light, the city houses a range of excellent museums, including the Iziko Museums, as well as the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, which is slated to open at the end of 2016. Culinary gems, such as The Test Kitchen and La Colombe, are internationally renowned restaurants well worth checking out.
When it comes to hospitality, there is nothing quite like the South African blend of family-style warmth with a smile. Never have I felt more comfortably settled into a home away from home than at the More Quarters luxury boutique apartments, ideally located smack in the city's hip dining and entertainment district.
Tastefully furnished in stylish modern fittings, I found myself looking forward to returning to this calm oasis after a night of bar hopping at the countless restaurants, cafes and cocktail bars that line the ultra-cool Kloof, Bree and Long streets, all of which are just a short walk from the hotel.
Just 15 minutes away from the city centre in the Constantia valley is The Cellars-Hohenort, a Relais & Chateaux property, with rooms ranging from double rooms to suites and even a villa. The Premier Suites that come with a private garden terrace are particularly beautiful, especially for those wish to enjoy a tiny slice of nature while on vacation.
Still, even with such glitz and glamour, one will find it impossible to remain oblivious to the country's troubled past as the legacy of apartheid still mars the country's development. Dilapidated shanty towns or townships, the product of the apartheid policy of segregation, remain a fairly common sight along the freeway.
On the other end of the spectrum, at many restaurants, especially in the gentrified Winelands region, my partner and myself almost always invariably end up as the only "coloured" diners in a sea of whites.
Thankfully, this white-out is a lot less pronounced in the cosmopolitan City Bowl, where young Capetonians of all races and colours mingle and socialise together.
While much remains to be done, it is heartening that many do not shy away from this issue. A young man - obviously of a privileged background - that I strike up a conversation with at the Constantia Fresh Festival candidly speaks of the social in-equalities that still plague the country and others around him start chiming in.
Even though a tourist's time in South Africa is transient, there are a number of ways for socially conscious travellers to give back, especially to community development projects. For example, The Kusasa Project, which is based in the Winelands town of Franschhoek, provides 1,100 kids with a daily meal and runs an Early Learning Centre for 120 young children. The programme, which also offers high school bursaries and tertiary scholarships, accepts donations to support the salaries of qualified teachers.
Travellers who wish to gain a deeper understanding of life in the townships can sign up for a philanthropic cultural tour with non-profit agency Uthando, which raises funds to support various community development projects in the Cape Town region.
The tours are conducted with sensitivity and allow for authentic insights and interactions with the locals. Requests related to these charities or other volunteer offers may be directed to specialist travel agency A2A Safaris, which has an office in Singapore.
Most essentially, be sure to book a visit to Robben Island, the notorious prison island where Nelson Mandela spent 18 years of his 27-year sentence. With daily tours conducted by former incarcerated political prisoners, the country's past comes vividly to life, and provides important context for the country's present and future.
There is plenty that will shock, and even more that would make a grown man shed tears but do not ignore the spirit of hope and reconciliation that permeates this grim atmosphere. It can be seen in the murals that remain preserved in the cells and the gardens the prisoners tended to. And most of all, it can be seen in the actions of the men who were jailed.
We made a stop at the limestone quarry where Mr Mandela and his fellow prisoners were forced to do hours of hard labour, with no purpose but to break their spirits. Instead, he used this time to educate not just his fellow prisoners, but their white guards too.
"It is said that the first peace treaty was signed here in the quarry, when lessons were conducted for everyone," says our guide.
To be uplifted in the face of hopelessness - now that's a timeless message for the ages.