With a mountainous spine running the length of a peninsula that stretches like a crooked finger into the Atlantic, what we fondly call our “Mother City” is naturally the most popular destination in the country. Regularly heralded as one of the most beautiful in the world, it is naturally divided into distinct geographic subcultures – from the bohemian surf-culture of the deep south and the old money of Constantia to the new-glitz of Camps Bay – but all share the same magnificent backdrop: the 22 000-hectare Table Mountain National Park, home to more plant species than the entire British Isles, and a fascinating array of wildlife. In fact, Cape Town is one of only two urban centres in the world that surround a national park, yet offers intriguing architecture (remember the city was born in 1652, making it one of the oldest colonial outposts in the world), and a host of cultural drawcards, not least its nearby valleys carpeted in award-winning vineyards and Cape Dutch wine estates. It is this fascinating blend of raw nature and urbane, historical refinement that makes Cape Town such a wonderful city to live in, and to visit.
However, ask any of the “swallows”, as we call the city’s annual visitors who return every summer and leave as the first snows settle on the mountains that girdle the city, and they will assure you that flying all the way to the continent’s southern tip only to sample the delights of its most famous city is a sadly underutilized trip.
Aside from planning a sojourn in a private villa surrounding by miles of bush in one of the country’s vast wilderness reserves (something everyone needs to do at least once, and hang the costs), there is the buzz of Johannesburg, aka ‘Jozi’, the pulsating financial powerhouse of the continent, the well-groomed golf courses of the Western Cape, or the laid-back pleasures of Kwazulu-Natal’s lush, subtropical coast. It’s great driving country too, with a choice of superb road trips on well-maintained yet empty byways, traversing huge humbling plains under even bigger blue skies that turn star-spangled at night – awe-inspiring, and just the ticket if you can’t recall the taste of fresh, unpolluted air, and a night free of artificial light… Nuff said, I’m off.