Johnny's Journeys: Africa Part Four
Modern Cape Town
Written By Johnny Fugitt
Photos Courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Cape Town reminds me, in so many ways, of San Francisco. Geographically, there’s an ocean to each city’s west with wine country just to the north. Franschhoek and Stellenbosch are to Cape Town what Napa and Sonoma are to Fog City. The topography of Southwestern Africa is stunning – Big Sur would fit right in. Many of Cape Town’s hills are nearly as steep as San Francisco’s Lombard Street. Cape Town is the artistic, creative, surfer cousin to the industrial, urban, grimy Johannesburg to the east. Both western cities boast unpredictable weather and diverse populations. The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront holds the same appeal to tourists as Fisherman’s Wharf. Alcatraz and Robben are, perhaps, the two most famous prisons in the world – and they’re both on islands near downtown. Can I stop?
If you like San Francisco and enjoy international travel, you’ll love Cape Town. In the first installment of this series, I dove into the history of the city and the Cape itself. Today I want to focus on the modern, forward-leaning aspects of this coastal city.
I enjoyed a week in Cape Town and, despite my best efforts multiple times a day, barely scratched the surface of the booming culinary scene. The diversity of restaurants matches any city’s and, once again, felt much like San Francisco. Granted, there are fewer taquerias, but the city makes up for this with numerous places to find a Gatsby – a curry and fry stuffed sandwich. With blue water, vineyards and farms nearby, the focus on fresh, local, in-season, sustainable food is on pace with Californian efforts. The predominant restaurant design in Cape Town is modern and features indoor/outdoor seating options.
In addition to the of-the-moment flavors, themes and trends featured in Cape Town’s trendy restaurants, there’s still a place for the more traditional steakhouse where one can enjoy a thick cut of South African beef with a generous pour of Pinotage, Stellenbosch’s specialty cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut grapes. Always up to try something new, I had to try a kudu (a large type of antelope) steak, ostrich filet and warthog ribs. The exotic game is worth tasting, but, if I could do it all again, I would trade a little of the novelty and variety for another tasty beef filet.
Outdoor activities can kill time between meals as you build your appetite for the next feast (priorities, right?). From surfing massive waves and cage diving with the world’s largest great white sharks to hiking and parasailing, Cape Town has become a destination for thrill-seekers. If walking or carelessly strolling is more your vacation speed, check out the art. A number of interesting, small galleries dot downtown, but the crown jewel of the city is the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa on the waterfront.
While most African art in US museums is traditional or tribal, The Zeitz Museum’s collection of modern African art offers a different perspective of the people, places and ideas in 21st century Africa. The museum itself is a stunning structure embodying a collection of 1920’s grain silos.
Perhaps even more stunning is The Silo next door. With a keen eye for design and an unwillingness to compromise on quality, Liz Biden’s South African luxury retreats are consistently praised as some of the world’s finest getaways. The Silo may be her most ambitious and awe-inspiring project yet.
Situated next to and above the Zeitz Museum, The Silo opened last year and has equally impressed architecture critics, art collectors, famous designers and the most discerning of travelers. African art is featured throughout public and private spaces, but nothing frames Cape Town’s beauty like the protruding, geodesic windows featured in each room.
For dinner at The Silo, I tried the tuna tartare and braised springbok shank (once again, I can’t turn down a new-to-me cut of meat) at The Granary Café. The star of my meal, however, was the signature cocktail – the Rose Ginvino. Made with Musgrave Pink Gin, Chenin Blanc, lime, grapefruit, rose syrup, egg white and topped with rose pedals, this seductive opus hit all the right notes.
My vacation carried me to other countries in the southern half of the continent, but most travelers I met at The Silo completed a similar journey without leaving the country. After exploring Cape Town for a few days, they moved to The Royal Portfolio’s La Residence in wine country before Royal Malewane drew them east to Kruger National Park. These three properties have each taken their own place among the world’s elite resorts and a trip including all three is almost too much.
The ‘Big Five,’ yesteryear’s shorthand for the five most difficult types of African game to hunt on foot (lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino), is commonly used in safari lingo. As these animals are now rarely hunted and there is so much more wildlife to see on safari, I think we should retire this term and replace it with the ‘Big Three.’ When visiting Southern Africa, the must-see circuit is Cape Town, wine country and a safari. Hitting all three offers a blend of urban and rural, manmade and natural, historic and modern, adventurous and relaxing, enlightening and familiar – the perfect balance for an African holiday.