a landscape with trees and mountains

Grab a nice glass of wine, a cold water or a good snack and settle in. GSTP presents part four of our “we’re bored out of our minds at home” travel retrospective series, looking back at some pivotal travel moments which shaped the creation or happiest travels of GSTP.

Looking back, I’ve always prioritized destinations that are unfair. They’re the ones born with the good looks and the charm, yet somehow people can’t come to hate them. Cape Town, South Africa is one of those places.

Cape Town, much like the delights of Rio De Janeiro, offers a landscape which hardly seems fair. It’s jagged, it’s rugged and my goodness it’s beautiful from every angle. There’s the proud sights of Table Mountain and Lions Head, but then also incredible beaches, gorgeous coastline, bountiful forest and of course, the lovely people and bohemian enclaves.

A 2015 honeymoon trip, which marked my first time to this incredible destination has been buzzing in my mind for weeks, as we cope with the realities of a world without travel. It all started with a guy named Maurius, the affable driver sent to pick us up from the airport and bring us to the hotel.

We stayed at MannaBay, nestled up on the hill which I highly recommend, and it was great to have transfers sorted, particulary as first timers. Maurius was a larger than life bulls**tter, with great chat. We quickly struck up a rapport, and before even reaching the hotel had decided to venture out with him the very next day to explore Cape Point, and most importantly – to see a real penguin colony.

a city and a body of waterI think often about the greatest glasses of wine I’ve ever enjoyed – and my first glass in Cape Town wasn’t one of them, but the setting was right up there. Floor to ceiling windows directly overlooking the waterfront, with towering Table Mountain just behind us. You know how you have those images burn into your mind so clearly? This is one for me.

I knew we were in the right place.

All it took was a few hours to know Cape Town is a place you can never tire of returning to. Yes, it’s beautiful like many other places, but the cuisine and quality of restaurants rivals any of the world’s best, the culture is unique and the value is outstanding. I can comfortably say we enjoyed some of the best dining both fine, and relaxed, at prices you wouldn’t believe.

It’s never cool to brag about a place being cheap, because it tends to mean there’s inequality and other issues at play, but by visiting and supporting local economies, I think it’s ok to state that for most people reading this, your money goes far,in Cape Town and is greatly appreciated.

The best dining memory is of a place I hope exists when travel returns, as the restaurant industry takes among the worst of the beatings.

La Colombe is this simply outstanding restaurant in a beautiful setting in the hills, and I think our dinner of 2 bottles of wine – yikes – and two four course tasting menus came to around $120 all in, after tip. It’s two Michelin star kinda level cooking, to put that into perspective. For any normal meal, think a small fraction of that.

Back to the penguins.

35857495 - colorful bathhouses at muizenberg, cape town, south africa, standing in a row.We set off with Maurius down to Cape Point, one of the Southernmost points you can find, and stopped along the way to see penguins in a natural colony. It was so cool, I gave in to my tourist regrets and snapped away like memory cards don’t have limits. They’re so cute.

As we rolled along into national parks, we saw Zebras and other wildlife which felt like safari, particularly for a New Yorker. After the day was over and the meter technically stopped running, good ole’ Maurius invited us to his local for a beer. Like many of you clever enough to still be reading, these are the things I value most.

We can all google a top restaurant or bar, but to experience life as a local is the greatest pleasure in travel. I don’t even want to say how cheap the beer was too, but suffice to say Maurius didn’t mind buying us a round. What a gent.

One of my favorite tips, was to hike Lions Head, which more locals tend to do than other spots. The views standing up top, and the feelings of getting there are some of my fondest memories. If you go, do it.

Just when you were hoping this would end, we take the scenic drive to Franschhoek, another beauty queen with the heart to match. This is your Napa Valley, rolling hills of Tuscany setting, within miles of where most of the good wine in South Africa comes from.

Pulling up to La Residence, one of the world’s best hotels, which at the time we absolutely could not afford, but are so glad we booked anyway, you couldn’t help but smile. There were vines to the left, jagged mountains to the right, peacocks walking around, and of course, the welcome each guest receives from most of the staff.

a person pouring wine into a glassFranschhoek and Stellenbosch are the places you go to indulge. Incredible farm to table meals are everywhere, and a world class wine to match probably had its grapes picked within a stones throw. All the hotels bask in heavenly sun and understated luxury is the word. You can’t help but be happy here.

If you’re thinking this all sounds awesome, but have “heard things”, I feel deeply obliged to say that Cape Town and the area in general is as safe as anywhere, for the most part. Just like New York or Beijing, if you go to the wrong part of town at the wrong time of night looking for trouble, you’ll find it.

But if you don’t, and keep your eyes open and are mindful of your surroundings, I’ve never had an issue. Like anywhere, if you dress to get robbed in a place where it happejns, you just might. I’ve got more concrete musings on the subject here.

Cape Town is a trip you must take. If you have the time, hop a flight and do a safari somewhere else in South Africa while you’re around. I love the bohemian culture, the humble surf towns, the superb food and the views you can’t help but dream of. Right now, I am…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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