Cape Town: Cultural Crossroads
Photo: Victoria & Alfred Waterfront and Table Mountain © HONGQI ZHANG (AKA MICHAEL ZHANG) | DREAMSTIME
JOHANNESBURG MAY HAVE THE REPUTATION as South Africa’s business capital, but Cape Town still offers plenty to those traveling for work. The Mother City, as it is commonly known, with its spectacular waterfront setting crowned by the famous Table Mountain, hosts conferences that attract visitors from around the world.
You’ll likely arrive at Cape Town International Airport, the second-busiest in South Africa and the third-busiest on the entire continent. Located just 12 miles from the city center, it experienced tremendous growth since opening in 1954. More than 10 million passengers passed through in 2016 — its busiest year yet.
Arranging a car service in advance proves the best way to get into town. Services like Centurion Tours and Citi Hopper greet you at the terminal and run about 270–360 South African rand ($20–27), depending on the number of passengers in the vehicle. Uber is also thriving in Cape Town, so consider hailing a ride with the app if your smartphone works in South Africa. The Uber X service costs R146–189 ($11–15), while the more luxurious Uber Black should cost about R249–324 ($18–25).
The 20- to 30-minute ride (depending on traffic) along the highway takes you past some of South Africa’s infamous townships. Although the center of Cape Town is home to fewer than 435,000, the metro area boasts a population of more than 3.7 million. Many live in these makeshift towns consisting of informal housing, a remnant from the days of apartheid, prohibiting non-whites from living in the city center.
Cape Town, though, is quickly moving on from those unfortunate days. As you approach the downtown area, you’ll immediately recognize the faces of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu currently installed on the façade of the Civic Centre. On a clear day, you’ll also spot the flat-topped Table Mountain in the background.
Suitable hotels are scattered around the Central Business District and along the waterfront, but the 12-story Townhouse Hotel offers an excellent option for business travelers with its downtown location near City Hall and South Africa’s Houses of Parliament. It boasts seven meeting rooms that accommodate up to 425 people, with its largest holding 300.
While your hotel likely includes full breakfast, you might want to organize a morning meeting offsite. Taxis don’t roam Cape Town’s streets, however, so use Uber or ask the concierge to arrange transportation for you. Hemelhuijs, a chic café by Chef Jacques Erasmus, proves the perfect location for a power breakfast. Savor the famous mosbolletjie bread dotted with anise seed, along with a dish of poached eggs with Hollandaise sauce and artichoke hearts. Stay energized through the day’s events with a fresh-squeezed juice or Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk.
Reserve a table at The Pot Luck Club in trendy Woodstock and impress your guests with the 360-degree views of the city. As one of South Africa’s most renowned chefs, Luke Dale-Roberts creates an ever-changing menu of Asian-inspired small plates incorporating South African ingredients guaranteed to please. Choices could include crispy calamari with yuzu-compressed apples or smoked beef filet with black pepper and truffle café au lait sauce.
Then pull out all the stops at dinner with white tablecloths and harbor views. Reserve a table on the covered terrace or within the polished interior of Baia Seafood Restaurant on the upper level of the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. The menu reflects the culinary imprint of Portuguese explorers on the cuisine of Cape Town, while the wine list offers several rare vintages. Sample spicy prawns in a mild curry sauce from the former colony of Mozambique; meat lovers might opt for the filet mignon basted with chili and lemon.
The V&A Waterfront also makes an ideal neighborhood for unwinding. The property, spanning more than two acres, houses a marina; shopping mall; and the multistory V&A Food Market, with a vast selection of gourmet vendors. The Watershed, with more than 150 local craft and design tenants, offers the best place to buy souvenirs for friends and family back home, while the recent opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa garners plenty of buzz as the largest museum to open on the continent in more than 100 years.
Also let off some steam with a cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain, where the sweeping view from 3,558 feet puts Cape Town’s remarkable setting in perspective. While admiring the city skyline against Table Bay and peeking at the beaches on the other side of Lion’s Head, the city’s other famous mountain, you’ll finally understand why the Dutch East India Company established a settlement in this protected area near the southernmost point in Africa back in 1652.
Remember to leave some time to experience the Mother City’s legendary nightlife. New York and African influences combine at The Piano Bar, a popular music revue bar in De Waterkant that serves cocktails, craft beers and wine. Then slide into a turquoise-colored booth at The Willaston Bar on the sixth floor of the new Silo Hotel and sip some of Cape Town’s newest local gins while enjoying the twinkling lights of this singular city.