Why is Cape Town such a great tourist destination?

By Jamie Goode | 7 February 2017

Why is Cape Town such a great tourist destination? Oh, there are so many reasons. I first took my family there back in 2003, when our boys were still young. I remember that before we travelled, most of the people we spoke to were surprised: isn’t it risky to take your family on holiday there? What about the crime? This planted little seeds of doubt in my mind, so for the first day of that trip I was scared and overly cautious. But I quickly realised that the concerned friends were completely wrong. While crime certainly exists, and I’m not making light of it, I’ve been multiple times and never felt threatened any more than I would in London or Paris.


So, the positives. There are just so many great things about Cape Town and the Western Cape. First, there’s the scenery. Natural beauty abounds, and it is easily accessed. The proximity of the oceans and the mountains helps. Then there’s the climate, which is really lovely. Sometimes people don’t realize that autumn and spring are every bit as beautiful as summer, and things aren’t as busy. Winter is variable, but you can get some nice surprises. Then there’s the ease of travelling around: most things are quite close together. The winelands, of course, are a big draw, with several diverse winegrowing areas fairly close together.


And this may sound trivial, but one of the great attractions is that Cape Town is just an 11 hour overnight flight away, with no jetlag involved (there’s a time difference of just one hour). This means that as long as you can sleep on a plane, you arrive fresh in Cape Town with a full day ahead of you, and you also cover two nights of holiday accommodation on the plane. For the last few years, though, these direct flights were getting expensive, to the point that a few times I had to fly indirectly. As a guide, when I was planning my visits last year, the British Airways flight (in economy of course) was £1100, even at off-peak times like April and July. Flying with Emirates via Dubai – admittedly a much longer route, but on new planes – was around half this fare.


The reason for these expensive fares? It was because BA was the only option for London to Cape Town direct, and as a result they had a near monopoly position. So prices go up, and they put their old 747s on the route, which are no match for modern planes in terms of passenger experience. A few years back, South African Airways stopped flying the London to Cape Town route, and there was just a seasonal Virgin flight as the other option.


This is now changing. Recently, Thomas Cook have introduced a direct Gatwick to Cape Town flight, for £299 each way. I’ve no idea what flying with a charter airline long haul is like, and judging by some of the reviews from disgruntled passengers are like, I’ve no intention of finding out. But it’s good that there’s some competition on this route. BA have also introduced a Gatwick-Cape Town flight as well, so this should increase capacity. But the good news is that the cost of flying direct on the Heathrow-Cape Town route has come down considerably, and you can now fly BA for just over £600. That’s pretty cheap, considering that a reward flight on airmiles will still cost you £300 in taxes and charges. So there has never been a better time to head to Cape Town for a holiday.


So if you go, what should you do? You need to spend some time in the city, but not too much. It’s good to move around a bit, and I’d recommend a multi-base itinerary, staying in a few places.


On the coast, I really like the false bay seaside villages and towns, and one of my favourites is St James, near Muizenberg. Nearby Kalk Bay is also lovely. Stay a few days by the sea: there are lots of guest houses.


I also like Hermanus, which is a lovely base for visiting the wineries of the lovely Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. This is pretty much compulsory: great Chardonnay and Pinot Noir is the main draw. Depending on the time of year, you can also whale watch from the shore.


Constantia, a suburb of Cape Town tucked in behind Table Mountain, is a lovely place to spend some time. There are good restaurants here, and as a wine region it is small and high quality, specializing in whites and also the famous Constantia sweet wines.


Stellenbosch, the main wine region, is also essential visiting. The town itself is beautiful, and has lovely guest houses and small hotels. It is also home to the Cape’s most well known wineries, and some lovely Cape Dutch architecture. Some of the wineries have luxury accommodation, too.


One of the big tourist draws is the town of Franschhoek, which has become a gastronomic centre. There’s lots to eat and drink here, and there’s some amazing luxury accommodation. The valley is quite beautiful, too.


If you feel like going off the beaten track a bit, the wine regions of Paarl, Robertson and Swartland are also really worth a look, although they aren’t as tourism focused. There are still some good wineries here who welcome visitors, and they’re also pretty scenic.


Finally, my favourite place of all is Cape Point national park. Plan to spend a day here: it’s stunningly beautiful and you’ll encounter quite a bit of nature on your way. But watch out for the baboons. If they think you have food, then they’ll be more than a little inquisitive.




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From Jamie Goode

Jamie Goode

The interesting thing about wine is that you only get one chance a year to make it. So for the average winemaker, retiring at a normal age, you might get to make 40 or so vintages in your lifetime, unless of course you switch hemispheres in your winter and go to work somewhere else.   Wine is an expression of place; it's also an expression of a particular year. For the winegrower who also tends their own vines, there's a special significance to vintage time. From the time the vine buds, to the point where the flowering occurs, to the point where grapes begin developing, to the point of veraison when the skins soften and red grapes chance colour, to the point of deciding when to pick, the winegrower tracks the progress of vintage. That year is then something they try to capture in the wine, as the grapes enter the cellar. It's only after several months that they will really know the personality of the vintage they have just lived through, when the baby wines begin to show what they are about. Along the way, there are many things that can go wrong: frost, disease, pests, microbial disasters in the wine. It's a complicated business, but when it does well, it’s worth all the anxiety and toil.

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I was recently in South Africa for Cape Wine and managed to taste several vintages of the delicious Vin de Constance from Klein Constantia. I usually opt for a sweet wine at the end of a meal instead of a pudding and The Vin de Constance is a perfect way to end a meal. It's rich and opulent with stone fruits, vanilla and a hint of spice yet it is also fresh, balanced and has a long, moreish finish. Master of Wine, Tim Atkin, highly rated both the 2011 and 2012 in his most recent report on South Africa which is available to download for £15 on timatkin.com.  

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