Our final stop was to visit that many consider the crown jewel of South Africa, the Mother City—Cape Town. Coming from San Francisco (approximately the same distance north of the equator as Cape Town is to the south), we were prepared for some similarities, but it really was uncanny. Rugged hills and mountains, spectacular views, coastal scrub vegetation, a diversity of ethnicities with fantastic cuisine available, a working port, and wealthy suburbs with stately homes and gardens.
The Alphen Hotel in Constantia, just on the other side of Table Mountain from Cape Town, is housed in a completely refurbished Cape Dutch colonial-era building amidst lush gardens, green lawns, and patio courtyards. Our room’s interior was an interesting contrast to the traditional exterior, with contemporary funky touches (a see-through bathroom door, and a desk chair in the shape of a woman’s behind, to name a few), and came with the most comfortable bed we found on our entire trip. Its location means that you’re just a 15-minute drive from Cape Town proper, but can enjoy a quieter, more suburban setting, and in a historic area where the region’s first vineyards were planted more than 350 years ago.
It’s also easy to access area attractions like the famous Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens on Sir Cecil Rhodes’ former estate—we found a visit to the gardens a worthwhile afternoon, exploring the unique vegetation of the Cape floral kingdom (the world’s smallest) in a scenic setting beneath the slopes of Table Mountain, though it was a bit unfortunate that the gardens were not as well-kept as one might expect for such a signature attraction. Drinks and dinner at the 5 Rooms Restaurant at Alphen was also memorable, with service and food at a world-class standard.
On a gorgeous spring day, we set off to explore the Cape of Good Hope Nature Reserve on the rugged peninsula jutting south into the Atlantic from Cape Town. Unfortunately, due to the recent torrential rains, the Chapman’s Peak coastal road was washed out, so we headed south via Fish Hoek and Simon’s Town.
Walking up to the lighthouse atop Cape Point, we were reminded of an even more rugged version of California’s stunning Point Reyes, with big surf and seabirds and wind-whipped beaches backed by steep coastal cliffs. It was a truly spectacular place, even if the actual “Cape of Good Hope” sign itself is a bit overrun with tourists on buses taking snapshots. Just hike a bit down any trail to escape the hordes (and try to arrive early).