“Autumn” has arrived in Cape Town, but forget the wind and drizzle of home, this feels more like Summer 2.0. The days are warm but not too hot, the nights are cool but not too cold. After two years of local lockdowns and international red listing, the city of wine and waves is back with a pop and a fizz.
Since January, inbound tourists have increased by over 20 per cent. British Airways (ba.com) and Virgin Atlantic (virginatlantic.com) have reinstated their direct flights from Heathrow and United Airlines (united.com) has resumed its route from New York after a 20-month hiatus.
Bree Street’s bars and restaurants now echo with chatter and clinking champagne flutes. The hubbub in Camps Bay has returned to 2019 levels. Even the infamous Cape Doctor – the city’s south-easterly summer hooley – has now, mercifully, dropped to a few intermittent squalls.
Head out to Muizenberg Beach, and the March swell is perfect for beginner surfers and pros alike. You’ll always need a wetsuit, but the Atlantic has just hit its 19-degree annual high. Go a little further, to the Winelands, and the region’s sun-kissed fruit farms and vineyards are now plump and ripe for picking. You can practically taste the sugar on the breeze.
Dozens of bars, hotels and restaurants closed their doors for good in 2020 and 2021, and as recently as December, a lack of international visitors was costing the city’s tourism industry 200 million Rand (£9.7 million) a day in lost revenue.
But while some businesses folded, others came back stronger. Tourists heading down for a shoulder season sojourn will find a city abuzz with new restaurants, menus, hotel refurbs, spas and experiences. In fact, life in Cape Town doesn’t just feel pre-pandemic normal, it feels positively revamped and recharged.
As it stands, Britons still need to provide a negative PCR result to enter South Africa, and – at least according to the official guidance – wear a mask in public spaces. But with braai-friendly weather forecast until at least May, and a citywide push to make up for lost time, there’s rarely been a better time to visit.
The Winchester Hotel
Back open after an extensive ZAR 90 million (£4.4) renovation, this 76-room former 1920s apartment block has been modernised throughout. The centrepiece, however, remains the lively flower-filled courtyard. At the hotel’s new restaurant, Shoreditch, almost everything is cooked over hot charcoal, leaving shellfish, tuna and red meat with the unmistakable aroma of a South African braai. The “dirty rib” with chimichurri will appeal to carnivores, but the most delicious thing on the menu is – without doubt – the pit roasted cauliflower, served with a coconut and tandoori oil. (0027 21427 5900; newmarkhotels.com).
At the heart of Camp’s Bay’s “Golden Mile”, this boutique hotel added 27 suites just before the pandemic, taking the total number to 38. Most rooms look out across a palm-fringed beach and have balconies ideal for sundowners. The hotel strikes a perfect balance between the buzz of the strip and a place to escape; the double-glazed windows are mercifully good at keeping out the sound of music. Downstairs, you’ll find several restaurants, including the recently opened Surf Shack, which is always busy and does some of the best seafood in Cape Town. The buckets of prawns and langoustines, served with lemon butter, are delicious. (0027 02143 71287; themarly.co.za).
Clinging to the south-facing slopes of Table Mountain National Park, just 20 feet from the Atlantic, this hotel and spa has recently launched the new Apostles Braai – an outdoor dining area, built within the surrounding bush. The most exciting new development, however, is the hotel’s renovated and reopened helipad, allowing guests to fly in and out, over one of the greatest cities on earth. In collaboration with NAC Helicopters, it’s now possible to touch down at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront for a spot of lunch or shopping, before being returned home in time for sundowners. Prices for helicopter tours start from ZAR 1,690 (£83) per person. (0027 21437 9000; 12apostleshotel.com).
This seven-suite city hotel opened in 2019 and enjoyed a few busy months just before the pandemic hit. Arguably, it’s like nothing else in Cape Town, with a garden terrace than wouldn’t look out of place in Paris or Milan. It’s unsurprising, really, because South African owner Johan Du Plessis cut his teeth in Europe before buying and renovating the property in 2010. The city centre isn’t as lively as it was before the pandemic, but Labotessa feels like an integral part of the bounce back. Sophisticated and immaculate, elegant, but not gaudy, this boutique hotel is right in the heart of the action. Fyn Restaurant – recently named among the 50 best on the planet – is a 30-second walk away. (0027 21010 6600; labotessa.com).
Eat and drink
Cabo Beach Club
This Ibiza-style bar and club opened in November 2021, and occupies a sun-washed sandy outcrop at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, less than half a mile from the helicopter terminal. The club’s previous incarnation – Shimmy Beach – had more of a party feel, but the rebrand is now family-friendly (in the daytime, at least), with a new and improved menu. The pizzas are exceptional, so too is the fresh fish and sushi. The venue can seat 300 during the day, but high-profile DJs can play to 2,000 on Friday and Saturday nights, once or twice a month. These nights are ticketed, and Instagram is the best place to find out what’s on. It’s essential to book a visit ahead of time and the dress code is smart-casual. (0027 21137 5401; cabobeachclub.co.za).
Opened in February 2021, on Bree Street next to Leo’s Wine Bar, Tomson is the latest venture of Chinese-South African chef and owner, Andrew Kai. His Cantonese-style street food is a delectable balance of spicy, sweet and savoury, including umami-rich pork and shrimp wonton dumplings, sliced pork with kimchi, and vegetarian dishes such as pickled mushrooms and “lo bak go” turnip cakes. New for 2022 is the Mongolian Chicken – slices of tender breast in a silky Sichuan sauce. There’s an informal and energetic vibe to the place, but it’s a small space, and reservations are hard to come by, so book (via Google here or Instagram here) in advance.
Homespun at the Andros
Six years after setting up his first Homespun restaurant in Blouberg, chef Matt Schreuder opened a second at the Andros Deluxe Boutique Hotel in Claremont last June. The tasting menu often feels like a science experiment, with cocktails and dishes that sizzle, steam and fizz. The humble bread course, for example, is accompanied by an “edible candle” that tastes just like smoky South African Boerewors. Every plate is an event for the senses; expect desiccated logs with smoking cinnamon, dry ice that will leave you breathing fire like a dragon, and tuna flakes that magically move like swimming fish. At ZAR 595 (£29) for the tasting menu and ZAR 375 (£18) for the wine pairing, this feels like very good value. (0027 02155 62824; homespunbymatt.co.za).
The Royal Oyster Bar
A totally new concept for Cape Town, this seafood, wine and cocktail bar opened in September 2021 on Bree Street. Their cocktail and Knysna varieties come from the warmer waters of South Africa’s East Coast, while the Saldanha, Namibian and giant oysters are sourced from the cooler west. Every Friday night the bar hosts a saxophonist, and there’s a fun blind wine tasting to have a go at – guess all four wines and you receive a ZAR 1,000 (£49) voucher. Don’t like oysters? There’s Norwegian salmon, a lamb shank and fish and chips with a capers aioli. (0027 71490 2834; the-royal-oyster.com).
No doubt soon to be award-winning, this fine dining restaurant at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront opened at Christmas 2021 and is already the talk of the town. Service is slick, with plates flying to tables in plumes of dry ice. Fun and theatrical throughout, this is time travel through food; three hours will whizz by in the blink of an eye. The menu changes regularly to suit the passing seasons, but pin your hopes on trying the phenomenal crayfish tortellini with pork jowl and spiced coconut. ZAR 1,650 (£80) plus ZAR 1,250 (£60) for the wine pairing. A bargain by European standards. (0027 218 796 328; pier.restaurant).
Escape the city
One of the most exciting new arrivals, not only in the Western Cape, but in South Africa, this 165-acre estate opened to the public in 2021 and can sleep up to 12 adults. Built in a modern Cape Dutch style, Brookdale feels more like a family home than a hotel, and has a pool house, dining room, office and lounge. There are different terraces for breakfasts, cocktails and dinners, and easy access to the surrounding vineyards. The food is hearty and wholesome, using local lamb and vegetables from the kitchen garden, and is paired exquisitely with the estate-grown Chenin blanc and Syrah. Summer 2022/23 will see the opening of a new Brookdale restaurant, which will also be open to non-residents. (0027 076 4000 229; brookdale-estate.com).
This 18th-century Constantia hotel used the pandemic to undergo a major refresh, with crisp new interiors, a boutique spa, a heated 15-metre pool and gym. The hotel’s flagship restaurant, Blanko, has also had a full makeover, with a new menu and a slightly more informal vibe. The prawn linguine, cooked in shallots, garlic, chilli and cream goes particularly well with a glass of local Chenin blanc. Another significant change, post-pandemic, is that day guests can relax next to the pool for ZAR 500 (£25) – and use the balance against food and drink. (0027 21795 6300; alphen.co.za).
Seemingly riding atop a wave of undulating grape vines, in an Eden between the towns of Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, this five-star estate added six superior lodges, just before the pandemic hit. Each has private pools and west-facing views of the vineyards. Both its restaurants – Delaire Graff and Indochine – have added new tasting menus; the West Coast oyster with Asian sausage, prawn cracker and nuoc cham dipping sauce is South African-Asian fusion food at its finest. According to the resident sommelier, Rene Veldhuizen, 2021 was “a phenomenal year for white wine. Not too hot, allowing the grapes to develop acidity without getting too ripe.” Which means 2022 will be a vintage year for tastings. (0027 21885 8160; delaire.co.za).
This working farm, vineyard and hotel has long been a must see on any trip to the Winelands. There are walking and mountain biking trails, picnics and wine tastings. But not to rest on its laurels, the estate used the pandemic to launch a new homeware store that champions local producers, a mobile wine cart and a weekly Friday night market. The biggest news, however, is the year-long renovation of the Manor House, which has been converted into an art gallery. In collaboration with the Norval Foundation, the space will showcase the best of South African art, with exhibitions from artists such as Zanele Muholi. Entrance is free. (0027 02187 04200; boschendal.com). For more amazing places to stay, see Telegraph Travel’s guide to the best hotels in Cape Town.