Out of Africa was some years ago. Into Africa now, on a South African Airways flight descending into Cape Town International Airport, watching the city’s most famous landmark, the Table Mountain shrouded in clouds, with its famous tablecloth effect, seemed like a rebirth. The coastline’s scalloped its rims frothily, part of a landscape that was Mediterranean than African.
The Table Bay Hotel, strategically situated in the heart of Cape Town, on the famous V&A Waterfront is possibly one of the best hotels in Cape Town, and a symbol of South Africa’s rich colonial past. The gigantic glass simulacrum in the lobby reflects the Table Mountain like some paleolithic memory. A room with a view here would be one with a spectacular panorama of the Atlantic Ocean. As its name suggests, Cape Town sits on the cape between the Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean. In the distance, on the horizon sits the stoic chape of Robben Island—where Nelson Mandela spent a large part of the 27 years of his imprisonment—which resonates with history and significance for black South Africans.
Over the centuries, Cape Town has been occupied and frequented by traders, voyagers and merchants from around the world. Chinese traders brought tea to Cape Town; a heritage that has been transformed as the new culinary trend of pairing tea with dessert. Tea sommeliers around the city are organising sessions for gourmets. At The Lounge, The Table Bay Hotel’s elegant tearoom overlooking the Table Mountain, the city’s leading tea sommelier Mingwei Tsai conducts personalised tea pairing sessions with desserts prepared by the hotel’s chief pastry chef Anita Von Tonder. Sipping tea and sampling delectable pastries in the shadow of one of the world’s most recognised natural monuments is a sublime experience.
● Orange and Spice Tea, paired with a dark chocolate tart. The orange, cardamom, clove and cinnamon flavours blended perfectly with the distinctive flavour of African rooibos tea.
● Jasmine Bhai Hao, paired with white chocolate and honey panacotta. The jasmine aroma of this oriental tea was a perfect complement to the exquisite smooth texture of the panacotta.
● Strawberry and Lemon Green Tea, paired with lemon and pistachio Swiss roll. The strawberry and lemon pieces in the tea were absolutely delightful.
● Pineapple and Citrus Tea, paired with caramelized pineapple and cardamom tarte tatin.
● Cherry and dark chocolate tart, with Sakura, a cherry flavoured tea.
● Belgian dark chocolate tart paired with Orange and Spice.
● And finally, Tiramisu with ginger and cocoa, served with espresso sauce and paired with classic Earl Grey.
The next day, a 20-minute helicopter ride over Cape Town and the Table Mountain. This is not a high meant for the budget traveller, but is an absolute must-do if your pocket permits. The heliport is situated a few minutes away from the waterfront. A bird’s eyeview of the historic cricket stadium, the football stadium by the coast, the Malay quarter and, of course, the rows of lavish villas belonging to the elite, perched precariously on dramatic cliffs, made up the satellite map of Cape Town.
Driving along the coast in the direction of The Cape of Good Hope is a picturesque journey; mountains, cliffs, and roads that curve up the hills as the ocean is spread below as far as the eye can see. Along the way, there stops that one must make. The famous Chapman’s Peak Drive—one of the most breathtakingly beautiful drives in the world—is not for the faint-hearted; one wrong twist of the wheel would send the car plunging down into the cold depths of the Atlantic.
On the way, the lunch stop is at the historic naval town of Simon’s Town with its charming double storeyed Victorian buildings that give the it a decidedly colonial feel. There are many quaint restaurants along the waterfront that are buzzing at lunchtime. After lunch, take a 15-minute drive to to Boulder’s Beach for a South African surprise—penguins are the last things one expects to see in Cape Town, but there they were. These African penguins settled here in the late ’80s and have never left.
The other stop is the Table Mountain National Park—a Wellsian journey to the end of the earth, so to speak. The Cape Point and the world famous Cape of Good Hope, the symbolic southernmost tips of the African continent, are situated in the massive national park. Cape Point comprises a panoramic viewing gallery (best seen from a tram traveling uphill) situated on a cliff, with a defunct lighthouse, which once was a beacon of hope and safety to seafarers. In the distance, blessing the coast stands the great white cross that Vasco da Gama had built. Standing at the Point is a special experience; almost surreal. Looking out at the horizon in the direction of Antarctica, one can’t help but think of the generations of sailors that had ‘rounded the Cape’ on the way to or from unexplored lands in bygone centuries. A pole with arrows showing the distance and direction to different world capitals stands at the point, but some tourists are known to have the annoying habit of changing the direction of the arrows, leaving others completely disoriented.
It takes about an hour to leave the National Park (and its many baboons) and reach the bustling, multi-cultural melee that is Cape Town. The nightlife, one is told, is promising. Nightbirds may head for Camps Bay, Cape Town’s boho-chic waterfront district which is overflowing with trendy bars and upscale eateries. Sipping on a glass of South Africa’s famous Le Bonheur Sauvignon Blanc, as the moon rises in the African sky, Cape Town seems to be part mirage and part reality—vibrant, cultural, fulfilling on the culinary front and, undoubtedly, home to some of the most stunning landscapes on the face of the earth. Gesondheid!
Getting There: South African Airways offers flights from Mumbai to Cape Town via Johannesburg.
Getting Around: The best way to see Cape Town and the surrounding areas is to rent a car or take a private tour with a guide and/or driver.
Stay: The Table Bay Hotel (www.hoteltablebay.co.za) is the city’s most centrally located hotel, close to the waterfront and the heliport.
Tea Tasting: The hotel staff organises private tasting sessions with Mingwei Tsai from Nigiro Tea Merchants (www.nigiro.co.za)
Must See: Table Mountain, Camps Bay, Simon’s Town, Boulder’s Beach Penguin Colony, Chapman’s Peak Drive, Table Mountain National Park-Cape of Good Hope.