LONDON-Schedule Table Mountain (00 27 21 424 8181) for the morning, when the wind is least likely to blow. It’s a relatively easy two- to three-hour walk up along Platteklip Gorge, the oldest, most direct route, following a well-constructed trail up the front face of the mountain, but as we’re pushed for time, lets ascend by cable car. Purchase the ticket online, dated for the day of your arrival; the single-use ticket is valid for one week. The cable car starts running at 8am in summer and 8.30am in winter. How long you spend exploring the top is entirely up to you, but it can be done in an hour.
Descend by no later than 10am to be at Nelson Mandela Gateway (Waterfront; 00 27 21 413 4200), the Robben Island ferry departure point, 30 minutes before an 11am departure. The island where Nelson Mandela spent many years in prison is the most popular tourist attraction in Cape Town, so pre-book this online well before your arrival (though sold out online doesn’t always mean sold out in reality, so call before you panic).
This is a three-hour trip (including an approximate one-hour round-trip by ferry) of which the highlight is seeing the cell where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of the 27 years he was imprisoned. The tour experience is very dependent on the guide you get (an ex-prisoner) but most people find it edifying, moving even.
Alight around 2pm and have lunch at nearby Den Anker (Pierhead, Waterfront; 00 27 21 419 0249) with its marvellous view of Table Mountain. The pepper steak is famously good, and the Wagyu burger gets rave reviews, but it is the 1kg pot of mussels that always hits the spot: big juicy critters in a herby broth, served with frites and a mustard-flavoured mayonnaise.
Then retrace your footsteps and pop into MOCAA (S Arm Road, Waterfront; 00 27 87 350 4777), as much to see how Thomas Heatherwick and his local team repurposed the 1930s grain silo that houses it, as to view its contemporary African art collection. It’s a wonderful collection that puts paid to old-fashioned ideas of African art being ‘figurative’ or craft. Hallelujah.
Freshen up, then head out to Camps Bay to watch the sun sink into the Atlantic Ocean. Opt for dinner at Bilboa (The Promenade; +27 21 286 5155), which serves a simple but good menu with a Middle Eastern influence. The real bonus is the front-row view of the palm-lined beach.
Retire upstairs for a postprandial drink at vibey Chinchilla (Victoria Road; 00 27 21 286 5075), or head back over the Nek to lounge-bar Asoka (68 Kloof Street; 00 27 21 422 0909) with its intimate candle-lit courtyard. Or, for a younger, hipper crowd, choose Up Yours (73 Kloop Street; 00 27 21 426 2587).
To fully grasp the natural splendour of the city, you need to go on a drive that loops around the peninsula, tooling along the west-facing coastal road that hugs the Atlantic to Cape Point, then exploring the village-like suburbs that look across False Bay, with its magnificent backdrop of craggy mountains like cardboard cutouts against a big blue sky.
Make a start at 8am to get to Cape Point National Park before the crowds, winding your way along the coastal road that connects Camps Bay to Hout Bay. Stop to enjoy the view halfway up Chapman’s Peak Drive before paying the toll and traversing the narrow road carved into the perpendicular cliffs high above the Atlantic Ocean. Cross Noordhoek Valley, skirting Misty Cliffs and Scarborough, to get to Cape Point National Park, also known as the Cape of Good Hope (Cape Point Road; 00 27 21 780 9526).
Depending on time, take one of the detours, looking out for baboons, antelope and ostrich, or head straight to the Cape Point lighthouse to enjoy vertiginous views from the most southwesterly point of Africa. Next stop is at Boulders Beach (00 27 21 786 2329) to visit the endangered colony of African Penguins – bring a costume and take a dip if the weather’s fine.
There are no brilliant restaurants in Simonstown yet, so push on to Harbour House (Main Road; 00 27 21 788 4136) in Kalk Bay for fresh fish and a fabulous location, right above the sea on the edge of the quay. If you’d prefer something quick and casual, nearby Kalky’s (Kalk Bay Harbour; 00 27 21 788 1726) does a great fish and chips. After lunch, stroll Kalk Bay’s high street, enjoying the village vibe here, with quaint galleries – make time for Kalk Bay Modern (136 Main Road; 00 27 21 788 6571) – and good clothing shops (try Catacombes, 71 Main Road; 00 27 21 788 8889).
End your peninsula tour with a winetasting or two in Constantia, the oldest wine-growing region in the New World. With beautiful 17th-century Cape Dutch buildings and a small wine museum, Groot Constantia (Groot Constantia Road; 00 27 21 794 5128) has the history but doesn’t produce the valley’s best wines; oenophiles should head to Klein Constantia (37 Klein Constantia Road; 00 27 21 794 5188), not least to sample the estate’s Vin De Constance, a dessert wine that Jane Austen described in Sense & Sensibility as a “balm for the broken heart”. Then up to Beau Constantia (1043 Constantia Main Road; 00 27 21 794 8632) for the most wonderful vineyard views.
Enjoying the same stunning view, Chef’s Warehouse at Beau Constantia is a popular fine dining option – good value too – so either stay on for dinner here (it opens at 6pm) or head back into the city centre for a table at The Shortmarket Club (88 Shortmarket Street; 00 27 21 447 2874). No view, but the venue, food and service are all excellent, as you’d expect from any Luke Dale-Roberts venture.
End the evening with a 10-minute stroll up Bree street to The Orphanage Cocktail Emporium (227 Bree Street; 00 27 21 4242004), for a couple of inventive cocktail like the hot Crematorium, or more-ish More Tea Vicar? If it’s a weekend, go dancing at Reset (71 Loop Street; 00 27 21 422 0202) – the best sound system in the city bounces until dawn.