Many people argue about when the best time to visit Cape Town might be. There are those that contend the summer season is the best, with the orchard fruits all ripened, the weather distinctly warm, and the days extended by the Mediterranean climate in the southern hemisphere. But it undeniable that sometimes it can be a little too warm and the Western Cape countryside begins to take on a parched and arid complexion, the crowds thronging the streets in the Mother City providing an intoxicating, almost stultifying whiff of congestion. This can distress even the most even-tempered traveller and it becomes less easy to immerse oneself in the delights of the place.
For all its undoubted charm really the summer in the Cape only provides the theatre setting. The majesty of Table Mountain towers above a disparate and diverse audience, who spread themselves from the Winelands of the Paarl to Kirstenbosch Gardens, from Simonstown to Stellenbosch, from Paternoster far up the west coast down to the charms of Hout Bay in the south. They throng to the Mother City to unconsciously witness the magnificence of the setting, like a crowd before the show begins. There is bright light and noise and the clamour of so many people, but they have not come for the actual performance, but merely to see the auditorium. They are not there for the real show and the curtain will not rise for them.
Instead discerning travellers wait for the lights to be dimmed a little, as the evenings become shorter and cooler and the big crowds dissipate without realising what they are about to miss. For this is the start of the Green Season, from May through to September, when the Cape comes on stage and starts to show off its talents. And what a performance it has to offer, culture, theatre, music, fine dining and blissful bucolic escapes to tranquil estates without the hubbub crowds and the impatient queues and frustrating quest for seats at a top restaurant or event.
Cape Town is a gastronomic destination of note, and abounds in diverse entertainment of an internationally high standard, but it is sometimes difficult to enjoy this fully when the sun is blazing hot into the late evening. And the competition for table space can be quite intense when the tourist crowds are at their peak. But all these concerns melt away as the cooler weather and reduced daylight begin to prevail. As winter draws in and is followed by spring, the people of Cape Town become energised by the change of climate and create a vibrant tableau of quality entertainment and culinary delight for the discriminating visitor.
Certainly there is much to be said for the cooler and greener time of the year, extending from May through to September. The delightful landscape, the pleasant ambience of drives through Tulbagh, Wellington, Paarl and Stellenbosch, whether you’re out to try wines, find a splendid repast at one of the excellent estate restaurants or simply going for a country jaunt, this cool season offers a more relaxed, intimate and less pressured experience. The fine wines are just as good as at any other time of the year but somehow taste better when you’re not sweltering in the Summer’s heat.
If your tastes run to culture and theatre, Cape Town abounds with options. The City’s philharmonic orchestra was founded in 1914 and is one of the best in the country. It offers concerts throughout the year, and it’s conveniently situated right in the middle of town in the regal City Hall building. There are a number of other interesting music venues catering for jazz lovers and those with more contemporary tastes, with clubs such as The Mercury and the Assembly, both in District Six, Straight No Chaser (formally the Mahogany Room) in Buitenkant Street, The Crypt at St George’s Cathedral, The Piano Bar on Napier Street, just to name a few.
For theatre fans there’s the Fugard Theatre in District 6, located in a delightful slightly Gothic looking old building with lovely ambience. It’s a small and intimate theatre offering quality shows throughout the year. There’s a foyer area to chill in where you can get pre-show and interlude snacks and drinks. Alternatively you could try the Baxter in Rondebosch. This is a popular theatre complex, offering a range of alternative venues for shows from the small and cosy to the impressively magnificent. Then there’s the Artscape Theatre on the Foreshore in a 70s-style building, offering drama, music and dance, as well as providing a gallery for local artists whose work can be viewed before performances.
Should you happen to feel like a more participative atmosphere and some excellent food to go with it, Richard’s Supper Club in Seapoint provides a captivating mixture of great wine, splendid Cape cuisine, topped with drama and song.
If it’s fine dining that you are feeling serious about, then the opportunities are almost limitless. From the Chef’s table at the Mount Nelson hotel through to the elegant restaurants of the Wineland estates, from Cape Malay through to Haute Cuisine, from laid back casual to high tone formal, there’s a place to suit your mood and taste.
Cape Town certainly caters for foodies and there are a number of gastro tours available for those like to taste their way around the country. Just a small sample of the options available are listed below
- Mzansi, in Langa township, has been voted the top restaurant experience in Cape Town by the TripAdvisor community. It offers a great atmosphere, home cooked African food and great music.
- The Test Kitchen in Albert Road, Woodstock is highly commended by foodies with and adventurous and talented chef offering a wonderful 8-course tasting meal that has given the establishment almost a celebrity status.
- Chef’s Warehouse is right in the City Centre on Bree Street and features highly as a venue for local chefs, among others.
- Another great foodie destination is Greenhouse in Constantia that offer beautifully presented food to tickle the fancy of even the most jaded gourmet,
- Street Food on Bree is a little hole in the wall that offers high-class takeaway for those in a bit of a hurry or on a tighter budget.
- Another option is the Cape Malay Cooking Safari an interactive guided shopping tour through the Bo-Kaap, visiting spice shops and experiencing the ingredients of Cape Malay cooking up close and personal.
- Then you could try Foodies on Foot – a walking and eating tour of Stellenbosch, where you can enjoy artisan-produced food, discover the history and architecture of the town and close off with a tour of a microbrewery.
- For a pan African dining experience try the Gold Restaurant in Cape Town, which includes a 14-course menu of dishes from all over Africa, along with interactive drumming and entertainment.
- Or you can sample some decadent fine style dining at The Foodbarn in Noordhoek, which is a great lunch setting for those on tour of the Peninsula.
With over 1800 eating venues to choose from in central Cape Town and its gorgeous hinterland this small sample cannot even begin to do the City justice, but you certainly won’t go hungry. With the cooler weather to make your appetite keener, and considerably less tourist congestion than during the summer, you’re sure to enjoy it all much more in the Cape Green Season.
– Linda Pampallis – CEO Thompsons Africa