If you like the idea of being able to access Cape Town’s sights, bars and restaurants, but don’t want to stay in a city, then Camps Bay, just 10 minutes from the centre, makes a relaxing alternative
The small town of Camps Bay is situated on a sweeping stretch of white sand and ocean overlooked by the Twelve Apostles mountain range. A main beachfront strip provides enough bars and restaurants to entertain in its own right, but taxis to Cape Town are plentiful, making this the ideal destination for those looking for the entertainment of a city but the relaxation of a beach.
The palm-fringed crescent of beach is safe, clean and well-tended, with public toilets and showers. The water is generally calm, although with average temperatures of between 10°C and 15°C, it is also rather bracing. In the hotter months the beach is busy, with a buzzy, fun atmosphere - volleyball is played, families picnic and barbecues are lit, although there is enough room to stretch out and sunbathe.
In addition to having Cape Town 10 minutes down the road, the winelands are less than an hour’s drive away. (I’m in the process of writing a more comprehensive guide to the winelands and to Cape Town itself.) Stellenbosch and Franschhoek provide excellent opportunities for wine-tasting, eating and pottering around pretty villages.
If you want to go wine-tasting without venturing to the winelands, head to the picturesque Klein Constantia, one of the oldest vineyards in the Cape, and only a 20-minute drive from Camps Bay. Here, you can taste a variety of wines, including the excellent Vin De Constance, a pudding wine much loved by Napoleon and referred to in literature by Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.
My favourite trip, and one so good I did it twice, was to Cape Point. It’s about an hour’s drive south of Camps Bay, but allow longer to stop off in some of the twee towns along the way, to look at antiques or local crafts. There’s also the penguin colony at Boulders Beach and (at the right time of year) numerous opportunities for whale-spotting along the way. You may also see baboons walking along the road, and as you enter the Cape Point park, look out for various deer and zebra.
In addition to seeing Cape Point, it’s worth making the short detour to the Cape of Good Hope – a stunningly rugged piece of beach, with crashing waves and, surprisingly, ostriches. It’s also good for whale-spotting. For the drive home, take Chapman’s Peak Drive, surely one of the most stunning drives in the world. The road hugs the cliffside, affording you amazing views of Hout Bay, although it can be a little scary for those terrified of heights. Like me. It’s worth doing though, especially if you can hit it around 5pm, just as the sun is starting to set and the sky is going orange. There’s a small toll to use the road.
Where to stay
The Bay Hotel is in a prime beachfront location, within seconds of all the bars and restaurants. The hotel has two main pools, with a couple of smaller ones directly overlooking the main strip – perfect for exhibitionists or avid people-watchers. Rooms are spacious, with a separate living area and neutral relaxing décor. Pricewise, it’s moderate to expensive.
For those looking for something more intimate, Camps Bay has a good range of guesthouses to suit most budgets. The guesthouses are a cross between a boutique hotel and a bed and breakfast. Typically comprising just a few rooms, they offer a more personal touch than a hotel. There are also plenty of stunning villas available, which are remarkably affordable if there are a few of you sharing.
Where to eat
The Codfather (37 The Drive; +27 (0)21 438 0782)
Cringeworthy name, but an elegant restaurant, which is all about the excellent fresh fish – choose your fish from the counter and pay by weight. The friendly waiting staff are happy to give advice.
Blues (The Promenade, Victoria Road; +27 (0)21 438 2040)
The best views in Camps Bay (although you’ll have to beg for a window seat), with a sophisticated atmosphere and good food from a varied menu. Expect to pay around £10 for an ostrich fillet on sweet potato mash or grilled tuna with polenta.
Paranga (No 1, The Promenade; +27 (0)21 438 0404)
Join the beautiful people for cocktails at sunset (get there early for a seat on the terrace), then retire inside for sushi, seafood and plenty of meaty options. Main courses average £10.
The Bayside Café (51 Victoria Road; +27 (0)21 438 2650)
An excellent all-day affair, whether you want breakfast, coffee and people-watching or a cocktail later on. Burgers, salads and sandwiches are all excellent and good value for Camps Bay, at around £5 a time.
Car hire is remarkably cheap and easy in South Africa, and they drive on the left. If you don’t want to drive, then an excellent way to see Cape Town is on the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus, which stops on the main strip in Camps Bay before taking you to the most popular tourist spots, such as Table Mountain, District 6, the V&A Waterfront and the aquarium.
Taxis are cheap and plentiful – there’s a rank full of metered taxis on the main strip of Camps Bay, and it should cost you around £5 to £7 to get into Cape Town. Hotels use private firms that are generally more expensive.
The sale of alcohol in supermarkets is prohibited in Camps Bay, and there are no liquor stores - so if you like to keep a bottle of something boozy in your room to sup whilst you’re preparing to go out, stock up elsewhere!