If it's summer in Cape Town, then think "picnics". You don't even need to pack your own hamper. Here's where to go to set down your rug
Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens are the most heavenly setting I know for a picnic. With many hundreds of acres of lush green lawn, bedecked with exquisite plantings of indigenous trees, shrubs and flowers, you will be spoiled for choice when deciding where to begin your feast. You could spread out under the shade of a tree, on one of the many wooden benches, or tuck yourselves away in a little glade beside a trickling stream. The gardens are so vast that, in spite of hordes of visitors, local plant lovers and international tourists alike, you will always be able to find a quiet spot.
Garden Gourmet Picnic
Of course you may prefer to pack your own hamper, but for an unusual treat head along to the Kirstenbosch Tea Rooms, where they will rustle up a picnic in no time at all. Their standard picnic costs R120pp, and you can choose one of their wonderful salads or a three slice sandwich with a choice of fillings. You also get a choice of home made cake, or scones and cream, and a drink (non alcoholic). The food here is always imaginative and fresh. We had originally decided to have lunch here, but on seeing the crowds, ordered our meal in picnic form instead. It was a brainwave. Instead of opting for the full picnic menu, we selected a Mexican grilled chicken salad (R66) and a Thai calamari salad (R75). All I can say about them is Mmmmm! The Thai salad even contained fresh mango. We were provided with everything we needed by way of extra bread, wooden cutlery, napkins, plastic glasses, and a stout carrier bag, all at no extra cost. Even the half bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that we ordered (R50) was sublimely chilled. It was such a feast that, after sleeping it off on the springy turf, we even took some home.
This is a great place to bring children too, for kid's meals with a bit of flair.
Kirstenbosch Summer Sun Concerts
Every Sunday evening in summer, just about half of Cape Town makes its way to the grassy concert arena on the edge of Kirstenbosch. It is an event that you really shouldn't miss. Whatever the music that is playing that night, be it Afro-pop, jazz, gospel choir, or classical, it doesn't really matter. I just love being there, watching Capetonian families, in all their wonderful diversity, enjoying themselves. It wasn't always like this, but now it is, and it's absolutely brilliant. Everyone takes a picnic, so don't forget yours. The trick, I have noticed, is to have a wine-glass holder that you can stick in the grass, to avoid losing your precious fizz.
Milieu Natural Picnic
If you have a heavy tourist schedule earlier in the day, then you can pre-order a picnic box from Kirstenbosch's larger Silvertree Deli and Restaurant. Their picnic for two costs R290, and offers a choice of red, white or sparkling wine to accompany its salads, meats, cheeses, a fruit skewer and much more besides. A simpler version of this, with non alcoholic drinks, costs R190 for two.
Buiitenverachting...best value picnic
The first catered picnic that I ever enjoyed in Cape Town was at Buitenverachting Wine Estate. It was such a feast that we took some friends along with us on our next visit. They proclaimed it to be a "feastnic". Numbers are limited, to enable each group of picnickers to enjoy a large area of lawn. You have a pretty table bedecked with a gingham cloth, underneath the estate's ancient oak trees, and your picnic is presented in a wicker basket. With snoek pate, quiches, meats, dips, chocolate treats and fruit kebabs, it is all tip top grub. They say that if you are still hungry, you can have more. It's true...but totally unnecessary.
If you find it difficult choosing a wine from the estate's wonderful selection to accompany your picnic, why not arrive early and enjoy a wine tasting session first.
Buitenverachting, Klein Constantia Road, Cape Town. Picnics cost R105 pp, and must be ordered in advance. Contact Adrienne - 083 257 6083.
Of all the wine estates in the Constantia Valley this is the oldest, and it is my favourite. You approach the historic Cape Dutch buildings by way of an avenue of ancient oak trees, and are immediately drawn into the history of the Cape and its wine production. There is an informative visitors' centre and museum, as well as cellar tours.
The Jonkershuis Restaurant has a pleasant courtyard in which to eat. It is housed in one of the oldest thatched estate buildings, and has sweeping views over the vineyards and False Bay beyond. You can order a picnic from here to eat on the adjoining lawns. Costing R250 for two, it includes hummus, local cheeseboard, baby leaf salad, smoked snoek pate, chocolate brownies, and more....wine is extra.
Simon's Terrace picnic
Simon's Restaurant is a newer enterprise on the same estate. A large area of lawn leading up to the historic stone bath has been reserved for wedding functions and picnics. A picnic here, surrounded by beds of beautiful blue agapanthus, costs R150 per person and includes, meats cheeses, salads and chocolate fudge brownies. There is a vegetarian option with quiche or smoked salmon. Although I haven't yet tried the picnic, I recently enjoyed tapas here, while listening to jazz (a regular Sunday event). Like most Cape Town venues, the food is reliably good, and the setting for a picnic spectacular.
Simon's Terrace Picnics. Wed.-Sun. 021 794 1143. It is advisable to book in advance.
Maynardville Open Air Theatre
This picnic is a BYO (bring your own), but it is such a special tradition within Cape Town, that it's well worth joining in the fun, even if you have to borrow a rug and a hamper for the occasion.
The open air stage is situated in parkland in the Cape Town suburb of Wynberg. Shakespearean plays have been staged here every summer since the fifties. Just about everybody picnics beforehand, setting out rugs on the grass that runs down to the lake. Wynberg has a bohemian village like feel, with interesting art galleries and antique shops, so it's well worth coming even earlier to explore.
The performance usually begins as darkness is falling. This year, Cape Town Ballet presented Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird and the setting under the trees felt suitably enchanted. We also attended a performance of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Both lead actors were brilliant, but the most memorable stars were two live snakes that writhed around the soothsayer's arms, a few inches from my nose. I rather wish I hadn't chosen to sit in the front row.
I find the best way to book for this, and all Cape Town venues, is by internet. When you arrive in Cape Town you simply pick up your tickets at any one of the many computicket agencies (www.computicket.com).
Where to stay
I make no bones about it; my favourite places to stay in Cape Town are set in the Constantia Vineyards. Whilst I like to enjoy the bustle of the city and the waterfront, the hushed and elegant rooms and the beautiful gardens of The Cellars-Hoenhort (rooms from R2250) are well worth coming home to. This hotel is only a stones throw from Kirstenbosch. You can even walk there through Cecilia Forest.
Constantia Uitsig Hotel offers another peaceful haven. Housed in a series of simpler Cape style cottages, there is nothing simple about the elegant furnishings, marble bathrooms and tasteful fabrics that you find inside. Rooms here cost from R1600.
When you are all picnicked out, eat at The River Café, Constantia Uitsig's bistro style restaurant, where the food is outstanding, and great value (three courses from R 180; Constantia Uitsig, Spaanschemat River Road; +27 021 794 6500; www.constantia-uitsig.com).