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For the visitor to South Africa, Cape Town must rank as top choice. The city and its surrounding region is easily the most beautiful of the major South African destinations. It's also the most rewarding in historic interest.

Whichever way you approach Cape Town - by air, road, rail or sea - first impressions are dominated by the classic view of Table Mountain. That's the view which caught the eye of the Dutch captain Jan van Riebeeck in 1652, when he found safe anchorage in Table Bay. There he established a settlement as a victualing station for ships of the Dutch East India Company.

A fortress and a wooden jetty were built on the existing shoreline. The harbour became a major stopover for vessels en route between Europe and the Far East. Fresh water and fruit were abundant, meat was bartered from the locals, and ships could be repaired.

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The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront development has been designed with wheelchair access throughout.

South African Airways and British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic operate non-stop  flights from UK  to Cape Town. 

There are also daily flights to Johannesburg, with hourly SAA connections to Cape Town. 

Enjoy the local cuisines:

Cape Dutch - originated in the 17th century as a unique mixture of European peasant cooking, flavoured with herbs and spices from the Dutch East Indies.

Malay - tomato and bean bredies (stews), bobotie (a curried mince dish with onions and eggs) and rice, pumpkin fritters with cinnamon, sop en kluitjies (soup and dumplings).

Indian - curries of every description and particularly tandoori, spiced chicken or mutton on rice or naan bread.

Seafood - wide choice with many menus featuring crayfish etc.

Braai - the famous South Africa barbecue where steaks, chicken and boerewors (spicy sausage) are cooked with corn and pump kin.

More information: South African Tourism Board, 5-6 Alt Grove, Wimbledon, London SW19 4DZ. Tel: 0870-1550044. 

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Farms and vineyards were established, and soon flourished in the Mediterranean-type climate. The arrival of French Huguenots from 1688 onwards brought French know-how to the wine and brandy industries. Everything was in place to give Cape Town a reputation as 'the tavern of the seas'.

Statue of Riebeek's wife, looking towards Table Mountain Only a few minutes from the harbour, statues of Riebeeck and his wife look straight up the shopping area of Adderley Street, past a rebuilt railway station to the dramatic back drop of Table Mountain. A cableway carries visitors to the 3500-ft flat summit, offering a fabulous panorama down to the city and harbour.

The locals have made big efforts to preserve their city history. Fourteen exotic acres of 'The Company's Garden', stocked with tropical plants and orchids, were first laid out in 1652 as a market garden to supply passing vessels with fresh vegetables.

Across brilliant green lawns is the South African National Gallery. Facing the Gardens is the famous Mount Nelson Hotel, where former passengers of the Union Castle Mailship Company could escape the UK winter in cosseted luxury.

It's worth a stroll along oak-shaded Government Avenue, where history today is being made in the Houses of Parliament. Several streets of central Cape Town are pedestrianised into a joyous street market. Buskers enliven the scene.

Behind the railway station is the restored Castle of Good Hope, with its 17th-century moat filled with mountain water.

But Cape Town's biggest restoration is development of the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront into a superb leisure amenity.

The story began in 1860 when Queen Victoria's son, Prince Alfred, tipped the first wagon load of stone for the construction of a new breakwater. The earliest ships to use the basin were sailing vessels and mail ships.

Until a decade ago the zone had become semi-derelict. Today the Waterfront rates as Cape Town's greatest tourist attraction. It's easily reached by shuttle bus from the Information Centre outside the main railway station.

Victoria & Alfred WaterfrontStill a working harbour, the development includes a delightful waterside walk through the heart of the Victoria and Alfred Basins. Restored buildings have been converted into museums, restaurants, a brewery, shops, a theatre, hotels, bars and night-spots.

The Victoria Wharf is now a shopping mall with dozens of trendy boutiques. All your South African shopping can be completed in one location. There's great choice of eating places from fast-food to gourmet, and from Malay to Greek, Italian and Portuguese - a one-stop culinary world tour!

Cape Town is a good base for sightseeing in Cape Province, with well-organised coach tours, or scenic routes that can be followed by hired car.

 South of Cape Town is the narrow Cape Peninsula, reaching the Cape of Good Hope, 34 miles away. The extreme tip is a well-stocked Nature Reserve. Baboons hitch-hike on car roofs and steal windscreen wipers.

Near Cape Town is the university town and wine centre of Stellenbosch, South Africa's oldest town, founded 1679. Streets are lined with oak trees, and charming Cape Dutch houses are surrounded by flower-filled gardens. Central Stellenbosch is a living museum.

A road from Stellenbosch crosses the Hell heights Pass - formerly, in ox-wagon days, a difficult and dangerous route. This leads to the Van Hoek valley, a rich fruit-farming area with vineyards planted in the late 17th century.

For self-drive enthusiasts, the Stellenbosch Wine Route leads the visitor to choice of numerous private wine producers and cooperatives, with the chance of tasting and buying over fifty different wines.

There's nothing 'African' about the vineyard areas. Instead they remind you of the Italian or French countryside. Quite simply, this southern tip of Africa sits within the same latitudes as the main vine-growing areas of Europe, and has virtually a Mediterranean climate, ideal for grape cultivation.

The seasons are a mirror image of the northern hemisphere. When it's autumn in Britain, the Cape region offers brilliant displays of wild spring flowers. December and January is the peak South African seaside holiday season, when Cape Town is at its fullest and hottest.

Retired people even on modest incomes can escape the British winter and enjoy a bonus summer in the Cape Peninsula. Besides the major 4- and 5-star hotels, there are plentiful b&b guest-houses and self-catering apartments - for instance, in the Sea Point suburb of Cape Town. At over 13 Rand to the pound, South African living costs are extremely reasonable, and not just for the wine.


"Books to read - click on cover pictures" or click on the links below

"Seven Days in Cape Town" by Sean Fraser  - Mainly covers seven different itineraries and excursions out of Cape Town.

"Lonely Planet : Cape Town"  by Jon Murray - An insider guide to walking tours around Cape Town, Waterfront bars and restaurants to visit, and a guide to the wine districts.

The Rough Guide to Cape Town (Miniguides S.)  An excellent guide in the traditional Rough Guide style.

"Time Out" Cape Town - Covers sightseeing and good surveys of bars, nightclubs and all varieties of restaurant.

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