There's no point arguing about it: Cape Town, at Africa's southern tip, is the world's most beautiful city. Its remarkable topography is enough reason to visit – the peninsula that dips its toe into the confluence of the mighty Atlantic and Indian oceans; the broad, sweeping bays; and that imposing centrepiece, Table Mountain, sometimes shrouded in cloud, sometimes touching the bright blue sky.
Contained within is a mishmash of cultures – Xhosa, Cape Malay, Indian, Dutch, British – and a vibrancy that's blossomed since the fall of apartheid.
South Africa is a nation filled with creatives – many of them concentrated in Cape Town, where an artistic flair seems to thrive particularly well in the shadow of that mountain. The city was named World Design Capital in 2014, and elements of this aptitude for style and beauty can be seen in the brightly-painted houses lining the streets of the city bowl suburb of Bo-Kaap, hotels and restaurants that capitalise on the Afro-chic aesthetic, a flourishing street art scene and clothing designs worn tres casual by stylish residents.
Any garden would look good if it was set on the slopes of the remarkable Table Mountain, but Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden (sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch) has earned its reputation as the most beautiful garden in Africa on pure merit: set within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Cape Floristic Region, it spans numerous terraced levels and contains a rich diversity of indigenous flora, African stone sculptures and hiking and walking trails.
Get your bearings with a drive around the Cape Peninsula. Start at Muizenberg and drive clockwise to Fish Hoek and then Simonstown, with its penguin colony at Boulders Beach. Continue to Cape Point where a funicular will transport you to the lookout. Turn north towards Kommetjie and stop at Hout Bay for a lunch of snoek (a type of fish) and chips. From here take the Chapman's Peak Drive (check first that it's open) into the city via the salubrious seaside suburbs of Camps Bay and Clifton.
Masala Dosa (masaladosa.co.za) on Long Street epitomises Cape Town's multi-cultural flavour: here, Israeli-born Amit Raz, inspired by the dishes cooked up in his grandmother's Syrian kitchen, serves south Indian dishes like dosa, aloo and thali – trays containing tiny bowls of curry, dhal, pappadums, puri and fragrant, delicious suji halwa (cardamom- and saffron-flavoured semolina pudding).
Cape Town's creative culture is beautifully captured at the Daddy Long Legs Art Hotel (daddylonglegs.co.za/arthotel) on Long Street, where each room has been decorated by an artist, poet, photographer, designer or musician. Established as an antidote to sterile hotel rooms, Daddy Long Legs is aimed at the independent traveller looking for funky, affordable accommodation.
Book tickets for Robben Island tours online – they sell out quickly – and keep a careful eye on the weather: if seas are too rough ferry crossings will be cancelled and ticket prices refunded.
The writer travelled at her own expense.