Cape Town is South Africa’s second-largest city and the capital of the Western Cape province, with an estimated population of 3.82 million (2011). The Mother City, as it is affectionately known, occupies one of the world's most stunning locations, with an iconic mountain right in its centre.
Long before the Dutch colonised the Cape Peninsula in the 17th century, the land was home to the Khoisan people, who valued the spiritual power of the mountains and their life-providing water. While the European immigrants, and the slaves they brought here, have all shaped the physical environment of South Africa’s third-largest city, Table Mountain – now protected within a national park that covers some 75% of the peninsula – remains at Cape Town's heart. This landmark mountain was named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2011.
Complementing the mountain's natural beauty is Cape Town's eye-catching way with design and colour, evident in everything from the brightly painted façades of the Bo-Kaap and the Victorian bathing chalets of Muizenberg, to the contemporary Afro-chic décor of the many excellent guesthouses, restaurants and bars. The city, named the Design Capital of the World for the year 2014, is crammed with galleries displaying amazing artworks and shops selling wonderfully inventive craftwork. This creativity seems to spring naturally from the city's multi-ethnic population, proof of South Africa’s status as the rainbow nation and a visual record of the country’s tumultuous history of over 350 years.
The Western Cape’s major winegrowing areas stretch from the heart of Namaqualand, north of the majestic Cederberg mountains in the north-west, to the Klein Karoo, well east of Cape Town. However, most of the 24 winegrowing districts and several stand-alone wards are within easy reach of Cape Town, ranging from a 20-minute drive (Constantia ward) to a two-hour journey (Robertson district).
The culture of wine is well developed in the Western Cape, as the region has been producing wine for more than three-and-a-half centuries. Jan van Riebeeck, who arrived in Table Bay on 6 April 1652 to establish a refreshment station for the Dutch East India Company, saw his first vintage pressed in 1659.
Most of the Western Cape’s winegrowing areas enjoy a Mediterranean climate, with winter rainfall and warm dry summers. Both climate and soil variations ensure a wide range of wine types and styles are produced. Red and white wines of high quality are made, along with an increasing number of Méthode Cap Classique sparkling wines. The province’s fortified wines – including port- and sherry-style wines, and muscadel – are renowned for both good quality and pleasing prices.
Gracious estates with distinctive Cape Dutch architecture, surrounded by verdant vineyards and a backdrop of mauve mountains, are as quintessentially Cape as Table Mountain. There are, however, several equally impressive cellars that are as modern as any in the world, some sunk into hillsides, others state-of-the-art steel and glass structures that soar skyward.
Factor in those stunning mountains, magnificent beaches and outstanding vineyards, and you'll soon discover – like many before you – that it's easy to lose track of time while exploring all the wonders of this unique southern African city.