A wonderful place to take a breather from your hectic schedule, Hout Bay is mid-seventies laid back.
Tourist or local, there is always the chance you might be stuck for something to do in Cape Town of an afternoon. Plans could fall through or the weather might ruin your carefully laid out itinerary.
Here’s a backup plan: Go have lunch at Hout Bay harbour.
It is a wonderful place. The town itself is a bit disjointed, but all in all, it is well worth a visit. Not having a wine route to speak of and without any major tourist attractions in the town itself, Hout Bay is a bit off the high-profile tourist radar. But it does have a magical quality.
The name comes from the dense forests that used to blanket the horse-shoe of mountains that cut the valley off from the rest of the Cape Peninsula. Hout Bay managed to hang on to its trees because the early timber merchants were thwarted from removing their bounty. The mountains stopped them going by land and the boggy soil of the valley prevented access to the sea.
Now for lunch.
Make your way to the harbour side of town and head for the Bistro Wharfette at the Mariner’s Wharf. The place is nowhere near as complicated as its name. In fact, absolute simplicity is one of its main attractions. Furnished with plank furniture usually found at picnic sites, it’s a first-come-first-served-self-service establishment. But a word of warning; the downstairs area is the self-service, nicely priced venue; upstairs houses a tourist priced, very nice, seafood restaurant. The experiences, while both pleasing, sit at different ends of the dining experience spectrum.
The relaxed atmosphere, the beach a few meters away and the happy mix of local folk and tourists from foreign shores and inland South Africa make Mariner’s Wharf the perfect spot to drop out of tourist mode if you’re travelling or out of local mode if you’re a local.
The food. Fresh fish and chips. Ever since the children were young, we have somehow landed up at Mariner’s Wharf on a regular basis. The tradition persists – as traditions will! The reason: after your first visit, you arrive knowing exactly what to expect, so disappointment isn’t a factor. If the service sucks, you have only yourself to blame and the food is always good. Apart from small price adjustments, the menu hasn’t changed much in the thirty years that the Mariner’s Wharf has been operating. The quality and value for money have always been great.
The prices: To give you an idea, the last visit, in December, cost the four of us a total of R300.00, or less than $30.00. That paid for three orders of Snoek and chips (Barracuda and fries in $ terms!) one order of Calamari and chips and a round of soft drinks.
The food has always come in more than adequate quantities. The take-away boxes are pretty much stuffed to capacity and once the average diner had made his or her way to the bottom of said box, a walk along the adjacent pier or nearby beach is a must.
Getting to Hout Bay is simplicity itself. From the city centre the easiest route is along the Atlantic seaboard. Going that way, you can’t miss Hout Bay as the road runs directly through it. Without turning off, you will end up at the harbour. But a far more scenic route is to take De Waal Drive or the Nelson Mandela Boulevard from the city to the M3. Take care to turn right after the Newlands Forest and head out passed Kirstenbosch Gardens. From here, it’s easy enough to follow your nose to Hout Bay and then work your way across the town to the harbour area. Take Atlantic seaboard route home and you’ll have the trip of a life time.
The scenery alone, even on a rainy day, makes the trip well worth while. It’s beyond breathtaking – right up there with the best the planet has to offer.
Enjoy the trip; enjoy the meal.
The Original Valley of Wine and Roses?
Chart Farm, Cape Town
Cape Town is probably the easiest place in the world to escape from the city crush. Maybe because there isn’t that much city and what there is, is right on top of a whole bunch of nature. Last weekend the family decided an outing was a good idea and ended up at Chart Farm.
The drive there is probably the best example of how easy it is to escape to the country – one minute you are on a freeway, the next, you’re on a goat track.
Finding the farm is easy; it’s right next to the M3 freeway we take into town every day. Finding the entrance requires determination. After negotiating the winding back roads of Wynberg, you end up turning from a well paved suburban road onto a dirt road from the 1930s.
From this point on the experience becomes quite surreal: driving beneath ancient, over-hanging trees along a track that seems it might die out before reaching its destination; while no more than ten metres to your left traffic roars along a dual carriage way.
The feeling that you have stepped into a parallel universe is complete when you climb out of your car. The view is staggering and nothing in it indicates that you are still in the 21st Century.
Peace reigns and thanks to the crest of the hill that stands between you and the freeway, the noise of traffic is no more than a rumble.
The whole point of a visit to Chart Farm is to have tea, or breakfast, or lunch, depending on the time of day and how hungry you are. The restaurant is simplicity itself, with no quarter given to modernity. This is real deal rustic. Even the name is short of frills: The Terrace Coffee Shop.
The restaurant is housed in one of the original farm buildings with the catering facilities a bit of an afterthought. But the atmosphere is beautiful; you can almost feel the ghosts of previous times drifting across the covered veranda.
Look out from the terrace or the veranda and you are met with acres of roses in vivid bloom reaching down to vineyards and orchards which fall away into the valley and a green haze that seems to promise eternity.
Enhancing the feeling of peace and security is the Constantiaberg range that looms up to form a rugged backdrop and complete the tableau. Once again, those ghosts are right there; you can hear the laughter and chatter of bygone family gatherings and know that those ancient eyes were also drinking in this wonderful scenery.
In keeping with the general rustic feel of the place, the food was really good. The tea and coffee were perfect and there was no mention of that South African horror: hot or cold milk with your tea? They brought cold milk straight off the bat.
Of course, the main attractions are the view and the sense of tranquillity that abounds. It is wise to find a table with an uninterrupted view of the valley. If you don’t, you will leave with a stiff neck.
As there were no tables in the shade on the outside terrace, we found a perfect spot on the veranda. The furnishings were wonderfully comfortable; generously stuffed cushions on sturdy rustic furniture.
Being a working rose nursery, it follows that roses are king. The flowers are not just for looking at; containers and secateurs are available for visitors wishing to wander off into the gardens to pick roses for themselves – for a small fee. We didn’t indulge in this, choosing to wallow in the endless scenery.
For an outing, Chart Farm is a total escape. There is no touristy element and everyone is there with the same thing in mind: to take in the view and the tranquillity. There is no feeling that a tour coach is about to round the bend and flood the place. For a meeting venue, it’s probably a bit too laid back. There will surely be a problem if you want to maintain a sense of urgency.
Chart Farm is a gem. The need to go back there for another dose of the simple life is already haunting me – somewhat like those friendly ghosts I thought I sensed on the terrace.