Grounds for fun in Cape Town

My kind of place The author Justin Cartwright was born in Cape Town and returns the every winter. Here, he explains why.

Cape Town is blessed with one of the most spectacular sights in the natural world - a huge mountain peninsula running 60km from the city to Cape Point, where the two oceans that lap the mountain, the warm Indian on the east and the freezing Atlantic on the west, meet. It's a spectacularly beautiful city, with Table Mountain dominating virtually every view, a gigantic granite cathedral rising straight out of the town, and its roads running along the edge of the sea and over mountain passes. It's a city set in a near wilderness, but it also has a long and turbulent history, stretching from the time of the first trading post of the Dutch East India Company in 1652 to the present democratic South Africa. All the periods of this history are visible in buildings - the elegant Cape Dutch town houses and farmhouses, the British mansions and churches, colonial streets with the classic covered walkways and the Malay quarter, Bokaap, which is a wonderful place of mosques and small, picturesque cottages on the slopes of the mountain above the central business district. The people of Cape Town are as varied as the city's history.

The most venerable hotel in Cape Town is the legendary Mount Nelson set at the end of a long drive of giant palms. It has been a favourite of Capetonians for well over 100 years. Its teas are famously lavish and the whole place has been refurbished so while it retains its period charm, it has every possible luxury. Double rooms cost from US$300 (Dh1,102) per night including taxes (; 0027 21 483 1000).

Another terrific hotel is the Cape Grace on a private pier at the Waterfront. The area is still a working harbour, and from the Cape Grace you can look out over the docks on the one side and the mountain on the other. Also recently lavishly restyled, the hotel is very handy for the shops, cinemas and restaurants of the Waterfront. Double rooms cost from $225 (Dh827) per night (; 0027 21 410 7100).

One of the most elegant and charming hotels in Cape Town is the Cellars at Hohenoort, which is set in the Constantia Valley, Cape Town's most exclusive suburb, a place of huge mansions, wine farms and lovely gardens. Hohenoort has delightful cottages and beautiful rooms for guests, all done in that inimitable Cape style. Double rooms cost from $642 (Dh2,362) including taxes (; 0027 21 794 2149).

Take a trip or a tour from the city via the Atlantic side all the way to Cape Point, come back on the Indian Ocean side through Simonstown, Kalk Bay and Constantia, following the coast, and you will have seen some of the most heart-stoppingly glorious scenery in the world.

Capetonians don't believe in paying unless they have to, so they favour beaches and barbecuing. Here's a selection of places you will find them: Camps Bay for beaches and cafes, the Olympia Cafe in Kalk Bay for its bohemian appeal and great food, the old suburbs of Sea Point and Green Point, and the site of the spectacular new Fifa World Cup football stadium, but with a very lively street life - try Giovanni's for genuine Italian produce and coffee. Locals also love the Old Biscuit Mill in the newly emergent suburb of Woodstock: great organic food market stalls on a Saturday, also home to interior design stores and art shops. For a sense of old Cape Town walk up Long Street and the area around it in the city, full of Victorian buildings, coffee shops, restaurants and clubs; it is the location of the wonderful Clarke's Bookshop, which finds, sells and ships antiquarian and modern books, with a preference for Africana. Capetonians like a chat so don't be afraid to engage them in conversation: the other day I had a conversation with a flower seller that was worthy of Alan Bennett.

Cape Town is alive with restaurants, from Cape Malay to sushi. Contantia Uitsig is a lovely wine estate which houses The Uitsig Restaurant, La Colombe and the River Cafe (lunch and tea only). The food at all three is very good, some of the best in South Africa, but the setting is also wonderful, particularly as the sun goes down and the guinea fowl wander through the gardens and vineyards. Uitsig is also home to a lovely hotel ( 0027 21 794 6500).

The Foodbarn is an informal place which involves a spectacular drive over Chapman's Peak, recommended at any time but particularly alluring if you have a booking at this restaurant in Noordhoek Village. The chef-proprietor is Franck Dangereux, and he is a marvellous cook who produces wonderful results with raw Cape materials. It's relatively inexpensive, but invariably good (; 0027 21 789 1390).

The Waterfront is the place to go for almost anything: it is vast and has hundreds of shops and is also, for a shopping centre, great fun with its restaurants and live music and views. The Cavendish Centre in Newlands is also good. The newly developed area now known as the Cape Quarter, on the edge of Bokaap just above the City Centre, has interesting interior design and knick-knack shops, including a branch of the excellent Bay Bookshop, cafes and restaurants. It's an atmospheric place and has been renovated with great skill and taste.

The tacky souvenirs sold in Greenmarket Square.

Robben Island (; 021 4134200), where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 of his 27 years in prison; the cable car up Table Mountain. (; Kirstenbosch Botanical gardens, the most beautiful botanical garden in the world, with sunset concerts at weekends; and Cape Point. Take time, also, to spend a day in Franschhoek. It's an enchanting small town about 90 minutes away with some of the best restaurants in South Africa.