In the thick of summer, when Cape Town is heaving with visitors and locals let loose from their work cages, you might feel the urge to find somewhere quiet to hide. Here are a few wonderful Cape Town courtyards to try when you need to step out of the fray.
If you’re looking for a peaceful retreat in beautiful surroundings, the approach to 196 Victoria might not immediately seem promising: persevere, and you’ll be delighted you did. In the middle of the bustling, restless, noisy urban Woodstock Main (Victoria) Road, you’ll see the gracious old façade. But once you step inside, you’ll find yourself in an oasis of calm that seems to be miles (perhaps centuries?) away from the street you’ve just stepped off.
I first went there to see an exhibition by a local artist – wonderful work, exhibited in a light, clear space – and it felt like I’d stumbled, Narnia style, into a different world.
196 Victoria was conceived as a hub where creatives and holistic health practitioners (and those who feed and water them) could work in a beautiful, conducive environment. The focus of the centre is on supporting physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. The building houses several artists’ studios (to the right as you walk in), a yoga studio, therapy rooms and workshop rooms as well as an extraordinary old world café room, an exhibition space, and, tucked away at the back, a courtyard café. The eatery has just changed hands, and the new Veg Kitchen and Coffee Shop opens in January. I’ll definitely be paying them a visit.
If you’re looking to put yourself into the thick of it rather than to escape, head to Café Ganesh in the heart of Observatory. Café Ganesh started by accident. Literally. Anthony Baker was knocked off his motorbike in the early 90s and was eventually paid out for his medical expenses in 1995. He took a 7-month trip to India (hence the name Ganesh), and decided to start a local eatery when he came home in late 1996.
An “Obs” institution since its inception, Café Ganesh serves up hearty food (think bobotie, umnqusho, pap ‘n veg) and even heartier conversation, Mzansi style, from before noon until the wee hours. The look is urban shabby chic, and the feeling is everyone’s welcome. Most of the action happens at the long tables in the main courtyard area (through the main Trill Street entrance) but Ganesh expanded some years ago to include an extra room, featuring work by well-known SA artists – don’t forget to check out the floors.
If you’re wanting something more tranquil and less “happening”, try the fabulous fare at the High Tea cake shop in Wynberg.
Kerneels and Irma Brümmer started High Tea in Wynberg as a tea and cake shop in 2004, but it has since expanded. High Tea now serves up breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea in a really beautiful, peaceful English-styled garden. The baking is still done by Irma and her staff in a home-based kitchen. You can hire out the venue for functions or order custom-made cakes for birthdays, weddings or other special occasions.
If it’s a seaside courtyard retreat you’re after, make your way to the South Peninsula, where you’ll find the Courtyard Café in Kalk Bay or try the Winchester Mansions in Sea Point.
The Courtyard Café
The Courtyard Café is set in a sheltered courtyard in Kalk Bay between the Artvark Gallery (through which you enter the café) and the Kalk Bay Theatre (which featured in the Secret Cape Town “Intimate Theatres” blog). The café has inside and outside areas, some of which overlook the bustling activity of Kalk Bay and the False Bay ocean beyond. The Courtyard Café prides itself on their healthy, high quality ethically sourced food, serving many inventive salads as well as vegetarian and vegan options.
Winchester Mansions in Sea Point is home to one of my all-time favourite courtyard hide-aways. I’ve been treated to a fabulous breakfast buffet there and it’s a perfect place for afternoon tea, but Harvey’s (as the restaurant here is called) also serves dinner in this uber-romantic courtyard setting.
They offer Summer Serenade evenings during season on Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 8, high tea on Saturday afternoons from 2 to 5 (R360 for 2) and their legendary jazz brunches on Sundays from 11 to 2 (R345 and you can help yourself to anything from the breakfast or lunch buffets) – just make sure you book in advance. If you’re after a spectacular sunset drink, the bar (with a stoep) at the front of the hotel looking out onto the promenade and the sea beyond is a winner.
Heritage Square houses an impressive range of places to eat or drink. There are several good restaurants (one specialising in chicken dishes, the other in beef), an upstairs drinkery, an innovative ice cream shop serving inventively boozy ice cream flavours such as whisky and orange peel alongside more traditional (and child-friendly) varieties, a cellar offering wine tasting, a coffee shop, and the Heritage Hotel which is adorned with a grape vine that has been growing there since the 1770s and still produces grapes. Whether you’re going there for a quick drink, a coffee, an ice cream or a full meal, it’s a wonderful venue – day or night.
Not far from Heritage Square in Bree Street, the Villa 47 courtyard has just been revamped into a fresh, modern terrazza with funky but comfortable-looking furniture, presided over by a great mosaic created by a young local artist. They specialise in Italian spritzers, snacks and meals and have several beers on tap. It seems like a perfect place to go for post-work drinks and stay for a good Italian dinner.
Honest and The Gin Bar
Still in the CBD, Honest Chocolate is a small, artisanal bean-to-bar chocolatier. The people at Honest are dedicated to ensuring ethical business practices and sourcing (local, organic and fair). The chocolate is handcrafted in Woodstock, and they set themselves apart from the rest by keeping their chocolate dark and minimally sugared.
Their café shop is on Wale Street, with a few tables of indoors and a really pretty courtyard at the back (which is part of the original building) where you can sit and enjoy a breather and something dark, decadent and chocolatey at a table near the water feature.
If you’re a gin lover (which I confess I’m not) venture further and you will find the secret Gin Bar, which shares the courtyard with the Chocolate Café and offers a wide selection of local and international gins. You can try your hand (or taste buds) at identifying the huge variety of botanical flavours used, and experiment with different mixers and garnishes.
If you feel like going somewhere rural without leaving the city, the courtyard at Jonkershuis restaurant is a good bet. Situated in the heart of Groot Constantia, the oldest wine-producing estate in South Africa, the Jonkershuis is a relaxed restaurant with a leaning towards traditional Cape Malay dishes. There are various spaces within the venue, including a lovely courtyard area, but it’s definitely worth booking in advance. It’s a great place to take kids: there’s a children’s menu (as well as a vegetarian one) and plenty of space under the shade of the oak trees to run off any extra energy after lunch.