When it comes to embarking on the ultimate honeymoon, there are a few elements that seem absolutely necessary. A beautiful beach is one; memorable food and drinks are also key. It helps, too, if there's something exotic to see or do. Cape Town, South Africa, checks all these marks and many others. It's a clean, modern city — whose summer, remember, is our winter — that is oozing with natural beauty, adventure and creative cuisine. Here, 10 things to keep in mind when planning the romantic getaway of a lifetime.
1. You'll become obsessed with the practice of "sundowners."
At some point you've probably gone somewhere pretty to have a cocktail and watch the sunset, but here this concept is called sundowners, and it's taken quite seriously. Sundowners are a ritual that all Cape Town residents adore, and you will too. To confuse things, you don't necessarily have to be watching that fiery ball of light drop below the horizon for a drink to constitute as a sundowner, but it always helps. Prime spots include the many cafes that line Camps Bay (a hip Malibu-esque beachfront strip) and the sloping grassy lawn at The Roundhouse, where bottles of bubbly make the perfect compliment to the setting sun.
2. Bring your sense of adventure.
Cape Town brings the best of a well-functioning metropolis together with a huge amount of natural beauty, and there are many more adrenaline-producing activities to experience than in your typical city. The massive flat-topped Table Mountain presides over the city, and provides fun in the form of hiking, climbing, abseiling (rappelling) and even hang-gliding from the top. Lion's Head, it's peaky counterpart, is a steep climb — complete with chains and a vertical drop at one point — that's best done at sunrise or sunset, even better if it's a full moon. If that's the case, bring a bottle of Champagne to toast as the sun sets and the moon rises simultaneously, a breathtaking sight. And bring a headlamp! There's also surfing (for those willing to shimmy into a thick wetsuit) and, of course, the fearsome cage diving with great white sharks.
3. There's a hotel to fit every taste and budget.
The exchange rate between the US Dollar and the South African Rand is currently — and has been for some time — very much in our favor. There are seemingly endless beautiful places to stay in this city, from super high end to incredibly charming B&B guesthouses (check out La Grenadine Petit Hotel and Boutique@10). The proprietors all seem to have an impeccable sense of taste. The One&Only Cape Town is a shining star in the city. Situated right at the buzzing VA Waterfront, with an indulgent spa and gigantic guest rooms on their very own island, it has a prime view of Table Mountain from its elegant bar (also Africa's only Nobu) and offers one of the more opulent places to honeymoon, not to mention indescribably wonderful beds.
4. Expect to drink lots of wine.
Instead of wine country, South Africa has the Cape Winelands, a bucolic area surrounded by jagged mountains just 45 minutes driving from the city. It's where much of the country's amazing wine is grown and made, and has been since the late 1600s when French Huguenots settled in the area. Franschhoek and Stellenbosch (think Napa and Sonoma) are worth a day — or two or three — trip, but in lieu of a journey to their elegant tasting rooms and picturesque restaurants you can also go places like Reuben's in the city, where the sommelier Musa can enthusiastically walk you through local varietals in their towering glass wine lofts. In South Africa, Syrah and Shiraz are interchangeable — the latter is simply the French spelling — Sauvignon Blanc is a popular white and Pinotage is the country's very own grape, similar, as expected, to pinot noir.
5. The city is mecca for foodies.
There are not many places in the world you can get a six-course meal with wine pairings for under $100. But the rand makes it possible to have impeccable meal after meal of innovative, exciting food for shockingly low prices. A few of the top spots to nosh include The Test Kitchen (it's the toughest reservation in the city, so plan way ahead) and its chef Luke Dale-Roberts' other two eateries Pot Luck Club (where dishes are organized on the menu by things like bitter and umami) and the beautiful new Shortmarket Club. Anywhere on the recently buzzing Bree Street is a pretty safe bet, as are Azure and Aubergine.
6. You can shop 'til you drop.
Cape Town has oodles of homegrown designers, many of whom gather their men's and women's denim, apparel, swimwear, jewelry, leather bags, decor and other accessories on Saturdays at the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, where the mouthwatering Neighbourgoods Market also pops up for a feast that's worth making room for. (Stalls offer everything from wood-fired pizza made in a tuk-tuk to paellas, fresh seafood and artisanal open-face sandwiches plus bars and so many desserts.) For traditional South African crafts, check out Greenmarket Square or the long warehouse-style Watershed market at the V&A, which is a little more upscale.
7. Penguins. On the beach.
Everyone's favorite bird is a longtime resident of Boulders Beach, about an hour from Cape Town (Kalk Bay nearby is worth a wander, too). Make the pilgrimage to watch tiny adorable jackass penguins — you'll understand the name when you hear the donkeylike noises they make — as they preen on the beach, swim in the crashing seafoam waves, attract mates and waddle around in their black and white splendor. It's an insanely cute spectacle.
8. Plan to indulge in the city's craft cocktail and artisanal gin scene.
Capetonians know how to have fun. Along with all the delicious eats and local wines available there is a significant craft cocktail scene and burgeoning trend toward artisanal gin distilleries. Orphanage is a dark, scene-y bar where concoctions are imaginative and appropriately intoxicating, and the cocktails at Outrage of Modesty are also impeccably crafted. As for the juniper-based spirit that's becoming big, there's the hidden Gin Bar behind Honest Chocolate Cafe, which carries a couple dozen South African gins, and also Mother's Ruin, a bar dedicated to the liquor. Fun, boozy tastings are also possible at Woodstock Gin Co. (beside the Old Biscuit Mill) and, on a weekly basis, at Hope and Hopkins distillery.
9. Save time for a little local history.
It's not necessarily romantic, but taking the boat journey to Robben Island to learn about and witness where local hero Nelson Mandela was a political prisoner for 18 years is an important experience. It will give you a greater understanding, context and appreciation for what the nation went through during apartheid.
10. The coffee culture is huge.
It's not just about intoxicating sips in Cape Town. Caffeine addicts — or even appreciators — will love the city's hefty coffee scene. The steampunk-styled cafe Truth Coffee is widely recognized as the best on the continent (and for some, the world), and there are countless other sworn-by stops, including Origin, House of Machines, Bootlegger Coffee Company, Haas and Latitude 33.