Image: Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
Jon Hicks  /  Corbis file
The Victoria and Alfred Waterfront with Table Mountain rising in the background, in Cape Town, South Africa.
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 4/2/2007 12:28:00 PM ET 2007-04-02T16:28:00

Framed by massive, cloud-topped Table Mountain, with ribbons of beaches and deep blue sea at front, there are few places anywhere as drop dead gorgeous as Cape Town. But not all parts of the city are as glamorous as the section patronized by tourists. Most visitors simply come to glory in its aura, but with the following itinerary, you’ll get a glimpse of both sides of the city: the beautiful areas and those tragically shaped by years of apartheid rule.

8 a.m. - 9 a.m.: Swing by Melissa’s for breakfast. An ultra-gourmet, self-serve deli, it’s known for its exquisite pastries, delish coffee and creamy quiches. Seating is limited, so consider picnicking with your picks.

9 a.m. - noon: The one indispensable visit on a trip to Cape Town is a pilgrimage to Robben Island . After a spectacularly scenic, 25-minute catamaran ride, you’ll board a bus for a tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its lighthouse, lime quarry (where prisoners toiled, often until they dropped), leper’s graveyard, and wildlife (penguins, antelopes and ostrich mainly). Most moving, of course, is the tour through the prison, led by former inmates, where you’ll view the painfully cramped cell where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.

Morning Alternative
If you’ve already visited Robben Island, move from Apartheid’s past into its after-effects with a Township tour . Offering up an unsparing view of the black side of this still very segregated city, the tour will introduce you to a community often ignored by visitors, one that, while fighting crippling poverty, still has a vibrancy and a spirit all its own. Depending on the schedule, this might be something you prefer to do in the afternoon (instead of the suggestions below).

Noon - 2 p.m.: Cape Malay has a distinctive cuisine all its own, a polyglot, if you will, of the foods of all the different seafarers who traded with this port city over the years (Asian, Mediterranean, Arabic) and the best place in town to sample it is the family-run Bismellah . Pleasantly sour stews, fiery curries and masalas are all on tap, but not beer (or any alcoholic beverage), as the management here is Muslim.

2 p.m. to 4:30 ish: After you leave Bismellah, don’t hurry away too soon. Linger instead along the cobbled streets of the Bo Kaap neighborhood, one of the city’s oldest areas and now home to a large Muslim community. You may want to pick up a tour, to learn about the 19th century Dutch and Georgian terraces you’ll be passing. Make sure to leave enough time for a visit to the District Six Museum , which tells the tragic story of a nearby neighborhood—home to 60,000 Cape Muslims at the time—that was bulldozed in 1966, displacing the entire, vibrant community.

Afternoon Alternative
Enjoy the scents and sights of the Kirstenboch Botanical Garden , an eye-candy explosion of flora that’s also a darn good introduction to the plant species of Africa (there are 8000 different ones on sight). An audio guide, available for a small extra charge, will fill you in on just what you’re seeing.

4:30 -7 p.m.: Hop a cable car to the top of Table Mountain , that handsome slab that shapes every view in Cape Town, and stay there long enough to watch the sun set into the Atlantic Ocean on one side, and the lights of the city blaze to life on the opposite lip of the mountain.

8 p.m. - 10 p.m.: A feast awaits at the Africa Café , a pan-African banquet specifically, served in communal bowls and representing foods from all over the continent. From Ethiopia, for example, you might sample sik sik wat, tender lamb in berbere sauche; from Malawi, sweet potato, cheese and sesame balls; from Zambia bean pies; and from Egyptian a delightfully light almond cake for dessert. But the experience here goes beyond the food: at a certain point in the evening, the waitstaff begin to sing, dance and play drums, which may sound hokey, but it’s actually a thrilling culmination to the meal. A truly memorable affair.

10 p.m.  -  on … Head on over to Long Street, the mountain end, and take your pick among the many hopping clubs and bars that line this party thoroughfare.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommerguides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

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Melissa’s, 94 Kloof Street, phone 021/424-5540.

Catamarans leave forRobben Islandevery hour on the hour beginning at 9 a.m. (until 3 p.m. except in summer when sunset tours are added). The cost of the entire tour, including the boat ride, the bus tour and the prison tour, is approximately $21 (price will vary depending on the exchange rate). Go to the Clocktower Terminal at Quay 5 to purchase tickets.

A number of different companies specialize in tours of the Townships, but we’d recommend One City Tours (phone 021/387-5351) as it’s sensitively led by a resident of Cape Flats, one of the Townships visited.

Biesmelliah, 2 Upper Wale Street, phone 021/423-0850.

For tours of the Bo Kaap area, contact Tana Baru Tours (021/424-0719; www.bokaap.co.za/business/tana_baru_tours.html) or Footsteps to Freedom (021/465-2031; www.footstepstofreedom.co.za/)

District Six Museum, 25A Buitenkant Street, phone 021/466 7200; www.districtsix.co.za/. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the rest of the week (Sundays by appointment only).

Kirstenboch Botanical Garden, Rhodes Avenue (off the M5), Newlands, phone 021/799-8899 or 021/761-4916 on weekends; www.nbi.ac.za/. Hours are 8 a.m. - 7 p.m. from September through March and 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. April through August. Admission is about $3. 

While you can hike to the top of Table Mountain, it will take you a good two to three hours. If your time is more limited you can take one of the cable cars which depart every 15 minutes from the lower station at Tafelberg Road (tel. 021/424-8181). They run from between 8 and 8:30 a.m. until between 6 and 9 p.m., depending on the season. A round-trip ticket costs between $12 and $16, again varying by season.

Africa Café, 108 Shortmarket St at Heritage Square, phone021/422-0221.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommerguides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

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