Some people refer to Cape Town, clinging to the southern edge of the African continent, as a visdorpie - 'fishing village'. When they're being unkind, they say it's a European town out of place in Africa.
Cape Town's laid-back vibe may not match the pumped economic testosterone of Johannesburg to the north, but the country's large financial institutions are headquartered here. It also breeds entrepreneurial and innovative creative enterprises. On any given day, you'll encounter international feature films or commercials being shot on Cape Town's streets.
The locals are a mix of races and religions, predominantly Christian but including a large Muslim community, some of whom can trace their ancestry to the slaves brought in from Malaya by the Dutch East India Company in the 1600s. Their descendants still live in the colourful dinky houses of the Bo-Kaap and it's worth a visit to the Bo-Kaap Museum for the social history of the area.
There are flocks of European visitors, many of whom buy property here. One Irishman owns 46 apartments along the Atlantic seaboard, Cape Town's prime real estate neighbourhood. The English - including the brother of the late Princess of Wales - seek the wooded hillsides and history of Constantia.
In summer the beaches are packed. Families head for the warm-water side - Muizenberg (famous for surfing), Kalk Bay (great for antique shops) and Boulders (to swim with the penguins); sun-lovers descend on Camps Bay or Clifton. At sunset, the beach cafes in Camps Bay are all bare feet and bikinis, while the linen-and-Panama set sip cocktails upstairs at Baraza Bar. Many will end up partying at Hemisphere, a swank club on the 31st floor of a downtown office tower.
The city is home to the Houses of Parliament, the South African Museum, the South African National Gallery and the Slave Lodge (all near the Company's Garden in the centre of town), as well as the Castle of Good Hope. To challenge the 'European' city image, spend an evening at Liziwe's Guest House in Gugulethu, a B&B in one of the former townships and still a predominantly black suburb.
If on business, stay in town at the Extreme Hotel, which boasts a fully functioning five-storey climbing wall on the outside. For the more sedate and those who like to spread out, try the modern Protea Hotel North Wharf - each room is more than 85m2. It's a three-minute walk from the Cape Town International Convention Centre and 10 minutes from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, a shopping destination that draws more than 22 million visitors each year. (Alfred was Queen Victoria's second son and inaugurated the construction of the city's first harbour in 1860.)
Cape Town vies with Franschhoek for the title of culinary capital of South Africa. Franschhoek is an hour's drive away and worth a day visit, but book ahead if you're eating at Le Quartier Francais or Ruben's. In Cape Town, eat at the Cape Colony Restaurant in the Mount Nelson Hotel, the Grande Dame of our hotels. For an idea of what our talented chefs offer, visit The Showroom, Jardine's or Ginja. Apart from being the embarkation point for a visit to Robben Island, the V&A Waterfront boasts some 80 restaurants, cafes and bars. For great tapas and a vertigo-inducing view over the Atlantic, go to Salt in Bantry Bay. Be there for the sunset.
If you're looking for African artefacts, then visit Africa Nova in the fashionable Cape Quarter. It's filled with goodies ranging from contemporary glass bead wall hangings to traditional Dinka headrests, traditional Zulu pots to the beautifully intricate modern ceramic art from Aardmore. And before you leave, be sure to make the trip up Table Mountain.
Donald Paul is a freelance journalist living and working in Cape