Take a Fresh Look at South Africa

By Diana Keeler

New talents and inspired visions are permeating neighborhoods in South Africa’s busiest cities. Globetrotting writer Diana Keeler uncovers some of the most exciting innovations in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban.

Few cities in the world match Johannesburg’s energy, where art, culture and many of the world’s best restaurants are putting South Africa on the must-see list.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the uber-cool Maboneng Precinct. Local artists, entrepreneurs and government officials are imbuing new energy in Maboneng and similar precincts across the country, with new developments showcasing the work of the country’s creative class.

Start with a visit to David Krut’s Print Workshop, which produces the work of artists ranging from graffiti icon Faith47 to William Kentridge — best known for his prints but also internationally renowned as an animator and filmmaker. To step inside this space is to be surrounded by the best of South Africa’s contemporary art. From here, it’s lunch at Canteen under the olive trees for mason jar cocktails and lamb burgers — or margaritas made with tequila from the Silver Creek Craft Distillery in nearby Randfontein.

Come night, Pata Pata hosts jazz musicians in the candlelit space. “Pata pata” means “touch touch” in the Xhosa language, but it’s also the name of Miriam Makeba’s hit song from the 1960s and a popular local dance style; the vintagecentric design scheme warmly evokes township life from the time. The rooftop patio at the Living Room was made for sundowners, whether Windhoek lagers or a glass of Tamboerskloof syrah.

Just down Fox Street from the Maboneng Precinct, 1Fox has a similar vibe and amenities, plus a history all its own. It’s built above what was once the city’s first mining camp during its 19th-century gold rush; decades later, the site was used as a depot for the city’s trams and buses. Now “The Sheds” has been thoroughly overhauled, with a popular weekend market and the Living Artist Emporium, an ambitious young gallery. Founded in 1895, the Good Luck Bar is another link to Jozi’s past, with live music from big-name South African acts.

The cultural hub of Braamfontein is also home to Johannesburg’s arguably most-fun (and definitively second-oldest) bar in the city, Kitcheners, which channels some of the grandeur of its past as a part of the Milner Park Hotel. For top South African musical talent, make plans for dinner and a show at The Orbit — the line up is mostly jazz, but there’s enough diversity (like one band playing “Afrobalkan Skadubhall”) to keep it interesting.

Culture in Cape Town

It’s a cliché to describe Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s biggest township, as its most vibrant, but there’s truth to the term. It’s bursting with enterprise and invention — like 4Roomed eKasi, the fine-dining restaurant from one-time “MasterChef” contestant Abigail Mbalo-Mokoena. (She lost her spot on the show after burning sugar, which she nods to in a toffee apple dessert.)

In the super-creative Woodstock area of Cape Town, stop by the Neighbourgoods Market on a Saturday morning and you’ll find this local institution at its most exciting. Vendors range from Culture Lab (kombucha producers) to Short & Curly’s (artisan ice cream producers) to artists like illustrator Amy Ayanda. Come back to the same building for dinner at The Test Kitchen, named the top restaurant on the continent by the World’s 50 Best Restaurants Awards, thanks to an eclectic, global-meets-South Africa tasting menu.

Dynamic Durban

In the city of Durban, converted warehouses in the Station Drive Precinct have been completely transformed thanks to the visions of local artists and young entrepreneurs. The African Art Centre mounts a robust slate of shows featuring the work of artists and craft makers; some of their work is available for sale in the museum’s shop. Come on the first Thursday of the month for extended opening hours and events hosted by the precinct’s other standout businesses — like Distillery 031, offering its “D’Urban” dry gin with African rosehip, orris root and cardamom, and local craft beers at That Brewing Company at S43.

Since she first fell in love with the country, Diana Keeler has returned to South Africa many times over the past decade. Her publications include The Wall Street Journal, Outside, Travel + Leisure and Afar, and she is at work on her second novel, set in South Africa and the Netherlands.

Boutique Retreats

While there’s no shortage of grand hotels in South Africa, boutique properties offer welcoming surroundings to complement your cultural forays.

You’ll feel right at home at the Saxon Hotel, Villas and Spa, tucked in a relaxed Johannesburg suburb, where a restorative, Arabian-inspired spa ritual is a perfect introduction to your stay.

Find your respite at Cape Cadogan on busy Kloof Street outside of Cape Town, where daily breakfast and an in-room amenity kick off a day of exploration.

We love the stylish Oyster Box in Durban, a seaside escape with individually designed rooms and culinary perks that include daily breakfast in the Ocean Terrace Restaurant, cocktails and high tea.

Find more memorable South Africa vacations and resorts with special privileges when you contact us. Visit our website, enter Offer M18593 and click search.

In South Africa, you can follow in the path of Nelson Mandela as you explore the most meaningful sites and monuments tied to his legacy. Read more in our digital publication when you enter Offer EW16085 on our website.

Cover Photo: Scene of Durban city from the coast. © Can Stock Photo / michaeljung

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