When travelers return from Cape Town, they’re often at a loss to explain the South African city’s particular kind of magnificence, so they resort to making up unlikely hybrids of their other favorite destinations. “It’s Rio meets Edinburgh!” they’ll say, or “Copenhagen crossed with Guadeloupe!” Indeed, few places can offer so many surefire crowd-pleasers in one package: rugged mountains, cliff-ringed beaches, friendly and laid-back locals, world-class vineyards, and thriving culinary and cultural scenes. Then again, few cities come with so much baggage. Almost 15 years after the end of apartheid, Cape Town retains a distinctly colonial vibe; well-off white residents still cluster in privileged enclaves, many just across the highway from gang-ruled shantytowns. But as the city continues to distance itself from its grim past (while keenly preparing to host the World Cup in 2010), there’s a palpable sense of optimism, a belief that this buzzy cosmopolitan town is finally living up to its spectacular setting.
One new center of action these days is the grungy district of Woodstock, home on Saturday to the Neighbourgoods Market. Part hipster garden party, part gourmet trading post, the market draws hordes of cute, artsy Capetonians, who, from 9 a.m. onward, sip beer or Pinotage while cruising the aisles for fresh oysters, artisanal cheeses and jars of organic plum coulis. Justin Rhodes launched the market in an old warehouse two years ago with his partner, Cameron Munro, and says they had no idea it would turn into Cape Town’s prime weekend posing spot. “We thought it would just be a few of our friends saying, ‘Oh, gee, organic vegetables!’” he says. “But it was gangbusters from day one.” This fall they’re opening a new section for the emerging fashion and accessories designers who Rhodes says are underserved by local retailers.
Rhodes and Munro are also behind Whatiftheworld, an innovative gallery and arts collective that relocated to Woodstock last year. Since then the district’s industrial spaces have been luring established dealers such as Johannesburg-based Goodman Gallery (home to blue-chip South African artists such as William Kentridge) and Michael Stevenson (known for rising talents like Nicholas Hlobo). “Things are really happening in Cape Town now,” says Emma Bedford, director of Goodman’s Cape Town branch. Bedford says that some local collectors are still reluctant to venture to Woodstock because of its longtime reputation as a high-crime area (the rep is partially justified; park in guarded spaces only, and don’t go at night). But more intrepid types, including new waves of international buyers, are attracted by a scene that’s increasingly sophisticated yet resolutely informal and accessible. “Europeans are amazed at how you can really rub shoulders with the artists here,” Bedford says. “And they can’t believe the low prices.”