Don't overlook Cape Town as a hub for great design
Brazil may be welcoming the World Cup this year, but it's a previous host that's earned top seed on The New York Times' "52 Places to Go in 2014." Cape Town, South Africa, with its thriving multiculturalism, surrounding natural beauty and blossoming art community, is well chosen as an exciting and exotic African travel destination.
While there's good reason to visit Cape Town any time, 2014 is an especially interesting year to explore the South African capital. The city has been named the annual World Design Capital, an honor bestowed on a town that is using design as a way of socially, culturally and economically transforming itself. As The New York Times notes, South Africa has already undergone a massive reinvention since the end of Apartheid, and must continue to do so in the wake of Nelson Mandela's death. Design projects and events will be hosted throughout the year as a means of both celebrating the city and tackling its social ills.
For travelers, that means a city abuzz with art, architecture and impassioned debate. When it comes time for some solitude, the Cape also offers plenty of quiet escapes just outside of town.
Design on the forefront
The events being held for Cape Town's design capital honors span a wide range of categories, meant to address different issues in the community. People can learn about sustainability and business solutions, take part in neighborhood improvement programs or else just take in some local art. For example, ArtWalk is an open-invitation event that takes visitors to local artists' studios around the city. The Eat Out Produce Awards will recognize the work of organic, conscientious and excellent South African food producers. The Idea Factory pairs people with entrepreneurial teams to help develop community or business projects
Always in the culture
The influx of projects will make the Cape an exciting place to visit, but the city earned its honors precisely because it already had plenty of art and design programs in place. Travelers will find many studios, galleries and downright artsy businesses established well before the start of 2014. I Love My Laundry and Haas Design Collective are two places that define eclectic. The former is a laundromat, dim sum bar, wine shop and art store. The latter is an art gallery, restaurant and advertising agency. As Clayton Howard, owner of I Love My Laundry, told The New York Times, the city's small size makes it a perfect place for the local and the eclectic.
"Cape Town is a small city, and anything arty, unusual and stylish just works here," said Howard. "Something that doesn't work is franchises. Locals prefer supporting small, privately owned businesses. The more quirky or diverse, the more successful."
Beyond the gallery
The diversity and the beauty of the Cape may be discovered outside of the art houses. According to Cape Town's official tourism organization, dancing, drumming and the preparation of food are all prevalent cultural traditions that make dining an experience. Whole neighborhoods are bursting with color and ornate architecture, as is the case with Bo-Kaap, a vibrant Muslim community offering great food, inspiring mosques and brightly painted homes.
Beyond the city are some stunning views. Cape Point is one of the best, overlooking the bays, beaches and valleys of the coast. Meanwhile, wine tours take travelers further inland for relaxation among idyllic vineyards.
Cape Town, however, is just the tip of the continent, geographically and culturally. Travelers who want to see more of Africa should consider using the Cape as a jumping off point into further exploration, whether it's hiking through the Ethiopian highlands or embarking on a safari tour in Namibia. The New York Times also recommends another 51 destinations, which span well beyond Africa, from South America to southeast Asian sea.