Natural beauty, a rich, complicated history and a magnificent lifestyle are the draws for many ex-pats.

With the shine of last year’s World Cup still on it, Cape Town is basking in its reputation as the finest city in South Africa. It has been blessed by nature, with iconic Table Mountain and a national park at its heart and the sweeping lengths of the Indian and Atlantic Ocean coastlines that give this city its special character. Living here means having access to a wondrous natural landscape, a spectacular climate and a thriving multicultural society that is working its way towards unity.

What is it known for?
The Mother City of South Africa is the cultural heart of the country, where natural beauty, a rich, complicated history and a magnificent lifestyle are the draw for many ex-pats and other South Africans. Surrounded by fertile plains, mountains and winelands, the city below Table Mountain stretches to the Indian and Atlantic Oceans, divided by Cape Point. From surfing and biking to abseiling, Cape Town has an ideal outdoorsy lifestyle to go along with its first-class restaurants, great music scene and cosmopolitan streetscapes.

The city came to the attention of Europeans after the Portuguese popped in sometime in the 15th Century, but it is Cape Town’s long Dutch, Asian/Islamic and African history that makes the city an interesting place. That history also contains the long and painful period of apartheid, which ended only 20 years ago in 1990. While Cape Town is home to colourful colonial Cape Dutch architecture, it is also home to Robben Island, the notorious prison where Nelson Mandela was held for 18 years. Cape Town still struggles with that legacy and the poverty and crime in the townships. Informal settlements now stretch nearly to Stellenbosch’s wine country, attracting people from the impoverished Eastern Cape and neighbouring countries who are looking for better economic circumstances.

“Cape Town is first world mixed with third world, very metropolitan,” said Franci Henny, a lifelong resident.

Where do you want to live?
The neighbourhoods in what is known as the City Bowl (at the base of Table Mountain), such as Oranjezicht, Gardens, Tamboerskloof and Central Cape Town, are very popular and trendy. Emerging areas like Bo-Kaap and Woodstock are historical, multicultural and filled with colourful Cape Dutch architecture. They are increasingly popular with young professionals and families, but as they gentrify, some of the older, blue-collar residents are getting pushed out.

The leafy, southern suburbs of Constantia, Bishopscourt and Wynberg are well-established, close to the best schools and correspondingly expensive. Homes here average around six million rand. The Northern suburbs have gotten very popular; sales are heating up and a lot of housing estates are going up near spots like Durbanville and Kraaifontein. Houses sell here within six to eight weeks of listing. People are also moving up the West Coast to suburbs such as Blouberg, Sunningdale, Parklands and Table View.

The Atlantic Seaboard area called the Platinum Mile is still where the well-off aspire to live, in areas like Green Point, Bantry Bay, Sea Point and Camps Bay. “These spots have a cosmopolitan lifestyle with homes ranging from 100 million rand to apartments for under one million rand,” said Lanice Steward, managing director of Anne Porter Properties. Hout Bay, also on the Atlantic Seaboard, is a separate fishing village where you can find massive equestrian estates and houses with sea views for anywhere from two to 30 million rand.

Side trips
There is no end of things to do in and around Cape Town, and the city residents take advantage of their spectacular location. The local beaches, colder on the Atlantic side, warmer on the Indian Ocean side, have great surfing. You can go mountain biking, hiking, kloofing (a combination of hiking down a mountain stream and abseiling), camping, and river rafting along the Garden Route, a verdant stretch of national parks and forests along South Africa’s south coast.Go wine tasting and vineyard hopping near Stellanbosch and Franschhoek. Swartland is a fertile valley only 50km from Cape Town and has many guesthouses and small towns, perfect for a weekend getaway. In the winter, there is skiing in the mountains about an hour’s drive from town.

Cape Town International Airport has direct flights to Durban and Johannesburg, as well as many cities in Europe, Africa, South America and Asia. The city is a 12-hour flight from London and from Sydney.

Practical info
The real estate market in Cape Town was less affected by the recession than other areas of South Africa and it remains a sought-after location. Housing stock runs the gamut — from large seaside houses to apartment blocks to family homes with a quarter of an acre garden. A typical, unfurnished two-bed flat rents from 8,000 to 14,000 rand, depending on the neighbourhood. The rental market is strong right now.

When purchasing a property, be sure you are familiar with sectional titles. “There is a healthy market in sectional title units at the moment,” said Steward. A sectional title means you purchase a section of a property, but not the common property (ie stairways, halls, corridors). Sectional title owners pay a fee to maintain these and in this way are similar to condos and leaseholds.

The middle of the market, from two to eight million rand, is where the most movement is at the moment. Overall, “the market is showing more sign of activity, but the prices have remained flat over the past three years,” said Steward. Take time to consider what suburb you want to live in and contact estate agents in that area. “The most important thing to know about Cape Town is that you are living in the best city in the world,” said Henny.

Further information
Cape Town Magazine
: events, restaurants, nightlife, news
Cape Town Music Scene
: weekly gig guide to shows, album and show reviews
Upper Woodstock Residents Association
: neighbourhood website and info
TygerBurger
: weekly west coast and northern suburbs paper in English and Afrikaans