Hg2 Cape Town co-author Keith Bain recently went to explore one of the seaside villages within easy striking distance of the Mother City’s CBD—he discovered quite a bit more than salty surfers and jackass penguins, including a riveting super-realist portrait exhibition.
Buy Hg2 Cape Town here
Visited by Kipling, Shaw and Kitchener, sleepy, shabby, slightly misbegotten Muizenberg is blessed with a long, glistening beach; craggy mountain backdrop; and languid atmosphere. A Victorian-era seaside getaway that was once the most popular holiday haunt in South Africa, this was where the gold and diamond magnates built boastful mansions into which they regularly escaped; these minor palaces still line the lower fynbos-covered mountain slopes, looking out over a magnificent soul-stirring bay. For day-trippers there’s a sense of escape—and calm; it’s one of those ice-cream licking, sand-between-your-toes sort of places, where the water’s a few degrees warmer than the city’s more upmarket seaside neighbourhoods, and families seem as at home as castaways. Most iconic of all, are the rows of colourful wooden beach cabins, a throwback to the days of atrociously modest attitudes towards public displays of nudity. Today, such attitudes are passé and nobody seems to care who you are or what you’re wearing. Along the shore, hordes of bronzed, salt-stained surfers and scruffy beachcombers rub shoulders with Capetonians who’ve given up on the high energy and crammed streets of the Big City; anthropologically, it’s a very mixed bag.
Heading up Muizenberg’s long-anticipated revival is Casa Labia, the result of a three-year restoration of what was originally the home of Count Natale Labia, the first Italian consul in South Africa. It’s a gorgeous mansion restored at great effort after falling into disuse and degradation; she may have lost her way over the years, but is now in mint condition, her new café-restaurant and museum-quality rooms laid out with original antiques and artworks that serve as sublime counterpoint to the modern gallery space that’s opened upstairs. Here, where a broad balcony overlooks Muizenberg’s blindingly white sandy beach, you can stare at the sea searching for whales, or browse the regularly changing exhibitions.
Do yourself a favour, and try to get through there before November 10th; on show is an exhibition of beautiful portraits by realist artist, Kim Myerson; her work is scintillating—a perfect epilogue to a meal from Judy Badenhorst’s balanced menu downstairs.
Casa Labia (Tel: 021-788-6068; www.casalabia.co.za) is at 192 Main Road, Muizenberg; it’s within walking distance of the beach and the train station, and you can walk the promenade from here all the way to St. James, known for its millionaire mansions. The venue is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10am till 4pm, or later during concerts and other events.