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“A playground shared with snakes and monkeys”

South African born Clifford Lilley has lived in Zurich for many years and is, today, one of Switzerland’s most renowned stylists. His long list of customers includes a slew of celebrities and his expert opinion is regularly sought after by the media. The trained actor grew up in Cape Town, to where he returns at least once a year. Clifford Lilley tells us what makes his hometown so fabulous:

“I grew up in Simon’s Town in the south of Cape Town. Today, Simon’s Town is famous for a colony of penguins that reside on the beach and attract millions of tourists. When I was young, there were no penguins. They came in the mid-1980s. Before then, we children had the beaches to ourselves. Nowadays, it would be inconceivable to lie on the beach where I once learned to swim.

My father was in the navy and based in Simon’s Town, which is situated on the Cape Peninsula on the shores of False Bay. The name “False Bay” goes back to when sailors mistakenly anchored in the bay thinking they had reached Cape Town’s Table Bay. The area is still very much steeped in history and has something decidedly British about it. My childhood was fabulous, spent right on the seafront, close to the mountains and surrounded by nature. Every experience was up close: the sunsets, the heat, the cold, the wind. You can take a train from Cape Town City to Simon’s Town, which is something I recommend doing. Apart from that, a motor vehicle is essential in Cape Town as public transport is not very reliable. Simon’s Town is the terminal train station and has plenty on offer for visitors: beaches, Bed & Breakfasts, charming restaurants, historical buildings and a string of shops, including fish & chip shops and bookstores. I love to browse through these shops and never fail to discover items I simply must buy. One of my recent finds was a Queen Elizabeth Coronation cup that I purchased from a lovely odds and ends shop.

Animal-shaped childhood memories

Just recently, I took to the hills near Simon’s Town with a friend. It was where we used to play as children – a playground shared with snakes and monkeys, with stunning views of the open sea and of whales frolicking in the water. What an experience! My father loved to sail, which is why we spent a great deal of time on the water. Living by the sea naturally meant that what landed on our barbecue stemmed mostly from the sea, such as fish, mussels and lobster. But the taste of my childhood was also very British. My mother used to make the best scones by far.

After finishing school, I left Simon’s Town and moved to the city where I enrolled in drama school at the University of Cape Town and became an actor. This was before I moved with my then partner to his hometown Zurich. I grew up during apartheid in South Africa, where in the 1960s a large number of black South Africans were forcibly removed from their homes, causing families to be torn apart and dreams to be shattered. I experienced the grief and the anger of these people. Today, being able to witness South Africa’s transition and to see that people can return to their family homes, that black and white are now equal before the law, is all the more gratifying and pleasing for me. Even if it will doubtlessly take some time until apartheid is fully overcome and banished for good from every South African’s mind.

A city for adventurers

I visit Cape Town at least once a year, if not more. My entire family still lives there, including my mother and my brother. Sometimes I am there for a week, other times as long as two months. When I visit, I spend as much time as possible with my family and friends. We go for long walks on the beach or in the forest. Or we do small trips, to a winery in Stellenbosch for instance.

Whenever I travel to South Africa with friends from Switzerland, they are always amazed at how much Cape Town has to offer. Anyone looking for adventure does not have to travel far: activities such as swimming with sharks, climbing to the top of Table Mountain, sea-angling or bungee jumping can be enjoyed close by. Going to the top of Table Mountain –by whichever means of transport– is an absolute must. My recommendation for first-time visitors: book a helicopter flight and enjoy spectacular aerial views of the Cape of Good Hope.

Culture in shorts and flip-flops

Bree Streets, in the City Bowl, is currently the coolest place to be and features hip bars, clubs and restaurants. People are very easygoing and dressed casually in shorts and flip-flops. A blessing for me, as in Zurich my profession requires that I never leave the house un-styled. Cape Town also boasts plenty of culture. I love the museums, which include the National Gallery and the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art at the Waterfront. There are also several playhouses that offer excellent programmes. Sometimes, I just get in my car and drive around. I am often drawn to Signal Hill with its fantastic vistas across the Atlantic coast and the Cape Town harbour. I love to watch the hustle and bustle of the boats. In the evening, I like to sit on Camp’s Bay Beach, enjoy the sunset while sipping a drink. The historic Mount Nelson Hotel provides for a touch of glamour and also includes the Oasis Bistro where I often take my mother for lunch.

Time permitting, the famous Garden Route is to be recommended. However, I personally would recommend travelling along the west coast up to Namibia even more warmly. There has been considerable development in the area of late, with great Bed & Breakfasts and other accommodation options to choose from. Many people have holiday houses along the route. Bartholomeus Klip is a delightful place to visit. The farmhouse and homestead is a good hour’s drive from Cape Town and offers daily game drives, followed by afternoons spent lazing at the pool and evenings enjoyed with a candlelight dinner under the African sky. What bliss!

From the Cape of Good Hope to Table Mountain

First-time visitors in Cape Town must, of course, see the Cape of Good Hope, where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean. The drive there is, per se, an adventure and will undoubtedly include a stop in Simon’s Town to see the penguins. The Cape is not far from the southernmost tip of the African continent. Table Mountain to the north basically constitutes the backbone of the peninsula and can be seen from almost any direction. Very impressive! Ascending the mountain on foot takes about four to five hours. There are easier and harder routes. I have only ever hiked to the top once, but have done sections of it on many occasions. The easiest way to the top is, of course, by aerial cableway.

As a stylist I am naturally interested in everything fashion-related. Although the motto in Cape Town is not to “dress to impress” but rather to “dress to feel good”, there are nonetheless numerous small boutiques that sell their own fashion – in Claremont, for instance, or on Long Street, Bree Stree or Kloof Street. The Waterfront is generally a great place to shop as well as for food, art and lifestyle. The historic neighbourhood De Waterkant is close by and has an active gay and lesbian scene. The many farmer’s markets held in and around the city are also worthy of note. My favourites are the ones in Stellenbosch, Hout Bay and Woodstock. These days, tours can also be booked around Cape Town’s townships. I am not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I am bothered by the issue of displaying; on the other hand, the townships constitute a part of South Africa’s history and are a reality of this city – and that fact should not be hidden. After all, a substantial amount of the money from these tours is invested in the townships, in children’s education for instance.”

Clifford Lilley’s top three in Cape Town

Boulders Beach - Here –or more precisely at Foxy Beach– is where the penguins of Simon’s Town reside. Visitors can practically bathe with them. Compared with the Atlantic coast, the water on this side is relatively warm. The time to visit is in the early morning before the crowds arrive. (Kleintuin Rd, Simon's Town, Cape Town, 7995, South Africa)

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden - Kirstenbosch is located at the eastern foot of Table Mountain and is considered one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in the world. Offering visitors plenty of nature, it also has restaurants, shops, numerous hiking trails – even a “ridgeway” of a sorts in the trees. (Table Mountain National Park, Rhodes Dr, Newlands, Cape Town, 7735, South Africa, www.sanbi.org/gardens/kirstenbosch)

The Old Biscuit Mill - The area that once housed a biscuit factory is situated in the heart of Woodstock. Today, it is home to cafés, designer shops, a coffee roasting house and a Saturday market. One of the restaurants in the Mill, “The Test Kitchen”, figures among the best restaurants in Africa. Restaurant reservations need to be made months in advance. (375 Albert Rd, Woodstock, Cape Town, 7915, South Africa, www.theoldbiscuitmill.co.za)

Text: Sandra Casalini