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By Glynis Horning
With its sun-smacked beaches and cosy curry dens, Durban is as warm and comfortable as an old holiday T-shirt – the one that says ‘Life is a Beach’. But dig a little, and an edgy side emerges, from cool new jazz lounges to artisanal distilleries and great restaurants. Why wait to take leave to sample them –your perfect, and perfectly easy, weekend away starts here!
Evening – make your escape
Snatch up a hat, flip-flops, sunblock and a toothbrush, and slip away! A British Airways flight leaves Cape Town International at 5.30pm, and at OR Tambo International you can board a 4.15pm or 6pm flight and smell the sea in under an hour.
Umhlanga is a 15-minute drive from uShaka International and offers a slew of accommodation options (www.umhlangabookings.co.za ). Try secluded, stylish Teremok Marine (www.teremok.co.za). Check-in, then head for the Lighthouse Bar at the Oyster Box Hotel (www.oysterboxhotel.com). Order the Apple Mint Cosmopolitan, and unwind on a sexy red leather barstool or striped chair on the terrace, while the sun stains the sky behind the iconic lighthouse, or the moon silvers the sea. Then hit Pintxada (www.pintxada.co.za) on the lively village square for dinner. Slide into a shocking pink Tarantino booth, and tuck into tapas delights from boquerones (white anchovies) with roasted peppers and crostini, to crispy churros with dark choc dipping sauce.
08:00 – Hit the beach
No trip to Durban is complete without a swim in the warm Indian Ocean. Start your day with a quick dip at North Beach, then breakfast on Cajun scrambled eggs (with chopped avo and peppadews) on a lounger on the sand at Circus Circus Beach Café (www.circuscircus.co.za ).
09:00 – Get moving
Hire wheels at the The Skate Store at the North Beach Skatepark (www.facebook.com/theskatestore/) and cycle, skate or stroll to Moses Mabhida Stadium. Ride the Skycar (http://www.mmstadium.com/) for sensational beach and city views before the crowds come (the Big Rush Big Swing is extremely popular). Then take a spin along the beautifully paved Golden Mile promenade, or board a sleek People Mover bus on OR Tambo (Marine) Parade – it runs the entire length of the beachfront – making for uShaka Marine World. Stop along the way at Afro’s Chicken Shack in a sunshine yellow shipping container at Addington Beach for the best ‘burger & <tjips>’ in town (www.afroschicken.co.za ).
11:00 – Make a splash
Burn off your burger at uShaka’s revamped Wet ’n’ Wild (the Body Tornado slide is a scream!), or swing out on the new Chimp & Zee adventure trail, with ziplines and aerial obstacle courses (www.ushakamarineworld.co.za ). Alternatively, chill on the uShaka Beach – fabulous, and even better, free.
13:00 – Get arty and tarty
Make a beeline for the buzzing ‘burb of Glenwood, and the Community Art Centre at Phansi Museum (www.phansi.co.za). Set ironically in an important example of the British Colonial style villa, Roberts House, it boasts a spectacular collection of Zulu arts and crafts, from medicine gourds to glass beads, cleverly displayed and vividly explained by guides – it’s imperative to book (+27 (0)31 206 2889). Next, head for the KZNSA Gallery, for great contemporary art (www.kznsagallery.co.za). Scout the revamped gallery shop for home-grown pieces, from Musa Zincume’s Afro Bravo bags made from sweet wrappers, to Babette Noble’s ceramics, and Hlengi Dube’s beaded olive spoons and bracelets. Sip a cappuccino under the trees at the Arts Café, then amble down Helen Joseph (Davenport) Road and lunch at the latest arrival on the busy restaurant scene: Roxi Wardman’s Spoonful Eatery (www.roxiwardman.co.za).
The pink-haired winner of MasterChef SA 2014 serves gourmet comfort food with a twist. Order a Bacon and Egg Bunny (a hollowed bun stuffed with bacon, egg, mushrooms, caramelised onions, cheddar and home-made chakalaka), or the Elvis, if you dare: banana bread French toast with peanut butter, crispy bacon, toasted peanuts, dark chocolate shavings and crème fraîche. End lunch a few doors down at the delightful Boutique Boulangerie (www.boutiqueboulangerie.com ), for young desert queen Kirti Kamal’s sumptuous cakes and tarts.
17:00 – Sundowner time
Cross the Berea to the quiet courtyard of Market Restaurant (www.marketrestaurant.co.za ), and relax under the leopard trees beside the fountain with a tall glass of Poison City Brewing’s Bird lager. Market’s owner Andre Schubert and mate Graeme Bird’s craft beer was first brewed in a friend’s beach house. They describe it as ‘like Durban – easy as sun, surf and seagulls, with a twist of screw you’. Stay for dinner. For something light, the warm hoisin plum shred duck salad with citrus segments is delectable, else dive into the flame-grilled fillet or white truffle spaghetti Carbonara.
21:00 – Jazz it up
Head for the Point Waterfront, and The Chairman. The city’s coolest bar and jazz lounge (www.thechairmanlive.com ) was created by KwaMashu-born architect Ndabo Langa in the ruined shell of a 100-year-old building. It serves hot live sounds (be ready to dance!) and snack platters of traditional Zulu delicacies (goat with dumplings) with a sophisticated edge, in a wickedly plush setting. Order a Kind of Blue cocktail (with Johnny Walker Blue, of course), and get in the groove.
9:00 – Brunch bunch
Make for Durban’s buzzing new Station Drive precinct off Umgeni Road, where factory buildings have been converted for mixed creative use, with a deliciously eclectic mix of tenants (www.facebook.com/stationdriveprecinct/).
They don’t come more delicious than at its Morning Trade artisanal food market, held every Sunday morning: a celebration of the city’s best fresh produce and food (www.facebook.com/themorningtrade/).
Sample Athos Euripidou’s souvlaki (skewered lamb in pita with chilli and tahina), Ralf Bronzin’s oak-smoked scotch eggs, and Debbie Rich’s crunchy salad-stuffed vegan, gluten-free wraps in cones of compressed root veggies.
Explore the Con Amore décor warehouse next door, with award-winning fashion designer Terrence Bray’s ‘walk in wardrobe’ boutique, then head for woodturner Andrew Early’s design studio, filled with fine bowls and benches (http://www.andrew-early.com/).
Continue to Savior Brand (http://www.saviorbrandco.co.za/ ), for hand-tooled leather smartphone cases and wallets produced on the premises, and fine coffee, then head upstairs to Distillery031. The city’s first craft distillery produces limited-edition artisanal spirits – vodka, cachaça, gin, spiced rum and absinthe, served with the likes of mac ‘n cheese balls and zucchini crisps (www.distillery031.com ).
Join the rest of Durban, relaxing in the Victorian splendor of the Durban Botanic Gardens. Picnic beside the lake on your market finds, feed the ducks, read the Sunday papers, then take one of the recently launched guided golf-cart tours of its more remarkable botanical specimens – like the cannonball tree with lethal fruit!
15:00 – Homeward bound
The last British Airways flight to Jo’burg leaves at 5.55pm, the last to Cape Town at 2.40pm, else opt for a Monday milk flight. The one to Joburg departs at 6.30am, the one to Cape Town at 6.25am. This gives you an afternoon to sunbath on Umhlanga beach, then indulge in some retail therapy and an Imax movie or Barnyard show at Gateway Theatre of Shopping (http://www.gatewayworld.co.za/ ). End by toasting Durban and the weekend with a perfect Peach Bellini at the Beverly Hills’ Hotel Elements Café Bar overlooking the sea (www.tsogosun.com/elements-café ). Cheers!