A Hedonist's Guide to Cape Town: Best Hotels

By Keith Bain & Pippa de Bruyn
Exterior at Ellerman House, Cape Town
BANTRY'S BEST: Exterior of Ellerman House on the outskirts of Cape Town, South Africa (Ellerman/Relais & Châteaux)

1) Ellerman House
If you're ready to be treated like the blue blood you are, book here. Epitomising the thinking hedonist's notion of well-positioned luxury, this gracious Cape Edwardian mansion lords it over the curvaceous boulder-strewn coastal enclave known as Bantry Bay, immersing you in a world of sophisticated old world style, hyper-dramatic views, and kid-glove pampering—a hip rendition of early-Twentieth Century taste and refinement. Once the summer residence of shipping magnate Sir John Ellerman and his wife, Lady Esther, this cliff-hugging property was restored in 1992 and transformed into the Atlantic Seaboard's most elegant lodgings, an exclusive retreat with only 11 guest rooms. It's also a repository for one of the country's finest collections of local art, and in 2009 a new contemporary gallery was carved into the rock beneath the large, manicured garden. Each room has a distinctive personality—the best, of course, also have sea views. The spa, which features its own infinity pool, is available exclusively to Ellerman guests, as is the phenomenal in-house dining. Our number one choice on the Atlantic seaboard, and one of our favourite hotels in the world.
Style 10, Atmosphere 10, Location 10

2) Cape Grace
Perched at the edge of one of the Waterfront marinas, this stately harbourside hotel looks not unlike a large Victorian-era renovation, but was in fact built purpose-built in 1996. It's a wonderful bit of faux vintage much augmented by the recent revamp, which provides an unbridled, intense sense of place. The decorator—who clearly has an eye for the theatrical —has sourced a collection of antique artefacts from the Cape's colonial era, and commissioned everything from hand-painted drapes to iron-forged lampstands and the most outrageously flamboyant chandeliers. All of this creates a decadent pastiche-museum atmosphere that cannot help but leave its impression—though admittedly it is not to everyone's taste. What is, are the absolutely impeccable service levels, arguably the best in the city, with every guest remembered by name and engaged by discreet and intelligent staff. There is a daily city orientation and wine-tasting (don't miss the excellent whisky bar here, either; see Drink); fantastic child-minding services; additional in-room facilities such as an XBox or Wii and a magical, discreet spa that's open to residents only. The best option by far in the Waterfront.
Style 9, Atmosphere 9, Location 9

3) Boutique Manolo
Stationed up here, you can't help feeling like a god. Hovering above the city, this small, exclusive, and very chichi guesthouse is located high up in the most discreet and undiscovered part of Tamboerskloof, and affords spellbinding vistas of Table Mountain—an absolutely head-spinning sight from this vantage point. Cast your eyes downwards, and the city bustle reveals itself in extraordinary detail, while at night, the twinkling lights below spark off decadence. Inside the house, everything's been slickly honed to appeal to contemporary tastes—guests tend to be younger, and of the urban sensualist tribe who appreciate hand-picked artworks, ultra-modern amenities and the clever use of stark colours against an almost monastic palette of pure white. There are numerous spaces for lolling about in and you're encouraged to sink into one of the sofas overlooking the city, traipse around the secret, lush garden, and drift into a peaceful reverie at the edge of the spectacularly located blood-red swimming pool. If ever there was a perfect city sanctuary, this is a solid contender.
Style 10, Atmosphere 9, Location 10

4) La Residence
Wham, glam, thank-you, Ma'am… Grab a bottle of wine from your complimentary stock, settle on your terrace, and let your eyes drift across the velvety vineyards, sweeping up to meet the craggy valley walls… We defy you not to vote for Franschhoek as the most beautiful winelands destination on the planet! And the most beautiful place to experience it ensconced in Liz Biden's lavish boutique hotel, the kind of place you can't help but keep picking up your camera to capture the sense of awe her magpie eye inspires. Each suite is an opulently themed coccoon—from the classically-sophisticated Huguenot and chic Armani, to the Indian ornamentation and step-up porcelain bed in Maharani (Elton John's favourite), and the smouldering Oriental boudoir atmosphere of Tang—there's hardly a space that doesn't benefit from the eclectic combination of authentic, reinvented antiques, contemporary artworks and pretty, shiny things. Access to numerous historic wine estates is easy, as is the gastronomic fanfare of Franschhoek's main drag, but you'll be hard-pressed to leave at all. And when it's time to check out, you'll be forgiven for kicking and screaming.
Style 10, Atmosphere 10, Location 9

5) Alta Bay
Alta Bay's suave Portuguese proprietor, Ariel Glownia, has done an enviable job of converting an old, enormous mansion—located high above the city, on Table Mountain's slopes—into a space of seemingly effortless luxury. A bit like finding yourself in a stylish, architecturally-modified secret garden, it's built on different levels with huge windows adding to the sense of space, privilege and spectacular elevation: even lounging around the pool area, you're eye-level with treetops. Ivy clings to the outside walls, and beneath the well-established canopy of trees the garden offers wooden walkways and discreet areas where you can relax in tranquil solitude—there's even a secluded massage deck. Each room (of which there are only seven) is a chic yet cushioning space in which neutral hues are off-set by eye-catching works of art; even the 'smaller' bedrooms are very spacious, with king-size beds, monogrammed linens and bathrooms that range from good to spectacular. And rising up right behind you is the hulking, incredible mass of Table Mountain; if you're up for it, it's possible to hike to the cableway, and once you're on top of the Table, you can stare back down, looking for Alta Bay amidst the dense greenery.
Style 9, Atmosphere 9, Location 9

To discover more of Cape Town's hottest hotels, restaurants, clubs, and bars, order your copy of A Hedonist's Guide to… Cape Town here.

Published: 12 May 2010 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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