March 14, 2019
Part One: The Sense of Arrival and the Ultimate Hotel Experience
We love arriving places at night. It gives you a different perspective when there’s an element of discovery to what you’ll see when you wake up.
After our last 12-hour flight leg, from Amsterdam to Cape Town, we arrived at a hotel that epitomizes the word “experience.” The house car greeted us immediately after passing Customs and drove around the waterfront promenade to arrive at Ellerman House in Bantry Bay. The manager was in the driveway to greet us and give us a brief tour of a hotel that was, in fact, more like our own private mansion, concluding at our room with trays full of food and wine and a balcony overlooking the lights along the bay. I believe the word is “magical.” With messed-up body clocks, we (of course) polished off the wine and snacks as we listened to the waves crash into the rocks below us.
Waking up the next morning, we met the warmest group of hotel employees and got a breakfast spread fit for kings, followed by a full tour of this privately owned Relais and Chateau treasure, complete with its own South African art collection and museum (arguably one of the best private collections in the world, and including a stunning brandy-aging piece).
Every detail of this hotel one-ups the last, from the make-yourself-at-home seating areas peppered throughout the 11-room property to the stair-stepped, garden-laden grounds complete with all the amenities of pools and spas. As we were walking and in awe, I kept thinking that I need to re-write our jaw-dropping hotel experiences entry, because has probably de-throned number one.
Then we saw the wine room, designed as an art piece to house the hotel’s expansive South African wine collection. Words cannot—and will not—describe it.
If I sound like a Relais brochure, it’s for a reason. This place is spectacular. Every detail of service, food, and design is on point, and it’s comfortable, to boot.
We reluctantly left the hotel grounds to discover the neighborhood and get some air and exercise with a walk down to the water and along the promenade from Bantry Bay to Moulle Point. Table Mountain National Park served as the backdrop for our entire walk, and Lions Head is set directly behind our hotel (it’ll be tomorrow morning’s hike).
We love Cape Town and, oh, how we wish we were just going to park ourselves right here for a week. Or forever. On this trip, we won’t even get to the penguins at Simon’s Town, or the what feels like the end of the earth at Cape Point. And we’re not bicycling Chapmans Bay (all my favorite things from last time, and must-dos if you’re here longer).
For now, it’s off to lunch at the Pot Luck Club at The Old Biscuit Mill. (The hotel employees were pleasantly amazed that we found one of the coolest/best restaurants in town for lunch on our own—they clearly don’t know who they’re dealing with yet.)
Since I’ve known him, David’s “unstated” motto has been “Always to the top.” Go for the highest point, push a little harder, do a little better. (To be honest, it’s not that “unstated.”)
So to the top it is.
We headed to the other side of the mountain (it’s deceiving; it’s only a 10-minute car ride, barring traffic, to get around Table Mountain National Park) to the Woodstock neighborhood for lunch. The Test Kitchen is consistently rated one of the greatest restaurants in the world, and it is incredible—but this time, we opted for its more casual brother, the Pot Luck Club. It’s set at the top of the silo in the Old Biscuit Mill, a former mill renovated into cool shops and galleries, with the first floor as home to the Test Kitchen.
The views from there give a great perspective of Table Mountain National Park, but the views from our kitchen counter seats were equally amazing, in a different way. We sat and watched nine whitecoats working on a French line, whipping out incredible sharable plates at record pace for a packed restaurant—packed on Wednesday at lunch, by the way. It was like watching a ballet, albeit with an abundance of tattoos in lieu of tutus.
Highlights? Fish sliders, chickpea/Parmesan fries, ceviche, beef tataki, peri peri chicken, and a Pinotage from Stellenbosch. #daydrinking
It’s good that we’d fueled up, since we had a tough late afternoon ahead: a gin and tonic while watching the sunset, followed by dinner at Ellerman House, which is quickly becoming our top hotel experience ever. We met a hilarious couple at dinner who spend 3-4 weeks at the hotel twice a year. We tried to do the financial math, but our numbers were wine-blurry. And our math skills haven’t caught up to the currency conversion anyway. It’s probably best not to know how much they spend.
So what do normal people do on the second morning of vacation after 24 hours of travel? Get up a 5:30 a.m., of course to hike to the top of a mountain to watch the sunrise.
The hike up Lion’s Head mountain is better than the hike up Table Mountain. Here, you get a panoramic view of the entire city and a view of Table Mountain (shocking revelation: You can’t see Table Mountain from the top of Table Mountain). The first section was a steady grade up, followed by pretty steep hand-over-hand climbing up the rock face. Looking down on the second ladder-climb up, I asked our guide, “So, I’m assuming people fall?” And she responded, “All the time.”
But as with many of our adventures, when you get to the top, it’s worth it. Always go to the top.
(Disclaimer: You don’t need a guide, but for a first-timer, the experience is a lot more enjoyable with the knowledge that someone will be there retrieve your body when you fall. Mother City Hikers is highly recommended.)
Today we head from Cape Town to the Winelands. We almost shed actual tears when we left Ellerman House, with the only comfort being that, well… We’re going somewhere called “the Winelands.”
We will be back.