Is Cape Town the most beautiful city in the world? Probably not, were you to ask the less-fortunate millions who dwell in the bleak townships and shanties that spread out like a grey rash across the Cape Flats plain to the west of Table Mountain.
But when it comes to the wonders, some natural and others man-made, that coalesce at this particular point on the planet – the vast blue southern Atlantic, the cobalt skies, the cloud-fringed mass of flat-topped sandstone that looms high above its rooftops, the surf-pounded beaches, the lovely colonial architecture dating back to the 17th century, the vineyards of breathtakingly Elysian beauty and even the light itself – well, they do take some beating, even when your hometown is as visually magnificent as Hong Kong.
The multicultural metropolis – the second most populated city in South Africa after Johannesburg and the biggest in area (its limits stretch far south to the tip of Cape Peninsula and even further to the north and west) – is a magnet for overseas travellers, vying only with Kruger National Park as the most popular destination in the country. Recently named the best place in the world to visit by such arbiters of good taste as the New York Times and the readers of UK’s Daily Telegraph, no wonder it’s also a favourite of the Prestige team.
Indeed, with daily flights from Hong Kong to Johannesburg by both Cathay Pacific and South African Airways and convenient onward connections, there’s no reason not to visit, though weather-wise your best options are, unsurprisingly, between spring and autumn (which, this being the southern hemisphere, means from October until April). As for places to stay, you need look no further than this short selection of two lovely heritage hotels, an elegant Victorian guesthouse and a stylish resort in the rolling vineyards of nearby Stellenbosch – all of which have been personally road-tested by us, for you.
Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel
The “Nellie”, as this pink-painted palace in the shade of Table Mountain is known by almost everyone, is a Cape Town institution that’s been welcoming guests since the tail end of Queen Victoria’s reign. Indeed, the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel (it’s run by the Orient-Express people, which requires no further explanation) remains so gloriously old-fashioned and colonial in character that when arriving at the hotel it’s easy to imagine you’d just stepped off a Union Castle liner after a long and lazy voyage from Southampton, rather than a two-hour flight by Airbus from Jo’burg.
Located at the edge of the city centre among immaculately tended gardens heavy with the scent of subtropical flowers and gently bubbling with fountains, the hotel doesn’t, to be honest, command especially riveting views. No matter: the immediate surroundings are so captivating you’ll be only too delighted to avert your gaze inwards. Genuine period touches abound throughout the spacious guest rooms, lounges and other public areas, summoning everywhere an atmosphere of extravagance and ease – as does the service, which is second to none. But then that’s only to be expected, when you encounter staff members who’ve been at their posts for 30 years or more.
In fact, so enticing is the Nellie – its elegant Planet Bar is a proper watering hole if ever there was one; fine-dining Planet Restaurant, stewarded by one of the top chefs in town, is equally superb; and high tea on the garden terrace is an unmissable indulgence – that you may just feel like staying put. That would be a shame, as central Cape Town, the heritage Company Gardens, museums and the hip and happening bars and dining rooms of bustling Kloof Street are all pretty much on your doorstep. So spoil yourself during your stay at the Mount Nelson, feast on its old-world charm and ambience, but don’t neglect to step outside.
Built around a country cottage once occupied in the early 19th-century by Scottish-born writer and socialite Lady Anne Barnard, and set among almost three hectares of tree-strewn riverside gardens, the Vineyard Hotel is a placid oasis south-west of the city in the upmarket residential suburb of Newlands. So extensive are its grounds and so varied its choice of accommodations (which range from spacious courtyard rooms that open on to their own garden terrace to six discrete cottages) that a stay at the Vineyard can feel like being the privileged guest in a private estate – a domain, moreover, that’s overlooked by the dramatic eastern slopes of Table Mountain.
Facilities of note within the hotel are its Angsana Spa, operated in conjunction with Banyan Tree hotels, and a roster of restaurants and bars that recall Barnard’s reputation as one of the most generous hosts of her day. Myoga Restaurant, under chef Mike Basset, is an independently run “cuisinerie” with a seven-course tasting dinner best enjoyed with a wine-pairing package from an award-winning list of Western Cape vintages. Afternoon tea is equally a must at the Vineyard, where it can be taken following a guided tour of the gardens that the hotel is happy to arrange.
Further afield – you’ll need a rental car, but that’s a given when visiting Cape Town – are the historic and lovely Constantia wine region with its stunning Cape Dutch architecture. Nearby Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens – a showcase of colourful flora native to this biodiversity hotspot – can be reached on foot. As for the city centre, that’s no more than a 15-minute drive away from this secluded and altogether restful suburban enclave.
Welgelegen Boutique Hotel
Back in the city, or to be more precise, a quiet cul-de-sac at the foot of Table Mountain near the top end of Kloof Street, Welgelegen is a charming boutique property created from a brace of Victorian townhouses. Although comprising a mere 13 guest rooms, it offers a choice of three categories, all with ensuite facilities and some with balconies.
The hotel has all the character of a genuine period residence, down to stained-glass skylight windows, yet it’s been brought bang up to date with contemporary colours, fabrics and furnishings, lending a palpable air of elegance and style throughout. And while the only meal served each day on the premises is breakfast, this hardly poses a problem as Kloof Street is replete with excellent and very reasonably priced restaurants and bars (The Black Sheep, a short walk away, is recommended by the staff and an excellent choice). Dinner can also be delivered from outside and consumed either in the dining room or in your room.
An unusual facility in a property so compact is the treatment room, where an in-house masseuse provides a range of treatments, including a post-flight detox and deep-tissue aromatherapy. A small open-air pool on the paved sundeck at the rear completes this characterful urban bolthole.
Delaire Graff Estate
Delaire was just another wine estate, some 45 minutes’ drive from Cape Town, until it was visited by famed London jeweller Lawrence Graff – who promptly fell in love with its spectacular hill-brow location beneath the Simonsberg and Helderberg mountains and overlooking the Stellenbosch valley. Purchasing the property, he poured money into its somewhat depleted winemaking facilities and, at the same time, decided to create a small luxury resort comprising four lodges that together accommodate 12 guests.
Designed in minimal modern style, and with interiors by London-based David Collins Studio, whose portfolio includes London’s Blue Bar and stores for Jimmy Choo, the Lodges at Delaire Graff Estate are sleek, sumptuous and contemporary residences that nonetheless channel elements of traditional Cape Dutch decor. Each has a private outdoor pool and, perhaps most importantly, each commands a fabulous view of golden vineyards and rugged peaks that only a man such as Graff could ever have seriously dreamed of buying.
It goes without saying that this is a wonderful base from which to explore the countless wineries of Stellenbosch and nearby Franschhoek (the “French Corner” settled in the late 17th century by Huguenot refugees), as well as the mountains of the Western Cape, which still go under the quaintly anachronistic name of Hottentots Holland. But it’s also a blessed spot in which to do very little, period – except relax among exquisite flowering gardens, admire the astonishing assemblage of modern art that Graff has placed around the property, dine on sustainable, locally produced delicacies in the estate’s Indochine restaurant, and sip wine made from grapes picked, pressed and bottled just metres away.