Cape Grace: home on the Waterfront

January 26, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (0)

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Reflections as night falls - seen from bed

Cape Grace: 120 rooms & suites, 4 bars and restaurants (including a space devoted to eats and beverages in the library, a pool bar and the famous Bascule bar), spa.

A charmer. Homely and yet classy in an arty and low key way, with a reputation for warm and discreet service. Placed right on the marina with water on both sides.
The lobby is large and sort of rambling with some funky touches like a pile of pink suitcases. Funky design is Very Cape Town, reflecting the fun spirit of the gorgeously liveable “mother city”.

Rooms

The lead-in room type is a luxury room 35 sqm. And indeed though not especially large and in demure low key beiges and grey, my luxury room felt bright and welcoming. French windows can be left open for the salty breezes and the views over the marina to Signal Hill or Table Mountain.

I sat in bed for hours just watching the last rays of sun on Signal Hill and sunset reflections glancing on the water…as the lights of the city and the yachts came on mellow gold. Signal Hill is where they used to signal the sailing ships with cannon shots.

This lead-in luxury room category offers tea and coffee making (but not espresso machines), dressing room and bath and separate shower. Décor pleasant and trendy in neutral sand and beige with painted (artistically aged) furniture. It feels pleasantly lived in, not brand new.

For a balcony, upgrade to rooftop luxury rooms which are the same size. Rooftop terrace rooms (also 35 sqm) have a bigger balcony (10sqm). Superior rooms also have a balcony, are more spacious and suit families (50 sqm room area) with a sofa providing extra beds. The apartment suites are from 90 to 200 sqm with 1 to 3 bedrooms. For a discerning couple who likes outdoor living, go for the Penthouse suite with a spacous 45 sqm terrace with dining area and Jacuzzi from which to admire the fab views, and a large bedroom (80 sqm) with sitting and dining area.

Dining at Cape Grace

Cape Grace is also a “destination” for Capetonians looking to dine at the Signal Restaurant  or revel at Bascule whiskey bar. In fact we were invited to the Bascule Bar to celebrate a birthday by a Cape Town resident

The atmosphere is fabulous, with the fresh smell of the marina, the sunset behind Table Mountain, and jazz playing to set a mellow tone and keep at bay raucous young adults. For 100 zar my friends got to taste 3 glasses of expensive whisky (I guess a half tot in each). I took a strawberry daquirie that was a bit too sugared. But the eats were well worth it, only 50 zar for two tapas – each a sizable potato rosti topped with an ample circle of rainbow smoked salmon and horseradish sauce.

I liked them so much that I ate salmon tapas the next night too, when the poplar Bascule Bar was full, ordering from upstairs at the Cape Grace poolside bar.

The Signal restaurant makes the most of the fact that Cape Town is surrounded by clean seas rich in life and a warm Med hinterland perfect for fruit and vegetables: cusiine to reflect the heritage of the tip of Africa, where Dutch and British colonists, African, Malaysian and other Asian peoples have left their mark. South African “inventions” like butternut bobotie should be tried …

The library is another spot to hang out and enjoy atmosphere, cream teas (scones and cream) and teas and infusions where the leaves can be admired in a glass teapot. Red gold is roobos herbal tea from high on the Cedarberg mountains.

Who to stay

Discerning couples, and small families, who love trendy harmonious décor and views…right in the Waterfront

Why to stay

•    Individual, personal, peaceful, arty, trendy
•    Beautifully situated in the marina (a few minutes from the shopping for what that is worth)
•    Bascule whisky bar and Signal restaurant make it a destination in itself – Bascule is one of the” in” places by the marina with Table Mountain sunset view
Note
Bascule Bar is very popular so you have to get there early  (but you can order its eats in the pool bar)
•    Pool area is clean and functional with casual restaurant
•    Small bathrooms, in old fashioned luxury style
•    No espresso machine in luxury room and no balcony. Note: Luxury rooms do not have balconies unless entitled luxury rooftop or luxury terrace


Mont Rochelle: peace, views & winelands

January 20, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (2)

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View from my Cape Classique suite

Mont Rochelle: 16 rooms and 6 suites, spa, Mange Tout restaurant, bar

A quiet boutique property that is partly new, rebuilt after a fire, with some authentically retro, quality hardwood furniture. It offers a peaceful, sleepy air and pleasant views down onto the Franschhoek valley, reached by the first turn to the right as you enter the Franschhoek village from Stellenbosch.

Its main attraction is probably the Mange Tout restaurant, which is excellent and rated among the top 10 in Franschhoek. Apart from very reasonable and delicious food, it is a round room affording an almost circular view. Very romantic to watch the night fall over the jagged blue Franschhoek mountains as you wait to start a 5 course degustation menu at 350 zar (excluding the paired wines). Down below on another wine estate we could see traditional Cape style architecture and a mauve jacaranda in full bloom looking as if it could lift and float.

Breakfasts are very South African in the best sense. Enough food for an entire day of jogging, cycling, surfing or mountain climbing. The buffet, silhouetted on tiered plates against the stunning view, includes the usual things like lots of yoghurt types, fresh baked loaves inviting eating, and blueberry muffins. But it’s the hot menu which bubbles over with imagination including rosti breakfast with potato pancake, egg and “stricky” bacon; beef sausage; South African omelette with biltong (traditional South African dried meat with salt and herbs); Franschhoek scrambled egg with trout, chives and farm bread; and poached egg Florentine. We are actually not so far from Florence here, in the sense of the Mediterranean climate and vineyards, but we are closer to France of course, as it is the Huguenots (French Protestants who fled Catholic persecution) that founded it and gave a rocket launch to the wine industry.

While there was good service at Mange Tout, Mt Rochelle was not very proactive in the hotel as a whole …. but the smiles of staff were sunny and genuine. I guess they feel if you wanted something you would ask – quite down to earth, and part of the charm.  Smalmy they were definitely not…

I thought the spa pretty and cute, but very small. As to the wine tasting room in the hotel, it was even smaller. But the winery is probably where you are meant to do the tasting.

Rooms

In conversation, my guide round Mont Rochelle rated his property somewhere between Delaire Graff and Franschhoek Country House & Villas. Mont Rochelle does have some ostentatiously large suites – like my Cap Classique (rack was 9900 zar at peak) – larger than the Villa Suites at FCH, but Mont Rochelle does not give that trendy tweak to the old fashioned look, as you get at FCH in the villa suites (next blog).

My Cap Classique suite was huge and opened out through both lounge and bedroom onto a grassy terrace overlooking a rural scene and mountains. In fact a tractor trundled by to emphasize the charmingly rural atmosphere. The lounge could have seated 8, comfortably. There were two sunbeds and a small plunge pool, a Jacuzzi bath, inside and two desks (or perhaps that extra one was a make-up table, if so the double vanities had place for one vainer person preparing to outdo the other at the degustation dinner).

The leadin room types are small in the old building: Shiraz, Cabernet and Merlot rooms, some with balcony. I saw a neat Pinotage room in the new wing, small but atmospheric with thatched ceiling and beams, small balcony, small lounge.

Who to stay

People who want to be close to Franschhoek and all the gourmet delights and wine tasting, looking for a  peaceful boutique property with a  sense of place…

Why to stay

  • Views
  • Peaceful
  • Boutique
  • Mange Tout restaurant
  • Massive suites
  • A quick ride to the centre of Franschhoek village

Note

Rooms might be considered a bit dated if you don’t admire genuine quality retro. Service warm but not proactive. I am left with memories of a great restaurant, stunning views, a roomy suite, and a kind and gentle laissez faire….


Delaire Graff: art, vines & pools

January 13, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (0)

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My pool and the vineyards

Delaire Graff Lodges & Spa: 10 lodges (villas) with private pools, 2 restaurants, spa, gym, winery, designer boutiques

This is the most exclusive property in the Winelands. A totally exquisite hotel with only 10 lodges featuring glass walls that open to private pools and sunny verandahs. Pampering level high with as many staff as guests, in perfect setting of vineyards and mountains, offering two good restaurants, spa, winerr –  and art, perfectly chosen, perfectly hung…

It has a stunning setting above the Hellshoogte Pass between historical Stellenbosch and the gourmet haven of Franschhoek. There is a free shuttle down to Stellenbosch (5 to 10 minutes) and it is a 25 minutes drive to Franschhoek village.

With its peace, beauty and privacy Delaire Graff is perfect for couples in love. Set one day aside just for chilling here by your heated pool. On arrival guests often cancel all tours planned, just to luxuriate in their own perfect space…

For honeymooners I would suggest a longer stay here – the lodges  are so romantic and there is so much to enjoy in the winelands in terms of wine, food, views, villages, boutiques….and the atmosphere is so much more peaceful and relaxing than Cape Town’s Waterfront.

Breakfast at Delaire Graff is the best ever if you like healthy food and a bit of indulgence. In addition to a hot menu you get your own private buffet on your table. Apart from the essential fresh orange juice and café latte variants, my private buffet included  three bowls of cereals with all kinds of nuts strewn in abundance among toasted grains; delectable small croissants and bakery items; fresh tropical fruits;  selection of cold meats and more. Most people have this morning repast in the their lodges, by the pool…

I had a great lunch at the lunch restaurant, choosing a modestly priced genuine fish and chips  – in fact, better than genuine. Light and puffy batter affectionaltey embraced the freshly caught  kingklip, and the lightest chips you ever tasted – they could almost fly. With this came a typical Franschoek view of the rocky fold mountains that rumple up all over the Winelands, framed by old oaks. They began planting oaks over 300 years ago when the Dutch still ruled the Cape.

In the evening I ate at the gourmet restauarant, treated to a taster, main course  dressy salmon trout, a dessert with a coconut cream and an ice cream cone full of very lemony sorbet.

The spa treatment was good and the spa pleasant.  There is a small but sophisticated air-conditioned gym, a shop of designer clothes and a glittering  diamond jewellery boutique. Laurence Graff made his money from diamond jewellery….

He has spent so much on creating the perfection of Delaire Graff that I don’t see how he can get it back with only 10 rooms – at least not for a long time. All his perfection feels somehow like a gift…


Cape Town revisited

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Evening sun over the marina

“Everyone has left Cape Town  – I am the last one left in paradise,” a friend said years ago during the apartheid heyday, when young  radical whites were leaving and Nelson Mandela was still on Robben Island (now a tourist attraction … South Africa’s own Alcatraz).

I return as a travel agent, though I spend precious moments with friends. Every corner brings a memory, but in this blog I will talk only briefly about attractions and five star hotels.

Cape Town IS a tourist paradise. With its 1000 metre high mountain right in the middle, this spectacular city  cradles startling white beaches and turquoise coves, vineyards and forests. And all this natural beauty comes with  a sense of fun and adventure  too,  from carnivals, wining and dining to shark cage  diving and  rock climbing, or  a swing up by cable to the top of the mountain.
But still for pleasure and romance I recommend setting as many nights as possible aside for the Winelands – to enjoy the slow life. They are only 30 to 40 minutes from Cape Town, but you don’t get the real feeling on daytrips from Cape Town to Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. There are scores of top quality gourmet restaurants and hundreds of wineries to explore. And you have privacy and peace in the green valleys between jagged blue mountains, dropping slowly on you from heaven…

When I lived in Cape Town 30 years ago there were less than 1 million people and we never thought of crime. There are now 5.5 million people in Cape Town many of them illegal immigrants. They are packed into tiny houses on the Cape Flats (within radius of 10-30 km) and though most cannot even afford to come into Cape Town, a few do slip in to the city to make a background noise of potential crime. The government / Cape Town community did a lot of cleaning up for the World Cup and most of the slums are now lit and though very humble are no longer mere rubbish dumps. The locals assured me they felt more secure now, but the need to remain alert is part of the Cape Town lifestyle.
The Waterfront is still a powerful focus of attention, and vibrant with African singers and street performers,  etc. People flock here to enjoy dining and drinking at the Waterfront’s five star hotels and waterside eateries and to pick up boat excursions. But the shopping is pretty  mass-market or kitsch – in fact there is a little grunginess all around … spicing its touristy life and giving it some kind of 21st century authenticity. Meanwhile the cleanup has made the real old Cape Town come to life with trendy shops and atmospheric well priced restaurants in Long Street and Kloof Street.
The Greenpoint area (near the new football stadium) has also become full of trendy boutiques and cute B&Bs, and they have created a wonderful park to compete with the famous Kirstenbosch. It is now safe to walk.
Seapoint is being smartened up bit by bit as the old pensioners die and their unpainted blocks of flats go on the market. It will one day (perhaps soon) return to the scintillating night life status it had before the Waterfront was created. Nature gifted Sea Point with a steep mountain backdrop and flaming sunsets over a deep blue sea – if I had money to invest in property – this is where I would spend it…
Clifton Beach is stunning (though too cold to swim, bikini hot) and only the rich live or rent its cliff hanging houses. Camps Bay is still very popular and a great place to dine with its view over white beach and palms, and the mountain setting (the tall back of Table Mountain). It also reminds that Cape Town is situated at the end of Africa, some of its grungy side lurks at the edges and it can be flooded with people on public holidays.
To remind that all these attractive areas are very close to the Waterfront, there is a jogging track from the Waterfront through Sea Point past Clifton Beach and Camps Bay to the Twelve Apostles hotel at the beginning of the famous drive to Hout Bay.
This side of the mountain is washed by cold waters but has a real Mediterranean climate and vegetation. It is on the other side of the Cape Peninsula mountain chain that the rains come, forests grow and rivers run, where the White establishment once built their huge houses in vast lush gardens.
The Cape Peninsula is criss-crossed with roads and mountain passes – very stunning drives and seemingly endless ways to get to Cape Point which is almost (but is not) the most southerly point of Africa. Still it feels like the end of it all and the beginning of sheer wild beauty with its snow white beaches, rugged rocks and restless waters where seals and dolphins play….