The one and the only?

February 10, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (6)

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View from the lobby bar

PLEASE USE FIREFOX – having problems with EXPLORER

One&Only Cape Town: 91 Marina rooms & suites, 40 Island rooms & suites, 5 bars, grills & restaurants, spa, hairdresser.

I first saw the One&Only brand’s entry into Cape Town as a new building in a remote corner of the Waterfront. Now on an overnight stay I felt it vibrantly lived in, and a destination in itself with lots going on, albeit some 10 minutes walk or so to the rest of the Waterfront happenings.

Capetonians come in to enjoy the dazzling international Nobu, and the beloved Reubens restaurant, which has spread here from its fame in Franschhoek. Or the lobby bar with its iconic views. It was here I met an old friend Madi…she joined me on hotel inspection and tea…

The main wing towers up by the yacht marina with one side facing Table Mountain, and the hotel’s own island. A canal meanders in and around the island bearing boats and adding a lush watery view. Here you get the low rise island rooms, the real resort style lagoon pool frequented by families and bikini girls, a spa, the great hairdresser (Wayne). And a casual restaurant offering pool views

Pool restaurant Isola O&O

The best views though are not from the island but from the Marina wing restaurants and accommodations.

Tables spill out from the restaurants onto a terrace by the canal which bakes in summer sun. On these hot terraces (or cooler inside a great wall of glass) you can view the canal, the palms and the flat top of the iconic mountain. The lobby is a great meeting place to sink into deep sofas and sip a drink, enjoy the delicate pastries of afternoon tea (145 zar), or enjoy a reasonable meal with a fabulous view. (I had a light and delicious tempura with dips for 85 zar)

All rooms are spacious (from 63sqm) and all have balconies…which is pretty unusual for Cape Town. Sol Kerzner One&Only set out to build the most luxurious hotel in Cape Town and has created suave and spacious interiors and lovely smooth contemporary lines. I preferred the Marina rooms (which are lower priced anyway).

Rooms in style

I had the lowest category room – a Marina Harbour View – and loved it. It is big – some 63 sqm, with spacious balcony high above the aquarium and yacht harbour.

Marina harbour view balcony

Sleek stylish rooms

The other side of the Marina wing has the iconic Table Mountain View over the canal for which you pay a tad extra. Some of the rooms have a huge king bed, and others two queens (suiting families).

Marina mountain view room looks over the canal and island – iconic views

Marina double queen room takes 2 adults and 2 kids:

Then there are one-bedroom Marina suites which have in addition lounge dining areas upping their size to double the normal rooms, or even more space (Marina Grand suites).

The island accommodation provides spacious rooms and one and two three bedroom suites – priced over the Marina rooms of similar category, though to my way of thinking the Marina rooms are nicer because of their views and layout. They feel more open.

All rooms have balconies… Every item is perfect, sexy contemporary design and quality. All have nespresso machines. The welcome amenities follow up on what the website promises combining international best with local – for here you get mebos (rolled dried fruit) and biltong (raw dried meat cured with salt)….along with delicious wine and fruit.

Fabulous, high standard all round,  though lacking the intimate quality of Cape Grace.

Kids

There is a small but colourful kids club (free of charge), with a bleak outside play area – perhaps they think kids don’t want to play outside in the heat but then why not grow some trees. The slides and swings are very rudimentary compared with Scandinavian standards.

To quote O&O – the advantages for kids

  • Extensive selection of inter-leading rooms
  • Family friendly dining venues at Reuben’s and Isola
  • Complimentary use of KidsOnly Club facilities: Nintendo Wii, PS3 and a selection of board games
  • Daily programme of supervised activities for 4-11 year olds at the KidsOnly ClubBabysitting facilities (upon reservation)
  • Complimentary use of: Baby cot / high chair / bottle warmer / steriliser
  • 50% discount in all restaurants for children under twelve.

Tradition

Afternoon tea with high class confectionary

At O&O you get more sophisticated variety, like a high class delicatessen rather than a kid’s party.

In a nutshell

• A destination in itself with range of top restaurants incl Nobu & Reubens, great spa, top hairdresser etc

• Nice views from Marina building and rooms with more open feel

• Stylish, clean and contemporary

• Plenty space to dine and breakast al fresco at the hotel

• Big lagoon pool with lush tropical atmosphere

• Nice destination for families

Note: a little further away from the Waterfront Centre


Mount Nelson: historical & now

February 2, 2013 in SOUTH AFRICA | Comments (11)

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The grand driveway

Mount Nelson: 209 rooms & suites, 3 restaurants, spa, 2 tennis courts, 2 swimming pools including one for adults only, large gardens with sculptures, lawns, trees  & flowers.

Beloved Mount Nelson – a landmark in the “mother city” for a century.  At the top of an impressive palm lined drive, its various buildings (in 6 different wings) ramble through a lush garden in quite an eye-bashing pink.  This was the very pink mixed to cheer people up in England after the second world war and was exported to Cape Town,  inseparable from the memories of Mount Nelson’s regal history.

The hotel was built by the Union Castle Line – which brought the mail and all the important travellers to Cape Town. There was no democracy then and all the rooms were very class conscious – great rooms for first class passengers and other tiny rooms for steerage…  (surviving these days as cute single rooms).

Since those early days they have incorporated more elite accommodations taking over a doctor’s residence, a couple of whole streets of authentic Cape terrace houses and the old Helmsley Hotel, with its ostentatiously large suites. Only this Helmsley wing of the hotel is not pink – it is dunnish beige – again part of history as being 100 years old it is a monument that cannot change its skin. I was upgraded to a huge old fashioned (“junior”) suite in this wing, and saw some bright newly renovated junior suites in the Oasis Wing. Altogether 30 brand new rooms with modern feel and a touch of nostalgia. The real old Mount Nelson dowagers might not like that decor.

This hotel is history and perfect for those that appreciate the old ways, even while it is a popular meeting place for the new South Africans. It feels “real” …. .

Table Mountain looms up above the hotel. The “table cloth” feels close and dramatic as the clouds lying flat on the top waterfall wispily down the rocky sides rearing 1000 metres up. There is a complimentary shuttle to the cable station for rides up to the top. And those with a sea-lust can make use of a shuttle to Camps Bay (on demand / when available…). Camps Bay is perhaps 8-10 minutes’ drive from Mt Nelson taking the stunning pass over “Kloof Nek”.

A landmark resort in the city…

Mount Nelson is more than a city hotel, it is very much a resort. Two pools include a shady romantic pool for adults only. A whole street of the old Cape Town has been incorporated into the spa. There are also two tennis courts somewhere out of sight on the large lush property – you see the odd tennis ball bashing guest dash past. Then there are three restaurants.

The gracious old Cape Town is reached down the grandiose avenue past stately parks, museums and government buildings. It’s also a mere 50 metres from the start of trendy upper  Cape Town emerging in Kloof Street and Long Street, with low key relaxed restaurants and boutiques, crafts and businesses. This is where the actors, writers and IT people hang out. I heard them talking business, company image, and the like, dressed in shorts and sandals.

It makes you realize that Cape Town is not just a holiday destination; it is a relaxed and functioning city – with a spirit of optimism and fantasy. Though of course I really don’t know what it feels like for the millions out there on the Cape flats.

Rooms and more

The British have been loyal customers of Mount Nelson since way back and have not all rushed off to the Waterfront. Only recently, the Americans have discovered it and their numbers are increasing fast…

I remember yellowwood antiques from my last hotel inspection here in 1998 or so. Now the luxury rooms I was shown and the Junior Suites had been renovated. They danced a way between the neutral tones that have dominated five star décor in recent years and silver that added brightness without declaring war. Many suites still more traditional.

I was upgraded to one of the Helmsely suites. My suite was very traditional in style and no views to speak of  (my dayroom on the other hand, a single room in main wing had fab views of palms and mountain and was lovable).

I wandered around my larger suite not knowing what to do with all this space. I had 5 doors to the outside including a security alarmed terrace. The wind (a south-wester that had been uprooting trees for a few days) was making metallic bashing sounds into the night….and I wondered whether to tell housekeeping I had no tea and coffee making in my antique cabinet, or to watch the TV that rose with a groan out of a treasure chest when I pressed a switch, and played a loop of gorgeous Orient Express promotions that had no superstitious shadows behind the perfection…

Mountain facing rooms in the main wing and the Green Park wing have the iconic views. A wing of Classic Suites looked nice from the outside … at least the roomy garden terraces.

But if I could choose I would stay in the Garden Cottage wing, which is a former street called Sydenham (?). That’s for lovers of the old Cape Town – one and two bedroom cottages in authentic style, just over way from the adults only pool.

As mentioned above – 30 fresh and sparkling rooms have just become available with the reopening of the Oasis wing. They are uplifted by views of the swimming pool and Signal Hill – and original art from nearby Michaelis art school.

Locals to high tea and other culinary things

In the new South Africa the colonial days are still honoured especially at afternoon tea time – high tea. For 185 rand – a large sum by local people’s budgets – you get to eat as much as you like from a long table of sandwiches and cakes, and I noticed the guests were mostly local in all colours of the rainbow, though of course there were tourists too.

The tourists were casually dressed but the locals were smart modern people, putting Stockholm youth in the shade when it comes to worldliness. I overheard this conversation:

“She has only 200 friends on Facebook. She will never get a job. You need to have 2000 friends. You don’t have to know them. But you need to network. Everyone is their own brand these days…!”

The afternoon tea was almost the same price as the marvellous breakfast at the Oasis restaurant – which consisted of a buffet of granolas, seeds, yoghurts, fruits and an extensive choice of hot items (price 195 zar) but the afternoon tea had very little savoury choices, and those there seem to have been included without any heart and soul (and no fear of sugar or love of herbs and cheese).

By the way the pastry chef at Mount Nelson has won a prize, so – don’t listen to me…

Still, my lunch at lobby veranda restaurant was much nicer I thought for only 140 zar – a vegetarian curry with the freshest taste of newly toasted spices, served with the lightest most mouth pleasing samoosas …

I also had a very generous starter of smoked trout at reasonable price which served as a meal at that pleasing restaurant on the veranda – with view of the park and a big tropical flower as reminder that I was far from the snows of Stockholm. It was 30 deg and you have to love the heat to sit on the veranda.

I did not try the other destination for locals – the Planet restaurant. I looked over it empty in daylight, which is perhaps not fair, for in daylight the balls depicting planets hanging from the ceiling look a little plastic instead of hauntingly mysterious.  The carpet is an expensive custom-made rendering of the heavens with a real star chart.

I tried the pleasant Oasis Restaurant at breakfast – but it promises to be tantalizing for other meals too – its old buffet concept has made way for a la carte Mediterranean inspired menu with some local classics like Cape Malay chicken curry.

In a nutshell

•    Orient Express hotel
•    Historical, beloved by the British and now Americans. Dining here trendy with young local professionals
•    Resort with lovely views, 3 restaurants, big green gardens,  tennis, 2 pools (1 for adults only), spa
•    30 newly renovated rooms in Oasis wing (junior suites and deluxe rooms)
•    Quaint historical garden cottages and some very roomy older suites
•    Close to Kloof Street & Long Street and lots of choice of reasonable dining
•    Afternoon tea generous (albeit not so sophisticated) but fabulous cheesecake
•    Historical Cape  Town with Parliament and museums and oak-shady parks, easy walk (advisable only in daytime)

Note
1.    Rambling and spread out
2.    Hemsely Wing has no views and is high quality old style
3.    Verandah and garden  hot in summer  even in the shade – (misses the seabreezes of the waterfront)    (it was 30 degrees)

How to get to Mount Nelson

30 minutes by car from Cape Town International Airport


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


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…