If there were a World Travel Award prize for the most stylish welcome, the Ellerman House luxury hotel, Cape Town, would surely win it. The gal had only been in Room One for ten minutes when someone phoned and said ‘could Ella come up to say hello?’. Ella-of-Ellerman-House sounds made up. But this is Ella Cuyler, the Relais property’s gorgeous – and funny and witty – GM. She wanted to come up personally to say welcome to the house, and to bring a slice of today’s home-made cake. Look at the size of the slice of cake…
I had already, before getting to my room, been taken on a tour of the hotel – a mere 13 rooms plus two gorgeous modern villa-suites. The main house was built 1912 for Ellerman Line shipping magnate Sir John Ellerman. Just as Lady E. might have done, Vanessa and I wandered from one withdrawing room to another and through to a kitchen passage. On one side you can look through to the chefs a-working (the glass window slides back so you can talk direct). On the other side of the passage is a small pantry, open 24/7 for anyone to help themselves to water, espresso or a variety of teas. And chocolate cake. All this is free. Room rates here include airport transfers, the minibar and pantry, and, as is ubiquitous in South Africa, breakfast, and as should be but sadly is not industry-standard, complimentary WiFi.
Now I was in my room, a lovely palest sage space with a high ceiling from which hangs an eight-light metal chandelier with crystal pendants. Two apple green comfy chairs sit facing the French windows, which open to the 1.75m-deep tiled balcony looking out to sea. I look down to the grassy terrace below, with its outdoor heated pool and, nearby, a striking metal head silhouette, by Lionel Smit. Ellerman House is now owned by one of South Africa’s biggest success stories, Paul Harris, a banker who is besotted by South African art (and the House). There is a 10m-long art gallery, part troglodyte, and sculptures are also dotted around the grounds, and inside the house.
Sunsets here at Bantry Bay, 15 minutes from Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront, are legendary. I sit with Ella and watch the colours change. She tells me about her early life, in Orange Free State, and working game lodges for Wilderness Safaris. Later her former boss, Colin Bell, says she was legendary as the person who could immediately tell, by watching body language, if someone wanted a dropped napkin picked up, or whether they preferred to do it themselves. I am drinking Hendrick’s, with cucumber of course. Ella is having a glass of wine (tonight, the Chilean sommelier Mani Cabella recommends Warwick Pinotage 2012, Old Bush vines). Black cashmere pashminas are brought as the evening chills.
Dinner can be served wherever you want, on a terrace, with Bordeaux burners handy, or in one of the connecting withdrawing rooms, which have palest pine walls that go brilliantly with matching chairs, the art on the walls. The menu of the day is available for anyone to see, earlier, and adapt or redesign – well, this is one’s home, or what one thinks one’s grandfather who made good would have had as a home. Downton Abbey is not nearly as genuine as this is (Lady Mary would never have served a smoked springbok salad with wild rocket, poached fig, goat cheese and a rooibos balsamic reduction). I went on to roasted butternut papardelle with sage, but diverted from a chocolate and peanut butter terrine.
I am surrounded by no fewer than six John Meyer paintings in this particular room – John Meyer, who apparently has just celebrated his 75th birthday although his own website says he was born in 1942, is the Jack Vettriano of South Africa. He does landscapes, but he also does poignant scenes.. what on earth is going on? Well, all I know is that it is time for bed as tomorrow I want to be up for sunrise, and to see some more of the stunning art and craft that Paul Harris has put into this, his only luxury hotel.