Sometimes you have to leave home to find the perfect house. Or more specifically, Herman House, a stylish boutique hotel in Cape Town, equal parts plush, pampering hideaway and chic city perch. With exceptional personalized service by a staff that closely guards its guests’ privacy and comfort, its the home-away-from-home of choice for discerning luxury travelers seeking an exclusive spot in the cosmopolitan Cape Town. We felt like royalty when we entered the multi-floored mansion, where we were treated with such special attention (as is everyone here), that it truly felt like we had the entire hotel to ourselves.
All amenities — including 24-hour gourmet dining, three-room spa, multimillion-dollar contemporary African art gallery and spectacular 7,500-bottle wine cellar — are only accessible to guests staying in the 13 elegant rooms and the two contemporary villas. One of the premier collections of the 20th- and 21st-century African art fills the hallways, public spaces and guestrooms of the property.
Rooms with a View
Cape Town is one of the most scenic spots in the world — fronted by two oceans and framed by both Table and Lion’s Head mountains. The Ellerman House takes advantage of its enviable spot high above the beaches of fashionable Bantry Bay, offering expansive views of the city that we couldn’t get enough of, especially from the lush green lawn and sparkling pool where our gaze extended across Robben Island and onto the deep blue Atlantic Ocean.
The Cape Edwardian mansion that comprises the main hotel is filled with cozy spaces, including two plush dining rooms with large picture windows, a living room with fireplace and spacious guestrooms. Our favorite is Room No. 8, located on its own mini-floor, accessed on either side by a small staircase, with views out over the lawn, pool and the twinkling of the city lights below.
The top accommodations to book here, though, are the two contemporary glass villas filled with art and architecture that reflect both the outstanding views and the modern city. They offer the ultimate in privacy, luxury and service (Oprah recently called them one of her favorite places to stay in the world). Both villas are multi-floor residences that have their own entrances and include the services of a private chef and staff. They also have their own pools and multiple bedrooms and lounge spaces and large kitchens.
Villa 2 has a stunning hand-forged metal winding staircase (a work of art in itself) that connects the interior floors. The top floor has an open steel-and-glass kitchen (perfect for a cooking demo), which sweeps into a chic seating area with glass walls that disappear to create an open living space leading to a rooftop infinity pool and terrace. With a screening room and three large en-suite bedrooms, this villa is a great option for groups of friends traveling together.
Villa 1 is a top option for families (the rest of the property is 14 and above), with a five-bedroom configuration possible (including our favorite of the two villas — a turquoise highlighted space that seems like its floating over the ocean). It has its own elevator and a pool on the middle floor.
Some of the perks we adore here include top-tier chefs who are at guests’ disposal 24 hours a day. In the mood for curry? Want to sample local fish? Have your heart set on a springbok carpaccio? Simply chat with the chef over your perfectly poached eggs in the morning and it will materialize in the antique- and art-filled dining room for dinner. Feeling peckish between meals? The self- serve “Pantry” is open around- the-clock with freshly baked treats (try the decadent millionaires shortbread with its layers of caramel and fudge), sandwiches, and coffee and tea. Guestrooms also come stocked with wine, soft drinks and snacks (we were happy to find dried mango, gourmet chips, cashews and dark chocolate in our snack drawer to accompany a crisp glass of Chen in Blanc as we watched the Technicolor sunset from our balcony).
Note: The abundant breakfast, pantry and room snacks, and evening wine and hors d’oeuvres are included in the room price.
A wine tasting and food pairing with Ellerman’s resident wine expert Melusi Maghodi is another highlight of the property. We especially appreciated sampling a rare 2014 Arendsig Pinot Noir, of which only 2,500 bottles were produced. Tastings are offered in the unique wine cellar that houses a larger-than-life corkscrew sculpture holding 1,500 premier South African wines and a wall created from the actual terroir of the areas vineyards. This is also a spot to book a private dinner or a small dinner party for up to 12 guests.
Since all amenities are only bookable by hotel guests, clients can speak with chefs or spa technicians upon their arrival to request special services — space will always be created for them in the spa or for dinner. Ellerman House can arrange VIP wine tours of local Constantia vineyards as well as the Winelands region, approximately one-hour away, with a private guide and car, as well tours of Cape Towns art galleries.
We could easily stay at Ellerman and never feel the need to leave, but when guests are ready to head out, the hotels private car is available to make the 10-minute trip to the heart of the city (chauffeured airport transfers and trips around Cape Town in a luxury BMW are included as part of a stay at the hotel — Sam van Rooy is the driver to request; he’ll ferry passengers home from dinner with a special stop at Table Mountain to take in the views). Popular Cape Town activities include shopping at the V&A Waterfront, taking the cable car (or, for the more intrepid, hiking) to the top of Table Mountain, visiting Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was held during Apartheid, and exploring the colorful Bo-Kaap neighborhood.
When visiting Cape Town for the first time, travelers expect to see culture and arts, but perhaps not wildlife until they head off on a safari. This needn’t be the case. On our privately guided tour of the Cape Peninsula arranged by South African native and president of African safari and tour company Premier Tours, Julian Harrison, we spotted wild ostrich, baboons, impala and zebra at Cape Point, and, even more uniquely, the large sanctuary of endangered African Penguins (also known as Jackass Penguins for their loud braying) at Boulders Beach (yes, penguins on a beach, amazing!), just 20 minutes from Ellerman House.
Another surprise for visitors to Cape Town comes in the evening, when they can explore the contemporary offerings at some of the best restaurants on the continent.
To start, sample some of the culinary fireworks of modern cuisine-meets-authentic African flavors at the three sister restaurants that share the renovated Old Biscuit Mill in young, hip and cool Woodstock: perennial favorites Test Kitchen and Pot Luck Club and newly opened Shortmarket Club (Ellerman House can assist in booking these trend-setting spots with advance notice of at least two weeks). During the day, Woodstock is the place to find innovative galleries, coffee spots and boutique shops. Another popular dining location for those in the know is Bree Street, where Chefs Warehouse, a no reservations foodie-magnet; and newly opened Mercer & Prince, a small plate, BYOB, are top draws.
To further the culinary pyrotechnics for foodies and wine fans, a trip to the Cape Winelands is a must. Here, wineries, restaurants and small inns and hotels fill the charming towns of Paarl, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, bringing a distinctly French flair to the rolling green hills (the French Huguenots planted the original vines here). A great base for explorations, and an ideal complement to chic home setting of Ellerman House, is another elite residential-like spot in the lush Cape Winelands, Leeu House, nestled on Huguenot Road, the main street in the center of quaint Franschhoek.
The newly opened property offers 12 bright and modern rooms, a private dining room and lounge, and a pool and patio, well-suited for relaxing with a late-day glass of wine. A sister property, Leeu Estates, was having a soft opening when we visited in June. Its 17 rooms and suites perched on a hill overlooking vineyards and gardens will surely become a highlight in the area. A sleek three- room spa, wine studio for tastings and a dining room are open to the public. For VIPs, Room No. 6, the Executive Suite, with a deck large enough for a cocktail party and a private plunge pool, is a can’t-miss option.
Both properties are part of Leeu Group, which also includes the award-winning boutique Le Quartier Francais, located just a few doors down from Leeu House.
Wining and Dining
One of the highlights of a stay in Franschhoek is a meal at The Tasting Room, the coveted tasting-menu only restaurant in Le Quartier, helmed by culinary powerhouse Margot Janse.
The eight-course (really 10 after an amuse bouche and post-dessert bon bons) African-inspired menu presents small bites of perfectly prepared dishes, such as local Karoo lamb and the aptly named “broccoli, broccoli, broccoli” (the vegetable prepared in three unique ways). The food came with insights into South Africa, like the corn potjie (a type of traditional porridge, here more of sweet flan) was surrounded with an array of the Cape fynbos ferns, so that we could see, feel and smell the inspiration for the dish.
Generous pours of the regions top vintages are available to match each course (highly recommended). And as a bonus, due to the advantageous exchange rate (currently 16 Rand to US$1), this three-hour parade of perfect bites costs the same as a quick bite at a neighborhood spot back at home.
For VIP table at the Tasting Room (the one facing the open garden is a favorite of the house), or Leeu House special requests, contact Roger Boonzaier, the hotel manager for both Leeu House and Le Quartier, who made us feel both right at home in Leeu House and like celebrities when we dined at Tasting Room.