Local luxe

There’s no need to leave town to unwind in five-star style. Our collection of neighbourhood luxury retreats are all within easy driving distance of four major centres

PORT ELIZABETH: SHAMWARI TOWNHOUSE
Generally overlooked in any round-up of must-see South African cities, Port Elizabeth is now home to one of the country’s most luxurious boutique hotels. The Shamwari Townhouse, which opened late last year, is a Mantis Group project. The group operates a string of properties both here and overseas, including London’s fashionable Draycott Hotel, the Alladale Wilderness Reserve in Scotland, and the Shamwari Game Reserve and Oceana Beach & Wildlife Reserve, both in the Eastern Cape. The Townhouse is the baby of the group’s founder and chairman, PE businessman Adrian Gardiner.

A lover of both the Eastern Cape and the Art Deco period of design, the Townhouse offers the kind of five-star accommodation that Adrian believes PE deserves. “My passion in architecture is Art Deco because it’s timeless,” he says. “I am proud of this city but where could you put people when they came to stay here? There was no five-star option.” Built in 1937, it was the Art Deco façade that initially drew Adrian to the property, with its location – just minutes from the Indian Ocean – an added bonus.

With the period’s typical combination of sweeping curves and flat roof, the double-storey building stands out from its neighbours in the Summerstrand suburb. Although the rest of the building was rebuilt, Adrian has endeavoured to stay true to the period’s style. The result is a streamlined interior with a mix of collectable and reproduction pieces, sumptuous fabrics, lots of mirrors, metallics and chrome. The seven spacious suites are individually styled, with king-size beds and an open-plan layout or separate lounge.

The Zanele Mbeki Presidential Suite is decorated in silver colours, and with its dramatic metallic patterned wallpaper, velvet-covered lounge suite, big black-andwhite chequered marble bathroom and glamorous silk bed linen, is sheer luxury. In keeping with Adrian’s aim to promote local talent he placed Alicedale husband-and-wife team, interior designer Maurette van Eyssen and furniture maker/designer Evan, in charge of getting the look and feel right.

As a special final touch, the trio put together a sizeable collection of pieces by South African artists. These include the superb etchings of jazz greats by Sam Nhlengethwa that grace the walls of the dining room, aptly called the Jazz Room. Opening onto the swimming pool and beautifully landscaped garden, the dining room is also open to the public for bookings, including breakfast. Aside from the stunning art collection and the striking interiors, chef Kevin Gouws’s cuisine is reason enough to visit. Trained in South Africa, he worked in London for four years before returning in 2004 to work at the Plettenberg Hotel.

At Shamwari his food ranges from traditional breakfast dishes and light lunches with “a focus on local and exotic seafood”, to a dinner menu he describes as “fine dining and creative South African cuisine”. The menu changes regularly to take advantage of seasonality and fresh produce. Guests can enjoy complimentary pre-dinner canapés and drinks in the Champagne Lounge before heading downstairs to The Cellar. This Provençal-style dining room is also home to a collection of fine imported and local wines. The Salon Privé private members’ club’s extraordinary selection of whiskies, plush interiors and exclusive membership make it an ideal place to relax or do business, pleasurably. Guests can also have their own private movie theatre experience in the Mountbatten Cinema.

With comfortable, lounge-style chairs for 14, the theatre is modelled on Prince Charles’s own cinema in Clarence House, London and includes state-of-the-art equipment. The Townhouse offers a great selection of DVDs for viewing or you can bring your own. For those needing some exercise there is a wellequipped gym with ocean views. The in-house spa offers a variety of treatments, including perfect massage options to really unwind. By Naomi Larkin; photographs by Naashon Zalk

DURBAN: HOTEL IZULU

Hotel Izulu in Ballito near Durban is a short foray off the N2, but to really set the scene, rather follow the coastline at a leisurely pace along the M4. The boutique hotel was the former family homestead of sugar cane farmers and the property embraces the colonial roots of its heritage while graciously retaining an air of quiet seclusion. The buildings – a disparate but harmonious mix of Tuscan and Balinese architecture – form the centre of an intimate estate ensconced in lush, tropical gardens.
 
Nineteen rooms (one of which is the sprawling Royal Suite) see four clustered together in a villa. All the villas look onto the central pool area where you can laze away a day or relish breakfast and lunch. Large wooden doors mark the entrance to each villa. Your eye is drawn through the entrance hall and large glass windows to a private outside area where the continuous whirring of warm water in a jacuzzi beckons. Each room has a neutral palette with tasteful African touches which sidestep an ethnic label.
 
The bathrooms bear testimony to the belief that space is the ultimate luxury: steps lead to a large sunken bath and showers are of the walk-in variety… both can comfortably host two. Before it became fashionable, Hotel Izulu started the process of going green, and includes a worm farm (the byproduct is sold as “worm tea” fertiliser in the on-site shop). It’s also not uncommon to see one of the chefs walking the path from the immaculate organic herb and vegetable garden to the kitchen clutching a handful of just-snipped greenery. Executive chef Floris Smith concentrates on fresh food and flavours; as this is the only Relais & Châteaux property in KwaZulu-Natal, eating is of paramount importance.

It can be enjoyed without the attendant snobbery that often accompanies five-star establishments as friendly waiters happily indulge diners. Mindful of his heritage, Floris incorporates a South African influence into his menu. A national flag alongside a dish marks those that have a strong local flavour. This could translate into a “crocodile” menu, which offers the meat in various guises, or a pumpkin and cinnamon tart served with a koeksister and rooibos and buchu ice cream. As breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it is paid due respect. Served in a sunroom boasting large windows and white wicker furniture, it’s a gastronomic affair to be savoured.

 
An innovative menu is divided into three courses: a starter of orange cream-soaked rolled oats served chilled with toasted almonds, whisky-soaked raisins and fresh apple could be followed by kedgeree or a soufflé omelette and, for dessert, berry crumpets with maple syrup and cream. Lunch is best enjoyed at the poolside and a clever feature is that most dishes come in starter or main-sized portions. Dinner is a more formal affair served in Gigi’s, Hotel Izulu’s fine-dining restaurant, featuring a striking combination of pink and silver teamed with crystal and mirrors.
 
The menu changes seasonally and includes the likes of goat’s cheese ravioli on oven-roasted peperonata; and roasted loin of springbok with fondant potato, creamed corn and steamed broccolini topped with a deep-fried chocolate, chilli and walnut truffle. Beautifully presented food is complemented by a wine list that discreetly turns its nose up at the usual mainstream offerings to present some well-considered and lesser-spotted options. Foodies may also relish the opportunity to take dinner in the cellar (there is a minimum charge for the indulgence) or make use of the chef’s table.

Extensions to the kitchen included a sophisticated glassed-in room that allows a small party to watch the workings of the inner sanctum while being privy to a degustation menu. Another highlight is the Impilo Spa. Truly blissful relaxation takes the form of a soothing Theranaka African wood massage: blackwood dumbbells are used with warm olive and shea butter to provide a deeply soothing treatment. If hedonism is your hobby, perfect the art at Hotel Izulu. By Tracy Gielink Hotel Izulu, 3 Rey’s Place, Ballito, 032-946-3444, www.hotelizulu.com.

JOHANNESBURG: TINTSWALO AT WATERFALL
The luxurious Tintswalo at Waterfall is just 15 minutes’ drive from Sandton. It’s part of the Tintswalo Collection, which includes Tintswalo Safari Lodge near the Kruger National Park and the Tintswalo Atlantic at the base of Chapman’s Peak, Cape Town. Fortunately, Jo’burg hasn’t been forgotten and this is a real gem to keep in mind when you need some time out without leaving the city. The scope of the property is evident as you drive in, and walking through the grand wooden doors, a sprawling equestrian field opens up in front of you.

This is the perfect spot to unwind for sundowners before dinner. You can choose to eat outside, head inside to the restaurant or have an intimate dinner for two in the secluded library. Group executive chef Ryno du Rand tweaks the menus according to the location; the Johannesburg contingent edges towards the Mediterranean for its flavours. Get to Tintswalo hungry: the meals are robust to say the least. The depth of flavour in the pan-fried calamari with lime carrot salad comes courtesy of a moreish haloumi and courgette fritter, while the soup – chickpea, baby marrow and Brie – is simply delectable.

The main courses are not for the faint-hearted – think beef fillet wrapped in pancetta, braised in red wine and served with a grilled veggie stack topped with a cheese parcel, mushroom ragu and a red current jus. Desserts are kept small, but they’re equally punchy: try the chocolate and cardamom pistachio truffle cake served with saffron and rose-water ice cream. The hotel is modelled after a barn and enveloped in huge pieces of wood and stone, which are juxtaposed with the sumptuousness of the 16 rooms.

The under-floor heating is kept on ever so slightly (even in summer) to take the chill off the bathroom tiles; and an extra-long bath with old-worldly bath oil and bath salts combine to make a luxurious soak. Breakfast is just as indulgent. Everything is brought to your table. Homemade muesli with fruit coulis, a cheese platter, homemade baked pastries and crumpets precede eggs, bacon and all the trimmings. To ease the guilt of having such a food-filled weekend, spend some time in the gym or spoil yourself with a trip to the spa. If your social calendar doesn’t afford you a whole weekend away, look out for upcoming treats, like an Italian brunch on Saturdays and high tea on Sunday afternoons.

But do try and spoil yourself with a weekend at the hotel, because Tintswalo at Waterfall is all about the little touches such as glasses of port and candles in your room to welcome you back after dinner. Busy executives will love the opulence so close to home. Arrive at the hotel after a long day at the office, and by the time you step out of the car, you’ll feel as if you’re in the country somewhere – what could be more ideal? By Lisa van der Knaap Tintswalo at Waterfall, Waterfall Country & Equestrian Estate, Kyalami, 011-234-2456,www.tintswalo.com.

CAPE TOWN: MAJEKA
Running late for a spa treatment is never a good idea. Therapists stick to schedules, so when I called to apologise about delaying our early afternoon arrival at Majeka House by 10 minutes, I wasn’t expecting a return call from the receptionist confirming that our massages had been pushed back by half an hour. An impressive start indeed. Taking advantage of Majeka’s proximity to False Bay, our swim on a pristine bit of Cape coastline encouraged a weekend wind-down mood; simultaneous massages in Majeka’s joint spa rooms were a blissful start to an overnight stay. Our premier bedroom featured comfy oversized beds and Chrysalis linen, with a colour scheme of brown, beige, white and maroon on terracotta floor tiles.

Dual basins and heated towel rails continued the luxurious feel, with screens above the bath allowing you to enjoy a DVD from the tub (the water heated via a solar system). Over a sundowner in the library later, owners Karine and Lloyd van der Merwe explained that they started off decorating the place themselves, but roped in Interior Concept in Stellenbosch when they realised the scale of the project. Officially classified as a small luxury hotel, Majeka House’s atmosphere is intimate without feeling that staff are observing your every move (as tends to happen in guesthouses). The spacious garden property includes 15 rooms.

Two swimming pools are another plus (the lengthier indoor one isn’t heated during summer). The adjacent bubbling jacuzzi makes an appealing anytime option – room cards offer guests access to the indoor sauna, pool and jacuzzi if late-night dips appeal! Meals are no afterthought, thanks to chef Ymke Jamieson, former sous chef at Franschhoek’s Mont Rochelle hotel. Breakfast includes a quality buffet spread, while the small dinner menu offers two or three courses and changes www.foodandhome.co.za APRIL 2009 121 regularly. Ymke describes her food as “simple, with good ingredients and quite big on flavour”. It’s a fitting description for a creamy tomato and basil soup, and a carpaccio of marinated springbok with caramelised onion.

Fresh kob on curried barley topped with a salsa of tropical fruits tasted healthy, while thick kassler chops with cinnamon sweet potato mash offered homely appeal. The homemade marmalade ice cream with the chocolate tart brought the meal to a lovely finish. The small, thoughtfully collated wine list focuses on Stellenbosch boutique producers. In a nutshell, Majeka is incredibly peaceful. Although there are no vineyard views, its location near Waterford and Vriesenhof on the Somerset West end of Stellenbosch makes it an ideal starting point for wine tasting. It’s the details that distinguish one small hotel from another at the five-star luxury end.

A Lavazza coffee system in the room seems a terribly clever idea. A colourful beach bag stuffed with pool towels made a thoughtful room extra, and help-yourself jars of Liquorice Allsorts and jelly beans near reception are a quirky, fun touch. By Kim Maxwell Majeka House, 26 – 32 Houtkapper Street, Paradyskloof, Stellenbosch, 021-880-1549, www.majekahouse.co.za.

Send this to a friend