More of a must-visit than Table Mountain, Ellerman House is undeniably Cape Town’s most luxurious hideaway. Dawid and myself had the pleasure of experiencing the historical home-turned-hotel over two indulgent evenings and I’ve living vicariously through the resulting imagery ever since.
Looking out over the Atlantic, Ellerman House is one of the original grand dames to be built on this side of the city. Starting out as a farming community accessed only by a dirt road, the Atlantic Seaboard has since blossomed into some of the most sought-after real estate in South Africa. Built high on a bluff that overlooks the curving coastline of Bantry Bay, Ellerman House was completed in 1906, with classic lines and high ceilings reflecting the house’s turn of the century inception. Most famously occupied by its namesake – Sir John Ellerman, of Ellerman Shipping Lines – the house is now owned by the Harris family, who have beautifully and respectfully retained all the glory of a bygone era between the walls.
Wood-panelled hallways and a sweeping staircase lead guests from room to room, with the present owner’s impressive art collection adorning each turn. Home to the largest private collection of Pierneef in the country and one of the most diverse South African art collections in the world, merely walking through the original homestead is a feast for the senses. From William Kentridge to George Pemba, one is spoiled for choice – almost as spoiled as when attempting to choose a dish from Ellerman House’s extensive a la carte menu. Helmed by Culinary Director Peter Tempelhoff, the dining offering at Ellerman House is quintessentially South African – with each dish curated to showcase our local food heritage. Flavours such as fynbos and ingredients like West Coast rock lobster, snoek and waterblommetjies are endemic to dining here, and the menu changes daily. Ensconced on the terrace, glass of Chenin in hand, we enjoyed a bread course of freshly baked cornbread, Cape seed loaf and delicate lavash with beetroot butter before supping on a crayfish Caesar salad, tender calamari in a prawn bisque, roasted lamb rack and a sesame-crusted tuna loin with pan choi and soy mayonnaise. A veritable feast for the eyes as much as the appetite, each course is expertly plated to showcase the freshness and quality of each ingredient.
Offering lunch, dinner, light tapas meals and tasting menus for pairing with wine, Ellerman House caters to every requirement. Guests can choose to enjoy their meal out on the terrace, in BAR ROC (Ellerman’s stylish cocktail bar) or in the formal dining room – we opted for the latter. With the afternoon sun streaming through patio doors open to the azure ocean, gossamer curtains billowing in the breeze and fynbos-infused G&T in hand, it’s difficult to imagine a more paradisiacal place. Taking our time over the most flavoursome green Thai seafood curry I’ve sampled yet, lunch here is the same as any activity actioned at Ellerman House – a luxuriously languid affair. One of the most delightful details has to be the hotel’s pantry – or “sugar shack” as its playfully known. A small cubby of confectionary, the pantry is well-stocked and open to peckish guests 24/7, which means that a sneaky late night cupcake is certainly never out of the question!
Treats of a different sort take place in Ellerman House’s wine gallery. Dominated by an enormous spiralled wine rack – a human-scale corkscrew 3.2m high and 6m long – private and public tastings take place here. Created by industrial designer Brian Steinhobel, the corkscrew holds 1500 bottles of wine and is crafted from carbon fibre. Below the corkscrew lies the subterranean cellar – the heart of the wine gallery. Stocked with every local cultivar (and a special Champagne room), one is hard-pressed to choose a libation from the collection. Back on higher ground, a terroir wall lends a little insight into the origins of South African wine, with various estates’ soil represented as part of a feature wall. Designed by Angus Taylor, the wall presents actual soil samples collected from 100 wine farms, contained within a copper frame engraved with the name of the farm and the GPS co-ordinates of the soil sample hole. Wine tastings come complimentary with one’s stay and we enjoyed a tasting of Ellerman House’s brand new wine offering around the solid granite bar – also by Angus Taylor. Much anticipated, Ellerman House’s red blend – titled The Ellerman 2018 – is a labour of love between winemaker Erika Obermeyer and Manual Cabello, operations manager and former head sommelier for the hotel. Developed to perfectly represent the South African terroir, the red blend was released late last year and has already gained 5 stars by the renowned Platter’s Wine Guide for 2021. An accomplishment worth raising a glass (or two!) to.
Opened to the public in 1992 as a 7-bedroom boutique hotel, Ellerman House has been in operating as world-renowned luxury hideaway for over 25 years. Reinventing itself without losing sight of its origins, the hotel now features an extra four suites, two contemporary family villas, a spa, wine gallery and cellar and art gallery. Innovative without being intrusive, the additions to Ellerman House not only complement the home’s rich history, but introduce it to a whole new generation of travellers – meaning that there is truly something for everyone to enjoy.
As for me, the spoiling continued in the form of Ellerman House’s signature facial. Treated by the lovely Chadé in the spa’s double treatment room, I experienced the hotel’s state of the art QMS oxygen applicator during my facial – a truly amazing piece of technology that refreshes and revitalises tired skin, plumping it to glowing perfection. The epitome of tranquility, the spa also features two single treatment rooms, a sensation shower, sauna and steam room. Two luxurious suites flank the spa, making it an ideal getaway for a special occasion, pre-wedding pampering or romantic babymoon.
Speaking of romance (with no wedding or babies present just yet!), our room at Ellerman House has to be the most sumptuously furnished I’ve experienced yet. Splendidly spacious, with a private terrace and wide bay windows with sweeping views over the ocean, we arrived to the suite flooded with afternoon sunlight, our every need catered to with a complimentary mini bar, snack drawer and fluffy gowns. As mentioned, the views alone make a stay at Ellerman House unequalled. The persistent swell of silvery sea from Bantry Bay to Blouberg Hill and beyond is hypnotic. Even more so when witnessing the last egg yolk-yellow sunbeams stretching across the water, just before the stars make an appearance – one by one – reflected in the surface of my sundowner.
One of my favourite details was the circular window in the bathroom – one of the original fixtures of the house – that looked out over the ocean, all the way to Robben Island. After dark, with the twinkling lights of Sea Point below, I took a long and leisurely bath, anointed with Ellerman’s own range of bath products – gently fragranced with fynbos from the hotel’s gardens – and dreamed of just how utterly perfect a stay at Ellerman House is. Attentive, personable staff, excellent cuisine (and a deliciously comprehensive breakfast), beautiful interiors and a unique location add up to a memorably restorative holiday – even if one lives in Cape Town.
It’s sort of place that it’s easy to fall deeply in love with – I mean love, perhaps it’s infatuation. Either way, I’ve been unable to shake my feelings ever since our stay. Whether it be the high ceilings, the original fixtures, wide bay windows that let in the light or the slower pace of life that time spent here brings, Ellerman House is so much more than just accommodation – it’s like coming home.