If you ever thought that bigger was better, allow these tempting boutique stays to convince you that both dynamite and hospitality come in small packages.
Cloud 9 Boutique Hotel & Spa, Cape Town
In the heart of the city’s trendy Tamboerskloof, Cloud 9 Boutique Hotel is where our journey begins. Despite being a Mother City resident for a decade, I’d never ventured through the doors, and akin to Alice in Wonderland, a journey was awaiting.
The hotel itself is an accumulation of five historic properties, joined together through tasteful architecture and a tropical courtyard serving as the connecting space between them. Although the hotel has 54 rooms, you’d never say it as they’re discreetly tucked away in the wings of the various buildings.
Rather than following the rabbit down a warren hole at Cloud 9, it’s upwards to go for the real adventure; perhaps the hotel’s most unique selling point is the various levels of the rooftop decks, including two pools with views: winding their way higher and higher until, almost literally, in the clouds with 360-degree views of Table Mountain and the city. Across all levels, the Mountain Club serves tantalizing tapas and a host of drinks.
Noah House, Cape Town
Noah House may be one of the newest additions to the Cape Town boutique scene, but the graceful and elegant Victorian home feels as though it has been around for ages. Technically it is dated 1860, but its rebirth as a guest house and café is barely a year old.
Ten select suites offer luxurious sleeping options with crisp, clean, and classy décor. Dutch owners Gerald and Sarina van Engelen are the handsome couple behind the Noah hospitality, having purchased and transformed Noah into its current shape during the lockdown last year.
What’s more, the outside veranda serves as a quiet and minimalist chic café – a favoured hideout with discerning café-goers – particularly with vegan, sugar-free, and gluten-free options available. Open weekends for breakfast, lunch, and treats until 4pm.
Saxon Hotel, Johannesburg
The next stop on our tour is an iconic South African hotel, serving as a luxurious sanctuary in the city of Johannesburg. From the moment you arrive at the colossal front gate and then drive through the manicured gardens, you can’t help breathing in an air of distinction.
The hotel’s front paints an impressive picture with stately columns that tower over the pool and gardens. As a dedicated patron of the arts, expect to find a treasure trove of African art once you enter the doors.
Sitting on the private veranda of my suite, I couldn’t help but imagine the slow but graceful steps of Nelson Mandela walking through the trees with a working manuscript of Long Walk To Freedom underarm. Madiba was a friend of the Steyns, the owners of the Saxon, and spent time in residence at the hotel during the writing of his memoir.
The pandemic afforded The Saxon time for a few renovations; there’s a refreshed foyer – but the real focus goes to Qunu Restaurant. With the new look, this voluminous restaurant exudes a classiness in keeping with the rest of the luxe property, providing a quintessential Johannesburg dining experience.
The Manor House at Fancourt, Garden Route
If you think that the prestigious Fancourt is only about golf, you’d be wrong. I discovered recently that in a private garden enclave in the sprawling estate hides a luxury hotel stay second to none. The Manor House was the home of the property’s founder Henry Fancourt White, and over a century later, sensitive renovations have turned the home into a five-star getaway.
The lush gardens provide a somewhat tropical setting for the hotel, inviting you out of the luxury of your room to a green haven or the central pool courtyard around which the rooms are arranged. There are a series of outdoor spaces interspersed through the garden, and the staff are more than happy to set them up for an alfresco secret-garden dining experience.
Of course, since you are staying on a world-famous golf course, why not play one of the three courses – a privilege reserved only for club members – or in this convenient exception – guests of the hotel.
Marataba Mountain Lodge, Thabazimbi
Thankfully in South Africa, boutique also takes shape in the bush. Our last foray into significant small stays is Marataba Mountain Lodge. Part of a privately managed section of the Marakele National Park, 3h30 from Johannesburg, the More Family Collection has two luxury lodges. Mountain Lodge is the smaller of the two, featuring only five suites.
Part of Marataba’s lure is that the lodges are the only two in the property, giving a more exclusive feel. In addition to the pristine Highveld bush, the reserve is also home to impressive mountains and a perennial river. This union of mountains, plains, and waterways make for a varied and unforgettable safari experience.
Mountain Lodge is eco-friendly and has been constructed to be as light on the environment as possible while embracing a more modern Scandi-style architecture, with the mountain-side suites angled to fully take in the views of the valley below.