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Airs and graces

With towering white pillars and long palm-lined driveway, the Mount Nelson isn’t all that easy to miss. It’s pink for goodness sake. And the soaring column of steel and glass that is the Arabella Sheraton is about as inconspicuous as Table Mountain.

So in comparison The Cape Grace is virtually invisible, a discreet four-storey building that whispers seductively rather than screams for attention as you head for the perennially popular V&A Waterfront.

Step inside and it’s equally restrained – obviously breathing wealth and class but, like the hotel’s black BMW 7-Series’ parked outside, without being garish or flashy. It feels like a “good friend’s home”, the marketing people will have you believe. And, apart from failing to mention that your friend must be rolling in the money, they’re not wrong.

The soft couches spread around the lobby, the warm colour scheme and the low tables instead of the usual stand-at-attention check-in desk, may be subtle touches, but the effect is certainly welcoming. As are the staff – professional without being overbearing – helping to create the sense of relaxed efficiency.

In turn, you feel relaxed; at ease in your plush surroundings instead of wondering how to sit, or speak, or smile. You’re King (or Queen) for the day (or the length of your stay) – without having to wave from your carriage, walk the corgies or put up with any of the other hassles that come with being royalty.

A taxing day of relaxing

In fact, you don’t have to do anything. The calming atmosphere ensures that, even though you’re within (if you’re feeling uncouth) spitting distance of the Waterfront tourist gridlock and the traffic jam chaos at the foot of the Convention Centre, you feel like you’re on an island retreat. And, being so shrouded from the outside world, you don’t feel much like leaving.

Not that there’s any need to. The library, with its vista of yachts and water’s edge apartments, provides a cosy retreat. Take in the views, browse the shelves (‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ nestled alongside Dan Brown’s latest), curl up with a book on one of the sofas, wake up with coffee, croissants and your morning paper, or retire with a sherry nightcap after a taxing day of relaxing.

Briefly let the outside world in as you check your email or (if you’re an incurable workaholic and have the inexplicable urge to ruin the holiday mood) see to your business on the communication centre computers.

African-inspired spa

But, a word of advice, if you feel your work-withdrawal symptoms returning, there are far more suitable – and enjoyable – ways of dealing with the problem. Having gym equipment sent up to your room is a bit extreme, but a couple of leisurely lengths in the heated outdoor swimming pool, followed by a cocktail or two on one of the poolside loungers should do the trick.

As will a trip to the spa. All it takes to reach its striking mosaic entrance is an amble along the corridor (decorated with paintings and archive photos of Cape Town) from your room to your lift, a push of the ‘fourth floor’ button, and another short walk. Nothing too taxing – as holidays should be.

Inside, the four treatment rooms are decorated according to a spice theme, petals floating in water bowls, but that’s just secondary – this is about your body. Play it safe with the Swedish massage or try one of the African-themed treatments before retiring to the hot spa area with its line-up of spa bath, rain showers, sauna and steam room. It’s the easiest way to work up a sizeable sweat.

one.waterfront

That’s not entirely true, either – eating too much will do have you perspiring just as effortlessly. And with a restaurant like one.waterfront, consistently rated in the country’s top 10, literally under the same roof as you, over-indulgence is likely to be the order of the day.

The setting is refined and luxurious (not stuffy), the service sharp and warm without being in your face, and the frequently-changing menu like Sophie’s choice – deciding on only one item from each course is potentially torturous. But for starters, you may like to try the Cream of Camembert (served with warm pastry on cranberry jelly) or the aptly named “Wild” Caesar salad, greens turned carnivorous with three cured venison carpaccios.

The “Walt” duck (Thai poached wild duck featuring a homage to Disney’s Donald) is succulent without the greasiness or chew-forever toughness that comes from inexperienced hands, and as good a choice for the main course as the Roasted lamb rump.

Ask the steward for help on the wine front though – the list is of Biblical proportions.

Single malt anyone?

And yet it pales in comparison to the assortment of whiskies available in the cosy Bascule Bar downstairs. There’s 460, if you’re counting, creating the largest selection in the southern hemisphere, as everyone will keep telling you. Laid back and unassuming it’s ideal for sundowners or a post dinner drink or three, although you’ll have trouble making a dent in the complimentary snacks if you’ve just come from the restaurant.

If you’re still feeling a little stuffed the next morning (chances are you will), best work up an appetite with a quick length of the pool – one.waterfront’s breakfast spread (cereals, fruit, meats, spreads, bakes) is worth the sacrifice.

Yet it’s but one of the many joys you’ll remember from your retreat on the island that is the Cape Grace. After staying even only one night, the hotel you once drove by absent-mindedly seems taller and brighter than it did before.

  • This article originally appeared on iafrica.com.

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