Spoken in hushed tones by locals and visitors alike, what may be Cape Town's finest hotel sits high on a hill up from Sea Point in Bantry Bay, graced with stupendous views of the sea, and an art collection that puts the National Gallery to shame. Built in 1906 for shipping magnate Sir John Ellerman, the hotel now celebrates its heritage while embracing all modern comforts. Broad, terraced lawns fronted by elegant balustrades step down the beautifully landscaped hillside to a sparkling pool, and further on, to a contemporary art gallery (which, as with every feature at Ellerman, is for guests only). Decorated in Regency style, the drawing room, living room, and library are sumptuously elegant, yet not forbiddingly formal. The food is sensational, too.
YOU SHOULD KNOW The hotel is on a main road conecting Sea Point with the beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay. Obviously a hotel of this standard wouldn't allow this to bring any noise, but it does mean that stretching your legs outside of the hotel's property is not a particularly enticing prospect (all trips start with a car).
Guest rooms flaunt enormous picture windows and high ceilings. Even the entry-level rooms are large and pleasant, but they lack the knock-out views and balconies of the higher classes. All are decorated individually, and some feel quite modern and very stylish, despite the historic surroundings. The minibar and snack drawer gets replenished daily.
If you're traveling with a group, or want absolute privacy, the adjacent (and even costlier) Ellerman Villas are the way to go. Children under 14 aren't allowed in the main house but they are welcome in the villas. Rumor has it this is where the Kardashians chose to stay on a recent visit (Oprah and Meryl Streep are also fans of the hotel).
Bathrooms are exquisite. All are large and feature double sinks and showers and baths, in whites, creams and blacks. The lush toiletries are by the local Charlotte Rhys brand.
The hotel accommodates only a handful of guests, and a highly trained staff caters to every whim. There's no lobby as such; guests enter through the old-fashioned front door and have an immediate sense of what it must have been like to be Sir Ellerman's guests over 100 years ago. There is a reception desk downstairs, but guests don't have to undergo a check-in process; the hotel is ready for them when they arrive.
The large pool, set in landscaped gardens, surrounded by loungers, and overlooking the sea below, is pretty drop dead gorgeous.
The light and airy spa, with pine walls, a sauna, and sensation rooms, is as perfectly relaxing as you would expect. One unusual twist is the presence of two spa rooms, located actually within the facility, which share their own plunge pool.
There is a small fitness room. Yoga and pilates is offered in the studio, on the lawns, or on guests' balconies if they are large enough.
In the kitchen chefs prepare whatever guests request, and all drinks except wines and champagne are included in the rates. Breakfast is obviously exemplary (and always included), and the restaurant offers fancy fine-dining with hints of Cape Malay influences from its executive chef. There's a relaxed lunch menu too, including a great club sandwich.
The 24h pantry downstairs is stocked with delicious sweet and savory snacks, as well as drinks. Try the delicious pineapple beer.
The hotel's cozy modern bar - Bar Rock - has huge boulders in the walls, a nod to the cliffs the hotel is embedded within and the inspiration for the name. There's a big terrace and sundowners and canapés, plus brandy tastings, are all included. Don't miss the Wine Gallery, a homage to the vine featuring a unique display of bottles in the shape of a corkscrew and daily tastings.
One of the hotel's secret selling points is its phenomenal modern art collection, courtesy of the owner Paul Harris. The gallery has thought-provoking and beautiful pieces, and the hotel can provide a guided tour (as well as free tickets to the Zeit MOCAA in the city if you want more art).
There is parking, and the hotel has a driver who will take guests out whenever available, which is lucky, as driving is the transportation method of choice (and necessity) here: nothing is really within walking distance, and the walk would be along a hectic main road. The hotel is very close to the main sights though - within 10-20 minutes by car.
Staff recommend the ever-popular Black Sheep (9-minute drive) in cool Kloof Street for a stellar but relaxed meal. For fine dining, they suggest the inventive Pot Luck Club (18-minute drive).
Head for a hit of cool Cape Town at The Gin Bar (13-minute drive). Or if you're finding the sea views from Ellerman House too tempting - so near, and yet so far (down the hill), head to The Grand Africa Cafe and Bar (12-minute drive), really the city's only proper beach bar. You can even dip your toes in the waves as you sip your cocktail.
WHY WE LIKE IT
Cape Town's finest hotel, bar none, frequented by celebrities, politicians, and well-heeled 'normals' alike (and the real star-quality of this gorgeous seafront property is that everyone will feel as though they are royalty). Fantastic.