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The Arambrook Boutique Hotel in Bishopscourt is full of surprises. After the deepest sleep you’ve ever had, in the most comfortable bed you’ve ever slept in, you wake to the gently clattering leaves of the poplar trees just outside your window. Otherwise it’s utterly silent here on the banks of the Liesbeek River.
And that’s after dinner downstairs the night before, at which the chef produced a risotto that would easily give a Milanese restaurant a run for its money. Oh, and then there’s the wine you drank from the in-house cellar, which features some of the Cape’s finest labels, its provenance guaranteed by hotel manager Aubrey Ngcungama, founder of The Black Cellar, a group of sommeliers and winemakers passionate about local wineries. “We truly believe South Africa makes the best wine in the world,” he says. He’s a star performer in a hotel that makes no bones about offering not just the patina of excellence but an authentic South African experience as well. From the dinner table to the garden for a nightcap under the stars, it doesn’t really get any better than this.
Bishopscourt is the Beverly Hills of Cape Town; Arambrook Boutique Hotel, a large, comfortable, well-upholstered mansion in one of its leafier streets, epitomises its style of luxury. The interiors are stylishly decorated, there’s a collection of contemporary South African art and furniture, bathrooms, sitting areas and private terraces are well appointed, and the service is immaculate. Bishopscourt is in the city’s southern suburbs, the well-heeled alternative to the gritty urban lifestyle of Cape Town’s centre. So why would you expect anything less?
Eight suites look out over well-manicured gardens punctuated by crisp lawns, rose arbours and formal parterres of mixed planting. An orchard and the kitchen garden, part ornamental, part pragmatic provide seasonal vegetables, herbs and fruit for the dining room, paying more than just lip service to that concept ‘farm to fork’. The styling is up-to-the-minute in that Christian Liaigre way, the smoky colours of the décor offset with a highlight palette of dusky crayfish orange and murky deep-sea navy, sultry tobacco and baby blue. Light fittings, fabrics, furniture and upholstery are clean and contemporary. Heaps of books, sculpture and bowls of fresh flowers complete the look.
Upstairs, Ari, the presidential suite, is the one to ask for, its bathroom and private terrace secluded from the rest of the hotel with views out over a private woodland soon to be converted into a series of ten more rooms. Rose, Jaryd, Aran, Lucy are superior king suites while Amelia, Emily and Joseph are the slightly smaller, but nonetheless superior queen suites. Quietly luxurious, each is individually private although, if you want to, why not book the entire hotel for a family holiday and request the services of the chef and entertain lavishly either indoors or out by the pool? Away from the city, the Arambrook is easily manageable as a private holiday venue. There’s a wellness spa in the pool house, or you could ask to have a treatment in your room.
A large sitting room dominated at one end by a grand piano and at the other by a fireplace, opens to a dining terrace, which, doing extra duty as a conservatory, opens onto the garden. In the background, formidable Castle Rock looms over the setting, almost daring visitors to ditch tea and cake by the swimming pool in favour of heading out for a hike up what is thought to be one the world’s oldest mountains. Or you could simply sit there, at breakfast, and gaze up at it while sipping orange juice made from freshly squeezed fruit from the garden. The views are incomparable.
Named after the Archbishop of Cape Town’s historic residence nearby, Bishopscourt is the leafiest of districts, an arboreal suburb very close to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens, one of the great botanic gardens of the world. Devoted to South Africa’s indigenous flora, it sprawls across the eastern flank of Table Mountain and its array of plants, the restaurant and café, and its walks, some of them up into the mountain itself, are easily accessible from the Arambrook Boutique Hotel. And not far away, the Constantia wine district offers some of the Cape’s most revered wines. Go on a wine tour and see some of the region’s most historic farms, of which Groot Constantia is the country’s oldest. The False Bay coast isn’t far away either. Between them, Muizenberg, St James and Kalk Bay offer surfing, safe swimming, fish restaurants and a whole host of bric-a-brac shops and Saturday morning markets.
Or just stay put at the Arambrook and park off by the pool under a striped umbrella. Order lunch, or go for a jog along the banks of the nearby Liesbeek River, which flows down to the sea from the mountain peaks of the Cape Peninsula. If it’s peace and calm you’re looking for, well, this is it.
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Reviewed by Paul Duncan