So, what is an Afrikaner hotelier – who grew up on a farm in the Free State went to a Swiss hotel school and then chose to live in Amsterdam – doing in Church Square in Cape Town? Living his dream, of course. And it must be said, Labotessa’s founder, Johan du Plessis, is surely the most passionate boutique hotelier in this city. Not only does he nurture the trees in this historic square, but he’s brought a little bit of Europe with him and it’s catching on fast. This beloved seven-roomed hotel is as narrow as the Dutch canal-side beauties and has an equally elegant history: these ancient walls have witnessed everything from the first Congregational Church in South Africa, port-swigging traditions of a gentleman’s club, law firms to aspirant musicians when it was a private music school.
Out on the square, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in Paris while sipping coffee under his stylish navy and white shades, or in Amsterdam when you smell just-baked traditional apple pie – their signature Café & Terrace dish, served with coffee beneath the gentle gaze of Vermeer’s Milk Maid. The wall painting was painstakingly recreated from a digitised image from the Rijksmuseum but in slightly brighter colours. But as soon as you enter this historic 1677 landmark, through the original Table Mountain sandstone entrance, it’s the unmistakable scent of Diptyque, from the legendary Parisian perfumer, that seals the memory of your visit here. Johan has created an exquisite sanctuary to scent, which carries you up to the relaxed mezzanine, where a roaring fire and muted coral velvet sofa welcomes guests in an intimate low-ceilinged space. No intimidating hotel lobby here… it’s personal and warm.
So, why stay at Labotessa? It has just six standard suites and one presidential suite, and they’re anything but standard because they’re the size of a small apartment. Each one painted in soothing shades of blue, with accents of colour and glamour in ceramics and lighting – Johan has a weakness for Marcel Wanders, who owned one of the last hotels he worked in – making Labotessa the perfect city hideaway. Thoughtful, simple, uncomplicated – a home-away-from-home – but not, as staying here feels distinctly like you’ve left town. The top-floor presidential suite, with magnificent views of Lion’s Head and a small plunge pool, is the piéce-de-rèsistance. What more could you want? Perhaps a chef to host a private dinner as the open-plan kitchen is a stunner …
What we love:
- Attention to detail and thoughtful touches that come from years of being in the hotel industry and deeply appreciated by travellers who stay in hotels on business or leisure.
- Each suite is reached by a silent lift, and even the cocktail-height table that doubles as a workspace has pop-up plugs. With complimentary cognac and games on hand, plus a lifestyle-bar with homemade snacks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
- That Johan supports local artists and has hung family heirloom art on the walls, all of which adds a personal touch.
- Labotessa’s rubs shoulders with neighbours Fyn, Chef Peter Templehoff’s fine dining restaurant.
- Opposite from Labotessa, Chef Judi’s Pilcrow and Cleaver offers an interactive experience as food is cooked in front of guests. Judi also started Fideli’s, an inner-city grocer and beer garden nearest the church (Cape Town’s first, dating back to 1701), adds further flavour.
Need to know:
- There’s valet parking: simply ring the buzzer at the boom to drive onto the square. Underground parking is available for hotel guests only.
- Dignitaries and diplomats love it here, for good reason: it feels safe and is so convenient for business.
- The presidential suite is perfect for a multigenerational stay.
Reviewed by Holly Durcan