Cape Town’s Ellerman House: A Bon Viveur’s Ultimate Retreat

Cape Town’s elegant, exclusive, and exceptional mansion hotel wows the most discerning of luxury travelers

Travis Levius

Now, this looks like the setting of a Gatsby-esque tale.

To best explain Ellerman House, I’d ask you to imagine an alternate scene in one of literature’s most beloved 20th Century tales.  Wealthy entrepreneur Jay Gatsby grew weary of his shady hustles and social excess in New York City, and built a magnificent Cape Edwardian mansion in Cape Town overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.  Unlike his gaudy West Egg estate, Gatsby’s South African hideaway exudes opulence and refinement, and he regularly invites his network of jetsetters to stay in one his 13 luxuriant bedrooms and suites when he and Daisy, his hard-won darling, are not in town.  Ominous fate aside, Gatsby’s fictitious legacy lives on in the Ellerman House, a private mansion-cum-hotel delivering luxury in a classically grand style.

Now, the real backstory: British shipping tycoon Sir John Ellerman (too a filthy rich entrepreneur) built the mansion in 1906 for he and his wife on the steep slopes of Bantry Bay, now one of Cape Town’s poshest neighborhoods.  Paul Harris acquired the lavish property decades later and opened Ellerman House as a luxury hotel soon after, deftly balancing new school standards with Old World opulence since 1992. Over time, Ellerman House has renovated and expanded to include two villas, a contemporary art and wine gallery, a gym, a spa, and room refurbishments all done to immaculate effect.  

I placed my own self under house arrest during my stay, sensing that this intensely private hotel is where I’d want to be for the next 24 hours.  It is not common to find an ultra-exclusive hotel frequented by A-list celebrities, where only overnight guests enjoy the many amenities, dining menus, and stellar cliff-side views (therefore, no chance of stealth paparazzi in the midst sneaking shots in the lobby or expansive terrace).   

A gracious set of staff met me at the private entrance (after a complimentary chauffeured airport transfer) and gave me a walkthrough of this “home away from home,” and soon escorted me to my Deluxe House Room, one of 12 ocean-facing bedrooms of its 13 on offer.  Like a real mansion home, each Ellerman House bedroom has its own personal touch, mine having a minimal “sea breeze” palette of creams and muted teals in its linens and furnishings.  As I stepped onto my sunny private terrace, an involuntary gasp escaped.  Vistas of the shimmering Atlantic with tony homes and highrises cradling the sloped Bantry Bay lifted me to dizzying levels of joy.  The view of the Ellerman House property below was, too, a visual delight with its lush, terraced lawns with palm trees, striped loungers, and ornate pool offering the perfect foreground to the idyllic view in the distance.  It proved difficult to pry myself from my room’s balcony and its stupendous view, but there was more to experience in this storybook of a hotel.In all, Ellerman House boasts more than 7,500 premium South African wines, brandies, and Dom Perignon champagnes in its collection…a true feat considering it’s a boutique hotel of 13 rooms and suites.

Ellerman House touts itself as a destination for art enthusiasts (their collection has swelled to nearly 1,000 works), from the classical paintings that grace the stately hallways and communal rooms to its standalone contemporary art gallery.  I felt a tad spoiled enjoying Ellerman House’s paintings, sculptures, and provocative photography by premier contemporary South African artists all to myself (the few other guests I did see were blissfully basking in the sun on the lawn’s plentiful day loungers).  The gallery is so finely curated, it is no wonder it’s considered one of the most essential South African contemporary art collections in the world.  

The hotel’s equally well-curated wine gallery features works of art of a different sort, including a corkscrew-sculpted wine rack that holds a staggering 1,500 bottles of fine vino, and a “living” Terrior Wall with 100 wine farm soil samples assembled and classified on a copper-framed wall.  In all, Ellerman House boasts more than 7,500 premium South African wines, brandies, and Dom Perignon champagnes in its collection…a true feat considering it’s a boutique hotel of 13 rooms and suites.  I’d posit that Manny Caballo, Ellerman House’s charismatic Head Sommelier, might have one of the toughest jobs during lunch and dinner sittings, having to select optimal pairings for discerning guests with such a robust in-house collection.  Yet, he delivers; Manny provided my dinner guest and I with some very spot-on recommendations, perhaps the best wine pairing experience of my two weeks in Cape Town.

Executive Chef Veronica Canha-Hibbert heads the hotel’s daily-changing menu, implementing a “farm-to-fork” approach to fine European and South African-influenced cuisine.  Diners should expect mains such as oven-roasted kudu loin (a native game) with cauliflower soubise and sautéed sweetbreads, or grilled hake with smoked eggplant and gremolata on their well-balanced menu list.  If guests ever need a bite to eat beyond the three main meals, there’s a 24-hour walk-in guest pantry stocked with premium snacks, sandwiches, sweets, and drinks to keep you satiated at all times; this, surely, made my self-sanctioned house arrest even more satisfying.  Amenities such as this coincides with Ellerman House’s credo for guests to want for nothing- a well-stocked gym for guests who need to compensate for all those generous meals; an on-site spa with all the therapeutic fixings; a well-stocked library with assorted genres and international magazines; and a dutiful concierge team to handle any request and whim.  The only thing I was left wanting, sadly, was permanent residency so I could have the entire mansion to myself for life…but I imagined concierge unable to cater to this particular last-minute query. 

Seldom do high-end hotels claim to be “more than a hotel, but a destination” and actually achieve such.  Ellerman House is but a ten-minute drive away from the majority of Cape Town’s excellent attractions, yet you’ll likely want nothing more than to saunter about the property, transporting yourself into a glamorous 20th Century tale you’ll find tough to snap out of after check-out.   

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