The oldest city in South Africa, Cape Town has been called the country’s “Mother City”. The Ellerman House, part of Cape Town history, is perched on the slopes of Lion’s Head in Bantry Bay. Formerly the summer residence for British shipping magnate, Sir John Ellerman and his wife, Lady Esther, the magnificent Cape Edwardian–style mansion offers sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean. Paul Harris, founder of Rand Merchant Bank, purchased the 1.5-acre property and after extensive renovations reopened the Ellerman House as a boutique hotel in 1992. Today, it comprises 11 rooms in the original residence that are individually decorated to reflect the former home’s Old World elegance. Two detached private villas are also available, one of which was recently opened in November 2013. The spacious living area and bedrooms flow seamlessly outdoors onto private terraces overlooking the sea with foldaway glass doors. The decor is minimal, yet sumptuous, with a contemporary flair.
On the first floor of Villa Two, the Wine Gallery (also launched in November 2013) features some unique wine-storage solutions for the 7,500-bottle collection of South African wines. It’s a truly special space, the creative manifestation of a dynamic team of local talents. Architect Michael Dennett designed an expansive gallery with a real sense of place, paying homage to both the history of the Ellerman House and the geography of the site. Many of the building materials, including wood, granite, and copper, will be left to weather naturally, their finishes continuing to reveal more complexity over time, similar to how a good wine improves with age. The centrepiece of the Wine Gallery is a tremendous carbon-fibre corkscrew housing 1,500 bottles and bearing over two tonnes.
There is much to discover at Ellerman House, but to do as locals do, venture out into town—you can’t keep a Capetonian indoors on a good day.
Another fascinating element in the Wine Gallery is the terroir wall, where soil samples—including the “mother” material, middle soil, and topsoil—from 100 Cape wine farms were retrieved and assembled by sculptor Angus Taylor to form a map of the Cape Winelands. The champagne cellar is another special feature, and a first of its kind in South Africa: it is stocked with rare and special vintages of Dom Pérignon, and it contains a colossal, two-tonne piece of chalk from Champagne, France. The list goes on and on, with many different facets to discover and contemplate, in the monolithic wine bar, the brandy tasting lounge, or the relaxation area.
The artistic nature of the Wine Gallery is no surprise considering Ellerman House’s extensive in-house art collection. Harris began collecting art in the early 1980s; the collection started small, with an initial emphasis on Cape paintings, but the scope slowly grew to encompass a wide range of works that, together, represent an overview of South African art over the last century. The Ellerman House Contemporary Gallery was founded in 2009, and the collection rotates throughout the year.
There is much to discover at Ellerman House, but to do as locals do, venture out into town—you can’t keep a Capetonian indoors on a good day. Many cyclists wend their way up the sloping seaside road daily, and the surf is almost always up. If that’s not quite your cup of tea, you can also rent a Ferrari F430 Spider, Rolls-Royce Phantom, or Mini Cooper S convertible from Ellerman House and do a getaway within a getaway. (Go for scenic cruise along Chapman’s Peak Drive to visit the Boulders Penguin Colony, about 40 kilometres away.) Grab a snack from the fully stocked guest pantry and hit the road, and at the end of the day, you’ll have a special place to come home to.