I’m lying in a bath tub in my suite on the eighth floor, watching the world below me — a docked ship here, twinkling lights over there, two policemen wandering past on the ground below — knowing that even those on the rooftops of another hotel nearby can spy nothing more revealing than the reflective material of the glass windows of my bathroom. Now that’s the kind of privacy that celebrities going to South Africa look for when in Cape Town. Which is just one of a thousand reasons why the 5-star hotel I’m staying in on the V&A Waterfront ticks all the boxes.
I’m in The Silo hotel, inside a grain silo built on the waterfront in the 1920s. It was once Africa’s tallest building (bar the Pyramids) and has now been turned into a vibrant new hotel and adjoining contemporary art museum, Zeitz MOCAA — or Museum of Contemporary African Art. Both the museum and hotel are designed by whizzy British architect Thomas Heatherwick of London’s Heatherwick Studio. The hotel is built in the former grain silo elevator section — the train tracks for delivering grain still end outside the building.
I’m probably exaggerating to say that the silo building stands out from miles away — but it did to me, especially those windows that resemble hexagonal bug-eyes. ‘Pillowed window bays’ they’re called, apparently. It turns out that they’re designed in such a way as to allow everyone outside to admire the beauty of the architectural wonder, whilst guests inside its incredible window design (each window with 54 panels) get to see the busy world around them without being seen. Hence my bath-tub moment.
But let’s rewind to the beginning. The Silo hotel sets a new standard for luxury Cape Town accommodation, surrounded by the natural wonder of South Africa’s Mother City. The hotel is a celebration of art, style, architecture and design, a tribute to timeless glamour and contemporary luxury, offering the highest levels of personalised service.
On arrival at the hotel, I am immediately touched by the staff’s professionalism and generous attention to detail. I’ve hardly crossed the threshold when I order a drink of hot chocolate with, well, ‘funny milk’ and the waiter inquires solicitously whether this is a ‘preference’ or an ‘intolerance to dairy.’ On arriving in the suite mere minutes later, someone has already placed almond milk instead of the cow’s alternative in the mini bar. All this happens as a matter of course, with no fanfare. Now that’s what I call personalised service.
It is, to be honest, pretty rough coming off an 11-hour flight, especially for my cold-stricken, temperature-running mother. But, unrequested, the waiter takes it upon himself to rush off and make ‘medicine,’ as he calls it (a fresh ginger and lemon rescue remedy, as it turns out). When we arrive in our private sitting room in our double-storey family suite, fresh lemon and ginger sit in the fridge, unbidden and very welcome. In similar fashion, a handful of valets take charge of our hire car throughout our stay, making sure the vehicle is ready before we’ve scarcely even finished deciding that we’re leaving the building (they seem to have a sixth sense on this score). It’s the little things in life.
I’m no expert in interior design, but I’ve grown up around those who are (antique dealers, decorators, interiors journalists and the like), and Liz Biden — The Silo’s co-owner with her husband Phil — has a deft and stylish touch as an interior decorator. It’s a jazzy ensemble that she’s composed with high notes of upmarket art alongside vintage finds and a base beat of traditional African artefacts: think Liz’s ooh-ah take on Africa-meets-contemporary-art-meets-industrial-with-lots-of-colours eclectic kind of interiors. She manages to create the wow factor — the hotel interior’s as good as the museum below — along with a feeling of homeliness and a sense that we’re in one of the world’s top hotels.
There is nothing pared back about her style. Big eat-you-up sofas are upholstered in midnight jungle scenes of velvet in one suite. Or there are comfy, sink-into armchairs in mustard, teal and ruby red. The chandeliers hang from the ceiling like monkeys, twinkling next to each other. New ‘antique’ rugs sit alongside lime sofas and bold contemporary paintings.
Her design philosophy appears to lie along the lines of more is more. I love one of the suites (the flagship penthouse) that offers more and more…and yet more: a sitting-room, kitchenette, his and her bathrooms, private massage room, and desks that overlook the cityscape. There are just 28 rooms and suites, and each is individually and stylishly decorated; there are over 300 pieces of original art in the hotel, many of them replicated in the museum below.
It’s obvious that guests love the vibe that Liz has created. Capetonians travel from across the ‘Mother City’ just to Instagram an evening cocktail at the hotel’s rooftop bar, next to its glass-sided and multi-coloured swimming pool with its ‘disco’ lighting: the water bubbling away in illuminated underwater puffing ‘clouds’ of pink and blue. Or they just go there to sit and look at the cityscape and Table Mountain in the distance.
Ah, the city. Cape Town is somewhere that combines natural beauty with modern conveniences, making it an alluring destination; yes, this is still true, regardless of its dangers and gang violence. I prefer to focus on its booming nightlife, food and wine culture, historical heritage, and loads of natural wonders. Although, by my reckoning, there can be little to beat the wonders of The Silo hotel, but we step outside, anyway.
So what are the Mother City’s best sights? Pop into the adjoining building, the Zeitz MOCAA museum, for zeitgeisty African art in the biggest and best space for contemporary art in the continent. Thomas Heatherwick’s team have carved huge sections out of the building’s tubular interior to create a complex network of 80 gallery spaces. Ogle at its grain-shaped atrium, and original steel columns. Then walk just a few steps to the shops and cafés of the V&A Waterfront. It may be touristy, but it’s a must for up-cycled fabric works, painted ostrich eggs and other African artefacts.
If you decide to go further afield, take an open-topped bus (or jump into a taxi) to get a sense of the city. (The bus will take you in a loop from the Waterfront to Camps Bay and on to Kirstenbosch and then along Long Street with its galleries). You can sometimes see whales breaching off the coast. A stop at Kirstenbosch botanical gardens — ask The Silo chef to make up your picnic basket — has to be on the tick list. Here you’ll see nine different members of the Protea family, 100-year-old wild olive Bonsai and 65-year-old Ficus, a tree canopy, and breathe air cleaner than a peppermint. But then you must also visit Bo-Kaap, the old Malay quarter with its colourful houses of fluorescent green, candy-floss pink and mustard yellow.
Then drive to Klein Constantia estate in the suburbs, for the best wine estate in the Cape with its beautiful 358-acre grounds, tasting room, world-class wines (especially the dessert ones) and a quality shop selling everything from barrel-head bread boards to decanter cleaners. Don’t miss the National Gallery either for its (very moving) Steven Cohen Chandelier 2002 video, plus its collection of Kente cloths (worn ceremoniously over the shoulder) and mid 20th century African masks. And then return to The Silo hotel, for the best sights of all.
Rooms at The Silo hotel start from R13 500 (circa £654) per room per night — book your stay here. For further information about excursions and sightseeing around Cape Town, go to www.capetown.travel. For car rental, go to Avis at www.avis.co.za.