Celebrated landmark is as visually satisfying as its scenic surroundings, and warm and welcoming to boot
A dark shadow flashes across the window. I’m on the second storey, so it can’t be someone passing on the pavement. And it was huge, like a fish eagle from the perspective of a goldfish. Another shadow. Another heart palpitation. Has Table Mountain erupted?
Moving to the window, things become clearer and less scary. Paragliders, having leapt off Signal Hill and floated around above Sea Point for a few minutes, are coming in to land, and their designated pick-up spot is directly across the road, on a large patch of grass along the Promenade. Note: understand that this means that there is a risk of giving some visiting Scandinavian an eyeful if you change clothes with the curtains open.
Recognisable and regal
The Winchester Boutique Hotel was a fixture along this stretch of real estate long before people jumping off mountains was a fun thing to do. The basics of the building – initially a block of flats – were put together a century ago, and it’s been a hotel for around two-thirds of that time. It’s arguably more beautiful now than it’s ever been, though, with a recent, and thorough, renovation adding fresh style and polish to an already iconic structure. Its classic Cape Dutch gables are one of the more pleasing clichés associated with Cape Town and add a touch of class among some older blocks of flats where the architectural vision ranged from dour to embarrassing. In design terms, there are some gorgeous minor touches – shiny bronze strips along each of the glossy black stairs or the hexagonal shape of the tiles in the dappled black-and-white floor patterns – that underline the quality of the current incarnation.
The building’s inner courtyard is a trademark feature. Two sides are draped in lush bougainvillea, while the three floors of arches that line the corridors create a striking light pattern. A central fountain feature is pleasing on the eye and ear and, if the weather is good, it’s difficult to imagine a more romantic spot, or at least one that isn’t overlooking a secluded cove. The framed square of sky above your head is its own ever-changing décor feature, featuring paragliders during the day and seagulls at night, all against a shifting background – first cyan to indigo; then grey to black. Don’t spend all your time gawping at the elegance, though. Seating for the Winchester’s Shoreditch Restaurant spills out into the courtyard and, if you eat outside (there’s also a patio with Parisian caféstyle seating along the Beach Road frontage), menu items just seem to taste better. An Old Fashioned that includes white chocolate? Yes! There is also that sense, wherever you are helped by a staff member, from a waitron to a security guard, that they are engaging with you – not simply getting you to move along once you’ve been assisted.
Work or walk
If your stay isn’t just about relaxation, that patio is a wonderful place to work. There is good Wi-Fi and half of Cape Town will pass by at some point, either in their cars or on foot. Sip a coffee and stare out at the eternal ocean just 70m or so away and then, when you’re ready, join the throng on the Promenade. You’ll be starting in the middle, so you can pick a direction and different views. This stretch is one of the best of the city’s many attractions. It’s scenic, walking is good for you, the community is friendly, there’s public art to interact with and, well, it’s not shops bloated with stuff you don’t need. Walk all the way down to either end or hop up a block or two and check out the eclectic mix of historical buildings and other places of business that make up central Sea Point. Back at the Winchester – and particularly if you’ve been forced back there by inclement weather – the rooms offer a more enjoyable place to hang out than many hotels. They are large and unashamedly beautiful, designed not just for the purpose of sleeping but also for relishing time there, for appreciating the comfort and artwork and the peace they provide. A secluded pool down the side of the building is not nearly as picturesque as the rock pools nearby, but it has the advantage of not leaving your muscles numb with cold once you’ve had a dip.