South African elegance, for a price: A review of the Cape Grace Hotel

May 30, 2020

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As part of my three-night trip to Cape Town, South Africa following United Airlines’ inaugural flight from Newark, I booked the last night at Cape Grace, one of the city’s most popular hotels, located on the Victoria & Alfred (V&A) Waterfront.

My stay came after a two-night stay at the Belmond Mount Nelson, a local institution and a fellow member of Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program. I had an incredible stay at the Belmond, but the Cape Grace was commanding more than twice the nightly rate — its position along the city’s safe V&A Waterfront helped account for the higher price tag, but would my experience justify the extra expense?

In This Post

Booking

As with the Belmond, I booked my stay though Amex’s Fine Hotels & Resorts program, which is accessible to cardmembers with a Platinum- or Centurion-branded charge card, including The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. Amex FHR stays include the following perks:

  • Room upgrade upon arrival, when available
  • Daily breakfast for two people
  • Guaranteed 4 p.m. late checkout
  • Noon check-in, when available
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi
  • Unique amenity, such as a food and beverage credit or one-way private sedan transfer

I’ve sometimes noticed that hotel rates are slightly higher through FHR, but in this case, I didn’t pay any more to book through Amex — which was great, considering all the perks I’d receive.

I would have loved to stay more than one night, but the $615 pretax rate I found was actually on the lower end for Cape Grace — for a bit less than half the price, it made more sense to spend most of my time at Belmond Mount Nelson.

As with the Belmond, Cape Grace offered a complimentary dinner for two, allowing my father and me to enjoy the hotel’s Signal Restaurant for free. I also earned 5x Membership Rewards points, since I booked a prepaid stay with The Platinum Card® from American Express — the 3,570 points I earned are worth just over $70, based on TPG’s valuations.

Location

As I mentioned, Cape Grace is located right on the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront. It’s a touristy spot, but with loads of private security, it’s also one of the safest places to stay in Cape Town.

You’ll need to pass through a checkpoint before driving up to the hotel, but you can easily come and go on foot.

Check-in

I woke up early on the morning of our move from the Belmond to the Cape Grace to find my dad, a physician, looking very uncomfortable in the next bed. He suspected he had norovirus, and he felt awful — certainly not an ideal time to be changing hotels.

I called the front desk at Cape Grace, explained the situation and the representative promised the staff would do their best to arrange an early check-in so my dad could go straight to the room to rest. Fortunately, the very friendly check-in agent was able to get us into a room right away, even though it wasn’t quite 9 a.m.

Keys in hand, we walked across the hotel to our room. I immediately noticed the snack stations set up on each floor, with plates filled with holiday cookies since we were visiting in December.

The common areas were pristine, with a subtle nautical theme throughout.

Room

I had booked a base Luxury Room, and emailed the hotel to request two beds, which was confirmed in advance. I was eligible for an upgrade as part of the Amex FHR program, but there wasn’t one available for our early check-in.

Still, the room was especially spacious, which my dad appreciated, given that he would end up spending almost the entire day recovering there.

We had a great view from the balcony, including a Japanese fishing boat with some deck activity to help entertain my dad and the even more expensive Silo Hotel visible across the water.

I liked the layout of the room — in addition to the spacious studio area, we had a large closet, a separate luggage storage area and a vanity.

There was also a double sink in the large marble bathroom, along with a separate shower and tub.

I appreciated the full-size amenities — especially the lotion and hand sanitizer, which, given the coronavirus pandemic arriving a few months later, I was very thankful I had decided to take “to go.”

Food and beverage

In addition to the snacks I brought back from the hallway each time I passed, there was coffee and tea available, along with complimentary bottled water (with plastic to-go bottles available by the stairwell).

My dad didn’t have much of an appetite, but he was craving chicken noodle soup. He wasn’t surprised to find that it wasn’t on the room service menu, but the staff made him a bowl to order, a very kind gesture!

He wasn’t well enough to come along for our planned adventure, so I spent the day touring greater Cape Town and when I returned, he had recovered enough to join our complimentary dinner.

Dinner was served in Signal Restaurant, and included a starter, main course and dessert.

First, our waiter brought over a plate of bread, with some delicious olives and a spiced butter.

To start, I ordered tom yum soup, which had the perfect amount of tang and was served with an oversized raviolo.

For the main course, I went with the trio of lamb, per the waiter’s recommendation — the lamb chops were easily my favorite component.

My dad, meanwhile, had the curry seared tuna, which was served with ratatouille — since he wasn’t feeling 100%, I was more than happy to help finish his dish.

For dessert, I went with the local cheese plate, which was served with nuts and grapes.

My dad wasn’t feeling up to more food, so I tried his as well — a fun take on carrot cake, with carrot and ginger jelly and passion fruit sorbet.

I didn’t drink much at dinner, but I did stop by the library, where the hotel offers sherry and port each evening — a fun after-dinner treat.

I could easily see myself relaxing in the library on a longer stay, but I headed to bed full and satisfied after another incredible Cape Town day.

Cape Grace is also home to the popular Bascule Bar, which sports over 500 whiskies.

The next day, my dad and I decided to pop by Bascule, where we each tried a whisky flight. We went for two of the more affordable options — a South African tasting for about $3.50 (65 South African rand) and an Asian tasting for about $12 (225 rand), though you could spend up to 4,675 (about $247), for a trio of 40-year-old Scotch whiskies.

Breakfast, meanwhile, was also served at Signal Restaurant — with the lights turned up and sunshine filling the room, it felt like an entirely different space than what we had experienced the night before.

Full breakfast was included as an Amex FHR perk, which usually runs about $18.20 (345 rand).

That got us access to the well-stocked buffet, which featured a variety of high-quality goodies, including far too many delicious baked goods, cold cuts, local cheeses and more.

We could also order an item from the hot breakfast section, including a selection of egg dishes, hash browns and pancakes.

I ordered spicy baked beans with egg whites, guacamole and melba toast — a relatively light component of my otherwise gigantic breakfast.

Amenities

I covered a number of the amenities above — the library and complimentary sherry and port and the Bascule Bar — but I think my favorite was the small treat station on each floor.

I’m a sucker for sweets, and I really appreciated having the ability to grab a quick sugar fix without raiding an overpriced minibar — each of the cakes and pies I tried was delicious, too.

Although the weather wasn’t as warm as I would have liked, there’s a small outdoor pool for warmer days.

There was a small fitness center available on the top floor as well, with great city views.

Service

There’s no question that Cape Grace offers top-notch facilities, plus perks like those lobby snacks — the hotel really won me over there — but what really made our experience was how accommodating the staff had been, given my father’s illness.

Amex FHR perks include early check-in, at noon, if available, but the front-desk agent checked us in before 9 a.m. I was also very impressed by the staff’s willingness to accommodate my dad’s request for chicken noodle soup — it may have even aided his speedy recovery.

Overall impression

I’m still a bit puzzled by the nightly rate. Cape Grace was really nice, sure, and the location was convenient, but $700+ (including tax) is simply too much to pay for all but the world’s most luxurious hotels. We really enjoyed our stay, especially our interactions with the staff. Still, overall, I preferred the grounds, views and food at the far more affordable Belmond Mount Nelson, just up the road.

All photos by the author

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