Cape Town - Would the family of resident Cape clawless otters perhaps stroll by? They would be difficult to spot in the ocean, where bobbing kelp played tricks on the eyes. Perhaps a whale might breach just beyond the rocky reef; or the dolphins surf in the creamy waves? The mist and rain made anything seem possible…
It must have been one of the most stunning campsites, but over the years it fell into neglect. Then along came Ernest and Gaye Corbett, who fell in love with the setting. Casting stones into the ocean, just like people do in Rome’s Trevi Fountain, they wished they might locate a place of magic at this very spot, for others to enjoy.
Tintswalo Atlantic’s general manager, Ryno du Rand, said it was to take much more than a wave of a magician’s wand, though. Five years of negotiating with Cape Nature followed, as the land lies within the Table Mountain Reserve, and intricate environmental plans had to be drawn up, to ensure the natural landscape was not impacted upon. Finally, in 2008, the Corbetts opened their boutique hotel.
If ever there was a dream setting, this is it. From the public areas; winding walkways beneath the milkwood trees; decks; and suites; the views are superb. Across the bay lies the Sentinel. Waves roll in, the air is laden with the smell of brine – so typical of the Atlantic Ocean; the sea washes over pebbles and pounds against large boulders very much like those found in the Seychelles.
What is interesting is that everything is built on elevated structures, so can easily be dismantled when the lease is up in 30 years’ time. Even the gabions (stones enmeshed in wire) which protect the buildings from the Atlantic’s stormy winter weather can be removed to restore the shoreline to how it was.
Meanwhile, all that can be seen from Chapman’s Peak Drive, above, is the roof of the presidential suite. With time, even this will be concealed. You can barely spot the road, winding steeply down to the hotel. Guests park in a special parking lot, and are ferried from there.
The large bedrooms are hedonistically appointed. The decor of each is totally different, capturing the character of the place it is named after.
Elba and Corsica show French influence; Robben Island (where I stayed) pays tribute to Nelson Mandela; Greek-style Ithaca is all indigos, whites and creams. Sicily reflects Italian style; Lamu the Kenyan coast; Saint Marie, Madagascar; Cousine, the Seychelles; Madura, Bali’s carved wood; Antigua, Caribbean blues, pinks and lemons; Zanzibar, its famous wooden doors; Princes, the Byzantine influence of a Turkish island.
Gaye played a major role in the decor. My bathroom, where the waves crashed just metres away, had a beautiful frieze made of seashells.
Throws on beds and enormous chairs added to the charm. Underfloor heating and heated towel rails kept any chill at bay.
Much thought has been put into the “Welcome” and “Sleep well” etched out in shells on the bench below my bed. Flower petals dotting the bed and strewed around the bathroom; lush plants; a heavy cell-like key to the door; a turndown at night with a tiny scroll telling a typical African story, along with a picture postcard paying tribute to the splendid surrounds; candle-lit bathroom; concealed coffee and tea caddy, with an array of items, all added character. The flat-screen TV, though, never stood a chance against the superb view, nor did the wireless connectivity; nor did I find time to take a spa treatment.
Arriving early, I spent much of the day sitting on my deck, just soaking up the atmosphere, though every so often I relocated to one of the lounges, or strolled along the walkway under the twisting milkwood tree branches, just to absorb a different aspect. Incidentally, whales, dolphins and otters are seen here, but did not oblige during my stay.
An open-plan kitchen allows guests to interact with the chef. During the course of the day the maestro discusses the dinner menu with guests. Meals are phenomenal and beautifully presented.
Dinner included interesting items such as wild mushroom and blue cheese tart served with Greek pesto and salad with black pepper vinaigrette; melon and mint sorbet; biltong-dusted kudu loin; kingklip wrapped in Parma ham, with all the trimmings; a baked cheesecake with homemade blueberry ice cream, caramelised apple, fruit chips and vanilla camomile drizzle; or a raspberry créme brûlèe with citrus sherbet, tropical fruit salad and almond tuile.
As to the formidable breakfast the next morning, I swear they had a French chef hidden in the kitchen whose sole task was to rustle up melt-in-your-mouth croissants and other pastries.
Surprisingly, there were many South Africans present, availing themselves of the winter special, along with overseas visitors smiling at the great exchange rate.
If you want to tear yourself away from all this decadence, Hout Bay harbour beckons, as does the scenic Chapman’s Peak Drive.
Just before leaving, I was given my own flat rock to cast on to the beach. It shattered in two, which meant I was allowed two wishes. No prizes for guessing what they were.