Cape Town - You have to feel for the cuzzies in Cape Town.
While they may have the world-class mountain and coastal scenery that make St Tropez blush with envy, and passes I’ve no doubt James Dean wishes he’d got to try in his Speedster, they also have some pretty dodgy winters.
Call it the law of balance or Mother Nature’s sense of humour, or what we smug Gautengers call it - retribution. And grumpy that winter certainly is. While the rest of the country gets a postcard-perfect prescription from Jack Frost, with the occasional dive-for-cover cold spell, the Cape Peninsula gets that and wetness to give it an especially bitter flavour.
Which is why it’s no surprise this favoured international destination’s tourism numbers get a severe case of flu towards the middle of the year. And that, if you ask me, is where the creativity in the hospitality industry kicks in - with five-star establishments proving that cosy can be as attractive as outdoor adventure.
The One&Only, which has a soft spot with South Africans, thanks to its home-grown founder, Sol Kerzner, is one such example.
Set on the V&A Waterfront, it has an enviable location, but unlike other global luxury hotel brands that throw money and not much else at their properties, the One&Only seems to slow things down a little, offering that personal touch. Which, with my luck when travelling, does come in handy.
Without going into too much detail on the merits of our national carrier or the cleverness of the Airports Company of SA, let’s just say my bag gathered the equivalent Voyager miles of a return trip to London on its trip from Jozi to the Mother City. Luckily - and no surprise, I guess - the concierge at the One&Only said this was a regular occurrence, and assured me my only challenge would be getting my sugar levels through afternoon tea - as they would sort the rest. And they did.
Which brings me to an interesting fact I discovered while my Glucophage tablets waged war on every cupcake (and a pastry with a gold-leaf topping) you could imagine.
Did you know afternoon tea was created by Anna Maria Russell, Duchess of Bedford and a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria?
Legend has it that noon meals in those days were a little on the lean side, and the duchess was lenient in allowing staff to sneak her the odd pot of tea and “breadstuff” in the late afternoon. She would spread the love by including her nearest and dearest at Belvoir Castle, starting what dietitians must consider their nemesis.
Doctors or no doctors, at the One&Only it’s an utterly decadent affair, especially with Table Mountain in full sprawl across the two-storey-high windows in the lounge area.
It’s even more decadent with that warm cup in your hand, while that mountain holds on to its undergarments as the southeasterly throws its 20th tantrum of the day. Not to mention that I counted no fewer than 25 flavours of the queen’s finest on offer, everything from Strawberry Vanilla Rooibos to Darjeeling.
That feeling of wintry warmth flows through the luxury lodgings. Sure, the carpets are soft and the air con keeps things toasty, but, again, the views from the rooms are picture-perfect, the balconies (when that gusty guest gives you a gap) are worth a coffee moment, and the little lounge suite to chill with a book slows life down a little.
Adding their bits of friendliness are the sleep, soak and smell menus - which let you choose everything from pillow firmness to bath salts, to even the smell of your room - while the hotbox warmer trolley that comes with your room service and keeps your food warm is another nice touch. The Table Mountain-shaped pillow choccies will also be adored by those with a passport in the room safe.
And as any pukka South African will tell you, winter is as much about the food as it is about staying warm. Fire in the belly, as some say.
Sorting these cravings are three key choices for One&Only guests.
There’s Reubens, overseen by celebrity chef Reuben Riffel and offering a South African take on its dishes.
There’s Nobu, with its distinctly Japanese menu and distinct flavours that explode in your mouth.
And there’s Isola, a club-styled poolside restaurant that offers its own take on winter fare. Isola, though nowhere near as elaborate in its menu or layout as its siblings, provided a winter culinary experience I can’t say I’ve had before.
Order the main course fondue for two, in your choice of meat, seafood, or vegetarian, and you get platters of raw ingredients for a fun hour of creation. Grab your set of skewers, load on your preferences, dip them in the hot oil (you get a little flame-powered deep fryer on your table) and you’re sorted. It’s a great wintry thing to watch your spoils bubble in glowing oil, over long afternoon chats about nothing, with birds scuttling for cover outside.
Can the Cape work as a winter getaway? I think so. As much as we Vaalies hate to admit it, perhaps there is a softer and friendlier side to the Cape when the weather exits left.
But the secret to finding it is not in that mountain or those roads, it’s in hotels like the One&Only that have cool summer and warm winter personalities.
The One&Only is a favoured destination for international visitors to the Mother City, and it is easy to see why.