One of Cape Town’s Most Luxurious Hotels Just Had a No-Expenses-Spared Renovation — and We Were Among the First to Visit

From the statement-making chandeliers to the stunning new tasting menu restaurant, grande dame Cape Grace is back in full force.

<p>Courtesy of Cape Grace</p>

Courtesy of Cape Grace

When I spent a month in Cape Town in February during the annual Art Week, I hotel-hopped around some of the city’s finest, but the one everyone in town couldn’t stop chatting about hadn’t even reopened its doors yet. When Cape Grace, a legend that’s hosted presidents and A-listers, was acquired and slated for a complete (and much-needed) renovation to become a Fairmont-managed hotel, everyone wondered how much of the grande dame’s character would be preserved. But when you enlist the help of 1508 London — the interior design studio behind the new Raffles London at The OWO, whose design has been overwhelmingly praised — you know you’re in safe hands.

When I returned in May during the hotel’s soft opening, I asked a local friend, Charl Francois Edwards, editor-in-chief of South African legacy design magazine House & Leisure, if he’d like to join me for dinner and a glance at my room — one of the twin, adjoinable waterfront penthouse suites. His first question was, “Are you staying in the same room the Clintons once did?”

<p>Courtesy of Cape Grace</p>

Courtesy of Cape Grace

Hovering on a private quay like an island between the V&A Waterfront and yacht marina, Cape Grace was one of the first hotels built in the area when it debuted nearly 30 years ago. Its ochre facade and sloped, Parisian-style mansard roofs are subtle yet form one of the most recognizable façades in the city — especially with Table Mountain as a backdrop.

“It has become synonymous with Cape Town and the V&A Waterfront,” added Edwards, who, like so many others in town, was relieved the renovation preserved this part of the hotel’s heritage. “1508 London has transformed the space into something more modern and of our time, introducing a contemporary touch while still respecting its legacy and rich — and complex — history. This is no easy feat, welcoming the new while keeping loyal regulars happy.”

When a hotel lands on Travel + Leisure’s list of top city hotels in Africa for an impressive 20-plus years, not only can it keep locals happy, but it can stand the test of time and continue to attract regulars and newcomers alike. This is especially true of its rebirth as a Fairmont.

As I stepped out onto my penthouse’s expansive terrace in time for the last sliver of sunset, I was blown away by the views — which I had seen from multiple angles, multiple times. Table Mountain never gets old, but there’s something even more magical about Cape Town when you feel like you’re floating over the water in a penthouse as spacious as a superyacht — especially when there’s a private jacuzzi on the terrace. I savored the view the rest of the weekend, waking with the sun, stepping on the bedroom’s balcony with a Nespresso, and soaking in the oversized marble tub, which — you guessed it! — opens to another balcony.

<p>Courtesy of Cape Grace</p>

Courtesy of Cape Grace

“One of the big advantages we have is location,” says South Africa-based French chef Gregory Czarnecki, who curated signature restaurant Heirloom’s new concept and tasting menu experience. “We’re in the hub of Cape Town — nothing busier than the Waterfront — yet it’s relatively quiet. For Heirloom, I wanted a clean look, something timeless, and an intimate setting.”

Formerly called Signal, the rechristened restaurant is one of the most striking parts of the hotel’s transformation. Taking a swift departure from the previous, more formal setting (18th-century furniture designs, screens used in traditional Cape Dutch homes), the airy dining room capitalizes on its location, inviting views of the water and Table Mountain to flood through arched, floor-to-ceiling windows.

Known for his “contemporary minimalist” style of cuisine, Chef Czarnecki, who spent a dozen years at Waterkloof in the Cape Winelands and was a judge on MasterChef South Africa, allows carefully sourced South African products to shine through pared-down dishes that may only feature one or two ingredients: winter truffles hail from KwaZulu-Natal, apples from the Elgin region, hake from Hout Bay, and Karoo beef from Prieska in the Northern Cape.

“In the past, [chefs] followed old rules of luxury — abundance and more and more — always asking, ‘What can we add?’” he says. “I’m the complete opposite — what can we remove? We’re showcasing the beauty of simple ingredients and specific items you can’t find anywhere else.”

And the same philosophy applies to the revitalized hotel. Read on for my full review of Cape Town’s new Cape Grace.

Cape Grace

  • Sleek, spacious rooms bring the city’s natural beauty indoors through expansive windows and balconies or terraces showing off landmarks like Table Mountain and the V&A Waterfront.

  • Artwork, like artist Galia Gluckman’s duo of statement-making lobby pieces, champion South African artists, while the sleek, tiered steel chandelier in the lobby pays tribute to 1950s Murano hand-blown smoked-glass fixtures.

  • Local favorite Library Lounge redefines the notion of a lobby bar with jewel-toned wingback chairs positioned around wall-to-wall windows, objet d’art-filled shelves, Hermès orange-colored leather Chesterfield sofas, and a tucked-away, marble-clad bar that draws a younger, stylish set.

  • Bascule Bar & Lounge combines the intimacy of a speakeasy with the sophistication of a cigar lounge featuring jazz in the backdrop and the largest whiskey selection in the Southern Hemisphere.

  • The secluded locale is quiet but within walking distance of some of the city’s top attractions, restaurants and bars, and shopping, like the recently revamped boutique Alfred Mall, anchored by African design concept shop AAFRICAA.

The Rooms

<p>Courtesy of Cape Grace</p>

Courtesy of Cape Grace

The hotel has 112 rooms and suites spread across 12 categories; the pièce de la résistance is the two-bedroom, butler-serviced Cape Grace Suite, which sprawls across 2,906 square feet (and arguably sports one of the best terraces in town, showing off a 180-degree panorama of the marina and Table Mountain). You’re guaranteed gorgeous views from French windows in all the rooms, which were previously antique-filled, colonial-inspired spaces. With the revamp, 1508 London dropped the dreary dark color palette and dated carpets in favor of soft, sophisticated touches like contemporary art, earth-toned ceramics and rugs, marble-topped tables, and mid-century modern-style, dark wood- and rattan-clad curio cabinets. You’ll find Fairmont’s signature Le Labo Rose 31 amenities, but that’s one of the sole threads (apart from the attentive service) nodding to the management brand — Cape Grace’s rooms are firmly rooted in its location: shelves are filled with mismatched books on best walks in the Cape and activist memoirs while mini-bars are expertly stocked with South African wines and fynbos scrub-infused spirits.

Food and Drink

At Heirloom, diners can opt for the traditional four- or seven-course tasting menu or choose a pescatarian or plant-based version, where seasonally shifting dishes may include seaweed tartare with lemongrass and saffron or celeriac with tomato teriyaki sauce and smoked tomato. All-day dining and afternoon tea are available at the neighboring Library Bar, where cocktails also pay tribute to the Cape with drinks (including non-alcoholic versions) like the Fynbos Bees Knees, a bright blend of gin, fynbos honey, fresh lemon, and honeycomb. The subterranean, cigar lounge-style Bascule will be the finishing touch of the hotel’s trifecta. When it reopens this summer, the locally loved bar will offer more than 400 types of whiskey, which can be sipped with tapas on the terrace or sampled during tastings.

Activities and Experiences

When I first toured the hotel in February, the weather was balmy, and I couldn’t imagine a more inviting spot to spend the day than with a glass of MCC (South African sparkling wine) on a poolside chaise longue. Spilling out from Heirloom, the sunken pool lounge and bar was initially intended to resemble a yacht deck (a nod to the hotel’s harborside location) and still maintains hints of the nautical theme in the form of sailor-striped pillows and a palette of pastels that would feel right at home in the South of France.

When the fitness center reopens, it’ll be outfitted with top-of-the-line equipment, but the beauty of a destination like Cape Town is that the city is a natural playground, offering everything from paragliding over the beaches and mountains to shark cage diving and sunrise hikes up Lion’s Head. The concierge can arrange tours and tailor-made experiences, such as a curated art tour of contemporary and traditional galleries, a family-friendly boat excursion discovering the Western Cape’s Marine Big 5, or a Jeep tour through dunes and vineyards.

The Spa

When the Fairmont Spa opens this summer, it will feature three treatment rooms, including a couple’s room with a double steam shower and a salt room, a steam room, and a sauna. The philosophy behind the spa embraces nature and sense of place, offering tailored bath rituals and guided meditation, as well as treatments working with products like Cape Town-based holistic spa brand Bellabaci.

I sampled a massage in the temporary spa suite, where I took my pick of scent (I chose a circulation-boosting mix of Cape chestnut, rosemary, cypress, juniper, bay leaf, bergamot, and cedarwood essential oils) and settled into a tailor-made, hour-long treatment that worked out the lingering kinks in my neck and shoulders from the long flight over. The wellness program Fairmont Fit is also slated to roll out at the hotel, so guests can take advantage of fitness gear delivered to their rooms and activities like guided Table Mountain hikes.

Family-friendly Offerings

Family-friendly is an understatement at Cape Grace: The hotel goes above and beyond with arrival gifts like activity packs, Africa-themed story time and crafting activities, spa treatments for tweens and teens, and tons of in-room offerings, including teepee tents, turn-down service with candy, and Xbox and PlayStation consoles. Two- and three-bedroom suites can accommodate larger groups or families traveling together, and amenities like toddler beds, bottle sterilizers, mini-bar locks, and bath toys are available on request.

Accessibility and Sustainability

The hotel has entrance ramps and three accessible guest rooms offering ramp access to the balcony, which shows off mountain views, and rail assistance around the bath (shower and bath seats are also available). Cape Grace limits single-use plastic, instead providing reusable water bottles, refillable Le Labo toiletries (dispensers are made of recycled plastic), and custom-made bamboo guest room key cards. The kitchen also focuses heavily on working with sustainable suppliers, avoiding overfished species, and sources as locally and seasonally as possible.


Tucked away on a private quay in the central V&A Waterfront, Cape Grace is an ideal base for travelers (especially first-timers) who want to feel like they’re in the heart of it all while still being removed from the touristic foot traffic dominating the busy area. It’s walking distance from the Robben Island ferry gateway, the Watershed design market, and the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, the continent’s largest contemporary African art museum. One of the more recent additions, the hip food hall Time Out Market, is right near the hotel and home to outposts of some of the city’s favorites, like Ramenhead, How Bao Now, and Culture Wine, making it easy to cross off a few Cape Town classics all in one go.

From the V&A Waterfront, you can hop on a helicopter, glide around Table Mountain and nearby beaches like Clifton and Camps Bay, or cruise the coast on a private yacht at sunset. And when you’re ready to explore more of the city (we have plenty of tips for organizing your trip in our guide here), Uber is an easy and affordable option — and you can even reserve rides to nearby areas like the Cape Winelands, which are a little over an hour away.

How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Stay

Cape Grace is managed by Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, which is part of the hospitality group Accor. Members of the loyalty program ALL - Accor Live Limitless can use points to book rooms and benefit from perks like preferential room rates, room or suite upgrades, and dining and spa rewards. Harbour View Rooms start at $950 per night, and the signature Cape Grace Suite starts at $10,000 per night.

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