A Royal Flush
Some of the best stories begin with “Once upon a time”. Such a time was 1999, when Liz and Phil Biden decided to convert their holiday home in the African bush into what is now Royal Malewane. located in the Thornybush Private Game Reserve on the western border of the Kruger National Park.
This marked the beginning of The Royal Portfolio, a selection of exclusive accommodation destinations imprinted with Liz Biden’s nous- informed by her travels and involvement in the fashion business.
Royal Malewane exudes the romance and beauty of a bygone age while offering every modern comfort. Claiming to have the most qualified guiding team in Africa promises wonderful wildlife experiences, and the diverse accommodation is uber enticing.
Nearly 1200 miles/ 1900km away, is something equally enticing.
The Silo Hotel- A Great Gatsby of a Treat
Cape Town is awash with magnificent views. Mountain, sea. Harbour. More mountain. Sitting at the eleventh floor Rooftop Bar of The Silo Hotel, looking beyond the pool to a Lion’s Head so prominent that you might as well be nibbling on Nyala with Simba on Pride Rock, the mind reconciles itself with the fact that you might have finally found the ultimate sundowner spot.
The Silo Hotel is housed in a historic grain silo complex. It has been part of the landscape forever, so to give it a new identity was a tantalising prospect. It wasn’t a half job, either. The extensive use of exterior glass make it shimmer by day, and sparkle by night. From afar, it looks like a diamond-shaped Jenga monument- eye-catching to say the least, and the happy consequence of all that glass is that every room offers a unique perspective of one of the most picturesque cities in the world.
With just 28 rooms and a street reputation of some of the most expensive hotel rooms in Africa, the Silo Hotel most certainly delivers on the wow factor. It is lavish layer upon layer of luxury and relaxation.
Liz Biden took it upon herself to meticulously decorate each room. That considered individual touch is immediately noticeable and you sense the great deal of fun she had, with splashes of colour and wit around each corner, with a concerted effort to pay homage to what this great building once was as uncompromising steel meets delicate glass in a fusion that is very easy on the eye.
Most pleasantly for the traveller who returns from a day of wine tasting or perhaps hiking up one of the mountains, significant attention has been given to the bathroom experience. Each room has a soaking tub that looks out to something phenomenal, and demands that guests slip in and forget themselves for an hour or so.
The rooms are listed according to six categories, defined by room size and the views they afford. The Royal Suite and the stand-alone Penthouse are, naturally, in a league of their own.
Our duplex suite had the most wonderful waterfront views. The lounge area was vast enough to almost pass as another bedroom, with a well-stocked mini bar that was just asking for trouble.
Decadence at the Granary
The brasserie – style Granary Café delivers decadence by the bite. It’s setting, on the sixth floor, provides uninterrupted views across the city and harbour and the double volume ceilings help to create an air of privacy for each table.
The menu takes inspiration from its surroundings, with some truly exquisite seafood offerings. The delicately treated langoustine starter will linger long in the memory. The quail starter my partner chose smelt divine, and was generous enough to almost be a main dish.
The entrées were phenomenal. A Springbok loin and a magnificent rib eye, flamed to perfection, and paired with the velvety house red. There simply was no logical room for dessert, but the chef still insisted on sending a chocolate tower to share.
If you haven’t over extended yourself the night before, breakfast simply has to be the harvest table, which looked a nibbler’s delight. Sensibly, I plumped for the daintier house pancakes, with summer berries and fresh yoghurt.
Charisma with a Conscience
The Silo Hotel goes beyond fine dining and endless views, though there are more intimate dining rooms. And another wonderful bar, a library and gym. The intimate spa is neatly tucked away and, though the hotel is above the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, it also has its own private gallery, showcasing the very best of South African talent and creativity.
As Nick Carraway opined in The Great Gatsby, there are careless people in the world, who smash up things and creatures, and then retreat back to their money or their vast carelessness.
That is most assuredly not the case here. The Biden Family have creatively reimagined and reinvigorated a piece of Cape architectural history, and there is a considerable amount of perspective behind the Silo Hotel, and the other accommodation jewels on the roster.
The Royal Portfolio Foundation, managed by Ali McAdam, Liz and Phil’s daughter, provides regular support to communities close to each property. They raise awareness on conservation and, in the midst of the pandemic, provided relief to communities in need.
Reside a While
It is in the mountainous magnificence of the tranquil Franschhoek Valley, just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town, that La Residence nestles- surrounded by premium wine country, with the stylish little town of Franschhoek at its heart.
La Residence hosts you in a grand villa. The forecourt with a gurgling sculpture adorned fountain directs you through lofty glass doors into an even loftier hall- at once lobby, with, to one side an elegant salon and the other a beautiful dining room. The fragrance of opulent flowers welcomes you.
An Impeccable Heart
Refreshments are enjoyed on the terrace from where glorious views unfold. La Residence’s heart is an inner garden with impeccably manicured lawns fringed with perfumed shrubs and shaded by an avenue of regal palms leading to a marble edged pool. Beyond stretch yet more rose and jasmine scented gardens, inviting one to explore the expansive grounds and views across orchards and vineyards dotted with historic Cape Dutch homesteads, whence the grapes that produce the group’s fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Rose are harvested.
Debonair GM Edward Morton took our conversation to warm remembrances of developing the property. “The vision has always belonged to Liz,” he says, “from the structure, the garden layout, to the interiors.”
My flower filled Tibetan Suite’s large balcony faced north across the gardens. It is lavishly proportioned, with the rooms exotically appointed in brilliant oriental orange silk draperies and deeply upholstered furniture. Large Tibetan ancestor portraits decorate the walls, lit by sparkling chandeliers sourced on journeys across the Indian subcontinent.
An elegantly proportioned oriental armoire houses a well-stocked minibar, snacks and NESPRESSO machine. The slightly larger Superior Suites offer a more complete ‘wet’ bar with a comfortable dining area, should you wish to take your meals privately.
The marble floored bathroom forms a natural extension to the bedroom, with an oversized bath tub flanked by Chinoiserie vanities and tall mirrors. The large walk-in shower and WC are discreetly tucked behind spacious his and hers wardrobes.
The estate is also home to a series of impeccably appointed vineyard suites.
Sundowners are enjoyed in the elegant loggia, with views across rolling lawns where peacocks strut and call toward beautiful wooded gardens and distant mountains. A romantically furnished summerhouse faces the lake with its willow dressed island. Flowering jacarandas (gifted by Elton John) frame the sunset view.
Dinner is taken in the vast hall. A table in the sunken lounge at the far end seats a honeymoon couple, who seek only the company of each other and a flaming log fire. A highly lacquered coral pink boudoir grand discreetly keeps an eye.
At the opposite end, an open plan kitchen allows guests to enjoy a fine Chef’s Table prepared in their presence. Banter flies back and forth from a jovial group. They fall silent. Clearly dinner has been served.
Our table was set close to another fireplace, lit to take the chill off the evening. We enjoyed a bottle of elegantly pink La Residence Rose Shiraz, fragrant with lingering rose petals and Turkish delight, from the comprehensive wine list.
The menu offers three choices each as starter, main course and dessert. We plumped for roasted baby beetroot with salad fresh from the hotel’s kitchen garden, lightly dressed and topped with toasted walnuts and brie. Also, Thai inspired seared tuna on a julienne of vegetables topped with avocado, sesame seeds and delicately dressed with a soy and ginger reduction. Our waiter offered us each a tiny taste of the soup. Carrot and coconut. Heaven!
As mains; pan fried Yellowtail with a sweet pomme puree, confit tomato and courgettes and cucumber and tomato salsa or thyme baked baby chicken with herbed new potatoes, baby carrots and mangetout. This deliciously accompanied with a densely flavoured mushroom jus.
The prize for dish of the evening went to that which we never ordered, but certainly sampled. Sautéed pea tagliatelle, sundried tomato, green beans, shaved parmesan and basil pesto crème. Top marks!
The meal ends with a choice of chocolate fondant, chocolate crumble with blueberries and ice cream or a selection of sorbet and a Macadamia nut ice cream. The cheese board was beyond us.
And so to percale, surely to dream. The vast bed is impeccably made up with crisply ironed bed clothes of cotton sateen and pure linen. Thanks Ralph Lauren, fluffy pillows and sleep.
After an indulgent morning soak, breakfast on the veranda. The menu features interesting twists on breakfast classics. Eggs Benedict: here with maple glazed ham on toasted sourdough bread- the hollandaise infused with smoked paprika, the perfectly poached farm eggs zested with thinly sliced radish. Or, poached egg, roasted chick peas, feta with dukkah spiced butternut, crispy bacon and rocket.
A Whale of a Time
A drive over the mountain passes and up the coast takes one to chic and intimate Birkenhead House (named after HMS Birkenhead which sank along this treacherous but beautiful coastline) in Hermanus, with its exhilarating cliff-top position overlooking the whale watching paradise of Walker Bay.
One could take in all the Biden properties as a package deal. The good news for South African residents are the special discounted rates on offer until the end of April.
Find out more here.