Once you’ve sipped the vineyards and indulged at the landmark eateries of the Constantia Valley, don’t rush back to the city. Rather, point your hire car in the direction of the leafy Constantia greenbelts, where The Cellars-Hohenort Hotel offers an elegant escape blending fine food, stylish suites and a dash of history.
A touch of history
The Constantia vineyards are the cradle of SA’s wine industry, and The Cellars-Hohenort dates back to the earliest days of Cape winemaking. The hotel rests on what was once the Klaasenbosch estate, laid out in 1693 and granted to Hendrik ten Damme, the chief surgeon of the Dutch East India Company. Today the hotel is set on nine acres of land, its elevated position delivering superb views of both Table Mountain and the city.
Gourmands greeted the 2021 closure of The Greenhouse with shock and dismay. This was, after all, once the flagship restaurant of The Cellars-Hohenort, where Peter Tempelhoff reigned supreme for more than a decade.
But there was good news to be had too, with the arrival of Tronette Dippenaar as head chef of The Conservatory, which has upped its game to offer a casual fine-dining experience in the airy restaurant set within the hotel. Dippenaar is a veteran of the Liz McGrath Collection, having earned her stripes in kitchens at all three sister-hotels. Today she brings that experience to The Conservatory, with a menu that is refined, yet unpretentious.
“I stay true to South African cuisine, which I like to present with a modern twist,” says Dippenaar, who says growing up on a farm in the Breede River Valley “gave me a deep appreciation of produce and where it comes from.”
No surprise then that a highlight on the menu is her ‘Taste of the Overberg’, which plates three interpretations of Cap lamb alongside seasonal vegetables, black garlic and a moreish lamb jus.
The expansive property means that the rooms and suites of The Cellars-Hohenort are spread out across the estate, creating a sense of space and serenity. While the Cellars Main House offers easy access to the restaurants and bar, the historic Hohenort Manor House is perhaps the more atmospheric, with its towering sash windows and creaking staircase speaking of a century of guests who have trodden these floorboards. Whichever room or house you stay in though, there’s a suitably classical elegance to the décor: old-world with a touch of contemporary elegance. If space and privacy are important, book one of two double-story self-contained villas hidden amid the gardens.
Ah yes, the gardens. Even if you’re not a fan of flora, don’t miss the chance to meander the paths through these historic gardens. From formal parterre layouts alongside the hotel, to the fragrant rose gardens — home to more than 2,500 roses — it’s no surprise The Cellars-Hohenort is a past winner of the international Relais & Châteaux Garden Award. It’s a tapestry that changes through the year, but a constant presence is the grove of historic camphor trees. The second-oldest camphors in the country (pipped to the top spot by Vergelegen) the trees here took root more than 250 years ago, in the early days of the Cape colony. Guided tours of the gardens are available.
Arnold Spilhaus, who purchased the property in 1906, built the Hohenort — or ‘High Place’ — manor house, and today his portrait is one of numerous artworks that adorn the walls of the hotel. There are also historic etchings by his niece, Nita Spilhaus, of both Lübeck and Cape Town, as well as numerous works by local artists. But also keep a keen eye out for the many Ardmore works that decorate the hotel. The late founder Liz McGrath, was an avid collector of this world-famous ceramic arts studio, and throughout the property you’ll find striking works from these talented artists. The hotel also hosts an annual Ardmore exhibition, which in 2022 celebrated the Jabula Ceramic Collection inspired by the collaboration with storied British company Cole & Son.