Cape Town’s Victoria & Alfred Waterfront is a curious place. In the curated collection of restaurants, retail and entertainment it is something of an artificial creation. And yet in the busy dry dock, passing tugs and bellowing harbour horns it remains very much a working harbour, an authentic link to the city’s very foundation. And besides, the 24-million punters who pass through here each year can’t be wrong about its charms, can they?
But turn the clock back to 1990 and the Waterfront was a very different place. The docklands development was in its infancy. There was no Zeitz MOCAA. No Cape Wheel. No waterside fine dining. No Robben Island experience. But what was there, set right on the quayside in a warehouse built in 1904, was the Victoria & Alfred Hotel.
It was the first hotel to open in the Waterfront, a precinct that is now home to some of the most storied names in hospitality. And while tastes change, and fashions ebb and flow, the Victoria & Alfred Hotel has quietly, and somewhat remarkably, kept on going.
A little like the Belgian restaurant Den Anker, just around the pier head, it has proven to be a permanent fixture of a precinct forever in flux. It’s a classic that has slowly evolved through more than three decades, tweaking and adapting and upgrading as needed, but without ever losing its soul. And just as Den Anker still draws a loyal following for its impressive pots of moules marinières, the unbeatable location of the Victoria & Alfred Hotel’s 94 rooms brings savvy tourists back year after year.
And this year there’s another reason to visit, after a comprehensive refurbishment of 64 rooms and suites, facing both the mountain — beyond impressive harbour and city views — and the Waterfront’s main piazza.
Guided by Francois du Plessis Interiors it has brought a more contemporary look and feel to the property, with muted tones and natural textures emphasising a sense of space and natural light. There’s certainly no shortage of that in the rooms, through sliding windows that beg you to lean out for a better sea view. Gone are the dark leather headboards, replaced by a colour palette of Scandi-style blonde wood tones and textured walls.
There’s a welcome focus on new tech too, in the shape of smart TVs and lightning-fast Wi-Fi. And let’s give a round of applause for installing those USB-C ports in all hotel rooms, shall we? It’s a step up that’s made the hotel as solid an address for business travellers as leisure tourists simply looking to have the Waterfront on their doorstep. And its location is certainly at the heart of it all, with the new Time Out Market Cape Town (opening in October) just steps away, and the re-energised Alfred Mall just across from reception. Don’t miss a visit to the Hannah Lavery boutique for locallymade longevity-focused fashion.
The hotel’s public areas have also been refreshed, from new lighting and artworks in the hallways, to the light-filled reception area which was overhauled last year. Steps away, the hotel restaurant Ginja draws a constant crowd thanks to its terrace tables dishing up some of the best views the Waterfront has to offer. Ginja is also getting in on Cape Town’s summer brunch obsession, with the launch of a new Sunday Brunch offering, encouraging you to settle in for four hours of waterside indulgence.
But beyond the seaside locale and sleek new look, there’s another excellent reason to choose the Victoria & Alfred Hotel. Because it’s part of the Newmark Hotels portfolio, hotel guests also enjoy access to the exclusive lawns and private pool area at the Dock House Boutique Hotel.
Surely one of Cape Town’s best-kept secrets, the clipped lawns and sparkling pool are set beneath the harbour’s original Time-Ball Tower, and in front of what was originally the Harbour Master’s private residence. It’s a gloriously private space, with the bustle of the V&A below and fine views of both mountain and sea. There are sun loungers for lazy days, and a chic pool bar pouring craft beer, Cape wines and an impressive cocktail menu. If you’re looking for a place to call home this summer, this might just be it.