News & Reviews Africa South Africa Review: Ellerman House, Cape Town

There is little point you reading this review.  Just know that wherever you are right now, Ellerman House is definitely as good, and almost certainly better.  Yes, even if you’re reading this whilst hiding under Angelina Jolie’s bed.  Save yourself listening to my ramblings and just make a booking now.


We hardly spoke to them.  Why bother?  They would have known what we wanted, before even I did.

Getting there

The ol’ classic: 30 minutes away from Cape Town International airport.  Providing there’s no traffic.  Of course there is traffic, this is 2017 when even your pet hamster drives his own car.  So turn that into 60 minutes instead.  Not to worry, it turns out the drivers are all required to go on every tour, once every three years, to understand and discuss them in depth with guests.  So our driver was like Yoda of Cape Town, just with better training and an understanding of grammar.

After playing a game of “spot the traffic jam”, that ended in a draw of 753 points each, we arrived at Ellerman House and received one of the most genuine and warm welcomes I’ve ever had from the GM and one of the Duty Managers.  Yes, even warmer than the goodbye I receive from my parents-in-law.


Ellerman House is a 15 minute car drive from the city centre, on the slopes of Lion’s Head, in a purely residential part of the city.  You could drive past Ellerman House without any idea of what exists beyond that subtle gate and security checkpoint.  It’s like a hidden oasis within the desert.  Even when you drive in up to the door, it’s still got all the charm of a recently euthanised bulldog.  Yet once you open the front door, it’s like being transported into Narnia – so extreme are the differences of your surroundings.  No longer are your eyes occupied with the gated houses and grey buildings, but instead transfixed on the beauty that is the Atlantic Ocean, lush green gardens and modern and classic design elegantly mixed.

Having previously been the home of – wouldyabelieve it – Sir John and Lady Ellerman, it manages to maintain the absolute feeling of being inside of a home.  Many hotels speak of this, yet Ellerman may be the only one that I’ve felt truly delivers on it.  There is no request for a credit card or passport on arrival; there is never a moment you need your key on you, as you can leave it on a pot by the door; there is no reason to ever get dressed, as this is your home.  Probably.

Park Hotel Vitznau does not allow non-residents access to the spa; Ellerman House does not allow non-residents access to anything.  There is total privacy and focus on the hotel guests.  And just like many Swiss hotels, it is privately owned by someone with a real love of art, and an apparent complete lack of care about money.  I even got to meet him, which I’m sure was a moment in his life that he will treasure forever.

Next time we’ll be chillin’ by the pool, telling old war stories.

Stay List

Perfection.  And then some.  With a hint of extra sublime on top.  When I arrive at a hotel and realise there is too much food to scoff during my stay, for the first time, it is me who has failed the hotel.

Everything we requested was included, yet they added the extra touches beyond that.

  • A proper shaving kit so my face doesn’t look like a drunken night out with Zorro.
  • Organic toiletries, which are harder to find in South Africa than a missing Malaysian plane.
  • Bedside tables setup with the requested drinks, showing an intimate knowledge of our preferences, including that I do not drink.

A lot is already included in the Ellerman House rates, yet they still went above and beyond that.  Were I not bothered by stealing, I would write it, but I’m not, so here are their own words.

  • Fully inclusive breakfast
  • Fully stocked in-room and snack drawer with our selection of luxury brands
  • All beverages, including spirits and beer (excluding wine and Champagne)
  • Daily sunset cocktails and canapés
  • Laundry packed in tissue paper
  • 24h Guest Pantry stocked with in-between meal options
  • Return airport transfers

Welcome gifts


No two rooms are alike, which is handy, as it allows me to know we had the best room.  There are two House Suites: one I stayed in, and the other I did not.  If you like spectacular ocean views from your living room, whilst knowing you breathed the same air as I did, you should stay in room #7.  If you hate your wife and watch repeats of Colombo to work out how to rid of her, you should stay elsewhere.

Living room

That view…

Room #7 has such excellent privacy as it is on the top floor and is only accessible via a private staircase that leads up to the lounge, with glass doors and balcony offering maybe the best view I’ve ever had the privilege to experience in a hotel room.  Next door is the bedroom, bathroom, study area and many, many wardrobes.  The bathrooms are all new, with complimentary notes regarding the water shortage in place in Cape Town, meaning they ask if you want your bed sheets or towels cleaned, rather than doing it by default.  Well, guess what?  Not once did we ask, as I’m Mr. Goddamn Greenpeace now.  I high five orcas for lunch and dry hump trees for dinner, all whilst traveling in zero emission vehicles powered by the smiles of polar bears.  I will save your country, one towel at a time.

Clean towels ahoy!

Even better, it is very close to the pantry, a room dedicated to free junk food.  It is like they made this hotel for me.

I will not lie: the room was my least favourite part of Ellerman House, yet it was still bloody brilliant.  It’s just in need of a quick face lift.  Take the TV for instance; it’s so far away from the sofa, and so small, that I needed binoculars to watch it.  It’s three times smaller and twice the distance that the one in my bedroom.  Size is not everything, ladies, but there comes a point.  Then there was the rattling of the doors at night due to the wind, albeit one that was promptly fixed when we mentioned it.  The toilet can only be flushed if you hold down the button, rather than just pushing it.  C’mon, I’m busy here!  Ok, I’m now scraping the barrel/toilet of issues, as really there was little to complain about.  Can I at least blame them for the weather?  What about having to sometimes use a physical key?  Or that we slept so well that we often overslept?

Stair case


There was construction taking place on the property in front during our stay, but this is due to finish very soon.  Ellerman House were also very, very clear on this prior to arrival, so even though it did disturb us once at 8am, it did not come as a surprise and it was not something they had control over.  It just happened the one day we woke up early – as is customary in Africa – the Internet was down for more than 3 hours.  I would have been worried had it not happened.  If the Internet is perpetually working, the four horseman are nearby.

  • Pantry – a childs/hotel reviewers wet dream
  • Two lounges
  • Library
  • Bar
  • Gym
  • Pool
  • Multiple outdoor terraces
  • Wine gallery
  • Brandy lounge
  • Art gallery



The ultra modern spa houses two rooms, which you can either book separately, or booked exclusively by one of the two villas that Ellerman House also offer.  Each room is either side of the outdoor, solar heated pool.  Which of course was heated to something obscene like 24C, which would require me to permanent wet myself in order to warm up.  The staff would probably offer to do it for me, but that could get awkward.

Inside you have a sauna, steam room and an experience shower that everyone seemed keen for us to try.  My experience was that the sudden changes in temperature gave me a headache.  I guess even in heaven it sometimes rains.  I would, of course, want some upgrades here: a jacuzzi and a heated pool, and I would be a happy camper.

My partner had a facial and massage, both ending in the massage therapist hugging her, because Ellerman House loves you more than your parents.  Go on, ask your parents and they’ll agree.  Both treatments also were supposed to be 90 minutes, yet lasted almost 2 hours, and have now set the benchmark for what are considered the best in luxury spa treatments.  I cannot describe accurately my partners words regarding her love for the treatments, but will just let you know that she has not let me touch her since, as apparently I have too girly and useless hands.

Spa waiting area and outside pool


The hotel contains a lot of art.  There’s even an art gallery that they were very keen for us to see.  Yet being told what to do only makes us stronger in our efforts not to do it.  Instead, we decided to go see the penguins.  And some wine tasting.  And some superb restaurants.  And visit One & Only and the newly opened The Silo.  Yet the best was saved for first: great white shark cage diving on a private boat.  It has been a childhood dream of mine to see these oceanic beasts.  And that we did.  For about 5 seconds.  Those damn orcas that I looked after so well had been eating the poor, cuddly sharks, so they went camera shy, for, ya know, mere fear of death.  Amateurs.

For all of these activities, you can book a driver for 4 or 8 hours to always be with you.  So we did, and I can be certain it was a lot better than taking the bus.


Were it not for my freakish love of biltong, I would have killed the Ellerman House chef with stress from the hours I would have asked them all to work.  The food was excellent quality and a prime example of the superb food that you will find in South Africa.  Although we were out a lot during the day, we still made sure to have dinner every night at Ellerman House.  To keep it interesting, the locally sourced menu changes every day, even down to different canapés and amuse bouche.  The options were not always substantial, either breakfast with its small buffet and a la carte offering, or dinner with the few courses per option, but they did serve ostrich, so all is forgiven.  It was our first time trying ostrich and chances are that your children will now never get a chance to even see one, as we may have caused them to go extinct from overeating.

What pleased me the most were the prices.  Aman was always a hotel chain that stood out for their reasonable prices, even if the room prices were anything but.  That has changed now, with our recent stay in Amanzoe offering Mayfair prices in the middle-of-nowhere in Greece.  Ellerman House, and South Africa in general, seems to have comically low food prices.  Dinners would never get close to £100 for two, including drinks, and 20% tip.  Everything tastes better when it’s cheap.

The only downside to this cheap, delicious food was the length of time it took to receive it.  All good things come to those who wait?  The person who said that clearly was not into luxury hotels.  One evening we had already eaten a 9 course lunch, so rolled the dice and went all in on some soup and Cornflakes for dinner, because I am still 5.  It took 30 minutes to arrive.  This was not a one-off event either.  The hotel is small, so the kitchen is small – I’m a reasonable man, so I get it, but no man should have to wait more than 3 minutes for his cereal.

A rare thing: a meal that lasted long enough for me to photograph it


Placed at the hotel entrance, a computer rotates through black and white photos of the staff.  It is the opposite of the Most Wanted list.  If the FBI did “Most Caring” list, I think this would be the line-up.

It is rare I individually comment on staff in my reviews, yet Vanessa, one of the Duty Managers, deserves to be highlighted.  I hope her bonus is related to how many positive reviews she receives.  I also hope she’s feeling generous this Christmas and remembers who gave her the most praise.  As a self-proclaimed mess of a human being, my point of view may not hold dearly, but I believe that we should put Vanessa on a cross and crucify her.  No, I mean celebrate her.  The purpose of Christianity always confuses me.  Just a few people can make or break a hotel and here Vanessa made it for us.  She is the Gandhi of hospitality and will likely be the next leader of the free world.

It is not just Vanessa though.  It is clear that the staff absolutely love this property.  I felt it from the moment we arrived.  I felt it with every interaction, where every thought and action was beyond the expected.  We felt so much love from all of the staff. Ellerman House won me over with the staff, yet they offered a hard product to match it.  Often service this good is due to knowing you are lacking in other areas, but that is not the case at Ellerman House.

The hierarchy consists of 3 Duty Managers, all in charge of different departments, and all brilliant in the art of customer service.  Here are just a few examples of the brilliant service we received:

  • Vanessa bringing along motion sickness pills the night before our shark cage dive
  • Snacks and drinks provided before getting into the car to go out for the day
  • Restaurants booked for us, without even asking, just in case we wanted them
  • Constant suggestions of activities we may enjoy
  • When we wanted to go see the One&Only and the Silo, Vanessa called the hotels in order to have senior management greet us on arrival.
  • My favourite snacks from the pantry made their way permanently into our room
  • The knowledge and insight from our driver

The only improvement I would like to see is the removal of signing for everything.  It’s a pet hate of mine to have to do it, and being only limited to 13 rooms, it would be easy to remove and keep track.

Wine. Lots and lots of it.


There was laughter, tears and sorrow. And I’m just on about our driver.  He’ll miss us.

Vanessa, of course, was present to say goodbye, and once again provide a whole series of snacks for our traffic-free journey to the airport.

Worth Knowing

There is a very weird tipping system in place, that is described in one of the rooms material.  You tip waiters and spa as you go along, then can offer an extra tip at the end of a recommended 15%, yet how is it supposed to be calculated?  You’re only meant to pay a service charge on the incidentals, and excluding the driver, I cannot think of any other charges, so the final tip ends up being about $5.  It would make more sense to just offer a tip at the end for the entire amount.

Brandy lounge

The Good

  • Serene setting with extraordinary views
  • Great facilities for such a small property

The Bad

  • Wasting my time reading Wikipedia articles to discover human cloning is not possible.  Goodbye, Vanessa!

The Luxurious

  • Phenomenal service
  • Dedication to just hotel guests


My favourite properties this year have all been surprises.  Just like jumping out on innocent bystanders whilst wearing a Scream mask, surprises are always fun.  This trip to Africa was not for Ellerman House, it was for Miavana and Singita Lebombo/Sweni.  Ellerman House was only added as it felt appropriate in traveling so far to spend some time in Cape Town.  Ok, you got me, it was due to wanting to see the great white sharks.  Whilst the memories and the experiences of Singita are unbeatable, the best luxury hotel was easily Ellerman House – it delivered an absolute world class experience.

The service at this hotel is amongst the best I’ve ever experienced, and it exists amongst not just a few members of staff, but all of them. I would rank the service better than any Aman I’ve ever stayed, and closing competing with Iniala.

I will definitely return.

Ellerman House

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Tom Cahalan

Written by Tom Cahalan on 26th Sep '17

Dorsia Travel’s co-founder Tom Cahalan’s take on travel is reliably candid. Here’s his take on what’s good, bad, and luxurious.

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