Cape Town’s Eclectic Alphen Hotel

Posted by - November 25, 2013 | Category: Hideouts

Alphen Boutique Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa

You know I’m hooked when the brochure for a hotel starts off like this:

“Buried secrets, spies, pistol duels, cross-dressers and fiddlers are just a few elements that make for the fascinating, colourful stories in the history of The Alphen.”

Although I didn’t encounter any spies (or did I?), cross-dressers or fiddlers, I did encounter what must be Cape Town’s best-kept secret. And they weren’t kidding about the colourful bit either — get a load of this “bum chair” in my room designed by Fabio Novembre. 

bum chair Fabio Novembre

Steeped in history, the Alphen grounds have at various times housed a ramshackle farm, a private estate, a winery, a string of hotels, and it’s present incarnation — a 5-star boutique hotel. 

The Alphen Hotel Cape Town South Africa

The Alphen carries an air of old money. Old money with a fantastic sense of humour. The furnishings are all antiquey high end, but peppered with whimsy at every turn. (Yes, I did just use the word “whimsy!”)

lampshade room Alphen Cape Hotel

These eccentric additions might seem out of place in some hotels, but the Alphen manages to pull it off with style — like the “Lamp Shade Room” pictured above.

dining room -- Alphen Cape Hotel

Although the site was named a national monument in 1973, the Alphen shows that history doesn’t have to be uptight.


And if you’re wondering about the cross-dresser story (and frankly, who isn’t?), it relates to the tale of one Dr. John Barry. A noted doctor and long-term guest of the hotel, Dr. Barry was the first to perform a Caesarian section in South Africa. On his deathbed, it was discovered that he was actually a woman, and had masqueraded his entire life as a man. The Alphen commissioned a portrait of him for the parlour.

Dr. John Barry portrait, Alphen Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa

The semi-abstract feel of the painting is a great metaphor for the Alphen itself — refined and proper, but still not taking itself too seriously.

One thing’s for sure, the secret’s getting out about this place. 

Note: I was a guest of the Alphen Hotel during my stay in Cape Town, South Africa.

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