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.
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 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!”)
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.
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.
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.