It's quite a surprise, the secluded atmosphere this 7-suite lifestyle hotel creates smack bang in the centre of Cape Town's busy CBD and within walking distance from Parliament and the Company Gardens - not forgetting the City Hall and the Grand Parade.
It’s the first Thursday of November and I’m sprawled out like a cat on the dark turquoise, velvet couch in suite 304 of Labotessa.
Somewhat secretly positioned on Church Square, this former 17th-century building has been transformed into a lux boutique hotel, valued at about R100m - and rooted in priceless heritage.
The sunlight streams in through my suite window with Lion’s Head peeking out in the distance. This is one of six suites all with their own elevator access, and the spacious Governor’s Penthouse Suite on the 5th floor completing the offering that can easily be described as a home away from home for its bespoke clientele.
The click-tick-click-tick of my laptop keeps time as the sunlight inches rhythmically across the room – creating beautiful silhouettes while warming in the most delightful way. A space for work and play. Lifestyle living indeed.
I’m soon informed co-owner Johan Du Plessis has arrived. He’s late. But not deliberately tardy. He’s just come back from the airport to collect guests. I soon discover this is part and parcel of the hotelier who has successfully opened numerous hotels across Europe, while working with the Hyatt group.
Hands on and cemented in the goal of creating an exceptional experience for all guests who check in. He’s been in the office so to speak since 07:00am – when he and the hotel staff usually have their first barista-made coffee for the day.
It’s now almost 19:00pm as we sit down for our interview in Starlings, the hotel’s in-house café.
So what exactly was the inspiration behind starting Hotel Labotessa, I want to know?
“Like anything in life you want to have your own car or house, or have your own family.”
When this property became available about 13 years ago, Johan credits his childhood friend and business partner Jan Fourie who now lives in the US, with finding the building that has enabled them to fulfil a vision of creating this hotel back home.
“We grew up together on the farm in Free State, his parents and my parents were neighbouring farming families. As friends, me the hotelier and him the global businessman and medical doctor – he always said he wanted to open a hotel, and so it came together.”
And being one of the oldest buildings in Cape Town, the Labotessa team have had a considerable amount of hoops to jump for planning and permit approvals – in fact dragging out the initial start-up process to almost five year.
And the name?
"The name just popped up over conversations, wine and fun," explains Johan.
"We are very much connected in the sense that we know what we want and we know what luxury is but in very different ways. We have a very international outlook in terms of service and location. Cape Town is a beautiful city and leans towards that, beautiful buildings, museums, parks and company gardens. The City needs something like this.
So what's unique about the city living offering? According to Johan, they're entirely immersed in it.
“Lifestyle brands are very new in South Africa. A lifestyle experience is about bringing different people around one table. They can be young, you can be 20 or somebody can be 50 - but the enjoyment of a certain type of lifestyle remains the same. It’s a lifestyle that we follow or cherish. We want to travel and we want to stay and experience different things, whether that be as simple as sitting around a table enjoying a glass of wine or a cup of coffee. Just being able to enjoy it, that’s what we want to deliver here.”
Johan says at Labotessa they want to break that hospitality barrier. But what does that mean exactly?
"It's not about breaking the service barrier, but the barrier of a hotel being fancy and you need to dress up or the concept that in a cheap hotel you can do whatever you want, or that a business hotel only caters for conferencing.
"There is nothing wrong with that and there will always be a market for that, but we just felt through what we've seen, sometimes these service models can be out of date."
Johan elaborates on how his staff are looking to amplify the authenticity of the local expert.
"Just sharing my secret coffee shop around the corner, that's true service because I tell you about what's really local and share my real experiences."
With opening rates at just below R6k and slightly lower than usual, Johan says as an experienced hotelier there is only so much an establishment can charge for a quality bed, linen and amenities before the overall value of the experience is depleted.
Johan says he was brought up to understand quality is everything.
"You buy once, and if you can afford it you buy quality so you don't have to buy it a second time. We've chosen a five-star luxury experience, so of course you can't go cheap. There are certain things we were grinding our teeth when we saw the pricing and we thought should we wait for a year or two to upgrade. But we said no."
And it can be seen in each of the suites from the rich French oak floors, Persian rugs to the Le Creuset crockery in the self-contained and beautifully appointed self-catering units in each. And the Diptygue signature products in the bathroom are also available in the on-site perfumery boutique, which carries other top international brands too.
Labotessa aims to ensure quality and attention to detail extends to every aspect of the stay from the concierge service and complimentary daily newspapers and Wi-Fi, to valet parking and luxury transfers. In as much as the hotel bridges the past and present, it balances the comforts of home with the best of luxury hotel living.
So a R100m investment not to be sniffed at.
"We want to put something back into Cape Town, history, improving the city experience then we think we've done the right thing. This property will stay here for a long time, even after we're not here anymore. We came back to where the city has started and I think we need to continue with that."
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