Drinks in Half Ounces, Service in Full

Cape Town, South Africa – My 11-hour KLM flight from Amsterdam had landed on a soft, rainy night, and an hour later I was ensconced in an easy chair in the library of the Cape Grace Hotel, where I immediately learned that in South Africa the drinks run half an ounce, so “a large one” is what you want – a whole ounce. One side of the hotel faces a marina filled with fine boats, and on the other you see what a good job they’ve done on re-development of the Victoria & Albert Waterfront. Besides all the shops, restaurants and entertainment, they’ve managed to leave this piece of harbor as a working fishing port, and the view is of commercial fishing boats in dry dock, nets being mended and hulls being scrubbed. Warms the heart of an ocean kid like me. Smells like sea and fish.

I had a large, luxuriously furnished room with a mountain view (think Table Mountain, as on the postcards) and fine service. The room rate includes a full breakfast, though what I liked best was Melissa’s crunchy chocolate chip cookies in the mini-bar and the selection of books in the room. Unfortunately, the hotel’s well-known One Waterfront restaurant has some problems in its kitchen and would be hard to recommend these days.

Once I found that out, I walked over to The Showroom, a contemporary place run by Chris Robertson, who used to be at One Waterfront, and whose food is the best, even if it does get a bit complicated. You walk in to a collage of whites in front of a show window, beyond which is a handful of glittering Lamborghinis. When you’ve recovered from the sparkle, think prawn poppers and monkfish medallions with scallop liver, spider crab broth, duck tagine and shank of springbok (antelope).

But Cape Town is a good city in which to walk off those calories, and the hike up Table Mountain is an even better way to do that. Another day I hiked over the hill through high-end residential neighborhoods to explore the beaches and bistros of Camp’s Bay – yes, you can do both at the same time – where the Atlantic comes rolling in and the surfers make their way through the rocks and kelp beds out to the breakers.

Downtown, Long Street is a casual shopper’s paradise during the day and noisy, fun blocks of bars and live music at night. So even though I had loved being at the Cape Grace, I had to try the Grand Old Lady, the Mount Nelson, owned by Orient Express Hotels, the very same company that is working these days to spruce up and reopen El Encanto Hotel. From there it’s a short walk over to Long Street, and to the botanic gardens, the classic parliament buildings and the museums.

The colonial-style “Nellie” is on the edge of downtown, and even if my smallish room didn’t meet Cape Grace standards, and lacked a view, in its sunshiny restaurant overlooking the luscious gardens I ate the best eggs benedict I’ve ever had and, in the evening, with a jazz duo in the background, an impeccably served, spicy seafood curry dinner.

Staying there

Mount Nelson Hotel, doubles (including breakfast) $556-$979 (seasonal), 800 237-1236, www.orient-express.com; Cape Grace Hotel, doubles (including breakfast) $500-$600 (seasonal), Leading Hotels of the World, 800-223-6800, www.Capegrace.com.