Cape Town Hotel: Labotessa

WORDS Steve Smith PHOTOS Jan Ras

Tucked away on a cobbled city square, a heritage building in Cape Town has been transformed into Labotessa – an understated and elegant lifestyle hotel.

There’s a space-time portal in Cape Town. It’s at the corner of Bureau and Parliament Streets. Drive up Adderley, past the Groote Kerk, take a left into Bureau… and suddenly you’re in a small corner of another city. It’s a Parisian vista – a quiet little cobbled square overseen by an imposing multi-gabled, granite building and flanked by three more classically elegant structures. Mercifully free of parked cars, there are people sitting on benches enjoying the last rays of spring sunshine and, outside a hotel, a few more taking their afternoon tea. This is Church Square – one of Cape Town’s quiet little gems and home to Labotessa, a new type of hotel in the Mother City.

The mezzanine level in the entrance hall features more LEON at CCIXX custom furniture, with a bookcase by MSM Kitchens and a cement-mould replace that’s been locally made to replicate a 17th-century French design. The Persian rug is sourced from Tirmah Interiors.

Its proprietors are Johan du Plessis and Jan Fourie, two lifelong friends whose successful careers took them far away from the neighbouring Free State farms they grew up on. Jan, a global citizen residing in North America, Europe and Cape Town, is a doctor, businessman and philanthropist, while Johan is a hotelier who has opened and run hotels quite literally across the globe – from Los Angeles, through Europe, to Tokyo and Shanghai.

In size and appearance, Labotessa might appear to be a boutique hotel – there are six front-facing suites and a penthouse – but Johan is clear that it extends to something more. “Particularly here in South Africa, I think we get stuck on the idea of boutique hotels. In terms of size, yes we may be, but we’re aiming at the lifestyle traveller. And what that means is that our guests want to continue their usual lifestyle, but in a different city. When they arrive here they can – just as they may do at home – wake at 6am and order a cup of coffee, or if they want a later checkout, it’s not restricted by traditional checkout times.”

For Johan, it is this genuinely personal service that is the key. It’s why Labotessa doesn’t have a traditional reception desk – instead, you are met at the door by a member of staff who will also check you in via a remote device and take you up to your room. It’s the kind of personal attention that also sees Johan opening the hotel early in the morning and wishing his guests a good night as he closes up.

This is the lower level of the Governor Suite and like much of Labotessa’s decor, it originated from co-owner Johan du Plessis taking long walks through Cape Town to see what was on offer. The ceiling light fitting is custom made by The Artisan Lighting Design, the carpet is from LUND Rug Gallery, and the paintings are by Johan van Vuuren. Like all those in the property, appliances are by Smeg.

This hands-on approach extends to Labotessa’s design and decor as well. Based on his hotelier experience of guest requirements, the flow a hospitality establishment needs, and the kind of materials to be used in areas that are subject to high wear, Johan and Jan both penned the interior structure and decorated it.

“It’s about simplicity, sophistication and the feeling of relaxation,” says Johan describing Labotessa’s style.“The rooms are opulent but the quality and space shine through. We have done our job if a guest leaves here and, while they may perhaps not remember a specific colour or detail of the building, they will remember a hotel in the corner of a square that was exquisite because of the quality, detail and personal service.

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