Banking on heritage

MAY 2015 – The marble halls of yesteryear’s grand banking establishments exude elegant new life at Taj Cape Town, while The Reserve, sited next door to the main hotel, gives the Mother City an impressive venue for conferences, exclusive banquets and glamorous events, while preserving the heritage and history of an iconic Art Deco building.

More than 100 years of history at the centre of Cape Town’s financial district leave an imprint on a building. A subtle aura of power, wealth and world affairs permeates its very stones, so that when its marbled banking halls are re-invented as a luxurious five-star hotel, it retains the heritage and gravitas of old. So it is at Taj Cape Town, strategically placed on the most attractive corner of the city’s historical district, opposite The Company’s Garden and St George’s Cathedral. Once the South African Reserve Bank, built to impress with Renaissance Italian architecture inspired by the Palazzo Pitti in Florence, and the Board of Executors building (also known as Temple Chambers), the renowned luxury hotel brand has remained faithful to a sense of place and history in its restoration process, while adding the lavish touches of contemporary opulence suitable for today’s sophisticated travellers.

In 2014, a third historical building was added to the Taj’s luxury enclave. Recognising Cape Town’s need for a grand and impressive meeting and function venue, the hotel has restored the adjacent original African Banking Corporationbuilding to create The Reserve. Here a sense of history resonates deeply, every care having been taken to preserve its heritage features while adding all the latest technology and modern conveniences. Colossal bronze doors open from the pedestrian precinct of St George’s Mall, leading invited guests over the red carpet and into the original lobby, now the gloriously decorated ABC Bar with murals and marble panelling giving an updated 1920s energy and style. Here guests might enjoy cocktails and canapés before proceeding into what was the main banking hall, its grandeur now transformed into an elegant banqueting hall or a conference room for up to 240 cinema-seated delegates.

The deep and secret heart of a banking institution is its vault, hidden away deep down in the earth and accessible only to the highest echelons of the banking hierarchy. The ABC vault no longer holds undreamed of quantities of gold and diamonds, in transit from South Africa’s rich mines to European trading centres, but instead lines its walls with parallel quantities of liquid gold, thousands of bottles of prestigious South African wines, creating an atmospheric 120-square-metre venue for special dinners and parties. Simply called The Vault, it’s reached by an original vintage wooden lift that feels like travelling back in time.

Another exceptional space steeped in history is The Chairman’s Office with original teak panels and a period log-burning fireplace, frequented by captains of industry of an earlier time and now once again hosting the modern equivalent in its role as an exclusive dining room or cigar lounge.

With its separate street entrance and own identity, The Reserve is a self-contained venue independent of the hotel, but is connected by a candlelit subterranean corridor tunnelled between the two buildings, so that Taj service and cuisine can flow effortlessly between the two establishments to delight guests banqueting lavishly at The Reserve.

The obvious place to accommodate guests and conference delegates when planning such an exclusive event, is right next door in the Taj itself, just two steps away along the pedestrian precinct and with equally imposing and substantial architecture, a legacy of its own rich banking history. Entering into the grand hotel lobby, once the main banking hall of the South African Reserve bank, lined by Portuguese Styros marble columns, it’s impossible not to feel a degree of awe at the majesty of a bygone era of architecture, imbued with tradition and wealth. The Taj has managed to preserve this sense of grandeur in the original buildings of the hotel and matched it with its contemporary equivalent in the modern 17-storey tower block that soars behind its older siblings to offer inspiring views from rooms and suites over Table Mountain, Lion’s Head and the city.

There is a huge choice of rooms and suites, from the elegant Heritage rooms and suites on the lower floors in the historical buildings to the contemporary Tower rooms enjoying panoramic views from walk-out balconies. The pinnacle of these is the enormous Presidential Tata suite occupying the whole top floor, with two bedrooms, dining room, lounge, study, massage room, several bathrooms – one with a rim-flow bath overlooking Table Mountain – and a huge wraparound roof terrace with fire-pit and dining for 12.
The Hästens suite is the choice for an exceptionally comfortably night’s sleep  – the legendary Swedish maker of the best handcrafted mattresses in the world has collaborated with Taj to provide one of its exclusive beds for its guests.

Then there is the Taj Club floor accessed only by those with key cards, ideal for business guests who need an extra level of support and pampering, with personal butler service and afternoon tea, complimentary canapés and drinks provided in the private lounge.

The hotel’s central location is perfect for both business and leisure travellers who want to experience authentic Cape Town. It’s within walking distance of museums, markets, boutiques, cool coffee shops and nightlife, and a stone’s throw from the city’s business hub and parliament.

While there are a number of renowned restaurants close by and the hotel’s Jaguar XJL to chauffeur you there in the utmost luxury, there’s no need to leave the hotel at all. Genuine Indian flavours are served at the Bombay Brasserie in sumptuous style. Relax in the upholstered armchairs lit by sparkling chandeliers as course after course of the chef’s tasting menu delights and stimulates the palate, accompanied by the finest South African wines from a well-chosen cellar. Or relax into the evening at The Twankey Bar, the hotel’s glamorous oyster and champagne bar patronised as much by locals as by hotel guests, then enjoy an informal dinner with innovative cuisine at Mint, with tables spilling out onto pedestrian St George’s Mall for open-air dining on summer evenings.

Keeping a fitness routine going away from home can be hard, but not at the Taj, where there is a long, heated indoor pool, perfect for swimming laps, and a fully equipped Technogym. Finish off in the sauna and steam room with a dip in the vitality pool, or if your schedule allows, repair to the pampering of the Jiva Grande Spa for a traditional Indian wellness treatment healing mind, body and spirit.

The Taj’s luxury ethos reflects the majestic richness of the company’s Indian palace roots, at the same time embracing the heritage of its unique Cape Town location and melding old tradition with new. With The Reserve added to its already legendary offering, the Taj is now securely established as an icon among Cape Town’s luxury hotels.

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