CAPE TOWN - If you were to look for the political, cultural and historical epicenter of this lovely seaside city, you couldn't find anyplace more central than the corner of Wale Street and St. George's Mall: the exact location of the new Taj Hotel Cape Town.
It is just across the street from South Africa's parliament buildings, the lushly landscaped city park called Company Gardens and the old slave lodge - now a museum. Also directly across the street from the hotel is St. George's Cathedral, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu helped inspire and lead the anti-apartheid struggle.
But while they say location, location, location is the key to success in business, for a hotel it is also service, service, service. The Taj, which opened officially at the end of August after several months operating in a soft opening, has sterling service in abundance. The staff in this posh, 5-star property is anything but starchy; they are warm, prompt and attentive without being in your face. That goes a long way, no matter where you are located.
Run by Mumbai-based Taj Hotels, Palaces and Resorts - part of India's Tata Group conglomerate -the new Taj is installed in two renovated heritage buildings: the 1932 original South African Reserve Bank building with its gorgeous vaulted ceiling, and the 1896 Temple Chambers. Soaring over the meticulously restored and renovated structures - so seamlessly integrated you could never tell they were once two separate buildings - is a new glass tower where the Taj Cape Town's 166 guest rooms are situated. I loved my room, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and view of Table Mountain, outside balcony and extra-large bathroom. Oh, it had all the high-tech bells and whistles, too, including an iPod docking station.
The clientele so far has been a nearly even mix of business and leisure travelers, and the hotel's structure reflects that. There are plenty of meeting spaces in the large business center and four personal computers for guest use, albeit at high rates. The spacious, Indian-themed Jiva Grande Spa can help even the most tightly wound executive breathe easy. I had an Indian head massage, lasting 45 minutes, and throughly enjoyed it - and I don't usually like massages.
There are three places to eat in the hotel; the elegant, upmarket Bombay brasserie, which serves contemporary Indian fare under sumptuous chandeliers; the all-day casual dining place Mint, where breakfast is served, accessible from the mall; and Twankey, a smart-casual Champagne, seafood and oyster bar tucked away on two levels. I feasted on tikki chicken wraps and fat Namibia oysters washed down with good South African white wines there.
The only drawback for people from my part of the world - urban North America - is distance. It took me 32 hours door-to-door from hotel to home. Is it worth it? If you can afford the travel time and it fits your budget, most definitely yes. The luxurious Taj Cape Town became one of the city's leading hotels from the moment it opened its doors, providing competition at the top of the international market for the city's highly regarded Mount Nelson and Cape Grace hotels. It will be hard to beat.
The Taj Hotel Cape Town is located on Wale Street, Cape Town 8001, South Africa. Tel. 011 27 (0)21 819 2000. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Web: http://www.tajhotels.com/.