Sea Point’s hidden curiosities at the Winchester Mansions

Winchester Mansions Fascade (now)

While, today, Sea Point’s beautiful sea-front promenade appears vastly different from how it used to in the 1800s, Winchester Mansions has undergone numerous renovations while maintaining its history and charismatic charm. It now stands as one of Cape Town’s most iconic landmarks. The four-star hotel’s 51 loft style rooms and 25 suites are elegant and tastefully decorated with spectacular sea and mountain views.

Originally built in 1922 in Victorian style architectural splendor, the block of apartments from which it stemmed was purchased by Mrs Harvey in 1958, and was subsequently converted into a hotel which is run today by Francon Investments (Pty) Ltd, owned by the late Mrs Harvey’s family, the Wainfords.

Amenities include a health and wellness spa, a heated pool and a sundeck. Its tranquil courtyard and outdoor restaurant area was in the 1920s a turning circle for vehicles, and is now a beautiful green space with colourful flourishes of climbing bougainvillea and a fountain.

Winchester Mansions restaurant (then)

Formula 1 racing driver Kimi Räikkönen, the band TOTO, and French actress Juliette Binoche are some of the international celebrities who have stayed there. To discover the area’s secrets though, one has to look no further than the hotel itself and its vicinity. In 1898, a villa named Bordeaux was built on Sea Point’s Beach Road by Mr Pieter Marais, a wealthy businessman who had ties to the wine industry. His wife, the ‘Lady of Bordeaux’, was wheelchair-bound and would watch passers-by from the top windows of the Villa Bordeaux. During the 1920s, with social stigmas about disability abounding, Mr Marais constructed a pathway from the villa straight over the rocks to a private pool with a wall erected in front of it for private wheelchair access for his wife. There she would bathe, concealed behind the wall, away from prying eyes. When the family fell on hard times, they sold the villa to Mr Jacobus Graaff. The Graaff family would walk from their palatial villa to the pool in their silks, without having to interact with outsiders, and so the pool was named Graaff’s Pool.

The story of the ‘Lady of Bordeaux’ has been attached to a mysterious, inaccessible tunnel for years where it is supposed that family members accessed the pool via the tunnel. One can still view the remnants of the blocked tunnel and view the old path to the demolished pool. Eventually, the bathing area was opened to the public in 1929, but its slow demise started in 1995 when the gates were shut at sunset, to control anti-social activities there. Its final demolition in 2005 had a powerfully positive impact on the general upliftment of the area.

Winchester Mansions Fascade (then)

The Villa Bordeaux was converted into a hotel and in 1959, just one year after Winchester Mansions’ inception, it was demolished to make way for what is today Sea Point’s largest block of beachfront flats, aptly named, Bordeaux.

Because of its beautiful sea views, Sea Point has always been the ideal recreation destination. The original swimming baths, built in 1895 and located at the foot of Church Road, were destroyed by a storm in 1911 that flooded Beach Road. While the baths were never rebuilt, the Sea Point Pavilion was constructed in 1913, providing an outdoor cinema, tearoom and stage that is still fondly remembered.

The tremendous green belt that frames the Winchester Mansions view is of a former railway land.  A passenger railway line was extended from Cape Town to Sea Point in 1905, closing again in 1929. This became public property and thankfully could not be built upon. After the lines were lifted, the land was left open and a short walk from Winchester Mansions hotel along the promenade leads to them.

Winchester Mansions courtyard (then)

Today the promenade bustles with life, offering something for everyone. Signal Hill, the sharp mountain peak that is Sea Point’s backdrop, is the starting point for paragliders who land on the promenade in front of Winchester Mansions hotel. The hotel is situated conveniently close to the V&A Waterfront shopping district, which is also the point of departure for Citysightseeing South Africa, a double decker red bus tour company offering tours of Cape Town and surrounding areas.  Walks along the seafront offer visual art installations, cycling, an outdoor gym, picnic areas, sea kayaking, ocean strolls and play-parks. For those wanting to enjoy the view, Winchester Mansions’ Harveys Bar and the sun-drenched Terrace are the ideal spots to people-watch or enjoy a glass of wine or coffee while taking in the atmosphere of the area.

Winchester Mansions Courtyard (now)

The Prize: Win a two-night stay for two at the historical Winchester Mansions hotel.

 To enter: Like the Sawubona page at https://www.facebook.com/SawubonaSAA/, and (in the comments section) tell us what attraction in Cape Town you’d most like to see and who you’d take with you.

This competition will run until 30 November 2016. A winner will be announced on our Facebook page on 2 December 2016.

 

Terms & conditions apply:

– Two-night stay for two adults for bed and breakfast only

– Subject to availability

– Prize redeemable in off-peak season only

Please note that travel arrangements are not included in the prize.

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