Short stay: Mantis No 5, Boutique Art Hotel, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

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Is it an art gallery? A stylish tribute to Art Deco architecture and sophisticated interiors? An elegant paean to the Jazz Age? Or a warmly welcoming seven suite boutique hotel?

In fact, Mantis No. 5, taking its name from its address at No 5 Brighton Drive, in the upmarket seaside suburb of Summerstrand, is all of those. On South Africa’s Sunshine Coast it is just a four-minute stroll from the beach and the Indian Ocean. Though Port Elizabeth, sat on Nelson Mandela Bay, is no longer Port Elizabeth. As part of the Africanisation process, it is now Gqeberha, though most road signs still point to Port Elizabeth.

Purchased and lovingly restored by Adrian Gardiner, the hotel now houses over 200 pieces from the conservationist / entrepreneur’s private collection. It is worth sitting down in the lounge and leafing through the guide to the collection.

The welcome

No 5 arrange a pick-up from Port Elizabeth Airport. Much of the short 10-minute transfer runs along the coast. With just seven suites, the receptionist has the time to take us to our suite on the first floor.

The suite

Ample mirrors, a polished floor and numerous spotlights create the ambience of an Art Deco club. There’s even a bar-cum-foyer entrance with glasses waiting on the shelves. There is a grandeur to the wooden rectangular block floor, with shades from light cedar to mahogany contrasting with luscious cream rugs decorated with circles of muted colours.

Two sets of double glass doors lead out onto a wide balcony whose thin polished chrome railings have a feel of a deck on an ocean liner. Another Art Deco touch. Cleverly, a swivelling large television acts as a divider between the lounge area and the bedroom.

The bathroom

There is all the glossy tiling, space and bright lights of a star’s dressing room in an Art Deco theatre. Except that there are his-and-her basins in this generously proportioned bathroom. There is a jauntily coloured toy boat that has symbolically run aground in the bath. Showers are preferred as Port Elizabeth’s water shortage continues.

Facilities

Walking into the 30-seater Jazz Room is like walking into New York City’s Harlem in the 1920s. A piano tinkles, bass thrums, a trombone sings, and drums improvise the percussive rhythm as the soundtrack evokes the Jazz Age. As with every room at No. 5, this restaurant is an art gallery. One wall pays tribute to the musicians of that racy era of jazz and flappers. On the opposite wall there is an eclectic collection including a Warhol. Waiters, elegant in their dark waistcoats and white shirts, again evoke the American Art Deco era. Especially with waffles and bacon drizzled with maple syrup appearing on the breakfast menu. Lunchtime menus are popular with locals dropping in for business, perhaps using the boardroom for a meeting. A vegan bolognaise is one of the highlights.

A visit to The Champagne Lounge, serving a selection of French Champagnes and local sparkling wines, is an ideal start to an evening of creative South African cuisine. Looking out across the Indian Ocean, Port Elizabeth has long welcomed and assimilated global flavours. After dinner the focus could turn west to Cuba in the Cigar Lounge.

The garden, with a small swimming pool and sun-loungers, tranquilly creates the landscape of the Eastern Cape bushveld with rocks weighing up to four tons and planting of aloes, strelitzias, erythrina trees and cycads.

One highly unique feature is the private cinema, which is modelled, with permission granted, after the cinema at the then Prince Charles’ London residence at Clarence House. Other on-site facilities include a spa and gym.


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Location

For guests, Port Elizabeth is often the gateway to the Eastern Cape. Many are on their way to another Mantis property, Founders Lodge, which particularly focuses on protecting endangered rhino species. epitomising the “Man And Nature Together Is Sustainable” ethos. Many guests look to see two of the Big Seven, taking to the sea on whale and shark watching boats, before seeking to tick off the Big Five on safari.

Yet, as Port Elizabeth looks to reinvent itself after its industrial docklands past, there is plenty to keep guests occupied along a spectacular Indian Ocean coast. Mosaic Tourism’s Tours have a variety of itineraries to introduce Port Elizabeth’shistory and locale. Route 67, celebrating Nelson Mandela’s 67 years of political activity, is a walking tour taking in 67 artworks.

Or you can take a tour of the historic centre of Port Elizabeth visiting sites that recall the British presence in the 19th century.

On the fringe of the city, a township tour of Walmer with one of its inhabitants gives insights into the benefits and problems of the huge community.

Heading along the coastline visitors can take a tour of a treacherous coast and dozens of shipwrecks.

Other nice touches

Across the road from No 5 there is a three-bedroom villa which guests can book for their exclusive use.

Again, the villa is an art gallery. Adrian Gardiner, a generous patron of the arts, bought a collection of Duncan Stewart’s presentation of the 2010 Football World Cup hosted by South Africa. Football stadia shaped as food bowls and a dung beetle pushing along a soccer ball pose interesting questions concerning spending choices prior to the World Cup.

The cost

Accommodation at No 5 starts from £160 per room, per night for two people sharing, inclusive of breakfast.

Currently, there is a Private Cinema Package, available at £82.50 depending on exchange rate, including a romantic dinner for two in the Mountbatten Theatre, with a bottle of sparkling wine, followed by a movie.

The best bit

Having time to enjoy the artwork is a luxury. Walking to mealtimes, Herk Serfontein’s nostalgic road scenes of gas stations, motels and a stop for a cold beer become evocative of a past era. Images of the Jazz Age are a favourite too.

There is time to look through the catalogue and appreciate the stories behind the art, for instance the bizarre back story behind William Kentridge’s rhino picture, inspired by a Cambridge University tale.

Although not enrolled at Cambridge, Wittgenstein would attend Bertrand Russell’s lectures and ask challenging questions. Ultimately, Russell responded by asking Wittgenstein to admit that there was not a rhinoceros in the room. Wittgenstein refused. In fact, the rhino was a metaphor for a deeper mathematical debate.

The final verdict

Mantis No 5 is far more than a place to linger and recharge the batteries, in lavish luxury, before or after Eastern Cape explorations.

This stylish hotel, something of a retreat with its creatively landscaped gardens, is a must for Art Deco and art fans.

Disclosure: Our stay was sponsored by Mantis No. 5 Boutique Art Hotel.



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