Cape Town, it can be argued, is a city made for aesthetes. Phrases such as ‘postcard perfect’ are almost tiresomely overused in describing its natural splendour, and everyone from street artists to restaurateurs seems to have a deeply ingrained sense of style. It makes sense then, that the Mother City would be home to some truly beautiful hotels. Arguably its finest lady is Southern Sun The Cullinan, with her classical lines, alabaster-like facades and colonnaded pool deck (hands-down the best spot for a cocktail on this side of the city). And though she celebrated her 21st birthday last September, she’s not looking a day older than when she was opened in 1998.
’As far as buildings in Cape Town go, there are some very pretty five-star hotels – but they aren’t as pretty as The Cullinan,’ says General Manager Jacques Moolman. ‘When I joined Tsogo Sun 18 years ago, I started as Food and Beverage manager for the Cape region, and I was based at The Cullinan. I accepted the position because of the appeal of this beautiful hotel. It’s a privilege to work in such an iconic hotel.’
A new generation of memories
Since then, Jacques has moved around the country thanks to various opportunities through the group. But though his career with Tsogo Sun began nearly two decades ago, it was in fact much further back that the hospitality bug first bit…
‘Some of my happiest childhood memories are of being on holiday with my family, and I like the idea that we have the opportunity to give others those fantastic memories. When I was little – we’re talking seven or eight years old – my grandparents would take each of the five grandchildren away for a weekend in Durban every year, separately. We could choose whether we wanted to fly or take the overnight sleeper train. I preferred the train. Back then, you still had dinner with silver service on board. Every single year, we’d stay at the Southern Sun Maharani. To this day, I have my grandfather’s collection of old-fashioned swizzle sticks with the Southern Sun logo that he took home from those trips. They’re 35, maybe 40 years old.
‘Those hotel experiences – the way the waiters served exquisite dishes, the excitement of room service… That’s when I first began thinking that I wanted to work in this industry. And that’s our purpose as hoteliers here at The Cullinan – to create those kinds of memories for others. We strive to be the jewel in the Cape Town Tsogo Sun Hotels crown. We strive to make each experience unique, and we have an exceptional team of people working together – wonderful, willing people.’
Be our guest
One of those wonderful and willing team members is the inimitable Janice Southgate, the hotel’s banqueting and conferencing coordinator. Whether there is an international conference across the road at the CTICC, or perhaps the Springboks are coming to stay, you’ll find Janice and her team hard at work making sure everything runs according to plan.
‘I can honestly and genuinely say that I love my job,’ says Janice. ‘I do. It’s exciting. There’s always something new going on. And I love to see something happen out of nothing. It all starts with emails going backwards and forwards, and then all of a sudden everyone arrives. I love that build-up. I thrive on pressure.’
And there’s certainly plenty of pressure in a job like Janice’s… ’It’s about making sure everybody’s experience is catered to their specific requirements. We have nine conference and banqueting venues that could potentially host two or more functions on any given day, be it a corporate conference or a themed gala dinner. I generally have a lot of balls in the air, but I try not to spread myself too thin. I still want to give each and every event and guest – no matter what or who it is – equal attention. I’m just hoping that all this busy-ness will help me lose a few kilos!’
‘Janice is one of those people who takes on a lot but takes ownership of it,’ says Jacques. ‘She can handle big conferences almost with her eyes closed. She is exceptionally organised, has the memory of an elephant for even the smallest details, and really builds relationships with people. For the bigger conferences, people will book now for two years’ time. By the time they check in, Janice is their new best friend. To have someone like her on your team, who knows and does a job like that, is priceless. She’s worth her weight in gold.’
A nation’s pride
With its central location, highly competent events team and proximity to the CTICC, it’s little wonder that The Cullinan is the hotel of choice for business travellers. Not only that, it’s also the preferred accommodation for many of our national sports teams.
‘We are definitely the home of our national, as well as provincial, teams,’ says Jacques. ‘In the past six months alone we’ve hosted the Springboks (returning home after winning the 2019 Rugby World Cup), the Hurricanes from New Zealand, the English and South African netball teams, the South African and Australian cricket teams, the top 10 Cape Town Sevens sides, local soccer teams…’
The hotel is uniquely qualified to host these athletes, thanks to its purpose-built team room (a private lounge and dining area that offers them some privacy away from fans), tight security, and the fact that its chefs are all experienced in catering to sports-nutrition needs.
‘We have built up good relationships with the different sporting authorities, too,’ explains Jacques. ‘For example, we worked closely with Netball South Africa to get the bid for the World Cup in 2022 in Cape Town, and the same with the Sevens World Cup that year. We’re equipped to deal with the teams, we know their nutritional needs, and we’ve amassed operational know-how. It gives us serious bragging rights as well…’ he says, smiling. The team is recognised by sports celebrities from all over the world, and treated like old friends. ‘One of the Springbok players even took a picture with Janice wearing his World Cup medal!’
Raise a glass to class
Whether you’re travelling for business or leisure, it would be sacrilege to plan a trip to Cape Town and not enjoy one of the city’s best loved pursuits: the fruits of the vine. And when it comes to all your wine needs at The Cullinan, sommelier Georgio Meletiou is your go-to man.
‘I take care of anything wine-related for the region,’ says Georgio. ‘So that’s wine lists, food-and-wine pairing, wine training, purchasing of wines, attending the wine auctions (Tsogo Sun has been the biggest purchaser of auction wines in the country for the past five years). But probably the most important aspect of my work is that I get to taste some of the best wines every single day of my life,’ he laughs.
Georgio’s portfolio is a hefty one, certainly, but one that, at least from the outside, looks like the ultimate career for a viticultural enthusiast. ‘It’s good fun,’ he agrees. ‘And you’re always learning. Because, remember, no bottle of wine is ever the same. You can have two bottles that are technically identical – same estates, same varietals, even the same vintage – and they will differ. Wine is a living organism. It changes all the time in the bottle. You’re never completely on top of it.’
He doesn’t play favourites, either. ‘Personally, it all depends where I am, what time of the day it is, who I’m with… I mean, you could have a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon at three in the afternoon, at the perfect temperature, and it’ll taste one way. In the evening, you have the same bottle of wine, but you’re at a fine-dining restaurant with Riedel glasses on the table, and candlelight, and the whole complex of the wine changes. So setting and company really do contribute to the experience of a wine.’
If you think your enjoyment of a little vino would be improved by having Georgio around to guide you, the best way to achieve this is through a private tour of the hotel’s Collector’s Wine Shop (where you can purchase exclusive wine to take home) or a tasting at the gorgeous wine cellar. ‘We’ll go in there, close the door, enjoy some interesting snacks, and just chat about wine,’ says Georgio. ‘Just start a conversation. You tend to learn so much more that way. Classroom tastings are a thing of the past, thank goodness.’
‘We have a vision with two distinct parts for the coming years,’ says Jacques. ‘First, we want to remain the jewel of the Cape Town hotel industry. We want to be leaders and trendsetters. Whatever we do, we want to be known for being exciting, but in a really stylish way. In everything we do, we keep those criteria in mind. Does this fit in the crown? Is this exciting? Is it stylish? The second part of the vision is to empower and develop our people – to make sure every person who is employed at The Cullinan is able to reach their full potential.’
Having just about grown up in Tsogo Sun hotels, Janice can attest to this last point. She started working for Tsogo Sun in 1998 at The Cullinan’s sister hotel, Southern Sun The Waterfront, learning the ropes of four different jobs before bidding the hotel goodbye.
‘Tsogo Sun Hotels is so good at developing people – at spotting talent, growing, nurturing and guiding,’ Janice says. ‘Because of that, it’s one of the only companies where you don’t have to worry about “Am I going to be stuck in this position forever?” There is always growth, if you want it. And Tsogo Sun Hotels looks after its people.’
Southern Sun The Cullinan at a glance
394 rooms and suites, with spectacular views of Table Mountain, Table Bay Harbour and the V&A Waterfront, or the Cape Town city centre. Each of the classic rooms is en-suite, with air conditioning and WiFi, while the suites come with a full butler service and personalised bath and pillow menus.
9 flexible venues and events spaces, hosting up to 155 delegates.
2 restaurants to delight your taste buds. The Stella Café & Bar offers light dining and inventive cocktails in a splendid poolside setting. The recently refurbished Peach Tree restaurant upstairs delights guests with lavish breakfast buffets and Cape Malay-style cuisine.
1 outdoor, heated swimming pool – the place to be this summer.