South Africa Dispatch series
Travel Weekly senior editor David Cogswell departed for South Africa on March 21 to begin an eight-day trip sponsored by South African Tourism. David will be exploring "Africa beyond the safari," particularly South Africa's cultural health and sociopolitical environment 13 years after the end of apartheid. He'll be filing on-site reports to Travel Weekly's Web site on a daily basis (Internet access permitting).
Our arrival in Cape Town was exhilarating, perhaps in part because it was our long-awaited final destination, the site of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival that weekend. Part of the exhilaration might have been because we drove in at rush hour when people were breaking away en masse from their workdays and clogging the highways to get home.
Cape Town, the cosmopolitan center that graces the southwest tip of Africa, pulses with the energy of a lively port city. Now, too, it exudes the palpable dramatic sense of a place giving birth to new liberties and an open society in the shadow of the eternal, monumental Table Mountain.
Though we hit some traffic jams, they didn¹t delay us much and, in fact, offered an opportunity for sightseeing. We exited the N2 highway onto city streets with Afrikaaner names: from Buitengracht to Buitensingel and finally to a tiny side street called New Church in an industrial neighborhood, the site of the Extreme Hotel.
When I first saw Extreme Hotel on my itinerary, it did not compute. The name sounded like a description -- and not necessarily a complimentary one. Hotels typically are named for places, usually stately places evoking grandeur, luxury, prestige, stability or security.
But this is no ordinary hotel, and nothing is quite done in the usual way.
Consider the decor: It's a sort of industrial neon design theme (they call it "urban"), seasoned with a splash of gaudy. The effect is pleasant, fun, challenging, always attention-grabbing. The lobby opens to a lounge area, divided into regions, some cubicles sporting throne-like easy chairs on one side and a bench-style backless couch on the other, and a huge low-hanging chandelier that is somehow not incongruous with the industrial components.
This is no five-star hotel, no turn-down service with a piece of chocolate on your pillow, no trace of stuffiness or putting on airs. It's more about fun that blatantly defies tradition, with laughter embodied in the design itself.
I heard comparisons with W Hotels, with wildly colored lights, stark machined lines, flames imprinted in the carpet designs in the hallways, odd blown-glass red light fixtures, rough-surfaced walls lighted with multicolored spots. Everywhere you look someone is messing with your head, cracking visual jokes.
Someone likened the rooms to dorm accommodations, and compared with the typical luxury hotel, the description has some validity. The rooms are so extremely small that you have to push the chair under the desk to slide into the two-foot space between the bed and the closet, which has no door, only a semi-transparent curtain.
The shower and sink are in the bedroom. The shower floor and part of the wall are mosaics of red and blue tiles inlaid in a chrome background. The shower wall that faces the room is glass, so if you have a roommate you will share the shower experience even if one of you is in bed. The floors are hard, blonde wood, not suitable for yoga. There are spotlights in the ceiling, an egg-shaped light fixture, its surface covered with a mosaic of orange glass, sat on the bedside table.
Does the description sound negative? It's not meant to be. I love this hotel. Not only is it fun but the staff members are beyond accommodating -- genuinely friendly, though casual.
The word Extreme derives from its parent company, the Extreme Group, founded in 1995 by Al Gosling, father of the Extreme Sports Network. The extreme family of products now includes stores, restaurants, a mobile phone network and theme parks.
The hotel caters to a young clientele, though there were plenty of pre-baby boomer seniors on hand as well, and they seemed to be enjoying the place.
This being the week of the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, accommodations were in demand and it was hard to get a room at all. But under any circumstances, I would have been delighted with my Extreme Hotel experience.
Prices are moderate, around $102 a night for a single and $114 for a double. For more information, see www.extreme-hotels.com.
To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].