Tall columns rise from the ground, supporting grand archways and creating a magnificent entrance. You're greeted by polished floors and the grandeur of an age past, as beautiful fragrances and cool air entice you to enter further. And enter I did.
This is what it feels like to arrive at the Southern Sun The Cullinan Hotel in Cape Town. Let me tell you about our stay...
The hotel hearkens back to a time of grandeur and opulence - when magnificence was the goal. The high ceiling makes you feel like an ant looking up to the sky, while the beautiful staircases and glass doorways fill you with a sense wonder.
When I think back to my hotel stay, I may be seeing it through rose-coloured glasses - because the hotel and its staff left such a great impression with me.
But I think I can say my view is accurate - The Cullinan is a wonderful hotel.
We had the luck of being upgraded to a suite which felt like a haven of luxury and comfort. As we moved further in, it just got better.
Cocktail glasses of treats were accompanied by fresh fruit near the entrance. To the side there was a little kitchenette equipped with a Nespresso machine.
Spacious couches tempted us to sprawl out and relax, while the large bed beckoned us for some rest.
The suite had not one, but two large televisions - and there was no payment required to plug in your HDMI cable, unlike some other hotels.
The bathroom was one of the most enticing features - with a luxurious bath. Bath salts and bubble bath were available - but if you wanted something even more, you could order from the bath menu.
There was even a pillow menu - something I've only seen at certain luxury hotels.
But even though the hotel seems to be set in another time and place, this doesn't stop the hotel's Stella Cafe from being a contemporary treat.
The Stella Cafe combines delicious dining with a wonderful, trendy atmosphere that will appeal to people of most ages - from young adults and retirees.
In the afternoon a tapas menu is available, with unique offerings that put a spin on the usual tapas dishes. The restaurant wasn't packed when we got there and we were able to enjoy the pool area while sipping away at cocktails.
We were first treated to some flavourful nachos with a range of dips, which really helped to whet our appetite for more tapas.
One of my favourites was the chilli poppers with hot and sour dip. The poppers were sweet, crispy and had a bit of a kick, without being overly rich.
There are a variety of vegetarian dishes available, including a broccoli, cranberry and toasted walnuts salad; a crispy cos, peas and avocado salad; and a warm truffle mushrooms, chickpea and green bean salad. While the vegetarian options (besides the poppers) are salads, they provide a variety of interesting tastes and are surprisingly filling.
Then comes the dessert. While the Turkish delight cheesecake is tasty and unique, the crème brûlée is some of the best I've had - with chef Riaan Le Roux boasting about the quality of the dessert. It had a perfectly creamy centre with a satisfyingly crunchy top layer.
Tasty cocktails washed down the food well, with each carefully prepared. You can taste the quality of the ingredients. The mojito is perfect for those looking to have something refreshing, while the frozen strawberry daiquiri was a wonderfully sweet treat.
A standout element of the restaurant is the staff - manager Wendell was the most welcoming manager I have met in a long time, and it's easy to see he is personally involved in checking that guests are having a good time. Chef Riaan is a bit quieter, with a keen passion for his dishes. The waiters are also friendly, cordial and quick to attend to your needs.
The Stella Cafe is a great complement to the hotel's grandeur - offering an atmosphere that is not stuffy, but instead welcoming.
But that's not all the hotel has on offer...
The hotel is equipped with a Mangwanani Spa, which is a brand which represents value and quality in my eyes. I've had experience with Mangwanani before, when they were holding a special at Groot Constantia. There I noted the skill of my massage therapist and the affordability of the price.
The Mangwanani Spa at Southern Sun The Cullinan also has the hallmarks of the spa group - skill and value for money. I enjoyed a wonderful full back massage, exactly what I'd needed at the time.
My massage therapist Nkantla was very skilled - instead of just repeating a pre-defined massage cycle, she focused on where the massage was needed most. I felt a soft clicking as she gently worked away the knots around my right shoulder blade.
Her petite build belied her strength and the knots in my back surrendered to her persistence. After the massage, I was more relaxed than I'd been in a very long time and my back was free from pain.
But skill is not the only thing that is important - after all, people need to be able to afford the experience. This is where Mangwanani is excellent. The prices of treatments are very reasonable, especially for the quality service you get.
Even if you're not staying at the hotel, this is the kind of place I would suggest you book a massage.
Five star quality
During my stay I had to keep reminding myself that The Cullinan is a four-star hotel, because it definitely didn't feel like it. If you told me it was a five-star hotel, I would wholeheartedly believe you.
After all, the pillow menu and bath menu are the kinds of opulent things you see in top hotels. Meanwhile going to breakfast while a piano player sets the atmosphere is not something you see every day.
The hotel itself has gorgeous features, such as the high columns and the idyllic swimming area.
But overall, the service and features present in the hotel were magnificently impressive, making me feel like I was in the lap of luxury.
Staying at Southern Sun The Cullinan was one of the best hotel experiences I've had - on par with some of my five-star hotel experiences.
Not only is the hotel's appearance a welcome break from the less grand buildings of the Cape Town CBD, but it acts as a perfect escape in the city, close to the waterfront.
Depending on the room you want to stay in, the hotel can be quite pricey - but less expensive than many five-star hotels which match the experience.
If you're looking for luxury in Cape Town, The Cullinan is definitely one of the places you can find it.
For inquiries or bookings you can visit www.tsogosun.com or call the hotel on (021) 415 4000.