Located in the heart of the upmarket suburb of Summerstrand in the Eastern Cape city of Gqeberha (previously known as Port Elizabeth), the Mantis No. 5 Boutique Art Hotel stands as a testament to Art Deco architecture, the glorious jazz age and… Art, with a capital ‘A’.  It is much more than a mere accommodation option, this boutique hotel has carved a niche for itself with its impeccable art collection, with every room being more art gallery than hotel. And that’s precisely part of its charm.

Mantis No5 Boutique Art Hotel

I am welcomed by Xolani Ndlovu, a young man with a broad smile and great passion for people. He introduces me to both the brand and the hotel, pointing out the electric car charging station in the parking lot, and the giant praying mantis, a stainless-steel sculpture by Jacques van der Westhuizen near the entrance. ‘It represents the Mantis motto,’ he says, ‘and it means Man and Nature Together is Sustainable’. An ethos that runs deeply throughout the Mantis brand.

Xolani gives me a brief introduction to the art as we head up towards my suite. He points to the piano, and I ask him if he plays… he laughs, saying he prefers computers and watching animations – ‘there’s always something to learn from them’, he says. We talk about his life and how he started at No.5 as a night porter, and because of his skill with people, was given the opportunity at the front desk, then reservations and now guest relations. He tells how his father made a living selling fruit, and how he used to help him, and how this taught him how to deal with people.

He proudly tells me that in 2018 he won Best Front of House in the Eastern Cape but gives much of the credit to fellow employee Veliswa Mtati who mentored him and shared the skills she had learnt in her tourism studies with him. A humble man who will no doubt go far.

We make our way up the beautiful spiral staircase to my suite. I’m in a business class suite, the open plan complete with work desk, bar area, spacious lounge opening up to a balcony, and a bedroom area complete with king-size bed and full ensuite bathroom, all appointed and with luxury amenities. But what I loved best in the bathroom was the toy boat, with the message ‘contact reception for your plug – help us save water’.

But as much as my suite invited relaxation, there was much to explore…

The building itself is an art piece. It’s an Art Deco classic, lovingly renovated and restored by the founder and owner of the Mantis Collection, Adrian Gardiner, who is both an entrepreneur and a conservationist.

The Mantis No. 5 Boutique Art Hotel represents all that is beautiful about the Art Deco style… the smooth, curved lines, the balanced designs, and straight geometric shapes, all in eye-catching blue and white. A fitting home for the over 200 pieces from Adrian Gardiner’s private art collection.

I’m no art aficionado or avid art enthusiast, but I certainly found myself captivated by the exquisite art pieces adorning the walls of No. 5. From contemporary masterpieces to thought-provoking sculptures and exquisite hand-blown glass, the collection offers a glimpse into the creative soul of South Africa. I marvel at each stroke of paint and every carefully sculpted detail, loving the aesthetic of a piece, but not necessarily understanding its provenance or value. And I love that the collection serves as a testament to South Africa’s rich cultural heritage.

One can’t miss the pen and ink collage ‘Wittgenstein’s Rhinoceros’ by William Kentridge, the title referring to a discussion about mathematics between philosophers Ludwig Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russel, in reception, or the giant canvas by Sam Nhlengethwa, a tribute to the great Miriam Makeba and the age of Jazz.

The simple elegance of the bronze ‘Woman seated on a stool’ by Maureen Quin catches my attention, as do the ‘Post Boxes’ in the board room – created by Jan van der Merwe, the eleven Perspex boxes each filled with rusted metal envelopes, each representing one of South Africa’s official languages, and ‘metaphors for the unheard voices of ordinary people’. A piece that speaks to the soul…

I walk past ‘The Piano Room’ with its Art Deco style furniture and beautiful piano, dating back to 1947.  And the Champagne lounge with its mirrored cabinets, polished chests of drawers, smoked glass vases and deep comfy chairs, the perfect spot for a fine cup of tea or a glass of bubbles. There’s the Mountbatten Theatre, a private cinema, modelled, with permission, after then Prince Charles’ cinema in Clarence House, perfect for popcorn and movies, or even a romantic dinner for two.

The Jazz Room goes from bright and cheerful with morning light, to relaxed and soulful in the evenings, the jazz soundtrack bringing to life Sam Nhlengethwa’s jazz greats that adorn the walls – from Lemmy Mabaso and his penny whistle to pianist and composer Thelonius Monk and sultry jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, among others. An Andy Warhol plate and a trio of lithographs by Robert Hodgins completes the scene.

I sneak a peek into the Dining Cellar, it’s set up for a private dining function, it looks warm and inviting and the three-course menu delicious. There is art on the walls here too – from the moody, dark tones of the oil on canvas ‘The Debate’, by Aldo Balding to the sculptural element of the coat and baggage made of rusted metal, which tells a story of displacement and is part of a work by Jan van der Merwe titled ‘Nowhere to Go’. Both adding to the cellar aesthetic.

But it’s the corridors that keep me entranced… the hotel’s dedication to promoting local artists is evident around every corner, the carefully curated pieces narrate stories of South Africa, and the Eastern Cape’s history and development. The blend of traditional and contemporary art forms creates an immersive experience that goes beyond mere visual appreciation, from Henk Serfontein’s scenes of motels, truck stops and petrol stations to the detailed paintings of daily life and African heritage by Barbara Tyrrell amongst many more.

Across the street, the 2010 Boutique Villa offers an exclusive use luxurious home-away-from-home experience. As one would expect, the art, by local artist Duncan Stewart, has a distinctive 2010 World Cup soccer theme.  

There’s the giant ref’s whistle as you enter the property and larger-than-life foosball players adding colour to the pool area, and a poignant bronze sculpture of a slumbering street-child on the floor of the lounge. Then there’s the soccer playing ‘Boytjies from Bethalsdorp’ depicting two young boys playing football amidst a violent society, and Duncan’s ‘Mixing Faith with Work’ pieces speak of workers on the construction site of the 2010 soccer stadium, and his ‘Architecture of Play’ that questions whether our play as kids ever becomes a reality as adults. A brief but thought provoking glimpse at another renowned local artist’s work.

Beyond the mesmerizing art, the culinary offerings at Mantis No. 5 Boutique Art Hotel celebrate the bountiful produce of the region, with each dish thoughtfully crafted to tantalize the taste buds and leave a lasting impression. From fresh spinach, carrots and herbs grown onsite to fresh line-fish bought daily from local fishermen to local flavours with international influences beautifully presented, an artwork on a plate and a delight to the palate.  Coupled with an extensive South African wine selection, the dining experience is nothing short of sublime.

While the hotel is a captivating retreat in itself, the surrounding vicinity offers an array of activities to further enrich one’s stay. I awake at sunrise to take a walk on the beach and promenade – it’s just a couple of hundred metres walk away. The morning is glorious, the waves roll in gently. There are people out running, walking dogs, or like me, just enjoying.

The nearby Shark Rock Pier demands attention, I enjoy the spectacular views it offers of Algoa Bay and the Boardwalk, a casino, entertainment and retail complex, which offers an easy option should you choose to dine out. But it’s time to head back for a scrumptious No.5 breakfast…   

I leaf through the fascinating guide to the art collection in the lounge, sipping a cappuccino and wishing that I had more time to appreciate all that the pages reveal, but I’m heading into the bush so it will have to wait for next time. A night or two at Mantis No. 5 Boutique Hotel offers the perfect opportunity to explore the history and culture of Gqerberha – even if it’s just through art, before the start of an Eastern Cape safari escape. 

And if you don’t have a safari planned yet, Founder’s Lodge, part of the Mantis Group, offers guests a small boutique lodge experience with its own game as well as access to the greater Shamwari landscapes and wildlife. It’s certainly on my list for my next visit to the region…


Read this in the digital mag HERE