Birkenhead House

Hermanus & Overberg, South Africa Book from R7,400

Funky art, palatial bedrooms and gourmet dining at one of South Africa's most seductive oceanside hotels
At the eastern end of Hermanus, a rocky promontory pushes out between 2 sandy coves into the deep waters of Walker Bay. Birkenhead House straddles this extraordinary viewing point, dropping down on several levels towards a dining terrace and an infinity pool whose water seems to merge with that of the ocean beyond. Seagulls drift by, surfers cut through the breakers, and for several months every year southern right whales breach just yards from the shore. This is a mesmerisingly beautiful part of the Cape.

Liz Biden (the decorative savant behind La Residence) pulled off an amazing double act by making what's inside as visually spoiling as what lies beyond. A whimsical pick-and-mix of contemporary art, floors of travertine marble, chinoiserie touches, eye-catching chandeliers and Persian rugs create an eclectic mood which is brilliantly boudoir-by-the-sea. Whilst gourmet dining, impeccable service and a sumptuous spa gild the lily of Hermanus' most remarkable boutique hotel.

Highs

  • A vibe that is intimate, spoiling and cosseted: you couldn't fail but feel happy to be here
  • An unforgettable oceanside position: think sea, sky, sunsets, sounds of the ocean and, in season, whales!
  • Top gourmet cuisine presented with oodles of style by slick, competent and easy-mannered staff
  • Stacks of interesting art work by some of South Africa's best known contemporary painters
  • Birkenhead House is both romantic and seductive: we'd struggle to think of a more perfect place for loving it up

Lows

  • Bedrooms run away from the ocean in 3 tiers meaning that some (Standard Rooms) miss out on sea views, while top-floor rooms share balconies with just a see-through trellis for privacy
  • You'll want to stay at least 2 or 3 nights so be prepared to part with a fair amount of moolah (though rates are full board and include excellent house wines)
  • You're 5km out of Hermanus so you'll need a car to get around - though the hotel does offer a complimentary shuttle to and from Hermanus
  • The pools aren't huge and are unheated
  • They also own an adjacent 5-room villa which, while still sumptuous, lacks the wow factor and those straight-to-sea views (it's an option if you're coming with kids though)

Best time to go

For whale-watching in Walker Bay, June and October are the best months.

The best months for swimming are December, January and February, whilst the fynbos flowers are at their spectacular best during the South African spring: August to September.

Our top tips

Hermanus has a good claim to be the best place in the world for shore-based whale-watching. Huge numbers of southern rights return to Walker Bay from Antarctic feeding grounds to give birth to their calves (from June until October).

Great for...

Beach
Honeymoon
Spa
Wedding
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Luxury Hotel
  • 11
  • All meals included
  • Not permitted unless booking whole house
  • Open all year
  • Outdoor Pool
  • Spa
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
Room: Room 1

Rooms

Birkenhead House's 11 guest bedrooms are as festive in feel as the rest of the hotel; any one of them would be worthy of a honeymoon night or any other celebration. All-white walls, curtains and bed linen coupled with buff-coloured marble floors provide a neutral canvas for a decorative eclecticism which marries rococo, boudoir and contemporary furnishings with free-handed gusto.

Rooms are classified in 4 categories according to their size and views: they're numbered in ascending order back from the ocean. Top of the league are the Deluxe Superior Rooms with their jaw-dropping views, quickly followed by the Superior Rooms. Whilst Luxury Rooms earn their status thanks to their sea views and terraces. There are just 2 Standard Rooms; these lack sea views and are furthest from the sea. The top dog is (Deluxe Superior) Room 1, where you feel as if the ocean is lapping right up to the foot of your magnificent Louis Farouk bed and you awake to a stunning sunrise over Walker Bay.

There are zebra skin pouffes, gilded Empire stools with Osborne & Little fabrics, shagreen covered dressers, tables in funky shades of greens and reds, and antique writing desks; it's showy, ritzy and has oodles of sensual appeal. All rooms also have a full quotient of gadgetry like plasma screen TVs, DVD players, bar fridges, dimmer switches, hot and cold air-conditioning and phones. Expect treats like a bowl of fruit, a bottle of bubbly, a surprise gift from the Bidens, turn back and chocolates last thing and, if you fancy it, breakfast in bed.

Expect your bathroom to be every bit as regal: most come with freestanding bathtubs, walk-in rain showers, twin sinks set in a big sweep of marble, jazzy shell-lined mirrors and more striking art work. Not to mention every conceivable extra: huge fluffy towels, silk bathrobes, heated towel rails, magnifying mirrors and a big range of bath products courtesy of Charlotte Rhys.

Features include:

  • Air conditioning
  • Bathrobes
  • Cd player
  • Coffee tea making
  • Dvd player
  • Extra beds
  • Hairdryer
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Phone
  • Safe box
  • Terrace
  • Terrace
  • Toiletries
  • Tv
  • WiFi
  • Wifi internet

Eating

The highlight of our stay at beautiful Birkenhead was dining by candlelight in its oceanside dining room, as gulls winged their way home past the setting sun. Weather permitting, tables are shifted out to the terrace, getting you even closer to the surf.

A setting this special seems to require a bit of sartorial effort for dinner; the waiting staff slip into black uniforms and move easily between the candlelit tables: one takes your food order, another your wine and a maître d' to talk you through the evening's menu.

Dinner follows a 4-course formula with a choice of starter, main and dessert. I couldn't find fault with any aspect of my meal. For entrée I went for the brie and broccoli tart with green vegetables, rather than a tomato, basil and crispy bacon risotto: it was scrummy. Next came an excellent borlotti bean soup followed by a choice of main course: lamb shank accompanied by mash and crispy mange-tout beans, or Cape salmon served with dauphinoise potatoes, baby carrots and a lemon butter sauce. The sound of the sea seemed to suggest 'salmon' and it proved to be just the biz, whilst the perfectly seared crème brûlée ended my repast on just the right note.

Dinners include house wine served à volonté: you're offered a choice of a dozen whites, the same number of reds, a couple of rosés and an informative wine menu. There's also a reserve wines list - paid as extra - highlighting wines from the major appellations of the Cape. I was amazed at how little mark-up there was on each listing; and there's a great choice of classic champagnes: Dom Perignon, Bollinger, Billecart, Pol Roger and Moet & C.

At lunchtime the focus shifts back to Birkenhead's inner patio which wraps round a second split-level pool. This is a much lighter event both in ambiance and content, highlighting salads and all kinds of fresh fish delicacies, again your wines and soft drinks are included.

You can expect a really excellent breakfast, too. A huge buffet of cereals, cold cuts, cheeses, yoghurts, fruits, fresh juices, nuts and dried fruits, freshly baked breads and smoked salmon is laid up to one side of the sea-facing drawing room. Then, if you're game for it, you can order the cooked breakfast of your choice.

Features include:

  • All meals included
  • Bar
  • Coffee tea making
  • Minibar/fridge
  • Room service
Eating:
Activity:

Activities

  • Whale-watch: at any time between late June and October you're almost bound to spot whales in Walker Bay. Seeing them breach just yards from the shore is a sight never to be forgotten
  • Slip on your silk bathrobe and head for the spa, where you can choose from a big range of massages and beauty treatments
  • Wander along the cliff path to Hermanus, then have a late morning coffee or lunch in one of its many restaurants and cafés
  • Play a long round of golf: the Hermanus course has 27 greens and coaching can be arranged if you're looking to improve your swing
  • Birdwatch from your private terrace or from a lounger by the infinity pool: you'll see oystercatchers and petrels, cormorants and gulls, and masses more feathered things
  • Grab a guide to the flora of the Cape and hike into the Fernkloof Nature Reserve whose fynbos vegetation has a mind-boggling number of endemic species - amazing when the flowers are in bloom. So pack some comfortable walking boots or shoes
  • Take to the sea in a kayak and cross between the old and the new harbours: you're bound to see seals and, with luck, will get close to a southern right
  • With the recent classification of Hermanus' new wine route, a trip into the Hemel en Aarde Valley is a worthy activity; otherwise drive through the mountains to Franschhoek and Stellenbosch to visit other top wineries
  • Helpful staff can arrange excursions - shark-diving anyone?

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Kayaking
  • Plantlife / flora
  • Swimming
  • Well being
  • Whalewatching
  • Wine tasting

Kids

No children under 10 are accepted and, to our mind, this didn't feel the sort of place that would be suitable for teenage kids either.

If you are keen to stay in Hermanus with children, we recommend you enquire about a room in the adjacent Villa, which accepts children of all ages. The décor and location may not quite match the House, but it's still pretty indulgent stuff. There's a large TV room and a children's play area, and babysitters can be arranged. Request on enquiry.

Family friendly accommodation:

Rooms 2, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 can be made up as triples for older children.

Kid Friendly:

Our guests' ratings...

7/
Rooms
9/
Food
8/
Service
8/
Value
8/
Overall

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