“Funky art, palatial bedrooms and gourmet dining at one of South Africa's most seductive oceanside hotels”
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. Gourmet dining, fine wines, impeccable service and a sumptuous spa gild the lily of one of South Africa's most indulgent and remarkable boutique hotels.
- 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, passing 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
- It does look very expensive, but bear in mind that rates include all meals, plus excellent wines and spirits
- You're not in the centre of Hermanus. but the hotel does offer a complimentary shuttle into town
- The pools aren't huge, and they are unheated
- Some Standard Rooms miss out on sea views
Best time to go
Our top tips
- Luxury Hotel
- All meals included
- Not permitted unless booking whole house
- Open all year
- Outdoor Pool
- Pet Friendly
- Disabled Access
- Beach Nearby
- Off-street Parking
- Restaurants Nearby
- Air Conditioning
- Guest Lounge
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.
- Air conditioning
- CD player
- Coffee / tea making
- DVD player
- Extra beds
- Safe box
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. Waiting staff slip into black uniforms and move easily between the candlelit tables; one takes your food order (each menu is personalised to suit your dietary preferences), and another your wine.
Dinner follows a 3-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 ticket, whilst the perfectly seared crème brûlée ended with just the right note.
Dinners include house wine served à volonté: a choice of a dozen whites, a dozen 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 tapas, salads and 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.
- All meals included
- Coffee / tea making
- Room service
- 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:
- Plantlife / flora
- Well being
- Whale watching
- Wine tasting
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 - though 6 rooms can accommodate an extra bed.
If you are keen to stay in Hermanus with children, we recommend you enquire about renting a villa - they manage one nearby which accepts children of all ages. The décor and location may not quite match the House, but it's still indulgent stuff. There's a large TV room and a children's play area, and babysitters can be arranged.
Family friendly accommodation:
Rooms 2, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 can be made up as triples for older children.