Less than 2 hours drive from Cape Town, in the South African seaside town of Hermanus, you’ll find a honeymooners dream hideaway – boutique beach retreat, Birkenhead House.
From the moment you enter the pastel yellow walls of the elegant collonaded main house, you begin to understand what has earned this chic beach hotel such wide acclaim. The laid-back beachy vibe is unassuming yet upmarket with sumptuous interiors and with just 11 decadent individually decorated rooms, feels more like a sprawling private villa than a hotel. Add to that the unforgettable clifftop location and there’s no better spot to hunker down with your other half and watch the waves roll in.
With glasses of champagne in hand and smiles on our faces, we descend through a central courtyard, past a tiered pool flanked by smart pillars, pink and white striped sun loungers and decadent floral arrangements. Looking back, the Mosselberg Mountains rise behind the roof. An art-deco inspired dining room and lounge area open out over Walker Bay, a smaller infinity pool and sun loungers making the most of the all-encompassing ocean views from the vantage point above two sandy coves.
Between June and November, Southern Right and Humpback Whales can be seen migrating through these waters, but on this sunny December day, we watch the surfers ride the swells below us. Adding to the home-from-home feel, rates here are all-inclusive, which means that we can enjoy the scenery while taking in some of the local produce, namely some fantastic local wine, which is served by an ever-smiling staff who ensure your glass is never in any danger of being empty. We spend hours relaxing on the loungers here, just enjoying the salty sea breeze and fine Chardonnay.
Thanks to owner Liz Biden’s signature design, the hotel interiors more than match the beauty of this sweeping Atlantic setting. Marble floors mix with contemporary artworks, ornate chandeliers, Persian throws, french antiques and touches of the orient to create a whimsical feel. It’s rather like being in the beach house of a well-travelled relative with impeccable taste – each piece of art hand-selected, each antique or coffee table book picked up from some far-flung corner of the globe and carefully curated in this collection of snoop-worthy artefacts and artistry. The creative force behind the Royal Portfolio, whose properties also include The Silo and La Residence, Birkenhead House was converted from the original Biden family beach house and still retains its low-key charm alongside its luxurious design.
The common spaces in the hotel are executed with panache, but Liz’s eye for the unusual is unleashed in the individual design of each of the suites. Ours is located on the first floor, offering ocean views and a full balcony overlooking the pool and out to the ocean. It’s seriously seductive – with a roll-top bath, white shuttered windows to let the ocean breeze flow through, and a huge bed with some of the best sheets I’ve ever had the pleasure of sleeping on. I loved the quirky artwork – like the series of cheeky cartoonist drawings over the bed and the little touches, like the eco-friendly aluminium water bottles and free-flowing minibar. Some of the rooms even have their own private pool, but I wouldn’t have traded ours, with its sunset views.
The design is staggering, but what truly sets Birkenhead House apart are the staff. It’s all the service you’d expect from a five-star hotel and more. Like when we mention it’s our honeymoon and return after dinner to find a candlelit bubble bath with chilled fizz and chocolate-dipped strawberries laid out for us. Or when I (ever graceful) manage to cut my finger – not only did a first aid box appear from nowhere, but they even packaged up a gift bag with bandages and antiseptic for our journey.
The attention to detail is so apparent, even our dinner menus have our names printed on them. With an all-inclusive rate, you can indulge in everything from speciality cocktails to the devilish cakes that are laid out to tempt you in the afternoon. Lunch is a tapas-style menu, perfect for long afternoons spent overlooking the ocean. With an abundance of regional produce on offer, it’s not surprising that the menus are sensational – from local seafood to mussels picked fresh from the rocks right below the hotel. Our personalised dinner menu features hearty soups, fresh seafood, and the seabass for me and steak for him, paired with wines by the glass from nearby Hemel and Aarde Valley. But breakfast, with a spread of pastries, quiches, oysters and even a side of cured ham, followed by eggs benedict and a glass of pink fizz – as suggested by the ever-thoughtful staff, was my personal favourite.
While the town of Hermanus may be sedate, it offers some of the most pristine beaches on the Western Cape. As well as the two sandy coves below the hotel (accessed via a winding stone staircase hewn into the rock) guests can also walk around the headland on a footpath to Grotto Beach, where you’ll find 18km of white wind-swept dunes between the mountains and ocean – perfect for running off all aforementioned cakes.
For the more adventurous, Hermanus boasts activities aplenty including whale watching, shark cage diving, golf, horse riding on the beach, hiking, surfing as well as mussel picking and foraging for the foodies among you. I’m a little ashamed to admit that we didn’t indulge in any of these extra activities, not because they don’t sound brilliant, but simply because Birkenhead House is quite so special, you’ll want to spend every minute possible there.
An eclectic blend of beach house cool meets the Hamptons this sleepy surf-swept spot in Hermanus is just the place to hideaway with your other half and take in the many joys of the Western Cape.
To book Birkenhead House visit www.theroyalportfolio.com/birkenhead-house; rooms start from R4150 / £157 per person on full board basis