Wake Up Here : The Oyster Box, Durban, South Africa
Wake Up Here : The Oyster Box, Durban, South Africa
There is a special group of hotels that I hold dear to my heart. They have the unique skill of evoking two emotions when you enter, the first being sheer glee - where I momentarily become the heart-eyed emoji as I try and take everything in, the second being fear - fear that I only have an finite amount of time here and how am I possibly going to experience everything it has to offer and not only that, how am I going to drag myself out of it to explore the surrounding city when it is THIS beautiful? The Oyster Box is now firmly residing within this special group of hotels.
Greeted by an army of porters and the resident cat, Skabenga (who clearly is as enamored with the food as I was soon to be), we entered through the iconic revolving doors, a feature kept from the original 1954 hotel, all hardwood and polished brass. Stepping into the main lobby feels like stepping back in time - laden with antiquites and specially curated artwork showcasing local KwaZulu artists, marble floors, an enormous welcome desk lined with staff falling over themselves to ensure you have the most enjoyable of stays - I knew I was going to be very happy here.
Sitting behind the lobby are the hotel’s three restaurants, the first is the slightly less formal Ocean Terrace, which funnily enough has a terrace overlooking the ocean, has the most exquisite breakfasts I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating - tables heaving with every offering you could imagine plus a pancake station, omelette station, oyster bar and an a la carte menu. The Ocean Terrace also offers informal all day dining and the infamous curry buffet - more on that later. The Palm Court takes the central space of the hotel with an open lounge allowing guests to voyeuristically watch diners enjoy the hotel’s afternoon tea, noted as one of South Africa’s best, it is the epitome of refined opulence. A piano player provides a delicate soundtrack that fills the hotel. Across the walkway from here is The Grill Room which offers authentic Gueridon service - unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to eat here due to time constraints but from what I could see, it looked sensational.
After I had popped my eye balls back into their sockets, I followed the porter to my room - advice here would be to always follow a porter - once past the main restaurants the hotel becomes a labyrinth of staircases that seem to lead to nowhere and everywhere all at the same time, I am 99% sure they were the inspiration for the moving staircases in Harry Potter. Jungle like gardens with paths woven through them, water features carving out hidden passages, it is quite the maze but one I would happily get lost in. Arriving at my room, we entered through what looked like a numbered garden gate into a private terrace complete with plunge pool, sun loungers and my own personal jungle. I could have parked up here and been perfectly happy but the porter pressed forward and opened the door to my room. I should correct myself here, it wasn’t a room. It was a space bigger than my two bedroom Suffolk house. Not only had my poor eyeballs popped from their sockets moments earlier but now my jaw had unlodged itself and fallen to the floor. The ground floor of the suite offers day beds, writing desks, buttery leather sofas and armchairs that hug you as you fall into them. The interiors are so exquisitely designed - each room is individually curated - I was beside myself playing with writing boxes, taking in the artwork and becoming the fairest of ladies. Upstairs saw another huge desk (this really is the place to pen that novel), king size bed, balcony overlooking the private terrace and ensuite complete with monsoon shower and very large tub.
A quick turn around, a donning of finest dress and I was ready for the Curry Buffet. Full disclosure, I was not looking forward to this. The word buffet always makes me a little nervous, throw the word curry into the mix and I was envisaging a full Bridget Jones curried turkey situation. How wrong I was. There was a minimum of eleven curries including meat, fish and veggie and showcasing flavours from Singapore, India and traditional Durban cuisine. Piles of steaming naan breads and parathas, homemade poppadoms and more pickles, chutneys and raitas that I didn’t even know existed, every single dish was exquisite. And yes, I did go back to load my plate more times than Henry Higgins would have probably deemed acceptable. Zero regrets.
Following dinner, I went on a tour of the hotel's bars. Starting my expedition at The Oyster Bar, sitting beneath an installation of whirring antique fans, sipping a glass of champagne at the marble counter whilst taking in the view of the ocean, sated on curry and carbs. Beneath a glass floor allowing a look into the wine cellar which is also available for private tastings. From here, upwards to the top floor and The Lighthouse Bar - a huge roof terrace taking in views of the lighthouse, just perfect whilst quaffing one of the signature cocktails. My last stop, the Chukka Bar, is a sports bar / smoking bar - this wasn’t the place for me. A heady aroma of cigar smoke and alpha male pheromones saw me slowly retreat to the safety of my oversized bed. I did appreciate the polo memorabilia though. And so I began my quest back to my room, of course I got lost but it worked out well as I stumbled into one of the most beautiful libraries I have ever seen. Floor to ceiling shelves of early editions of Rudyard Kipling and Dickens, historic Zulu books and everything in between. Leather chairs and end tables offering themselves up to discerning readers. Desks filled with headed paper inviting guests to write to their loved ones back home, a gramophone complete with records and of course, floor to ceiling windows taking in that ever-looming lighthouse.
The following day, after the dreamiest night's sleep, I explored the spa which prides itself on treatments using ingredients and practices native to KwaZulu-Natal. The signature massage which starts with a foot cleansing and the opportunity to choose your own crystals and aromatherapy was one of the best I have had. After I had been rubbed within an inch of my life I headed upstairs to the relaxation room complete with herbal teas and healthy snacks and a jacuzzi area flanked in marble and huge artworks giving the space an almost church like quality.
From here, on to the afternoon tea of which I had heard so much about and for good reason. Being at The Oyster Box is like living through all your favourite stories and I was on to the Alice in Wonderland portion of my stay. Teapots that seemed to float and pour streams of flowers onto the table, cake stands full of dainty pastries, french patisserie and finger sandwiches. Huge cakes begging to be sliced up and served next to scones and tartlets. I had honestly never seen anything like it, a mirage of pastels and pops of bold colours. The clinking of silver cake slices and champagne glasses danced over the grand piano.
The hotel has two large pools, one hidden amongst the central garden and the iconic sea view pool that perches above the Indian ocean allowing swimmers and sunbathers vistas over the crashing waves and the red and white lighthouse, the design of which has influenced the colour palette of loungers, parasols and textiles - a sea of red and white stripes pop against the turquoise water. From here there are steps that lead directly to the beachfront where you can walk down to the ocean or perhaps take a pew on the pier and watch the world go by.
The Oyster Box is truly one in a million, boasting the rich and famous as guests but also offering a friendly welcome to locals, regulars and tourists, it is easy to see why this magnificent hotel has become one of Durban’s most loved residences.
From ZAR 9,380 (£457 approx.) for a Classic Garden Facing Room per room per night on a B&B basis.
MasterChef quarter finalist, food and travel writer and mental health muser Hannah Gregory is always on a quest for her next adventure. Happiest with a glass full of wine, a belly full of food and sun on her skin, she is constantly on the hunt for food led travel destinations.