We've done beach-bum duty for the Smiths before: this time, instead of being flown off for a first-time dirty weekend in Barcelona, our Smith reviewing duties fell during a decadent eight-week African honeymoon. Having spent 21 days in the Namibian desert (sand, yes; water, not much) followed by a week of late nights and partying in Cape Town and a marathon hike up Table Mountain, we arrived at Birkenhead House hot, sweaty, grumpy and desperate for the beach, only to be greeted by the warmest welcome we could possibly have asked for. That meant lavender-scented hot towels, a glass of champagne, the ocean smack-bang in our faces and a friendly team of smiling folk who made us feel like we were the only honeymooners in the world. A very good start to round two for these Smith reviewers.
Having driven through Hermanus, past retirement villages and golf carts, we’d begun to question whether we were doing the right thing – until we reached the magnificent cream stone steps of Birkenhead House. Suddenly a weight had lifted from our shoulders and we knew that the next few days were going to be pretty darn special.
The hotel is perched on a peninsula on the Indian Ocean, so there is an overwhelming sense of privacy; it feels almost like being on an island. We padded through the sumptuous, mouthwatering interior, with elegant pillars everywhere; a long, slim pool flanked by cream wicker loungers; a stylish and inviting bar with huge arrangements of lilies; and an impressive fridge of chilled wines. We could even see the ocean shimmering beyond the restaurant, a stunning terrace in between. The view from the verandah is spectacular: a pretty little bay is directly beneath, so whether you’re sipping cocktails in the infinity pool or taking breakfast with waves crashing at your feet, you feel as though the beautiful paradise beach out front belongs to you.
We were given a brief introduction to our new surroundings by the front-of-house manager, who cleverly picked up on the fact that, while we were trying desperately to appear sophisticated grown-ups, all we really wanted to do was go to our room and jump around like over-excited small children. He kept it brief. Champagne in hand, smiles on our faces, we were taken to the ocean-view honeymoon suite. Although not the grandest in the hotel, it is definitely the most romantic. Like all the rooms, ours was big, light and airy, yet warm and inviting, with a big gilt bed facing the sea, flowers everywhere, bohemian details and a feeling of decadent luxury.
From the moment we arrived, the team went out of their way to make us comfortable, and ensure our every need was met. This continued throughout our stay: we really felt they wanted us to have the best time ever, and the little details and personal touches did not go unnoticed: a floating flower in the loo; lanterns that appeared within seconds of a power cut; a cheerful phone call after we'd ordered breakfast, to tell us that dolphins were in the bay; rose petals on the floor; a ready-run bath; candles everywhere on our return from dinner; a candlelit supper another evening, next to a lit fire; hot-water bottles in bed on a chilly night; peppermint tea in bed at 3am after a big night out; and bathrobes so luxuriant that even Hugh Hefner would have been proud.
Honeymooners aside, Birkenhead House is a hotel to suit all Mr and Mrs Smiths. Designed by owner Liz Biden, in conjunction with Cape Town interior designer Ralph Krall, the hotel (named not after northern English town, but after HMS Birkenhead, which ran aground just up the coast) is minimalist in its stylings’ simplicity, with clever warm flourishes.
After 48 hours of hibernating – sunbathing, backgammon, champagne-sipping, a facial and massage in the fantastic spa, being waited on hand and foot – we ventured out to sample the local restaurants and nightlife. Hermanus is a small provincial, seaside town, so we didn’t expect much, and the candlelit dining experience at Birkenhead took some beating, but we feasted on fish at La Mediterrea, owned by Taki, surfer by day, chef by night.
We happened upon an over-Sixties dance party and egged on by the oldies, we ended up having an unexpected dance of our lives to the local Van Morrison on his electric keyboard. Never have ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree’ and ‘Long-Haired Lover from Liverpool’ sounded so good. A hilarious experience fuelled by a skinful of South African red, and we left giggling and feeling pretty youthful.
The following day, we thought we should explore inland. A 45-minute drive later, we were in the heart of the winelands. After seven vineyards, we rated Hamilton Russell the tastiest, particularly as it’s also blessed with a charming restaurant where we soaked up the morning’s tasting.
The dreaded day of leaving finally arrived, and we headed back to the city with heavy hearts, feeling as though we’d had the highlight of our honeymoon. We’d been treated like king and queen, felt pampered, rested, fat and happy, and couldn’t wait to share tales of our adventure with our friends. Now tell me… What’s an acceptable amount of time to wait before you’re eligible for a second honeymoon?
This South Africa boutique hotel was reviewed by Harriet Marshall