White wicker loungers, ostrich-feather lampshades and fresh roses contribute to creating the most tasteful of holiday terrains, especially when teamed with a plunge pool running down the centre of Birkenhead House and an infinity version out front, looking towards the sea. Set on a cliff’s edge in the Western Cape, with stunning views over two sandy beaches, Birkenhead House is a special place to watch the waves and surfers come in. Between June and November, the view includes whales, which swim right in front of the hotel. Hermanus is about a two-hour drive southeast of Cape Town.
Get this when you book through us:
A fantastic private, candlelit dinner for two in the grounds
11am but flexible depending on how busy it is. Check-in: 2pm.
Double rooms from £313.50 (ZAR6,658), including tax at 15 per cent.
Rates include transfers to/from Hermanus, breakfast, lunch, dinner in the communal dining room, drinks.
As well as Hermanus' poster activity – whale watching – you can arrange a huge variety of activities around Birkenhead House, including scuba trips, shark diving, quad biking, coastal kayaking, surfing, para gliding, golf, and wine tasting.
At the hotel
Three pools, spa, gym, free WiFi throughout, off-street parking. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD/CD player and library, complimentary minibar.
Our favourite rooms
All rooms are individually decorated, and all are luxurious. One room has an Oriental feel with Chinese yellow-silk chairs and black-lacquer wardrobes. Rooms 1 and 2 are sea-facing (1 is more spacious). Rooms 1, 2, 3, 4 and 7 have balconies, as does Room 8 (albeit small) and Room 6 has a wrap-around balcony with mountain views. Rooms 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9 have sea views (6 and 10 have balconies, 9 has three). Room 5 has a plunge pool, a freestanding bath tub and a walk-in shower (but no sea view). 8 has a four-poster and a sea-view, but only just.
Boutique beach essentials, and binoculars for whale- and dolphin-watching.
No children under 10, unless the entire property is booked for an exclusive stay. An extra bed for a third person can be added to rooms 2,4,6,7,8 and 9 at R3000 a night for an additional fee.
The hotel recycles all paper, glass and metal and creates its own compost from a wormery. All food is sourced locally, seasonally and organically.
No 119, 11th Str & 7th Avenue
The nearest airport is Cape Town International, 128km away (allow an hour and a half by car).
An hour and a half away in Cape Town, luxury companies such as Blue Train (www.bluetrain.co.za) and Rovos Rail (www.rovos.com) set off for scenic railway rides to Worcester, Beaufot West, Kroonstad and Bloemfontein.
From the airport, take the N2 and then the R43. There’s free parking when you arrive.
Worth getting out of bed for
The hotel can organise wine tours in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, as well as nature walks in the Fernkloof Nature Reserve. For more ideas, check out our guide to Hermanus.
For fish and sushi in Hermanus, pop into Harbour Rock, a large restaurant overlooking the anchored fishing fleet in the new harbour. Piazza Paradiso at the old harbour (+27 (0)28 313 1153) is a relaxed spot in which to enjoy pizza or pasta. The restaurants at The Marine hotel on Marine Drive in Hermanus (+27 (0)28 313 1000) serves local fresh fish and shellfish from Walker Bay in bright and stylish surroundings. Make sure to book a table with a sea view. Moggs Country Cookhouse, in the Hemel-en-Aarde valley, is a rustic venue surrounded by several well-respected vineyards which supply the restaurant with excellent wine. The fresh ingredients, used in dishes like asparagus salad, come from the cook’s garden next door.
Also on Marine Drive, Savannah Café is great for light lunches. It’s a popular place but it’s not possible to book. The seaside location is wonderful though if you need to wait a short time.
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?