After my time at La Residence, I take a two-hour drive from Franschhoek to the seaside retreat of Hermanus, Western Cape, South Africa. The town has the feel of a Cornish village, mostly holiday homes dotted along a rugged coastline.
Birkenhead House was once Liz Biden’s seaside home, and has now been converted into a chic boutique hotel with just 11 rooms. The hotel is a little out of town, perched above a pretty swimming beach (it’s a little warmer than Cape Town), and is the most seaward property in town, so your views are right into the surf.
Birkenhead may be boutique, but it has all the big hotel amenities you’re likely to need; a gym, two small pools for cooling off in, one inside the hotel’s courtyard, the other perched on the hotel’s sun deck above the beach, and there are treatment rooms for those looking for serious pampering. Birkenhead House’s location means guests can step off the deck straight onto the beach. We were feeling energetic and so jogged the path which winds its way about five kilometres to town. The hotel staff will happily come and pick you up, so there’s no need to feel you have to walk back if you don’t want to. Hermanus is full of galleries to explore, but great outdoors is the main attraction, and there are some great hikes in the hills behind the hotel, or along the 32km of white, windswept sand that is Walker Bay. Hermanus is also famous for its whale watching in November. The seals move with the whales, and that attracts the sharks, so cage diving is an option for those looking for an adrenalin rush.
Birkenhead House is full board, with house wines and sparkles available from an open bar throughout the day. As at La Res, the small team means you’ll likely see the same faces for most of your stay. They’ll meet you from the car, introducing themselves by their first names, and are on hand to recommend wines or help organise your day. Chef will great you for dinner and walk you through the day’s menu, a lovely touch. Guests are left feeling that they’re staying at a rich friend of the family’s house, who has great taste, they’re not there to look after you themselves, but they’ve left their staff on hand to make sure you’re having a great time. Service is attentive, and no request is too much trouble. After dinner on our first night, we found our room full of candles, with a steaming hot bath and a bottle of bubbly on ice. Very special spot, indeed.