After we surrendered our car to Steven at the entrance, Kielan, the food and beverage manager, welcomed us warmly to the property, showing us around and sharing the highlights of the eleven-room luxury hotel. The most noteworthy feature was the building’s beachfront location and view of the bay from the sitting and dining areas of the main building, originally the vacation house of owners Liz and Phil Biden which was later expanded and converted into a boutique hotel.
It was a gray and overcast Saturday and there was a whale festival in town, adding crowds of day and weekend visitors to the upscale seaside village. Although it rained during most of our stay we enjoyed our visit to the area and the adult centered property (children over 12 were welcome although we saw none during our visit) which we found to be handsome and homey at the same time.
On our second day at Birkenhead House, we were determined to get the better of the situation so in spite of the threatening rain we followed the IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) Whale Walk one of the staff members recommended that was steps away from the hotel. The waterside cliff-path began along the beach at the foot of the hotel building and reached the heart of Hermanus about eight kilometers later. We arrived just as it began sprinkling and took shelter in a village hotel to await a courtesy pick up from our hotel van. During our walk, and in spite of the overcast weather, we were excited to spot a couple of whales near the shore. That morning we spent exploring the walk and the village downtown was outstanding and will remain my favorite memory of Hermanus.
We enjoyed the comfortable room with an ocean view, intimate and elegant ambiance, well prepared and well presented meals in a cozy dining room, pretty interiors, on site fitness room, luxury touches like linen sheets and in-room Internet access, in-house massages and beachfront location and hope to return when the weather is sunny.
Connectivity There was very good Internet access from my room.
General Manager Shane Brummer
Handicapped Access Yes. Even though the property had steps in many areas there were two wheelchair accessible rooms in the Front House. Guest staying in those rooms in the past in a wheelchair reached the Front House though a back of house path through the kitchen or were carried down. According to the hotel staff, those rooms allow guests access to their room, dining room, and front deck.
Length Of Stay Two nights
Location In the town of Hermanus in the Western Cape between the Klein Rivier Mountains and Walkers Bay.
Owned-Managed Liz and Phil Biden, owners of The Royal Portfolio comprised by La Residence in Franschoek, Birkenhead House and Royal Malewane in the Thornybush Game Reserve near the Greater Kruger National Park.
Pets Allowed No
Size There were 11 rooms in the 2,803 square meter property which employed 53 full time staff and 65 staff in season.
Year Opened-Renovated The property was established June 2003.The latest renovations work at Birkenhead House was in July 2009 when the laundry was upgraded.
A valet parking entrance led us through a shady courtyard into the three areas of the hotel, Back House and Middle House to the Front House which faced the bay. The interior décor was contemporary, accented by artistic designs, sculptures, water features, antiques and elegant fabrics. The result was a rich feeling yet relaxed environment where guests could be comfortable in blue jeans with a pre-dinner drink in the lounge before a gourmet fireside romantic dinner. On our way to bed we discovered a candle lit staircase leading to our room. There was art from the following artists in the hotel common areas: Neal Rogers, Ken Howard, Sasha Hartlief, Mahlangu Speelman, James Butler, and Keith Joubert.
The first item of furniture I noticed on entering the room was an oversize turquoise and gold armchair with a zebra skin footstool facing the bay. This promptly became my favorite part of the room. I wondered if perhaps it became every guests favorite spot as the foot stool zebra skin was torn in several places.To the right of the chair there was a king bed with a large wood headboard framed by matching ostrich leather night tables. Each table had a lamp and the left most table also had a phone. Bird prints hung above the night tables and along the other walls with the exception to the wall nearest the entrance which had a full length mirror in a zebra skin frame.
Across from the bed there was a window facing desk with a lamp, a welcome half bottle of bubbly on ice, as well as a lamp and an armchair. A Sony television and DVD player were housed in a cabinet next to the desk. Beneath the TV there was a mini refrigerator with complimentary beverages and Lays onion flavored potato chips.
Double wood and glass French doors on two sides of the room (and one in the bathroom) led to a wrap around covered terrace (also described as three balconies that joined together) that was the area to the left of the room. A metal and glass lamp hung in the center of the room. In the rear, there were two floor-to-ceiling narrow closets with hanging and shelf space, electronic safe, blow dryer, laundry basket and gray curtains in lieu of doors. There were large oil paintings by Deziree in the bedroom and bathroom.
I was able to counteract the chill temperature thanks to the room’s underfloor heating. Linen monogrammed bedsheets enhanced the sense of luxury and thoughtfulness. I heard sounds from neighborhood visitors and children while in the room with the doors closed. There was public parking on the street next to the hotel. From my room and terrace I had a clear view of the building across the street and of the parking area and street. Although because of the weather there were few people outside closing curtains and shutters was necessary to maintain privacy and reduce outside noises.
For dinner our first night the menu options were Feta and Spring onion Spring Rolls with a Sweet Chili Sauce or Pan Fried Squid on Linguini with a Coconut Curry Sauce (I had this one with the sauce on the side and enjoyed it). Italian Borlotti Bean Soup in between the starter and the main course. For entree the choices were Pan-Fried Fresh Yellowtail on a Herb and Lemon Zested Basmati Rice with Red and Yellow Pepper Relish surrounded in Light Lemon Butter Sauce (my choice) or Grilled Chicken Supreme with Mediterranean Vegetables, Cous Cous and Mushroom Sauce. The dessert options were crème Brulee or Selection of South African Cheeses. For our second dinner there was Springbok Carpaccio with Rocket, Truffle Oil and Deep Fried Capers or Blue Cheese and Spring Onion Tart with Poached Pear for starters; Cauliflower soup; Seafood Risotto Mussels, Prawns, Linefish and Squid or Karoo Lamb Rack on Soft Polenta, Comfit Onions and Creamed Spinach for mains; followed by Chocolate Mousse or Warm Camembert Cheese with Preserves and Crackers (my pick).
The chef, Maret Myburgh, grew up on a farm and discovered her love for food when she travelled though Europe. That was when she decided to become a chef. After studying at the Institute of Culinary Arts she went to work at the Showroom Restaurant in Cape Town under Bruce Robertson and found she had a passion for fine dining. After working in the United States for a while she returned to Africa.
Facilities The property had three pools, two treatment rooms, dining room, and a sea facing lounge room.
Fitness Center And Spa There was a work out area with treadmill and exercise machines. Although there was no spa per se two rooms were set aside for guest treatments. I had a 30-minute Swedish Back and Neck massage with Iselle who was friendly and had strong cold hands. It was chilly in the treatment room. At the end she placed a warm towel on my back which felt wonderful.
Pool Although the three pool were attractive the bay facing Front Deck eternity pool was my favorite. It measured 5.35 meters by 2.5 meters by 1 meter. The Two Level eternity pool was 4.4 meters by 2.92 meters by 1.3 meters at the top and 8.1 meters by 2.92 meters by 1.3 meters at the bottom. There were lounge chairs and umbrellas in the pool areas, making them especially inviting. Because of the chilly and rainy weather the pool area furniture was unassembled during our visit.
To the left of the house there was a beach known as Voëlklip (Afrikaans for bird stone). Although it was hard to imagine when we were there due to the rain, cold and wind, according the the hotel’s promotional materials this beach offers great bathing. The beach on the right of the house is called Nanny’s or Kamma Bay Beach. Both beaches were said to have strong currents requiring bathers to be cautious and aware.
During the whale watching season (June to December) the southern right whale (Eubalaena Australis) may be seen in Walker Bay. The whales were dubbed “right” whales because in the past they were commercially viable to hunt. Rich in oil and baleen they floated on the surface making it easy to retrieve the carcass after hunting. Because the species was close to extinction, they received international protection in 1935.
While several species of whales visit the bay the southern right whale is the most common. Right whales may be identified by their characteristic blow, two V shaped streams of heated water vapor about five meters long. Although we saw right whales were not lucky enough to see the blow.