Sure, we know all about barefoot luxury – that often bandied about term to suggest palm-fringed beaches and soft sand between the toes with staff walking about with freshly cracked coconuts and umbrella-topped pineapple cocktails.
Birkenhead House, in Hermanus in the Western Cape of South Africa, takes this a step further. They offer bare-shirted luxury too. In fact, Royal Portfolio matriarch Liz Biden, the creative force behind this most exquisite collection of bijou hotels and game lodges, has created an environment that is extremely stylish but also so relaxed you’ll feel right at home trailing beach sand and, indeed, water droplets from your dip in the heated swimming pools, onto the hand-knotted carpets or non-slip travertine. Pool-side furniture is covered in terrycloth for this purpose and the deep sofas and daybeds in the public lounge area are in sensible stone-washed denim. Stylish, comfortable and 100% relaxed.
There are just 11 suites at Birkenhead House situated in three connected buildings. Rooms one and two are located in the upper section of the front property. What makes these suites so remarkable is they have front and side sliding doors overlooking the beach but also doors and windows looking on to the mountain behind. As if that weren’t enough, there are skylights in the bathroom so you can look out to the sea and up to the skies while soaking in the Victorian slipper tub.
Sanctuary-style bathrooms are one of The Royal Portfolio’s signature extravagances. The bathroom in room one was so large there was a place for a walk-in shower, two Victorian-style basins on pedestals in front of massive mirrors, the aforementioned slipper bath and not one but two Louis IV -style gilded chairs. That’s how they roll.
It wouldn’t surprise me if each day the team at Birkenhead House sit together and decide what they might possibly do to add even more to the guest experience.
As a fully-inclusive fare, you’d imagine them trying to limit overheads by not actively encouraging guests to try some of the excellent local wineries or saving on ingredient costs but that’s exactly what they don’t do. And, if, like me, you avoid alcohol and sugar, and follow a limited diet, they will make a low-carbohydrate and grain-free bread without even requesting it and call a local distiller who makes a sugar and alcohol-free “gin” so you might taste it.
I’m sure you get the picture. At Birkenhead House, you will experience more of what is special and fabulous. And, with a stratospherically high staff-to-guest ratio, which includes registered tour guides on the team, you will want for nothing.
During the spring and summer-time, Southern Right whales are very active in the Hermanus region. As we checked in we were offered binoculars to use during our stay. They were hardly necessary as the leviathans were so near the shore they were clearly visible with the naked eye.
While Hermanus was once a charming farming and fishing village, today it is a busy metropolis. Its many charms aside, staying in the centre of town, especially during peak summer season, can be a traffic-jamming and crowded experience. The beauty of Birkenhead House is it is located outside the main Hermanus village on the road to the Victorian village of Stanford, just above the wonderful Voelklip swimming beach. There is direct access to the famous coastal cliff path that takes you into the centre of the village and beyond, some five kilometres away. The Fernkloof Nature Reserve is a mountain area with safe and well-marked hiking routes, easily accessed within very close proximity to the hotel.
Although it is hard to leave the deep comforts of the friendly staff and facilities, there is much to explore while in the region. The famous wines of Walker Bay, for example, are made nearby and so are the award-winning cheeses of Klein Rivier in Stanford. There are many fine-dining cuisine options but, equally, good and affordably casual ones too. But, with a fully inclusive fare and delicious cuisine at Birkenhead House, you may choose simply to stay in. Although we didn’t use the spa, we overheard other guests describing their massage as the best they had ever had.
While a deluxe, inclusive experience comes at a premium price, it also delivers real value for money. And, if you have the time to extend your stay to other Royal Portfolio properties (the recently opened Silo Hotel at Cape Town’s Waterfront, La Residence in Franschhoek and Royal Malewane, arguably the finest game-lodge experience in South Africa, located in the Thornybush Reserve in the Greater Kruger National Park area,) you won’t be sorry.
And, if you’re a surfer, Birkenhead House general manager Shane Brummer might well show you the best waves himself.
Tell more about Birkenhead House
Rooms from £555.