My Happy Place
I must confess I lose any modicum of professional objectivity when I enter one of the Royal Portfolio establishments. It has to do with the perfect combination of high art décor, extreme luxury combined with personable warmth, which is balanced with respect for privacy.
My royal welcome at Birkenhead House (www.birkenheadhouse.co.za) starts with a choice of pink champagne, complementary wine, snacks, tea, coffee, beautifully glass-bottled water and a gift notebook. My host gives a gracious tour of the hotel, then sensing the tone, leaves me enthralled to explore on my own.
Personal bias aside, I notice that every guest I encounter has fallen under the Birkenhead spell, and couples wander around with glazed looks and happy grins. We gather spontaneously at the pool on the cliff edge to watch a school of dolphins swim freely by. Birkenhead House has prime location for dolphin and whale watching and is situated right in the floral rich fynbos region of Hermanus in the Western Cape. With a higher diversity of species than any place on earth, the renowned floral kingdom is accessible simply by walking out the door and up the mountain behind the guesthouse. In front of the hotel is a pretty swimming beach, from which there is access to a 5km coastal boardwalk into town where a complementary shuttle can collect guests for the return.
Guests may choose to stay in the front, middle or upper house, and each faces views of sea or mountains. I choose to stay in room 6 for its wrap-around verandah with both ocean and mountain views. The vast suite has high shuttered windows and three sets of wide glass double doors. The cool, thick, marbled floors are covered with an antique teal carpet. Drama is created with an oversized carved headboard in dark wood, while zebra skin coverings add African flair. Liz Biden’s signature chandelier and oversized everything bring glamour to the scheme.
The characteristically expansive bathroom has a freestanding Victorian-style bath facing double doors and it is set up against a high sash window with mountain views.
There is underfloor heating and air-conditioning which may be set to one’s own comfort. Every traveler convenience has been thoughtfully provided, including mosquito repellant, sunblock and swimming towels. A large flat screen television offers DSTV and there is a DVD library.
A row of 17 candles has been lit to show the way to dinner. A creative four course menu, designed by a talented young chef, includes a snazzy take on a Nicoise salad using seared tuna. We are offered home baked bread, an intensely flavoured mushroom soup, fresh sole or top quality beef and a salted caramel crème brule.
I return to a candle-lit room and don the silk gown and climb happily into the fine cotton mongrammed linen. The hotel is quiet and only the sounds of the waves and a gentle fountain come into my suite. I open my double doors to the sea. Though I am tired I am reluctant to let go of this perfect experience. I store up each sense, from the cool breeze coming off the sea, to the soft bedding, to the sophisticated perfumed smells. I am fortifying myself against the stress which will be there for me when I leave this serene haven. I comfort myself that I will be able to draw on this memory for many years to come, picturing myself back here in this happy place until one day I do return to be mesmerised again under their pleasing magic.