The Royal Portfolio has been a cyclonic success story since launching its first hotel in 1999 – luxury game lodge Royal Malewane in the Limpopo. Visited by some of the world’s most famous names, and topping Conde Nast Traveller’s Safari Hot List, the property set the tone for the rest of the collection – mastery in the nuance of understated service and bold and courageous decorating.
With the upcoming launch in mind I decided to visit Birkenhead House, the second property launched by The Royal Portfolio in 2003. (The third, La Residence, in Franschoek, opened in 2008). Birkenhead had enjoyed an overwhelming response upon launch, named in UK Condé Nast Traveller’s 2003 Hotlist as one of 50 new Hotels of the World and has followed on with a number of accolades including Africa’s Leading Boutique Hotel in The World Travel Awards 2014.
Originally a family home, the fearless owners, Liz and Phil Biden, made the decision to add a beach property after their first successful foray as hoteliers and undertook the conversion to an 11 suite beach hotel. One can understand why. It’s position, on a unique promontory with unparallelled views of Walker Bay and access to Hermanus’ best beaches – Voelklip, Grotto and Nanny’s – begs to be enjoyed by more than just the proprietors. There are few positions like it.
The veranda offers an infinity pool and loungers to a breathtaking view – it’s up to you if you want to watch the surfers or the Humpback and Southern Right Whales. A few steps take you down onto a 4 kilometre footwalk that runs right along the rugged coast and among the many stylish coastal properties – it’s an absolute must. I loved how the locals were so warm in their greeting to passers-by.
Described by Tatler Travel Guide as “Nantucket meets Provence”, the hotel has the Hamptons-shutters-and-clapboard combination from the outside, but on the inside there’s a treat you don’t experience too often – a number of internal courtyards with fountains and a pool, and 11 suites each individually designed by owner Liz Biden. The spaces are super generous with travertine marble bathrooms, victorian slipper baths, double pedestal basins, huge mirrors, and possibly the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in. And yet each room is unique in its palette, art, furniture and furnishings – “beach house meets quirky opulence” – as their website outlines. Many hotels lean heavily on their position and roll out a consistent design theme of how their suites look, but with smaller hotels, and Birkenhead particularly, it’s open season on individuality and fine detail.
“My goal has always been to pay tribute to luxury and comfort for our guests. It’s a game of mix and match – something worn with something new, something classical with something contemporary. Wherever possible we are supporting local industry and local manufacturers – insisting throughout on the highest quality materials and the highest standards of craftsmanship,” explains Biden.
A key feature that stands prominent is the powerful art which adorns the walls. “At each of the properties we reflect the mood and style of each property,” she adds. “Art really brings a space to life. The collection at Birkenhead House is a little more colourful and whimsical than at our other properties and includes many pieces by local artists such as Neil Roger, Deziree Smith, Sibley McAdam, Keith Joubert, Samuel Allerton, Sasha Hartslief and Hennie Meyer.”
Service is polished, quiet and readily available and manager Shane Brummer has an amazing way with people – most importantly, he has that affable, down-to-earth guy-next-door demeanour, and manages to maintain that, and a sophisticated warm sense of humour, in a job that requires meeting the very varied demands of high paying guests. He’ll even take you out for a surf, or ask his team to pack you a picnic for the beach. With it being all inclusive, once you arrive, you can truly relax and make any request you like.