What's the draw?

As we saunter into the plush lounge at Birkenhead House, juxtaposed with views of jagged rocks and the crashing ocean, it feels like being invited into our smartest friend’s house than a hotel. This is how Birkenhead House began - the holiday home of hotelier powerhouse couple Liz and Phil Biden, founders of The Royal Portfolio. The collection today is a string of rather exclusive, design-led hotels across South Africa, most notably including The Silo, which houses Africa’s most extensive collection of contemporary art.

Birkenhead House may be a fully-fledged hotel, but with 11 rooms, two small plunge pools, a lounge, and a dining room, it’s a comparatively intimate affair from The Silo and remains as Liz and Phil have invited us for seafood and a swim. We see Liz’s distinctive eye for colour and bold design from room to room, notably her curated artworks and polished antiques with artistic flair.

The hotel’s accolades speak for themselves, including the ‘Best Resort in Africa 2022’ from Travel + Leisure and Robb Report’s 50 Greatest Hotels last year. With a gift from the marine life that keeps giving year-round, it’s the striking location that secures an award-winning edge. Doubtful that we’d personally see a whale whilst staying out of season (this runs between June to November) one morning at breakfast a humpback breached from the ocean in front of the hotel, illustrating how profuse these exciting, local creatures are.

Aerial view of Birkenhead House

What to eat

Personalisation comes into play when seated with menus printed with our names: something I know Liz and Phil offer across their other hotels. Plating up flavours of the coastline, learn about the local delicacies - notably mussel picking among the rocks beneath the hotel (considered South Africa’s finest) before moving onto the kitchen with the chefs for a mussel cooking masterclass over an open flame. Lastly, a key element of any South African’s culinary culture is their ‘braai’ (or a BBQ to you and me). In the summer, Birkenhead House hosts evening braais as the sun drops beneath the horizon with award-winning wines from local farms in the Hemel en Aarde valley.

What to do

Naturally, whale watching is on many agendas. Birkenhead House’s privileged location offers an ideal vantage point to spot cetaceans while enjoying the hotel’s elegant spaces. Evidently, with many opportunities to witness these creatures year-round, as temperatures cool and the whale season comes into full swing, effortlessly spot humpback and southern right whales as they arrive at the bay to breed. As you chill in the best seat in the house, you’ll have the opportunity to view a variety of sea life performances ranging from dolphins dancing to seals sunbathing on the rocks. Finally, if you’re keen to throw surfing into the mix, Hermanus is also a popular spot for the sport. Birkenhead House’s in-house surfers are on hand to ride the waves with you among the marine life.