Everyone loves Hermanus – I’d even go so far as to say that everyone loves Hermanus a little too much. Each time I’ve visited the Overstrand town, it’s been in peak holiday season – the cliffs cluttered with December strollers or sharp-eyed searchers hoping to spot a denizen of the deep. Preferring to shy away from the crowds, the winter season remains my ideal time of year to explore popular spots like Hermanus – the weather is temperate, the sun rises later (as a photographer this detail is nothing short of luxurious) and the necessity to book for dinner falls away. There is also an abundance of parking.
It was just this experience that I enjoyed over the final weekend of May. Perched on the cliffs overlooking the wide expanse of Walker Bay, I hibernated in one of Ocean Eleven Guesthouse‘s Deluxe rooms, taking in the unadulterated peace and quiet. Unquestionably one of the most relaxing places I’ve had the pleasure of staying in, Ocean Eleven is a Hermanus institution for anyone wanting to escape the tourist traps and instead opt to reconnect with nature and oneself. With a view that encompasses the towering Olifantsberg mountains as well as distant Gaansbaai, the sunrises and sunsets viewed from my room’s balcony were nothing short of spectacular – the sky alight with fire that faded to the pearliest seashell pink. Whether one selects a Standard room in the old manor house (all wooden floors, high ceilings and direct garden access), a Deluxe room overlooking the ocean or sparkling pool or one of the spacious Suites, every attention to detail has been considered. Heavy percale sheets, fluffy cotton towels and my personal favourite – a crystal decanter of sherry to warm up those winter evenings – all add to the obvious care and devotion manager Obry and the Ocean Eleven team has put into their guesthouse.
For pleasure-seekers, the honeymoon suite boasts a bathtub that overlooks the ocean; an addition that made me want to book out the entire room for myself – no husband required.
As for amenities, Ocean Eleven does not deviate from this same level of luxury. The aforementioned pool is surrounded by loungers where even in the cooler months, intrepid heliophiles might catch a few rays. Towered over by an impressive Norfolk pine, the outdoor deck takes on a pleasing, almost European atmosphere – broken only by the vibrant display of scarlet aloes planted around the periphery. A comfortable lounge combines sleek modern decor with country charm while a wood-burning fireplace ensures that things stay toasty in winter. Breakfast is taken in the sunroom, with starched tablecloths and fresh orange juice enjoyed over an ocean view. Offering guests a considered choice of morning fare, Ocean Eleven does breakfast like no other. Poached eggs are something that I’m painfully particular about and my breakfast of smoked trout, brown toast, fried tomato and the most perfect soft-poached eggs was nothing short of heavenly. For the sweet-toothed, pancakes or fresh fruit and creamy yoghurt are conjured up, while Continental palates are catered for with a cheeseboard and cured meats. A post-breakfast walk along Hermanus’ famed clifftop is the best way to ensure one’s appetite returns for lunch. The briny scent of the ocean coupled with fynbos and the fecund earth that gives life to the town’s botanical beauty add to the sensory experience of walking high above the crashing waves, the occasional dassie bounding past one’s feet.
No Saturday morning is complete without a visit to the Hermanus Country Market. Featuring enough food stalls to tempt one into a second breakfast, the market is a joyful gathering of community, with locals retailing their home crafts, fresh produce and bowers of plants. After finding a heliotrope in a particularly purple hue, I got chatting to Annalize Loubser of The Royal Gardener’s Nursery. After landing a dream job as one of the gardeners to HRH Queen Elizabeth in 2002, Annalize returned to South Africa and kickstarted her dream of having a nursery of her own. Situated next to the Plaaskombuis restaurant in the Hemel and Aarde valley, Annalize’s nursery sells a variety of indigenous and exotic plants as well as vegetables that she grows herself. Also showing off some prime veggies was Pure Green – a cooperative that sells their organic produce at the market each weekend. For the hungry, my favourite street food stall Souvlaking Delicious serves up their signature lamb gyros or for those in a peckish mood, fresh oysters can be slurped down with a few glasses of Genevieve MCC – made in the nearby Elgin valley.
If straddling those few hours between breakfast and lunch is as awkward for you as it is for me, then the best way to pass the time is with a curated wine experience at Wine & Company. Settled in a periwinkle blue house in the town centre, Wine & Company is every oenophile’s dream shop.
Featuring ceiling-high racks veritably groaning under bottles, this little treasure trove stocks the finest wines from farms both often frequented and foreign to me. Specialising in varietals from the Overberg, Overstrand, Walker Bay, Hemel and Aarde valley and Elgin, manager Grant Liddell treated us to a sneaky tasting of Iona Wines’ deliciously flinty Sauvignon Blanc as well as their One Man Band white and red blends.
Hosting site-specific tastings every Friday evening, visitors can enjoy a range of wines chosen by Grant before deciding what to purchase and perhaps mosying on over the road for pasta or woodfired pizza at Rossi’s Italian Restaurant.
After a lunch of peri peri prawns, exceptionally delicious sushi and yet more wine (this time an unwooded Ataraxia Sauvignon Blanc) at Harbour Rock, we took a stroll along the sunny breakwater, admiring the forests of sinuous kelp. Although May is marginally too early for whales, there had been reports that a few were sighted swimming in the direction of Hermanus. While the best we got were a few friendly seals, there is still little to beat walking at the edge of the ocean in mild winter sunshine. And if walking is your thing, Hermanus holds no shortage of precipitous paths to wander. The famed cliff path runs all the way from the new harbour to Grotto Beach and includes the best whale-watching spots as well as beautiful bathing locations like Fick’s Pool. A 12km stretch in total, 9km of the path are wheelchair-friendly, enabling everyone to enjoy the view. At Grotto Beach, I followed the boardwalk just beyond Dutchies restaurant and found myself pleasantly lost in an ancient milkwood forest. Protected by the Fernkloof Nature Reserve, this forest is known as Piet-se-Bos and is one of the last few remaining coastal forests of the Southern Cape. Gnarled white milkwood trees twist overhead and dappled sunlight only just breaks through the canopy of deep green. One could be underwater, or perhaps in some scene from a Tolkien tome.
After a full day of throughly exploring every sight (and bite) that this jewel of the Overstrand has to offer, the only thing left is to head home, perhaps sipping on a sherry in front of the fireplace in Ocean Eleven’s lounge before curling up in bed and falling asleep to the sound of the sea. To me, Hermanus is just bliss spelt a different way.