Cold and crowd-free. Just the way I like it.
Hermanus out of season is truly a magical place. Twice over the last two months, I’ve had the pleasure of exploring this popular seaside destination sans the crush of summertime holidaymakers. Think gloomy skies, howling winds and introspective beach walks – not quite the pastel umbrellas, soft serve and sandcastles of December but certainly more my speed.
BIRKENHEAD HOUSE, HERMANUS
Set high on a bluff overlooking the popular Voëlklip Beach, Birkenhead House offers luxury accommodation and fine dining to those seeking a more elevated sort of harbourage. Forming part of The Royal Portfolio, Birkenhead House is a combination of family beach home turned boutique hotel and the decor reflects owner Liz Biden’s own eclectic taste. African art rubs shoulders with a Rococo armoire whilst crystal chandeliers reflect a flamenco of flames from the wood-burning fireplace.
Proffering a variety of activities and experiences, guests of Birkenhead House can enjoy everything from spa treatments to wine tastings and for the more intrepid, surfing Hermanus’ point break and foraging for mussels along the shore. As for me, I took a seat in the hotel’s in-house eatery and got ready to explore Birkenhead House through it’s cuisine.
The ideal place for heliophiles, winter sunsets witnessed from Birkenhead House seem infinitely more pearlescent than most, with brushes of peachy pink and mauve stretching all the way along to Gansbaai. An expansive deck area and heated pool overlook the beach and make for an excellent spot from which to watch surfers and perhaps even spot Hermanus’ famed whales. Inclusive of accommodation, breakfast, lunch and dinner can all be enjoyed here, or if the Southeaster picks up, then ensconced in the sunroom. Boasting an impressive selection of locally sourced ingredients, each menu at Birkenhead House is considered to bring out the best in season fare.
Headed by Chef Oliver Coetzee, the cuisine on offer features a strong Cape Malay and Asian influence – full of fresh bold flavours. As a seafood lover, I was particularly impressed with the array of seafood – all freshly caught by fishers from the Overstrand area. One standout dish was Chef Oliver’s Silver Kob with barley, baby spinach and fine beans in the silkiest prawn bisque while I will absolutely have to return to sample the crayfish risotto with crispy squid. Utterly heavenly! Seafood aside for now, all meals at Birkenhead House begin with a serving of homemade bread – we enjoyed rosemary focaccia – with creamy farm butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Starters are generously portioned; to the point where smaller eaters might only require a starter and dessert for a very satisfying meal. Desserts are decadent in every sense of the term, with homemade ice cream and fresh fruit adding to the experience. As comprehensive as the menu, the wine list focusses on estates around the Overberg and Overstrand area, what with Hermanus’ strandveld area yielding some of the best Sauvignon Blancs to be had.
There’s something to be said for sipping on a glass of something chilled while overlooking the vast and ever-changing expanse of the Indian Ocean.
For those wanting to walk up an appetite again, Hermanus’ winding coastal path can be accessed just below Birkenhead House and takes explorers on a meander beneath ancient milkweed trees. For those designed for comfort and not speed, there’s always the option of curling up in one of the hotel’s luxury suites and catching up on that beauty sleep. Our suite overlooked the ocean and boasted it’s own claw-footed bathtub – a detail that I (and a bottle of bubbly) took full advantage of. Above the bath, a picture window frames a buttress of the Oliphantsberg Mountains; a treat to see in winter’s changing light. A restful respite from the world – replete with kingsize bed – any stay at Birkenhead House is sure to recharge even the weariest of souls.
Developed just for locals, Birkenhead House is currently running a special on off-season rates meaning that there’s no time like the present to explore the haven that is Hermanus.
VOORMANSHUIS AT CREATION WINES, HEMEL-EN-AARDE VALLEY
A short drive from Hermanus and one finds oneself in the verdantly hued paradise that is the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. Living up to its moniker, the area is lushly forested, with indigenous flora rubbing shoulders with rolling vineyards. One could be in France – except with better wines…
Standing tall amongst lauded estates like Hamilton Russel, Spookfontein, Ataraxia and Bouchard Finlayson, Creation Wines produces some of the most celebrated cultivars to come out of the area. Especially notable for their wooded Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Creation also extends the offer of accommodation between swathes of vines turned an autumnal gold.
Tucked between these Midas-touched vineyards with a backdrop of the majestic Babylon Toren peak, Voormanshuis offers an intimate getaway for two. A Scandi aesthetic of wood, glass and steel blends into an Autumn landscape of russet, gold and tawny brown while the house itself leaves no footprint thanks to being entirely self-sustainable. Inside, minimalism is made cosy with the addition of a slow-combustion fireplace and an east-facing picture window designed to let in the first defrosting rays of winter sun. A daybed provides the ideal excuse (as if one needed any!) to relax while a half-egg tub and rain shower elevate one’s daily ablutions. An abundance of books paired with a generously sized sofa and picture window overlooking the valley means many an afternoon whiled away in a patch of winter sunlight with only Voormanhuis’ art collection for company. But like everything at Creation, you’re amongst an elegant crowd – namely a Pierneef, Marjorie Wallace, Jan Vermeiren and Christo Coetzee.
A daily delivery of treats catering to those wanting to make the most of Voormanhuis’ bespoke braai area means that one never need leave the house – except perhaps to adventure Creation’s newly built circular walk through the fragrant fynbos. Featuring a downstairs cellar and abundance of wines in the fridge upstairs, we could happily play and pair Creation’s cultivars with our cheese platter and soups on the first night and then our braai of steak, sosaties and sausage on the following evening.
Breakfast and lunch were enjoyed in Creation’s tasting room – a short drive from the uninterrupted privacy and solitude of Voormanshuis. Guests of owner Carolyn Martin herself, we dined on Creation’s newly launched Aromatic Winter Experience – a sensory journey through the farm’s identity. An extension of the estate’s Perfume of Wine range of products, the pairing aims to stimulate and awaken one’s olfactory receptors through aromatic foods and Creation’s wines.
“Since 80% of flavour is aroma and 20% is taste, we decided to expand our exploration of aroma within a veritable feast of flavours during the cosy months of winter” explains Carolyn. “Our sense of smell plays a vital role in determining our mood and memory, and our new menu sets out to take you on a culinary journey of wellbeing by highlighting aroma whilst stimulating all your senses.”
Cue six courses – all canapé-sized – are carefully curated by Head Chef Eleanor Niehaus to enhance scent and therefore taste. Expect dishes like Potato Celery Rosti and Goat’s Cream Cheese served with spicy Dhal Soup and paired with the amazingly fragrant Creation Sauvignon Blanc, Bacon Wrapped Springbok Loin with Exotic Mushrooms and Creation’s Pinot Noir and my personal favourite, the Steamed Cob served with Gochujang, Lime and Dashi – all beautifully enhanced by Creation’s cool-climate Chardonnay. Always ahead with conceptual cuisine, Creation has also recently introduced their Brunch Pairing – an offering that not only allows for midday libations but encourages them! Imagine a perfectly poached egg, bathed in lemony Hollandaise and paired with Creation’s Chardonnay? The stuff of dreams.
As mentioned, the colder months are my favourite time to travel and we certainly experienced all aspects of Overstrand weather on this trip. On the eve of a storm, we took a walk in the gloaming – down to a small stream fringed with ferns. As dusk fell over the valley and our breath steamed ahead of us, Dawid snapped a few images of Voormanshuis – all cheerful yellow windows and woodsmoke blue against the black of the mountain. A chorus of frogsong echoing through the darkness, punctuated only by the sporadic hoot of an owl nested in a nearby pine serenaded us as we headed home for dinner.
Later, as the rain lashed at the windows and the little fireplace pumped out warmth, I reckoned that we were ensconced in an owl nest of our very own. Although instead of feathers we had a bottle or two of Creation’s celebrated Pinot Noir to keep us toasty.