Recently I was lucky enough to enjoy the weekend of a lifetime when my husband and I stayed at the luxurious Birkenhead House &Villa in Voelklip, Hermanus. This was the prize that I received after winning the Two Oceans Simple Snacking Challenge last year. And before I forget, let me also just quickly apologise for the lack of recipe this week - will some pretty pictures do instead?
Situated in Voelklip overlooking the sea, Birkenhead House and Villa was officially opened in June of 2003. It is situated on the same site as the Birkenhead Hotel which was demolished in 1989. From this prime spot visitors can enjoy fantastic sea views and join the coastal walkway that links Voelklip with the centre of town and many nearby beautiful beaches.
We arrived on a Friday evening, weary from the week to a very warm welcome and glasses of bubbly. Our bags were whisked to our room and friendly manager Cristi took us on a quick tour of the hotel before showing us to our room. The hotel boasts three swimming pools, a gym, a spa, indoor and outdoor seating areas and a luxurious but homely lounge area with a fireplace for those chilly evenings.
Our room was gorgeous and we arrived to find that the bed had been decorated with flowers, champagne on ice next to the very generous bathtub in the exquisite bathroom, as well as gifts from Birkenhead House and Two Oceans.
Let's talk about the food, probably the part I was looking forward to the most. Breakfast was a sumptuous buffet of cereals (the most delicious homemade muesli I have ever tasted), muffins and pastries, fruit, cheese, yoghurt and cold meats, as well as the option of a hot breakfast - eggs done "your way" or omelette with a choice of fillings. All served on the front terrace with a side order of fresh sea air, now that's how to do a breakfast!
Lunch was a 3 course affair starting with warm, fresh bread. We enjoyed miso soup with exotic mushrooms, smoked salmon nachos, roasted vegetable tortillas, salmon tempura, fishcakes and dhall, not to mention a selection of desserts, cakes and tarts that were on offer. Fortunately the team is flexible when it comes to mealtimes, and lunch carries on until late in the afternoon. I don't think we would have managed another big meal too soon after breakfast!
The dinners were outstanding, a choice of 4 courses preceded by an amuse-bouche. On the first night I enjoyed prawn tempura, tomato soup and a fantastic butternut and chickpea curry (my favourite dish of the weekend). This was followed by a coffee panna cotta with chocolate sauce and macadamia nut brittle. On the second night I enjoyed cauliflower and blue cheese soup, the most tender and delicious lamb shank with green beans and a creamy baked cheesecake. I just about managed to fit it in before retiring to the super-comfy bed with the sound of the waves crashing outside. Torture, pure torture I tell you. Did I mention that we returned to our room to find the bed turned down, candles lit, sweets on our pillow and a hand-written weather report for the following day? These guys think of everything!
If you can bear to tear yourself away from the hotel there are many different activities in the area to keep you busy. There are a range of walks and hikes and some whale watching to be done if you find yourself there at the right time of the year. (We saw a dolphin - does that count?) Surfing, wine tasting, horse-riding, shark cage diving or even a spot of shopping are just some of the activities you can enjoy in Hermanus. On the Saturday we decided to visit the food market at Hermanuspietersfontein a short drive from the Birkenhead. The market is small but offers a great range of products and seems to be a popular lunch time haunt for locals and visitors. Here you are encouraged to "take a plate" and fill it up with goodies like hamburgers, artisan breads, cheeses, homemade quiches, koeksisters, brownies and rusks. There is live music, a play area for the kids and you can even watch the winery staff as they sort grapes for their next batch of wine.
We also did a bit of walking along the beautiful coastline - it was only right what with all of the feasting that was happening inbetween!
I cannot say enough about Birkenhead House and what a fantastic weekend we had - this is a real gem! I think what I loved most was that despite the opulant surroundings and lavish finishes there is nothing pretentious about this place. The atmosphere is casual and relaxed, and this is reflected mostly in the service of the staff (the Birkenhead family as they like to be known) who strive to make their guests feel as though nothing is too much trouble and that they are right at home. My thanks go to them and to Two Oceans for this wonderful prize!
For more information on Birkenhead House, you can visit their website here.