The town remains at its core a village that has the cliffs, tidal pool and old harbour as its epicentre. Say the name Hermanus and just about every South African conjures up mental images of whales coming in to Walker Bay to give birth to their young.
Unfortunately, this also holds true for anyone else in the world that is besotted with the gentle giants of the sea.
“Whale season” and the summer months are the worst times to travel to the beautiful and fascinating region of the Western Cape known as the Overberg.
I totally understand how vital these months are to the regional economy but I hate crowds. For me, there is no better time of year to visit Hermanus and its environs than in winter.
There is a misconception that winter in the Western Cape is uniformly drab. On the contrary, there are more sunny days than grey ones and the chill that persists through the day imparts the crisp sharpness of a Granny Smith apple.
It was just such a day as I rode into Hermanus recently. I’d spent the morning riding a Suzuki GSX1300R motorcycle from Cape Agulhas and, though I was exhilarated by the ride, I was cold and in need of a glass of red wine when I drew up at the Marine Hotel.
Built in 1902 as a hotel by the Luyt family, the five-star Marine is one of three exquisite properties that make up the Liz McGrath Collection (the others being Cellars-Hohenort in Constantia and The Plettenberg on the Garden Route). The hotel was acquired by McGrath in early 1998 and underwent extensive renovation before reopening in October that year.
“The interiors were very ‘old-style’ hotel,” says guest relations manager Monique Oosthuizen, “with carpets and antiques everywhere.
Liz was personally involved in the renovations and was responsible for choosing most of the fabrics and decor that’s here now. “She was a phenomenal woman, right down to knowing each member of staff by name as well as their families.”
The makeover saw the Marine transformed into a chic facility with contemporary furnishings ticked out in the subtle blues and greys of the nearby ocean. Light pours through enormous plate-glass windows, affording guests an uninterrupted view of the Overberg mountains and Walker Bay.
The 40 rooms mirror the colours and feel of the public spaces and my split-level suite featured a pair of floor-to-ceiling sash windows. The vista was breathtaking and I appreciated it to the full as I filled a glass from the complimentary bottle of Hermanuspietersfontein Merlot.
Hermanus isn’t lacking in quality eating spots but few match the Marine’s elegant and cosy in-house restaurant, Origins. The kitchen is presided over by Jeanette Dippenaar who I encountered at the Lord Milner at Matjiesfontein a few years ago. Back then it was Karoo lamb on the menu, this time it was a fragrant Thai fish curry.
Restaurant manager is the ebullient Sam Koti who started his working life in the Marine’s scullery two decades ago.
Though Hermanus has burgeoned over the years, it remains at its core a village that has the cliffs, tidal pool and old harbour as its epicentre.
The Marine sits atop the cliffs and a brisk walk along the path that snakes through the fynbos is almost obligatory, as is the descent to the municipal tidal pool (virtually deserted in winter) just below the hotel.
The village is a Bohemian collective of book stores, art galleries, restaurants and boutiques … all of which can be comprehensively experienced in a day.
My advice would be to use the Marine as a base from which to explore the glorious wine estates of the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley – my favourite is Creation but there’s also Ataraxia, Newton Johnson and Hamilton-Russel – as well as the nearby hamlets of Onrust, Vermont and Stanford.
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Source: The Citizen