It began as a summer grazing area for livestock then eventually progressed to become a small fishing village. Today, Hermanus is known as the whale watching capital of South Africa, even recognized by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as one of the 12 best whale watching destinations in the world. From July to November every year, this small town buzzes with activity as large numbers of Southern Right Whales come from the chilly Antarctic waters to the warmer waters of Walker Bay, to mate, calve and breach, attracting visitors from far and wide. A whale crier heralds the daily arrival of the whales by blowing his kelp horn!
Providing one of the best land-based windows to this whale watching extravaganza is the award-winning The Marine Hotel. Established in 1902, The Marine was one of the first hotels in Hermanus. After changing ownership a few times over the years, it was eventually purchased and refurbished by Liz McGrath, and relaunched as a five-star hotel in 1998. Old photographs gracing the public areas of the hotel depict its rich history as well as previous celebrity guests such as Brad Pitt and Rick Stein.
One of South Africa’s most spectacular seaside hotels, and a member of the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels of the World collection, The Marine is located on a rocky outcrop, overlooking the picturesque Walker Bay. Having previously stayed at the hotel’s sister property, The Plettenberg – which we loved – our expectations were high, and we were certainly not disappointed. While the strong Cape winds howled outside, we were happily ensconced in our luxurious bedrooms from where we could relish the breathtaking views in comfort.
The hotel has 40 individually-designed rooms in marine hues of blue and white. My husband and I stayed in a Premier Suite while my teenage son was delighted to have an adjacent luxury room to himself. Both had magnificent views over Walker Bay and we could only imagine the stunning whale sightings we would have had from our rooms, had it been whale season. If you’re lucky, you may spot sharks and dolphins too.
Our split-level suite was more like a small cottage than a hotel room, with a lounge, bathroom and walk-in closet on the lower level, and a double staircase leading to a bedroom on the upper level.
My son’s room encompassed a bedroom and a lounge area. Both rooms had beverage stations and complimentary minibars while the bathrooms had fluffy bathrobes and Molton Brown bathroom amenities.
The hotel has two saltwater pools – a heated pool surrounded by poolside loungers in the internal courtyard, and a tidal pool below the hotel.
If you need some pampering, the Carchele Beauty Spa offers a wide range of treatments to choose from, and if you prefer retail therapy, then The Liz McGrath Collection Boutique has a selection of carefully curated items from acclaimed South African designers.
There are two restaurants at the hotel – Origins, a modern, kitchen-focused restaurant and The Pavilion, an elegant 1920s-inspired black-and-white breakfast room.
High tea, snacks and drinks can also be ordered at The Sun Lounge, which appeared to be quite a popular meeting, socializing and sundowner space.
We had a delicious breakfast at the Pavilion, consisting of scrambled egg and smoked trout croissants, egg and avocado ciabatta, croissant French Toast and creamy oatmeal.
When the weather cleared up, we went for a walk along Hermanus’s famous cliff path, a 10 km seaside pathway just outside the hotel, where we enjoyed the beautiful ocean views. There are restaurants, boutique shops, museums and art galleries all within a short walk of the hotel, while the beaches are a short drive away. It is also a great base for exploring the Overberg region. We stayed there en route from De Hoop Nature Reserve to Cape Town.
Unrivalled panoramic vistas, old-world charm, warm hospitality and elegant, bespoke accommodation… It’s easy to see why The Marine is a much-loved South African treasure which has been welcoming guests for over 100 years.
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