Haven on earth

Chris Harvie enjoys the sun, sea and stars (all five of them) at a Hermanus hotel

I arrived at The Marine Hotel a bit of a whale-cynic. But never mind the whales. Let’s start, instead, with the Eggs Benedict, a brave dish and a crucial test of any chef’s skill. With soft poached eggs, a perfectly toasted muffin, tasty ham and a delicious, deep yellow hollandaise sauce, theirs was perfection. The best ever. That was at the end of my stay in Hermanus.

Now let’s go back to the beginning, where the hotel’s car park, manned by a jolly oke, is only 20m from the front door, but by the time you reach reception (all of a minute after passing through the gate) your registration card is already on the desk, filled in and ready for signing. They’ve been tipped off, you see, by the jolly oke.

That’s what The Marine is like. Everybody knows what you want before you tell them. I told the receptionist I might go to the Sun Lounge and have a Bloody Mary. I had just walked into that room and was gawping at the silver streaks of sunlight on the dark Walker Bay seascape when the said drink appeared in my hand.

I had always thought I made the best Bloody Mary in the world. Theirs was much better and it arrived with less effort.

Spacious, uncluttered rooms with sensible, practical furniture dominate the hotel, not only on the ground floor with its airy bar and restaurants but also in the bedrooms and bathrooms. And for a town hotel, albeit a seaside town, the views in all directions are astonishing.

Dinner was in the seafood restaurant. A light and glassy eatery, with bright and classy service. My colleague and I ordered our meals and let the waiter choose the wine – every other need had been successfully anticipated thus far – and he got it right, a good-value local Walker Bay white.

I love an open-plan kitchen. Everybody has obviously been watching Gordon Ramsay. It’s gripping to watch the energy, the detail and the interaction between the chefs and their waiters, while waiting for the shout of “service” and watching for an accidental lick of the finger or use of the F-word.

We started with half a pint of prawns and a snoek pate, before our anticipatory peering into the kitchen eventually revealed an impressive Cape Malay Seafood Bunny Chow – I bet Gordon has never made one of those – and a sole so good I muttered “my sole doth magnify the Lord” under my breath.

And nobody had sworn or licked their fingers, although it must have been tempting. We couldn’t manage pudding, but it would have been lemon meringue pie with raspberry meringue ice cream.

After a cosseted night of fine linen came a morning bath with towers of towels and dozens of lotions and potions overlooking the ocean, before a whale-free wander along the cliffs. Breakfast was served in The Pavilion Restaurant, a vast mahogany table piled high with fruits, cereals, cheeses, cold meats, seeds and juices. Greeting me by name (although I had never seen her before), a smiling face asked what I’d like for breakfast. I thought the smiling face might somehow have known by Marine magic, but I told her anyway.

It was only one night and we had to leave shortly after breakfast, but the proof was in the Benedict – and in every aspect of this establishment. The Marine effortlessly blends informality with class and it is, without a doubt, a five-star hotel by anybody’s standards. If there were six stars, it would get seven.

“Goodbye,” said the jolly oke. Somebody must have told him we were ready to leave and, in that one minute, he’d apparently cleaned the car.

If you go

Where it is: Marine Drive, Hermanus. On the cliff-top, above the moody, ever-changing light of Walker Bay with 3000 miles of open sea between you and the South Pole.

WHY GO THERE: To prove to yourself that we have hotels in this country as good as the best and to see hospitality at its finest.

WHAT IT HAS: 42 bedrooms and suites. Spa. Heated pool. Tidal pool. Internet lounge. Whale-watching from your bed.

AND THE FOOD: Two restaurants. Seafood at The Marine, where two courses are R185, three R220 – or order a la carte. The Pavilion offers a tasting menu (R375 for food only or R575 with wines) and an a la carte menu.

RATES: From R4000 (high season) and R2250 (low season) per double room per night. No children under 12.

CONTACT: Phone 0283131000; e-mail reservations@collectionmcgrath.com or visit www.marine-hermanus.co.za.