The Royal Portfolio, South Africa

A Royal Flush

Some of the best stories begin with “Once upon a time”. Such a time was 1999, when Liz and Phil Biden decided to convert their holiday home in the African bush into what is now Royal Malewane. located in the Thornybush Private Game Reserve on the western border of the Kruger National Park.

Royal Malawane Safari Lodge. Client: The Royal Portfolio. Art director: Paul Duncan. Stylist: Nathalie Williams.
Royal Malewane Safari Lodge private plunge pool at sunrise. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

This marked the beginning of The Royal Portfolio, a selection of exclusive accommodation destinations imprinted with Liz Biden’s nous- informed by her travels and involvement in the fashion business.

Royal Malewane patio. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Royal Malewane patio. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

Royal Malewane exudes the romance and beauty of a bygone age while offering every modern comfort. Claiming to have the most qualified guiding team in Africa promises wonderful wildlife experiences, and the diverse accommodation is uber enticing.

Nearly 1200 miles/ 1900km away is something equally enticing.

The Silo Hotel- A Great Gatsby of a Treat

The Silo Hotel at Sunset. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
The Silo Hotel at Sunset. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

Cape Town is awash with magnificent views. Mountain, sea. Harbour. More mountain. Sitting at the eleventh floor Rooftop Bar of The Silo Hotel, looking beyond the pool to a Lion’s Head so prominent that you might as well be nibbling on Nyala with Simba on Pride Rock, the mind reconciles itself with the fact that you might have finally found the ultimate sundowner spot.

Rooftop relaxing. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Rooftop relaxing. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

The Silo Hotel is housed in a historic grain silo complex. It has been part of the landscape forever, so to give it a new identity was a tantalising prospect. It wasn’t a half job, either. The extensive use of exterior glass make it shimmer by day, and sparkle by night. From afar, it looks like a diamond-shaped Jenga monument- eye-catching to say the least, and the happy consequence of all that glass is that every room offers a unique perspective of one of the most picturesque cities in the world.

Opulence Personified

With just 28 rooms and a street reputation of some of the most expensive hotel rooms in Africa, the Silo Hotel most certainly delivers on the wow factor. It is lavish layer upon layer of luxury and relaxation.

Royal Suite detail. Photographer: Mark Williams
Royal Suite detail. Photographer: Mark Williams
Lobby detail. Photo by Micky Hoyle.
Lobby detail. Photo by Micky Hoyle.

Liz Biden took it upon herself to meticulously decorate each room. That considered individual touch is immediately noticeable and you sense the great deal of fun she had, with splashes of colour and wit around each corner, with a concerted effort to pay homage to what this great building once was as uncompromising steel meets delicate glass in a fusion that is very easy on the eye.

Most pleasantly for the traveller who returns from a day of wine tasting or perhaps hiking up one of the mountains, significant attention has been given to the bathroom experience. Each room has a soaking tub that looks out to something phenomenal, and demands that guests slip in and forget themselves for an hour or so.

Deluxe superior suite bathroom. Photo Courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Deluxe superior suite bathroom. Photo Courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

The rooms are listed according to six categories, defined by room size and the views they afford. The Royal Suite and the stand-alone Penthouse are, naturally, in a league of their own.

Study in Penthouse bedroom. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Study in Penthouse bedroom. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

Our duplex suite had the most wonderful waterfront views. The lounge area was vast enough to almost pass as another bedroom, with a well-stocked mini bar that was just asking for trouble.

Decadence at the Granary

The brasserie – style Granary Café delivers decadence by the bite. It’s setting, on the sixth floor, provides uninterrupted views across the city and harbour and the double volume ceilings help to create an air of privacy for each table.

The Granary dining. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
The Granary dining. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

The menu takes inspiration from its surroundings, with some truly exquisite seafood offerings. The delicately treated langoustine starter will linger long in the memory. The quail starter my partner chose smelt divine, and was generous enough to almost be a main dish.

The entrées were phenomenal. A Springbok loin and a magnificent rib eye, flamed to perfection, and paired with the velvety house red. There simply was no logical room for dessert, but the chef still insisted on sending a chocolate tower to share.

If you haven’t over extended yourself the night before, breakfast simply has to be the harvest table, which looked a nibbler’s delight. Sensibly, I plumped for the daintier house pancakes, with summer berries and fresh yoghurt.

Charisma with a Conscience

The Silo Hotel goes beyond fine dining and endless views, though there are more intimate dining rooms. And another wonderful bar, a library and gym. The intimate spa is neatly tucked away and, though the hotel is above the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, it also has its own private gallery, showcasing the very best of South African talent and creativity.

As Nick Carraway opined in The Great Gatsby, there are careless people in the world, who smash up things and creatures, and then retreat back to their money or their vast carelessness.

That is most assuredly not the case here. The Biden Family have creatively reimagined and reinvigorated a piece of Cape architectural history, and there is a considerable amount of perspective behind the Silo Hotel, and the other accommodation jewels on the roster.

The Royal Portfolio Foundation, managed by Ali McAdam, Liz and Phil’s daughter, provides regular support to communities close to each property. They raise awareness on conservation and, in the midst of the pandemic, provided relief to communities in need.

Reside a While

It is in the mountainous magnificence of the tranquil Franschhoek Valley, just over an hour’s drive from Cape Town, that La Residence nestles- surrounded by premium wine country, with the stylish little town of Franschhoek at its heart.

La Residence. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
La Residence. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

La Residence hosts you in a grand villa. The forecourt with a gurgling sculpture adorned fountain directs you through lofty glass doors into an even loftier hall- at once lobby, with, to one side an elegant salon and the other a beautiful dining room. The fragrance of opulent flowers welcomes you.

An Impeccable Heart

View from the heart. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
View from the heart. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

Refreshments are enjoyed on the terrace from where glorious views unfold. La Residence’s heart is an inner garden with impeccably manicured lawns fringed with perfumed shrubs and shaded by an avenue of regal palms leading to a marble edged pool. Beyond stretch yet more rose and jasmine scented gardens, inviting one to explore the expansive grounds and views across orchards and vineyards dotted with historic Cape Dutch homesteads, whence the grapes that produce the group’s fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz and Rose are harvested.

Debonair GM Edward Morton took our conversation to warm remembrances of developing the property. “The vision has always belonged to Liz,” he says, “from the structure, the garden layout, to the interiors.”

Suite Dreams

My flower filled Tibetan Suite’s large balcony faced north across the gardens. It is lavishly proportioned, with the rooms exotically appointed in brilliant oriental orange silk draperies and deeply upholstered furniture. Large Tibetan ancestor portraits decorate the walls, lit by sparkling chandeliers sourced on journeys across the Indian subcontinent.

Tibetan Suite. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Tibetan Suite. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

An elegantly proportioned oriental armoire houses a well-stocked minibar, snacks and NESPRESSO machine. The slightly larger Superior Suites offer a more complete ‘wet’ bar with a comfortable dining area, should you wish to take your meals privately.

The marble floored bathroom forms a natural extension to the bedroom, with an oversized bath tub flanked by Chinoiserie vanities and tall mirrors. The large walk-in shower and WC are discreetly tucked behind spacious his and hers wardrobes.

The estate is also home to a series of impeccably appointed vineyard suites.

Vineyard Suite interior. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Vineyard Suite interior. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

Sundowners are enjoyed in the elegant loggia, with views across rolling lawns where peacocks strut and call toward beautiful wooded gardens and distant mountains. A romantically furnished summerhouse faces the lake with its willow dressed island. Flowering jacarandas (gifted by Elton John) frame the sunset view.

Dining Delights

Dinner is taken in the vast hall. A table in the sunken lounge at the far end seats a honeymoon couple, who seek only the company of each other and a flaming log fire. A highly lacquered coral pink boudoir grand discreetly keeps an eye.

Dining area. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio
Dining area. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

At the opposite end, an open plan kitchen allows guests to enjoy a fine Chef’s Table prepared in their presence. Banter flies back and forth from a jovial group. They fall silent. Clearly dinner has been served.

Our table was set close to another fireplace, lit to take the chill off the evening. We enjoyed a bottle of elegantly pink La Residence Rose Shiraz, fragrant with lingering rose petals and Turkish delight, from the comprehensive wine list.

The menu offers three choices each as starter, main course and dessert. We plumped for roasted baby beetroot with salad fresh from the hotel’s kitchen garden, lightly dressed and topped with toasted walnuts and brie. Also, Thai inspired seared tuna on a julienne of vegetables topped with avocado, sesame seeds and delicately dressed with a soy and ginger reduction. Our waiter offered us each a tiny taste of the soup. Carrot and coconut. Heaven!

As mains; pan fried Yellowtail with a sweet pomme puree, confit tomato and courgettes and cucumber and tomato salsa or thyme baked baby chicken with herbed new potatoes, baby carrots and mangetout. This deliciously accompanied with a densely flavoured mushroom jus.

The prize for dish of the evening went to that which we never ordered, but certainly sampled. Sautéed pea tagliatelle, sundried tomato, green beans, shaved parmesan and basil pesto crème. Top marks!

Dessert. Photo courtesy of The Royal Portfolio

The meal ends with a choice of chocolate fondant, chocolate crumble with blueberries and ice cream or a selection of sorbet and a Macadamia nut ice cream. The cheese board was beyond us.

And so to percale, surely to dream. The vast bed is impeccably made up with crisply ironed bed clothes of cotton sateen and pure linen. Thanks Ralph Lauren, fluffy pillows and sleep.

After an indulgent morning soak, breakfast on the veranda. The menu features interesting twists on breakfast classics. Eggs Benedict: here with maple glazed ham on toasted sourdough bread- the hollandaise infused with smoked paprika, the perfectly poached farm eggs zested with thinly sliced radish. Or, poached egg, roasted chick peas, feta with dukkah spiced butternut, crispy bacon and rocket.

A Whale of a Time

A drive over the mountain passes and up the coast takes one to chic and intimate Birkenhead House (named after HMS Birkenhead which sank along this treacherous but beautiful coastline) in Hermanus, with its exhilarating cliff-top position overlooking the whale watching paradise of Walker Bay.

Birkenhead House. Photo courtesy of What My Boyfriend Wore
Birkenhead House. Photo courtesy of What My Boyfriend Wore

One could take in all the Biden properties as a package deal. The good news for South African residents are the special discounted rates on offer until the end of April.

Find out more here.

Fordoun- For all the right reasons

Sensory Surrounds

My favourite places seem to be family owned or run and Fordoun Hotel and Spa is one such place. All five senses celebrate at five-star Fordoun … and then further celebrate as birth is given to their sixth sibling.

It happens in an extremely romantic setting; weeping willows with their gentle flowing boughs, enormous organic artworks, ethereal azaleas contrasting against rolling hills, iris-lined pathways, ancient terracotta bricks mottled with age evoking a Hansel and Gretel nougat house- all peacefully nestled in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands, a few minutes from Nottingham Road village.

                                  

From cascading steps, to greyhound guarded Roman-bath fountains, to mini-canals; there is flowing water around every corner, all creating a vibrant life-giving energy, like a giant vascular system.

    

 

 

 

 

There is such wealth in the glorious gardens- the essence of it all- which is then brought inside to pamper one in every which way.

The Limitless Skye

Skye Bistro at night

Fresh food delights of a superb standard are presented in utter comfort in the Skye Bistro. Chef Lorenzo Giliomee and his team have upped the ante since last I was there. The menu may change but some firm favourites remain- like the grilled beef fillet nestled on horseradish potato mash and red wine tomatoes, gratinéed with gourmet Greek “Brie” cheese and a Fordoun wild herb garden buchu jus. Superb. Vegetarians won’t scratch for options, with offerings like wild mushroom and black summer truffle risotto, topped with creamy Indezi blue cheese, and slow roasted butternut and peppers. Starters and desserts are possibly more enticing, as is the extensive and well-crafted wine menu.

Hedonistic indeed. If, however, you are on a detox retreat, your choices are a juice fast or raw, vegan healthy eating- and much time in the spa.

Not-So-Guilty Pleasures


Fordoun’s spa is all encompassing and the therapists are delightful, adding to that feeling of rejuvenation. The old grain silo has been brilliantly converted into a magical grotto, where one floats in the essence-imbued pool with calming music being amplified through the water; a unique experience. Apart from treatments from skilled masseurs, Reiki and Bio-energy specialists and aestheticians, the spa features a rasul, indoor swimming pool, gymnasium, sauna, steam room, hydrotherapy room, and a couples’ treatment suite with hydrotherapy bath.

 

 

A Unique Connection

Integral to the spa and Fordoun as a whole is Dr Elliot Ndlovu- inyanga, sangoma and ethno-botanist. In Elliot’s garden and around his consulting rooms are over 120 different species of healing plants, used by him and in Fordoun’s products. The poignancy and passion underlying his uthwasa- the necessary process of suffering to become a traditional healer- endear this huge character to believers and cynics alike, including Hollywood stars and the British Queen.

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Afternoon walks are a great idea. Oak-lined avenues, waterfowl preening themselves on the shores of dams, a deeply wooded grove full of bee-hives leading to the tennis courts and outdoor pool. One imagines an otter or two in amongst the impressive trout rising for their evening feed.


Fordoun has a field of the happiest hens in the entire world; they come to greet you as you arrive at the edge of their enormous scratch-patch field. And yes, the eggs taste wonderful.

Choices, Choices

Fordoun Farm Village

And, beyond the field, the Fordoun Farm Village comprising a tasteful multi-functional venue, chapel, nine luxurious self-catering chalets, veggie gardens and the spinning classroom- all arranged around a full-size cricket oval. Although separate to the original establishment, adults staying here have access to the facilities up at the Hotel- and vice-versa.

The main buildings, originally part of a dairy farm from the 1860s, have been thoughtfully adapted. There are 22 luxurious double suites with verandas, underfloor heating, bath and shower and a dressing area. There is also a wheelchair friendly suite.

 

If founder John Bates is about, he may share with you Fordoun’s interesting history, dating back to 1850, or enthuse about the social and environmental initiatives Fordoun is involved with- including a nearby crane sanctuary- or let you sample his leonotis (wild dagga) gin.

Retiring to one’s suite is a dream- especially one of the five superior mountain facing room set atop a ridge with views toward the Drakensberg, and the size of a country cottage. The bed, the linen, the bathrobes and all the treats are of the highest quality. It’s sumptuously draped and lavishly appointed with high, pitched ceilings. A cold snap makes the ready lit blaze in the glass-fronted fireplace, the bedtime treats and story, most welcome.


Stepping out of the French doors, the eye is led across rolling pastures to the hills- with the young maiden’s breast, iNhlosane, dominant and framed by not-too-distant mountains. A table and chairs, loungers and a tumbling water feature in a secluded courtyard is a tempting lolling spot in the day.

The thickly carpeted passage takes you to a large dressing room opposite a lovely black and white chequered bathroom with heated towel rails, underfloor heating, dual vanity basins, bath and shower, which leads to a further, outdoor shower.
The fresh air and the heightened stimulation of the senses, not forgetting the awakening of that sixth sense, all make one beautifully exhausted. The huge bed waits to engulf.

The countryside goes silent, as iNhlosane’s silhouette slowly merges into the night.

Visit www.fordoun.com or e-mail reservations@fordoun.co.za for further details and bookings.