On holiday:  Umhlanga’s beachfront hotels make the most of their location with seaside swimming pools and endless sea views. Picture: SUPPLIED
On holiday: Umhlanga’s beachfront hotels make the most of their location with seaside swimming pools and endless sea views. Picture: SUPPLIED

The slender red-and-white lighthouse is the iconic image of Durban’s always-on-holiday Umhlanga, and of The Oyster Box and Beverly Hills hotels overlooking it.

The Beverly Hills opened in 1964, and was SA’s first five-star graded property. It was the first hotel in the Sun King’s empire, named after Sol Kerzner’s daughter. It still dominates the skyline and, now managed by Tsogo Sun, remains Umhlanga’s alpha hotel.

Although built in the 1950s and one of the first hotels in the town, The Oyster Box Hotel’s glamorous reimagining by The Red Carnation Hotel Group in 2006 makes it the most stylish destination.

It is no mean feat to create a hotel that has all the elegance of a grande dame where people still feel at home in their Vilbrequin swimwear trailing beach sand or water after they’ve had enough of the two heated pools.

It’s a bit like Venice’s Hotel Cipriani in that respect — uber stylish, but well lived-in. It attracts regulars for long-stay vacations as well as being the go-to place for nonresidents for lavish afternoon teas and the hotel’s famous curry buffet.

On holiday:  Umhlanga’s beachfront hotels make the most of their location with seaside swimming pools and endless sea views. Picture: SUPPLIED
On holiday: Umhlanga’s beachfront hotels make the most of their location with seaside swimming pools and endless sea views. Picture: SUPPLIED

As expected, breakfast at The Oyster Box features oysters piled high in silver servers with equally grand bath-sized wine coolers chilling sparkling wine. This hotel is 100% relaxed chic and near impossible to fault.

When the Tollman family bought the ailing hotel, the owner was looking for another family operation to love and care for it and return it to its former glory as "SA’s most cherished hotel".

With a portfolio including Bushmans Kloof in the Western Cape’s Cederberg, The Twelve Apostles in Cape Town and sites in Geneva, Florida and London, the family was a natural fit.

Each of The Oyster Box’s 86 rooms, suites and villas is individually decorated and the public spaces are as welcoming as they are popular. This is not a show-off property that has public areas only for passing through. Guests lounge on comfortably worn couches in the reception area, petting the hotel’s famous cat, Skabenga.

The first-floor Clock Library is a wood-panelled bolthole in which to hide away in a leather wingback paging through books worthy of a good few hours while the third-floor Lighthouse Bar, part elegant cocktail bar, part sundowners pizza lounge, is a worthwhile destination.

A Red Carnation Hotel quirk is a well-equipped stationery drawer if you need a paper clip or adhesive tape during your stay. The little things like this, and a selection of two types of robes (one plush, the other lush) sets their properties apart. Return visitors get a red balloon bobbing on their room’s ceiling.

Poolside, overlooking the beach, the red-and-white-striped loungers and floating pool cushions are always popular — especially in winter when South Africans leave the Cape and Gauteng for warmer climes. The other pool, more secluded but as inviting, is near the award-winning spa with its traditional Turkish-style hammam steam bath for guest use.

Room furnishings at Beverly Hills are in the elegant English Queen Anne style, with handsome chairs, timber bureaux and smart side tables. A buttoned headboard is as comfortable as it is glamorous. We were treated to the plush top-floor presidential suite, which has adjoining rooms to accommodate an entourage. Every possible amenity, including an espresso maker, is at hand.

Umhlanga has blossomed in recent years, with major new developments providing high-end accommodation and various retail options.

On Chartwell Drive, a five-minute walk from the beachfront hotels, eateries compete for attention in a restaurant strip catering to the quick and casual, (we really enjoyed our meal at Greek-style Mythos) to the more sophisticated and equally recommended Olive & Oil.

The beachfront promenade has benefited from the attentions of the Umhlanga Improvement Precinct and when we visited the beaches and promenade area were pristine.

Coffee-on-the-go and other food trucks along the route have made the promenade a primary walking and jogging area. Join the fisherman or visit the swimming beach, just a few hundred meters away.

At the Beverly Hills, the white-on-white pool-level Elements Cafe Bar is the hotspot with fine dining and lavish buffet breakfasts served in the Sugar Club restaurant.

Both the Beverly Hills and The Oyster Box make the most of their sea-facing frontage with a key focus on seaside swimming pools, staircases down to the beach and endless sea views. Take advantage of the Beverly Hills’ pool-side spa gazebos and have a massage while looking out to sea.

Protea Hotel Umhlanga by Marriott has recently upgraded facilities and added a new accommodation tower block for budget-conscious travellers.

Although graded three stars, the rooms and public areas are comfortable and some of them have minikitchens for basic self-catering.

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