The marvellous Oyster Box Hotel - Umhlanga, Durban
There ain't no doubt about it. Visually, the Oyster Box is a stunner! Inside and Out.
Red carpets and liveried doormen lead to plush, tastefully decorated lounges and multiple decadent eateries. Marble-covered halls - chandeliers above and palm trees all around - give onto columned atriums of tinkling koi ponds, that eventually make way for comfortable bedrooms with 4-poster beds and champagne on ice.
And that's just the interior. Merely the introduction. Make your way poolside and the colours are nothing short of picture-postcard perfect.
Lush green lawns juxtaposed with the hotel's signature reds and whites, the blue sea and bluer sky beyond and above. And of course, front and centre, that lighthouse.
Yes, there really is no denying it - the view from the Oyster box hotel is one that's hard to beat!
And this immaculate view is one reason why the venues at the Oyster Box are in such high demand.
First and foremost is the hotel's ever-popular Ocean Terrace restaurant. Set on the ground-floor outdoor patio just above the main pool, the restaurant serves a casual menu together with those gorgeous ever-present Indian Ocean views. During weekends nabbing one of the tables at the Ocean Terrace can be a challenge, populated as they are by happy groups catching up over the delicious food, the odd monkey for company clambering amongst the lazily turning fans overhead.
Up on the top-floor of the Oyster Box hotel is its Lighthouse Bar, a stylish African venue serving signature cocktails to equally inimitable views. Convince the barmen to seat you at one of the romantic tables-for-2 on the outside balcony, and you'll be sipping your drink to the background soundtrack of the waves breaking on the rocks below.
Inside the hotel are more venues to be discovered, not the least of which is the Palm Court - the grand setting where the hotel puts on their impressive High Tea each afternoon to rave reviews. These confectionery affairs are legendary, with never-ending sandwich buffets and pastries piled sky-high, and are well-worth booking in advance for.
Just alongside is the Grill Room, the hotel's flagship fine dining restaurant. And off to the side is a second bar, the namesake Oyster Bar, another stylish venue famed for its seafood and live music.
Having arrived at the hotel around lunchtime after our drive down to Umhlanga from the nearby Drakensberg, we were shown our room by one of the friendly Oyster Box porters - a ground floor room of luxurious furnishings, and a marbled en-suite bathroom with its huge decadent rain shower.
Our room led out to a private patio and then on to the immaculate lawns, complete with lounge chairs ready for relaxing and for making the most of those incomparable panoramas.
That afternoon would see us ambling along the Umhlanga Promenade, a 3-km paved meander sandwiched between the beach and the seaside flats, which passes by sights like the recently repainted lighthouse and the whale-bone pier, with scenes of the Durban skyline in the hazy distance.
It is a popular local Umhlanga walking spot - families, pensioners, a bunch of dog-walkers, not to mention the joggers - all were there sharing the boulevard with us.
We wandered past fishermen plying their trade, and young families catching creatures among the rock pools, buckets and spades in hand. At beachside stalls kids were clamoring for ice-creams, while just above in the fashionable restaurants were stylish ladies catching up over cocktails and ocean views.
At the northern end of the boardwalk we came upon the Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve, a wetland and bird paradise of wooden walkways amongst seas of reeds, and sandy trails beneath the cool canopy of the coastal forest, that provided blissful relief from the sweltering summer mercury.
20 minutes later we were back at the Oyster Box. Slightly sunburned and seeking shelter from the unrelenting heat, we settled ourselves on loungers by the main swimming pool, in the shade of the hotel's signature red-and-white parasols.
Snagging a space on one of these pool loungers can be a challenge, coveted as they are for those ever-enchanting views. Just about every seat was taken by watchful parents - their offspring happily splashing about - or couples tucking into plates of sushi, beside groups of friends clinking enormous pink cocktails.
For anyone not lucky enough to score a seat here, or who would prefer a more tranquil spot, the Oyster Box also has a second pool, set in a secluded interior courtyard. It is a hushed, banana tree-filled space where sun seekers soak up the rays and book lovers have their noses firmly between the pages - the only sounds those of the pool staff swishing by as they bring someone another cool drink.
And so this is how the hours gently passed over the following days, with us accomplishing nothing more than stirring from pool to restaurant to beach to bar, the hours merging into one another in a contented haze of summer relaxation.
It is probably true that no amount of time is too much time at the Oyster Box.
At least for us, our 4-day 3-night stay at this exceptional South African hotel fairly flew by, and we were sorry to say goodbye as we were sent once more on our way by the well-wishes of the smiling doormen.
Waiting for us that evening would be a stay at another special local hotel, the Fordoun Hotel & Spa in the Kwazulu-Natal Midlands. And the following day would take us back to the cities of South Africa's highveld and some quality family time.
The Oyster Box is a luxury, iconic hotel that ticks all the boxes, from sterling service and 5-star accommodation to delicious food and stunning scenery. This really is the stuff that unforgettable beach holidays are made of.