Updated: Feb 22
City Break: My friend Judy has very high standards and has long spoken of the impeccable service and spectacular delights of her favourite hotel, the Oyster Box in Durban. The Oyster Box, operated by the Red Carnation Hotel Group, is a top, luxury hotel of the world. I'd not yet been to Durban, I love the Indian Ocean, and I love even more having massage treatments at posh, top hotels. This year, I told Judy, we must make the trip to Durban, KwaZulu-Natal and the Oyster Box Hotel.
Durban is the third most populous city in the Republic of South Africa . Located on the east coast, it has the busiest port in the country. It's subtropical climate and extensive beaches also makes Durban a hotspot for tourism. In May 2015, Durban was recognised as one of the New 7 Wonders Cities.
Durbs is diverse, with a cultural richness of mixed beliefs and traditions. Zulus form the largest single ethnic group. The city has the largest population of British and Indian descent outside of their home countries. The influence of Indian culture in Durban has been significant, bringing with them a variety of cuisine, culture and religion.
Before hitting the champagne buffets, pool and beach, it's important to get that workout in. The recently revamped Beachfront Promenade is the way to get your jog on. The six-kilometre paved walkway links Blue Lagoon (an actual lagoon, and no relation to the Blue Lagoon hot springs in Iceland) in the north, to uShaka ( Beach and Marine Park) in the south.
The Oyster Box Hotel sits nicely somewhere in the middle of the walk, making it easy to pop towards either direction.
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In 1952, Ken & Kay O'Conner and opened a tea house in the shadow of the Umhlanga Lighthouse.
Success followed and they soon replaced the old house, which stood on the site since the 1800's, with a hotel they called The Oyster Box.
Bea and Stanley Tollman of the Red Carnation Hotel Group purchased the charming yet run down hotel in 2006 with an aim to restore it to its former 1950's glory.
They have created a place of timeless elegance; classic interiors that hark back to a bygone era, but also reflects the modern Durban lifestyle.
The luxury and comfort of the Oyster Box still comes second to importance to the very high level of service they provide their guests. You can stay at the Oyster Box, and not want for anything.
The reception is one of the few original parts of the hotel still remaining, and Skabenga, the hotel cat can often be found lounging on the counter.
The revolving wood doors, black and white terrazzo tiles and sweeping staircase inspired the feel of the hotel. Old and new blend seamlessly throughout the hotel.
The Exterior colours of red and white, including the red roof, mirror the distinctive red stripe of the Lighthouse. The lush green gardens blue decorative touches beautifully frame the Indian Ocean vista.
An eclectic collection of period furniture and original artwork thread through the 86 individually designed deluxe guest rooms and suites.
Other amenities include a 24 hour concierge and room service. There is a 24-seat cinema showing films all day. Two pools, ocean and garden plus a holiday kids club, spa and fitness centre will keep everyone busy. There are meeting rooms and event spaces and a private library if you really need to read alone.
There is a multitude of dining options at the Oyster Box. The Grill Room offers 70 years experience of fine dining. Try the Chef's Table for a fun group dining experience as the chef prepares orders right in front of their eyes.
Durban is famous for curry and what better than the Curry Feast Buffet at the Ocean Terrace.
One can deep dive into cakes sweets and champagne at the Palm Room for High Tea, then keep dinner light with oysters and sushi at the Oyster Bar.
The Lighthouse Bar is perfect for sundowners and watching sporting events. For clandestine meetings, head to the Chukka Bar. This bar bursts with old world charm and last century rules permitting indoor smoking!
Wild oysters occur naturally in the warm water along the east coast of South Africa. The Oyster Box hotel has been harvesting these oysters since the 1940s. In fact in early days, when a guest ordered oysters, a member of staff would run down to the rocks to pick them fresh. We were lucky to find them in a refrigerated case, atop a mountain of ice.
The Oyster Box is an animal friendly hotel (except, maybe the oysters..). Skabenga the cat is always loping around, and dogs are very welcome visitors. There is a troop of Vervet Monkeys that live in the area and travel from one beachfront hotel to the next. Several monkeys made roost on our patio, feasting on our complimentary green apples.
Most fun, however, was during breakfast when the audacious monkeys shimmied down the terrace arches to swipe food off of the guests plates. A close table next lost their toast and we lost our avocado and bananas!
Once the breakfast traffic slowed, and there were less people and food around, the monkeys took to stealing sugar packs off the table. They would quietly sneak down to the table, shove many packs in their mouths then run back to the safety of the awning. From there they would rip open the packs and pour the sugar into their mouths. Vervet monkeys and humans share over 90% DNA with ten fingers and ten toes. These cheeky monkeys steeling sugar at the Oyster Box gave new meaning to a 'five finger discount'!
*If you are not an animal lover, or even animal intolerant, consider elsewhere accommodation. Animals are cherished at the Oyster Box and the staff don't take lightly to guests recommending methods of primate extermination. It happens.
I espouse the joys of solo travel but occasionally it is good to share your journey with another person. I realised quite early on this trip that this mini-break was going to be a unique experience.I realised this before we left Cape Town, as the lack of salad at the Priority Pass lounge required from Judy a croissant sandwich lobotomy that resulted in us nearly missing our flight.
As I said early, Judy likes good service. Where I am timid and accepting of what is provided for me, she is not afraid to ask for what she wants. This is a very good thing to observe in someone as it teaches you how to be kind, but also firm in your objectives.
The Oyster Box is service driven, and boy did we have service! Our breakfast began at 9am and we didn't leave the table until 3! And when we did it was to change our room to a better one with a sea view (thank you hotel manager Justin for even more champagne in our room!).
We went from breakfast mimosas to lunch champagne and samosas all the while the staff stopped by to chat with Judy. We laughed (champagne does go straight to my head) all day while other guests came and went. It was the most fun I have had in a long time, I wish I could remember more of it!
So my mini-break adventure to Durban did not include parasailing, or kloofing or even dangerously expensive shopping. This was an adventure of a different kind; sharing my time with another person while traveling, learning how to ask for what I want and getting it, and solidifying a friendship with copious amounts of champagne!
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