The Marine Hermanus, Western Cape, South Africa

As far as wildlife watching experiences go, few can feel as decadent as gazing at whales frolicking in the ocean, arching high out of the waves and then crashing back down into the salty waters - from the comfort of your hotel room. But at The Marine in Hermanus you can do exactly that.

As far as wildlife watching experiences go, few can feel as decadent as gazing at whales frolicking in the ocean, arching high out of the waves and then crashing back down into the salty waters - from the comfort of your hotel room. But at The Marine in Hermanus you can do exactly that.

This stretch of South Africa's Western Cape is prime whale-watching territory. Every year around May the Southern Right whales return to the shallow waters of Walker Bay to calve. And with them come thousands of whale watchers for some of the best land-based whale-watching in the world.

The Cliff Path stretches the length of what was once the little fishing village of Hermanus - and is now the self-proclaimed whale capital of South Africa, with all the gift shops and tourist tat that that implies. It's still a pleasant little place, however.

The path follows the craggy coastline for about 10km from the New Harbour in the west (where there's a telescope to survey the bay) to the Klein River in the east. This pretty path passes rocky coves, shell-strewn beaches and shady forest tracks. There are numerous benches or rocky outcrops on which to perch amid the wild flowers to watch the Southern Rights, who are sometimes joined by humpbacks and Bryde's whales, and which often bask just metres from the shore. The best time to see the whales is from September to November when sightings are almost guaranteed. There is even a whale watching hotline (00 27 28 312 2629) - and a whale crier who walks along the coast with an old-fangled kelp horn.

Landmarks along the path include the elegant white Marine hotel which dates back to 1902. In 1998 it was acquired by Liz McGrath, whose group The Collection also includes the luxurious Cellars-Hohenort just outside Cape Town and The Plettenberg on the Garden Route's Plettenberg Bay. She gave this historic hotel a designer facelift.

Now its bright white façade conceals an airy orangery - all wicker furniture, stone-flagged floor and lush potted plants and two restaurants: the lively Seafood at the Marine with its open kitchen theatre and the more formal Pavillion with picture window views of the ocean. There is also a swimming pool in a sheltered courtyard and a spa. As well as traditional treatment rooms you can opt for an exfoliating Sea Salt Scrub or a massage down the steep stone steps next to the public Tidal pool where you can listen to the waves crashing on the rocks and the call of the whales.

LOCATION

The Marine, Marine Drive, Hermanus 7200 Western Cape, South Africa (00 27 28 313 1000; www.marine-hermanus.co.za). The hotel is perched on the cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, the mountains rising up behind the town.

Time from international airport: Cape Town International airport is 110km away, around a one-and-a-quarter hour drive.

COMFORT

There are 42 individually decorated rooms and suites with views either over Walker Bay or out across the courtyard and manicured gardens to the Overberg mountains beyond. Our room had a sea view through big sash windows, and fresh blue and white décor.

Freebies: traditional toiletries in the marble bathrooms.

Keeping in touch: direct dial phones in the rooms.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Single rooms cost from SAR1,250 (£110), Doubles from SAR2,050 (£180) including breakfast.

I'm not paying that: the Hermanus Backpackers , 26 Flower Street (00 27 28 312 4293; www.hermanus.com) is in a bright two-storey house just a couple of blocks from the ocean with doubles with bathroom from SAR200 (£17.50) or a bed in a dorm from SAR70 (£6) including breakfast.



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