Contrary to England’s East London, South Africa’s city of the same name boasts a bounty of natural resources, wildlife and outstanding areas of beauty. However, much like England’s capital city, East London is bursting with buzzy bars, experimental restaurants and a host of stylish, deluxe and cosy abodes.
The stately manse looks – and likely was – made for the leisure class. More Victorian manor than boutique hotel, Parkplace is replete with ornate furnishings; carved four-poster beds take pride of place in chandelier-lit rooms, which also home antique writing desks and lounge sets that look like they’re from the Elizabethan era. This theme continues in the Scarlet Ibis Restaurant, where candelabras line marble counters and silver serving plates reveal Middle Eastern-influenced dishes. Over at the bar and lounge, the hotel’s mantra of dare to be different is echoed in the fusion food, which sees Caribbean fish fingers jostling for space on a menu that spans accra made of salted local fish or bacalhau and tropical mini pies.
A stone’s throw from Nahoon Beach and River sits the tropical oasis of Harewood Lodge, a country-style name that belies the eclectic aesthetic of this sun-dappled semi-self-catering accommodation. On arrival at Harewood Lodge – fringed with palms and banana plants and painted the colour of a South African sunset – you’ll be greeted with a complimentary glass of champagne, while further drinks can be mixed in the downstairs bar which runs on an honesty policy. Tipples will be best enjoyed on the rooftop, where, thanks to awe-inspiring panoramic views, you can also indulge in dolphin and whale spotting or overlook the nearby golf course and game parks.
Part of the ambitious Premier hotel chain, East London International Convention Centre (ICC) is planted on the esplanade overlooking the Indian Ocean and the East London ICC, which makes it a popular and convenient choice for travelling professionals. Fittingly, a sleek, somewhat corporate aesthetic runs through the 260-room hotel. Light relief can be found in the outdoor pool, cocktail bar and Emerald Spa, which offers traditional aromatherapy relaxers alongside Thalgo facials and ancient therapies. For a natural approach to water therapy, the reach-around views of the shimmering ocean outside should do the trick.
In contrast to the rehabilitated quarry that skirts Quarry Lake Inn, this guesthouse’s terrace is trimmed with indigenous wildlife, planted specifically to attract a coterie of birds and provide a luscious backdrop. Start your day here with a brew before enjoying the tropical surroundings from the pool, where’ll you want to plunge post-sauna. Morning larks should pile their plates high with fresh fruits, pastries, cold meats and yoghurts or choose from one of the cooked breakfasts and head to the terrace for sunrise. Meanwhile, evening owls can sink sundowners (the South African tradition of a sunset tipple) to the sound of geese coming home to roost.
This glassy abode, running alongside the Nahoon River, was originally bought as a home for husband and wife duo Andre and Toni – but, after extending onto a second level to maximise views, they decided they had to share their space. Today, the waterside stay, which mixes coastal cool with impressive design, offers four cosy yet spacious rooms. The Garden Room is especially serene thanks to an adjacent private courtyard and unspoiled views of the valley, while the guesthouse is in a prime location with easy walking distance to the city centre, beaches, bars and the Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve.
Feel the warm waters lapping at yours toes at Arum Guest House, a richly decorated retreat near Nahoon Beach. Rustic touches meet zingy pops of hot colour in the bedrooms, while the dining room – where you’ll stack your plate high with a hearty home cooked breakfast or assortment of cereals, fruits, yoghurt and cheese each morning – bursts with hot tones and traditional wood features. Settled into the quiet suburb of Bonnie Doon, Arum is tucked away from all traffic noise, with a solid wall surrounding the premises to promise a safe and serene stay. However, should things get too quiet, there’s always nearby Nahoon with its bustling bars and restaurants.
Tidy, tasteful and kitted with all the amenities you’d expect, Absolute Cornwall offers a no-frills stay in the popular Vincent area of East London. This cheery B&B is situated within easy reach of Hemingways Mall and Vincent Park – both are must-visits for keen shoppers – sports arenas and restaurants, while its position next to the national and local roads makes it an ideal jumping-off point to explore the wider area’s resources. Closer to the Nahoon River sits the Bonnie Doon outpost Lower Ridge, an equally clean and convenient stay which leans towards self-catering stays for travellers keen to strike out on their own.
Overlooking the Indian Ocean, the marigold-toned Premier Hotel Regent is a towering concrete structure that caters to travelling professionals, as well as holidaymakers. Slap-bang in the middle of the esplanade, Premier is equally positioned between the airport and East London’s many attractions, such as the East London Aquarium, where you can see whales and dolphins in their natural habitat, Nahoon Beach and Mpongo Private Game Reserve, making it an ideal choice for time-strapped travellers. Load up on all your tummy desires in the Grillroom before exploring the Eastern Cape coastline; the nearby Orient Beach – a popular hangout for whale watchers – is just a 15-minute walk along the esplanade.