BY BILLY SUTER
BREAKFAST at the elegant, eight-suite Teremok Marine boutique hotel, in a cosy diningroom overlooking trees and the Indian Ocean in Umhlanga, is invariably a treat for visitors, especially foreigners – and not only for the excellent food.
It’s the monkeys, you see. Management considers them a bit of a pest – they can be bold and noisy, sometimes hopping on to Teremok verandahs – and the day I enjoyed a full English breakfast there, a group of nine of them had just stolen little bags of biscotti from reception.
Management had had the bags prepared in the reception area, below the diningroom, as gifts for departing guests, and Teremok’s owner-manager, Kim Davidson, seemed not amused, but did break into a smile as she playfully shook her head at the vervets.
The monkeys seemed totally unconcerned, though, as they scuttled up and down branches of the large, old milkwild tree that towers over reception and the breakfast room.
Kotchka Vladykin, the original owner of Teremok – which got its name from a Russian word meaning “little hideaway” – had a thing for the grand milkwood trees endemic to the area, and the biggie in the front of the Teremok reception curls its branches around the diningroom, the former main bedroom of the home.
Mining surveyor Vladykin had Teremok built as a two-bedroom holiday home in 1968, and Davidson and her mother, Debbie, and sister, Tracy, bought it in 2002, renovating it into a boutique hotel and small spa which they opened in 2003.
The beauty of this warm and welcoming, five-star retreat at 49 Marine Drive, Umhlanga – a mere kilometre from Umhlanga’s bustling village – is that one feels like it is a home from home, as clichéd as that may sound.
The Davidsons have created a getaway that ticks all the boxes, combining elegance and sophistication with practicality and flourishes of fun and quirkiness. Little wonder the place has raked in several awards over the years, most recently having been placed sixth, at the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards, on the list of the Top 25 small hotels in South Africa, and 19th on the list for small hotels in the whole of Africa.
What is so distinctive and appealing about Teremok is that all eight suites have their own theme, fragrance, bedtime chocs and even their own themed CD. Teremok is not about giddy excess, it is emphasised. Individuality in décor, service and design means they do things differently there.
They understand that boutique-styled global luxury travel incorporates everything from 24-hour reception to low-GI breakfast menus and iPod docking stations, as the Teremok brochure states.
The suites at the hotel are linked by staircases that lead to a communal living area – an inviting, comfy lounge well stocked with books, games and magazines, an honesty bar (where port, sherry and nuts are complimentary in the evenings) and a great reading or bird-viewing nook that overlooks Teremok’s large pool, lush lawns and trees, and beyond all that, the ocean.
This room leads on to the open-plan kitchen and diningroom where, all day, leftover homemade muffins from breakfast – baked and served in mini, glaced, terracotta pots – are available for guests to help themselves to. Also there when we were in was a delicious apple and blueberry crumble.
Throughout Teremok are delightful nooks and crannies where one can spend lots of time looking at interesting artworks, ornaments and memorabilia collected by the Davidsons over the years.
I loved the bright, yellow pot filled with paintbrushes, on a windowsill…and the metal pennyfarthing attached to a wall…and the porcelain cow and milk cart on a shelf alongside a mirror.
Then there’s the African grey-bead curtain feature in the lounge windows; the delightful lamp made from magazine pages; an old sewing machine and cotton reel collection that takes pride of place on a small table at the bottom of a staircase. There is lots to smile at and chat about.
Outside, one can enjoy suite privacy on verandahs with limewashed wooden furniture; or relax on a lounger by the pool; or take in the fresh air on a bench under trees in a stone circle in a secluded, quiet spot in the garden.
Better still, one can book a pampering session at the two-massage-room spa. It is separated, by an oblong koi pond, from Teremok’s main entrance, where a dark-wood door, carved with all 12 signs of the Zodiac, has pride of place. It was the Vladykins’s original front door.
I enjoyed an hour-long, full-body massage at the spa, which is open every day of the week, and loved both the rubdown and the décor, which is great fun.
Old-fashioned birdcages filled with candles dominate the massage room I was in, while the one alongside it has fascinating strands of wire art dangling from the ceiling area, while a school of white-stone fish dominate a wall. Great fun.
In the spa reception area, where they serve terrific cappuccinos rather than boring old fruit juice, chairs are covered in Frida Kahlo prints, while another eye-catcher is a lime-green porcelain gnome. Other kitsch-but-cool things include a framed old Butterick dress pattern, an ancient invoice in a frame and collections of quirky pictures and sayings.
My partner and I stayed in Teremok’s Milkwood room, an oasis of calm in silver and white, with swathes of white fabric draped from the dark-wood rafters. The room, offering a small balcony with sea views, is dominated by a four-poster bed a mere four steps from the bath. there’s also a large open shower.
The other rooms are called Juliet, Durban View, Palm, Vladykin, Zodiac, Beethoven and Douglas – and while all thematically different, all are equally luxurious.
Teremok offers free access to a small gym alongside its spa, and also offers a free booking service, free WiFi internet connection, a free laundry and ironing service, and a free local shuttle service (subject to availability). One also gets a free weather report pushed under the door every morning.
Each suite has DStv, extra-length beds (king size or twin), handcrafted ceiling fans, air-conditioning and private balconies. The open-plan bathrooms have large “rain-dance” showers, freestanding baths, double basins and separate toilets with bidets.
Extras include home entertainment systems with LCD screens and DVD players – and a library of well over 500 DVDs is available in the reception area.
If there is any quibble it is that, while the coffee stations dotted throughout the hotel are welcome – and the coffee is very good – there is nothing to beat a small kettle in the room. Frankly, it’s a bit of a schlep, early in the morning, having to dress and leave the room to get a cuppa. But that’s a small grumble.
Teremok makes for a perfect special-treat pampering for locals and is a no-brainer choice for tourists wanting a luxurious hideway that is also within easy reach of the hustle and bustle should it be required.
The rates are currently R1 900 per person sharing, per night, and R2 500 single per night. This includes a gourmet breakfast in the spacious, open-plan kitchen, where the cooks will prepare your meal in accordance with your unique taste.
These rates also include free car washes on request and secretarial services… and are valid until February 28, 2018.