16 serene Swakopmund stays

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This seaside town has oodles of German charm, palm trees and miles of desert backing it, plus it’s a fantastic central base from which to explore Namibia’s landscapes.

Beach Lodge, Swakopmund. Image: Teagan Cunniffe

How it works?
TripAdvisor lists accommodation rated by guests, but as much as we love peer reviews, they don’t offer a comparative voice so how do we know Number 1 is really the best? Pippa de Bruyn, who has reviewed accommodation for 18 years for the likes of Frommer’s and The Telegraph, scours TripAdvisor and other online sites when researching a destination. These 13 made her cut.

What we found in this town:

Excellent stock, and great variety too. There are plenty of hotels, B&Bs and guest houses but surprisingly few good self-catering options (although I did find three I liked).
• I love a pedestrianised holiday experience, so was pleased to find so many good options within walking distance of the historic town centre and main beachfront. You need a good reason to opt for a place that requires getting into your car (the views from my top three out-of-town-centre recommendations are all worth it).
• I have been told by more than one operator that you need to book a year in advance to secure space in the top spots in Namibia during school holidays. It makes sense then to make Swakop your central base – so much to see and do, and you can make day trips or single-night forays south (to Sossusvlei) or north (to Spitzkoppe).
• Most establishments charge a flat annual rate; there are no seasonal rates, not even in December. That said, January (after New Year) and the period between the end of Easter to the end of May is said to be the quietest time of the year, so this is the time to negotiate a discount.
• Rates are quoted in Namibian dollars but rands are accepted everywhere, coins included, and even a dummkopf like me never struggled to do the maths (1 Namibian dollar = 1 SA rand).

Best views

1. Desert Breeze

Tripadvisor No. 1 of 39 Specialty Lodgings

Desert Beeze, Swakopmund.Image: Teagan Cunniffe

Wow, what a classic desert view – the kind you can spend hours contemplating from your comfortable lodgings as the colours keep changing with the light.

Aside from the most stupendous view, these are also wonderfully spacious ‘rooms’; each is, in fact, a freestanding open-plan bungalow, with a separate lounge area centred on a wood-burning combustion fireplace, sliding doors that open onto a small viewing deck, and a raised level with a bed and two chairs, all placed in such a way as to enjoy the spectacular view.

Well-equipped too: a mini bar, free Wi-Fi and coffee and tea facilities. Bathrooms are spacious and feature a large walk-in shower. It’s a five-minute drive from the historic centre and beachfront, but once here you feel as if you are deep in the Namib Desert – utterly tranquil.

Breakfast is served in the cavernous main building with the same view; for other meals you will need to drive into town (staff are happy to recommend and book), and note that reception closes at 7pm.

Room tip: The bungalows are for the most part ranged along the view, so spread quite far apart – if you don’t mind the walk and value privacy, book room 12.

Cost: From R1125 per person sharing B&B. Check online for special deals.

Contact: desertbreezeswakopmund.com

Best-value boutique hotel

2. The Delight

Tripadvisor No. 1 of 19 hotels

The Delight, Swakopmund.Image: Teagan Cunniffe

An unprepossessing exterior in a rather dull, albeit central, part of town, but step inside The Delight and you are in hipster heaven, replete with a neon ‘We Are Here’ sign on the wall-sized continent map, mismatched chairs, interesting wallpapers and naked light bulbs in wire frames.

The rooms are great – the design team has done an excellent job of creating quirky, stylish spaces that feel more like you’re in a small, characterful guest house than a 54-room hotel.

Staff are efficient and friendly, and details like the turn-down with hot-water bottles in winter are wonderful, given the price. Breakfast is another triumph: a delicious spread that includes oysters and bubbly.

There’s lots of parking available and you are walking distance to the beach and places of interest. All in all this is superb value, and well deserving of its high rating on various online sites.

Room tip: The rooms are pretty much identical, with the family rooms offering an additional loft-mezzanine area with twin beds. For the design-conscious art lover who prefers a more characterful boutique hotel, also consider Villa Margherita.

Cost: From R1201 per person sharing B&B.

Contact: gondwana-collection.com

Best-value on the beachfront

3. Beach Lodge

Tripadvisor No. 5 of 19 hotels

Beach Lodge, Swakopmund. Image: Teagan Cunniffe

If you’re a sucker for a sea view but prefer a more laid-back, peaceful atmosphere to glitz and luxury, the aptly named Beach Lodge is a great option.

Comprising just two standard family rooms, seven luxury and 10 twin rooms, it’s a small hotel, with a ship-inspired exterior and unfussy, functional interiors. And it really is literally right on the beach, with enormous porthole-style windows and sliding doors opening onto rolling lawns truncated by golden sands.

It’s too rocky to swim here, so this really is all about the view: sunsets are quite magnificent, and the hotel designed in such a way that you get to enjoy it from all but one room.

The only caveat is that you feel quite cut off from the action – it’s five kilometres north of town and the popular beachfront, but The Wreck restaurant – located on the second floor, with more glorious views – is good enough to attract local clientele.

Room tip: Ground-floor rooms enjoy direct access to the beach. The only one that doesn’t have a direct sea view is Kolmanskop (the luxury family room). Of the three family rooms, I thought Eduard Bohlen was fantastic, with immediate access to the beach and, at R2950 a night for two adults and two children, great value.

Cost: From R950 per person sharing B&B.

Contact: beachlodge.com.na

Most stylish

4. Swakopmund Luxury Suites

Tripadvisor No 2 of 39 specialty lodgings

Swakop Luxury Suites, Swakopmund. Image: Teagan Cunniffe

The Strand is grand and The Delight trendy, but if you like cool Scandi-style elegance, these 20 luxurious suites – cleverly repurposed from a three-storey 1930s apartment block by talented local architect Sanderine Bierman – are the bomb.

A palette of white, pale grey, taupe and cream with occasional turquoise accents; clean uncluttered lines, shaggy rugs, good lighting and stylish bathrooms.

There are no sea views but the location – across the road from the beachfront promenade and literally a stone’s throw from the historic centre – is perfect.

Breakfast is not served on site; you are provided with vouchers that you can redeem at four different coffee shops within easy strolling distance, including Café Anton, right next door – one of Swakop’s most charming German stalwarts.

Room tip: There is no lift and all the rooms are upstairs. A few of the suites have palm-tree-and-promenade views.

Cost: From R975 per person sharing B&B.

Contact: swakopmundluxurysuites.com

Best historic hotel

5. Hansa Hotel

Tripadvisor No. 3 of 19 hotels

Hansa Hotel, Swakopmund. Image: Teagan Cunniffe

I love the Hansa, and am always relieved to find that nothing has changed; that it retains the exact same refined, old-fashioned, colonial-era atmosphere – after all, it’s been welcoming guests since 1905 (though it gained its current incarnation under the stewardship of Elisabeth Rummel and her two husbands from 1954 to 1988). As such, it provides an immersive experience of an earlier time, akin to staying in a living museum.

That said, bedrooms have been modernised – no room is alike but the decor is, for the most part, fairly bland; however, facilities are kept in good nick.

Staff are professional and the location – in the middle of town – is excellent.

The Hansa dining room is famous, one of the best in Swakopmund. Make a point of having a meal here even if you don’t choose to check in (and if you are staying over, do book a table).

Room tip: I love the ground-floor rooms that open onto the courtyard, but the hotel is super popular so take what you can get. If the Hansa is full, the more down-home but charming half-timbered Europa Hof is a good alternative (from R870 per person sharing B&B, europahof.com).

Cost: From R1220 per person sharing B&B. Check online for special deals.

Contact: hansahotel.com.na

Best guest house

6. Villa Margherita

Tripadvisor No. 8 of 52 B&BS/Inns

Villa Magherita, Swakopmund. Image: Teagan Cunniffe

What a class act this boutique guest house is, located in a historic German colonial-era building and filled with art, antiques and interesting objects. It’s furnished with real flair and the walls are painted in exuberant colours – some may find it a little OTT; if you prefer a more restrained palette and uncluttered decor, then Swakopmund Luxury Suites is a better bet, but there is so much individual character here.

There are several accommodation choices set around a lovely courtyard garden – a birdsong oasis with lots of nooks to hive off into. It’s more interesting and intimate than the other boutique offering, The Delight, and service is more personal.

I didn’t have a chance to sample breakfast or dinner but by all accounts these won’t disappoint; there is also an on-site masseuse. You are not guaranteed parking so be sure to book this along with your room. The Villa is walking distance from the centre of town, so you’re unlikely to need your car much while you’re here.

Room tip: There are only eight rooms; as it’s popular, most were occupied when I visited, but I did love ‘Queen’, the room set under the eaves.

Cost: R1050 per person sharing B&B.

Contact: villamargherita.com.na

Best-value self-catering

7. Swakopmund Lifestyle Hotel Apartments

Tripadvisor No. 14 of 39 specialty lodgings

Swakop Lifestyle Apartments, Swakopmund.

This purpose-built block was developed specifically for short-term rental, offering 22 pristinely clean, modern apartments, with a choice of studios and one, two or three bedrooms.

The apartments have well-equipped kitchens but the concept goes beyond the average self-catering offering, with staff on hand 24/7 to answer any queries, porters to carry luggage, free Wi-Fi, breakfast served and apartments serviced daily. It’s a 10-minute stroll to the beachfront area or shops and restaurants. There’s plenty of secure parking but no pool.

Room tip: I prefer the studios to the one-bedroom apartments, which have the bedroom up a flight of stairs on a mezzanine level. (Bear in mind that this mezzanine room in the two- and three-bedroom apartments means one bedroom is not very private.) If you want access to an outdoor space, you’ll have to book the three-bedroom apartment with the deck.

Cost: Studio R945 per person sharing. Apartments from R540 per person sharing. Rates include breakfast.

Contact: lifestyleaccommodation.com

Best luxury apartments

8. Strand Hotel

Tripadvisor No.2 of 19 hotels

Strand Hotel, Swakopmund. Image: supplied

With the long-awaited opening of the luxury four-star Strand Hotel at the end of 2015, Swakopmund came of age as a destination able to cater to the well-heeled international traveller. It enjoys a superb location right on the beachfront and strolling distance to the town’s historic centre.

The public spaces – all either opening on to or showcasing the ocean views – are elegant, yet it’s relaxed and welcoming. Staff are warm, check-in is efficient but casual, and there is no issue here with guests hanging out in trunks and slip-slops.

Decor in the rooms is great; you’ll want for nothing in terms of facilities but note that the standard rooms are on the small side, and bathrooms (shower only) are pretty tiny.

There are three restaurants to choose from: breakfast at Farmhouse Deli offers an enormous choice; Brewer & Butcher produces its own beer; Ocean Cellar has probably the best wine selection in town.

If you’re longing for a sea view after being in the desert for a few days, and not counting your Nam dollars, this is my top choice.

Room tip:If you’re booking a standard room, be sure to specify one with a beach view – it costs the same as a garden view. If you want a guaranteed beach or sea view (sea view is, incidentally, better than beach, I think) and a larger bathroom, a luxury room is worth the extra R144 per person.

Cost: From R1606 per person sharing B&B.

Contact: strandhotelswakopmund.com

Worth a look

9. Swakopmund Sands

Another favourite hotel, this is one of the best-dressed options in town; a comfortable and well-located base within easy walking distance of the promenade and historic centre.

Good value too, but note there’s no on-site restaurant.

Cost: From R835 per person sharing B&B.

Contact: swakopmundsandshotel.com

10. The Secret Garden

This little guest house is my B&B bargain, with just nine en-suite rooms facing a courtyard or garden, two luxury suites with private balconies, a restaurant and central location. Dogs welcome.

Cost: From R480 per person sharing B&B.

Contact: secretgarden.com.na

11. Hotel Zum Kaiser

A good solid option in a central location. I particularly liked the view and orientation of Room 24.

Cost: From R1047 per person sharing B&B.

Contact: hotelzumkaiser.com

12. The Stiltz

The sister of Desert Breeze (page 38), but closer to the coast, these freestanding rustic-chic bungalows on stilts overlook the dry Swakop riverbed and ocean, just out of town.

Cost: From R840 per person sharing B&B.

Contact: thestiltz.com

13. Atlantic Villa

On the outskirts, this boutique guest house is worth looking into – it offers self-catering options, has a pool and bicycle hire. The sea-view rooms and junior suites are the top picks.

Cost: From R820 per person sharing B&B ( 40 per cent less / R492 pp until June for stays of two nights or more).

Contact: aha.co.za

14. Cornerstone

An immaculate garden and ship-shape rooms in a house that has been turned into one of the most popular B&Bs in town, but the real bargains here are the three self-catering apartments dotted around town.

Cost: From R900 per person sharing B&B; from R1690 for self-catering for two.

Contact: cornerstoneguesthouse.com

15. Bon Hotel

This slick four-star looks like a boutique hotel but is in an odd location – on the third fl oor of an isolated building on a busy road, away from the centre. Only the sea-view rooms are worth it; the ‘dome’ rooms overlook an indoor sports arena and gym.

Cost: From R690 per person sharing. Check specials online.

Contact: bonhotels.com

16. Dünenblick

Dunenblick, Swakopmund. Image: Teagan Cunniffe

This actually made my final cut but it’s just been rented out for nine months. If you’ll be travelling here at the end of the year, this three-bedroom, self-catering house is worth asking about as it has an extraordinary desert view. There is also a duplex and two bedroom apartment in the back garden, but I did not inspect them.

Cost: From R1250 a night; the house was from R3200 a night.

Contact: selfcatering-swakopmund.com

 

This story appears in the March issue of Getaway magazine.

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