Built on a decommissioned power plant, Turbine Hotel & Spa on Knysna’s Thesen Island retains much of the old machinery of the turbine hall that forms an integral part of the decor. Exposed brass and metal pipes, instrument knobs on door handles and even adjustable metal pipe clamps used as napkin rings in the 90-seater Island Café restaurant give the boutique hotel character.
Upon checking in and – very importantly – making a booking at the Amani Spa, which offers a variety of treatments from manicures to hydrotherapy, we got lost navigating the maze-like network of corridors which reveal vast collections of South African paintings and sculptures. It’s a living museum that’s worthy of a visit, even if you’re not checking in.
But the exposed pipes and gauges are about as industrial as it gets at the plush five-star hotel. The well-appointed rooms have flat-screen TVs, high-speed wifi (which really is high-speed) and Nescafé coffee machines.
The Island Café restaurant – with colourful, mismatched chairs set against a white-washed background – overlooks the stunning canal. And the food’s just as special. I’ve never tasted French toast quite as good as the caramelised banana and bacon version, served with maple syrup and mascarpone.
Thesen Island is spread over 90ha. Its 512 homes and 56 apartments are built in colonial maritime architectural style and painted white and beige. So picturesque is the effect that we were inspired to take a nostalgic bicycle ride around the island, visiting the maritime sanctuary to see the elusive Knysna seahorse and then pedalling into “mainland” Knysna to sample craft beers from the Red Bridge Brewing Co.