a B&B life...
Some text obviously came from our website, but whoever wrote this definitely had to have stayed here - I wonder who?
Built in 1861, Fairview Historic Homestead has been sympathetically restored to its original Cape Georgian splendour, and invites guests to experience elegant accommodation in the heart of the Garden Route.
On arrival, the gardens make a spectacular first impression and are undoubtedly the showpiece of the property. Lovingly curated into a fairy-tale expanse of arches, flowerbeds, flowing lawns, water features and clipped hedges, this magnificent space will steal the hearts of all guests, whether they have an appreciation for gardening or not. The striking Georgian house fits beautifully into this pretty scene and has been furnished with a collection of antiques and artwork that, together with the high ceilings and wooden floors, perfectly capture the grace of old.
Coming in different shapes and sizes, the guest rooms add contemporary touches to this antique feel, and are fitted with modern comforts such as free wireless internet, fans or air conditioning, heaters safes, bar fridges, tea/coffee facilities and flatscreen televisions with DVD players. Plump mattresses, dressed with cotton percale linen, mohair blankets and soft unicurl duvets, ensure that sleep comes easily.
Two of the luxury rooms, both of which open onto a fragrant lavender garden, have the comforting bonus of a fireplace. One of these rooms features a full en-suite bathroom, while the other has a wheelchair-friendly shower and can accommodate an extra child on a single bed. The other two luxury rooms- one with a full bathroom and the other with a shower- are situated upstairs. A smaller upstairs room is available for solo travellers who only need a bathtub, and can accommodate a second guest at a pinch. This is also the case with the economy room, which has been converted from a storeroom into a cosy guest room with an en-suite shower. Due to limited storage space, the economy room is best suited for overnighters.
Equipped with a kitchen and lounge, the self-catering annex is a sleekly modern two-bedroom unit which provides full access to the main garden and swimming pool, while also having the privacy of a back verandah overlooking its own pretty little garden. On sunny days, braais can be enjoyed here in absolute solitude.
For guests staying in the rest of the rooms, breakfast is certainly a highlight, incorporating fresh produce straight from the garden. The meal kicks off with unique fruit entrées and cereal, yoghurt and baked fruit compote, while in winter, warming maize porridge is standard fare. This is followed up by a mouth-watering main course during which guests can enjoy everything from eggs benedict, to omelettes, French toast and waffles, all cooked to order. A wide range of preserves, also prepared with produce from the garden, can be smothered onto fresh French bread from the local patisserie.
After this satisfying start to the day, guests can discover the beautiful sights and smells of the garden or lounge around the saltwater pool. Trips to various other gardens in the area can be arranged, and the staff will gladly assist with making dinner reservations or recommendations on some of the Garden Route’s wealth of attractions. To end the day in delicious style, a hearty dinner can be prepared for you at the guest house, either served in the dining room or delivered straight to your room.
Certainly one of the joys of running a guesthouse is that you never know quite who will walk through the door...
One of my favorite stories is of when I had Robert Redford and Winnie Mandela staying over - well, maybe not quite: I received a call from a gentleman in San Francisco with a voice a smooth as Robert Redford's (I looove Robert Redford...) He told me that he had just e-mailed me a request for accommodation, but that he was phoning to make sure that I would not have a problem with his partner being black. That's where Winnie comes in.
Let me explain. When I was a young schoolgirl in Cape Town, I had a hostel roommate who stayed on Robben Island. Once she invited me to visit her for the weekend. That meant a trip down to the harbor and then by boat to the Island, the boat was called the Issey if I recall correctly. Just before we took off, the most beautiful, well dressed, regal woman that I had ever seen, gracefully walked past us to sit quietly downstairs. I silently mouthed to my friend: "who is that?" and she whispered back: "Winnie Mandela".
Now when Robert told me that his partner was black, immediately a picture of a young Winnie sprang to mind. I assured him that it would be no problem and that I would reply to his e-mail immediately. When I sat down at my computer I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion at the thought that this man even deemed it necessary to phone to make sure that the love of his life, who he was treating to a trip to Africa, would not be subjected to racism. So I wrote them a letter telling them that they should come to South Africa with an open mind and not prematurely succumb to fear of discrimination and that I was convinced that they were going to be bowled over by the hospitality of South Africans. I also added that they must remember that if people stared it could also just be because they made a handsome couple.
On the day of their arrival it was with great anticipation that I opened the door - to find an elderly gay couple, no resemblance to Winnie or Robert at all, but with huge smiles and a huge bunch of flowers to thank me for my lovely letter. We had a wonderful time together and I'm happy to report that they thoroughly enjoyed their South African experience.
It is countdown to the annual Garden Route Open Garden Festival this Saturday and Sunday. Desmond is gardening before work and I hardly get greeted before he is off into the garden again after work (he jokes that he actually goes to rest in his air conditioned medical practice during the day as the real work starts when he gets home!)All the hard work shows - our garden is looking spectacular. I am excited about a little collaboration with Of the Earth Catering - delicious French pastries and healthy lunches will be served at Fairview Historic Homestead's Pop-up Tea Garden.
My hard work organising the Open Gardens is also coming together. We have beautiful maps sponsored by Coke. I have got quotes for a new brochure to showcase private Garden Route gardens open throughout the year for viewing by appointment. We are holding thumbs for a successful new tourism product for the garden route. Already a year ago a group of gardening enthusiasts chanced upon the website and subsequently visited our garden - I copy the letter I received from them:
'Please do forgive me the time that it has taken to write and thank you. Although we never met, you were very generous to an RHS Holiday tour party back in November in allowing us to come and visit your garden It was during the torrential rains that we had during that month and our day was supposed to involve a trip from Knysna to Hermanus enjoying the beauty of Wilderness along the way. Considering the dangerously high water levels, Wilderness was never going to happen and so we sought out an alternative option. The tour was about seeing the Floral Wonders of South Africa, but many of our guests had wanted to see a "typical South African garden".
I am not sure I would count your garden as "typical", it was so far above the average South African garden, but it was really appreciated by the group to see what a keen gardener can achieve in South Africa. Through a continual downpour, the group enjoyed browsing amongst the various rooms of the garden, admiring the structure and mix of plantings, both native and non-native plants (several of them commented that it was so nice to see plants they recognized!). It was only a short visit, and everyone was drenched by the end, but it gave the group something special to remember from an otherwise dismal day.
So thank you very much for your openness to let us visit ; it was just a shame that you were not there to show us around as you would have had a very attentive audience. There is another tour planned for 2015, and maybe it would be possible to actually plan in a visit more officially into the program, as well as other local gardens that you are now promoting through the George Open Gardens. If you think that this would be a possibility, then please do get in touch with me and I will pass your details onto our RHS Holiday organizing team. "
About a year ago my daughter introduced me to the joys of Pinterest. What an amazing way to organize your thoughts, plans and to get inspiration. (For inspiration you may look at my Pinterest board http://www.pinterest.com/phildab/linnekas-laundry-room/ )
And my other favourite: Houz
As a guest house owner, the linen cupboard can be both a frustration and a joy - depending on how the Fairview Homestead linen cupboard users use or abuse it. Now I am not naturally the tidiest person on earth (my husband and daughter are...) I have to work at it. And for that, I need rules that I as well as the staff have to adhere to. We sort, fix or discard every 3 months.
My 5 rules for an immaculate linen cupboard:
1. sort and discard
2. signs - to show what goes where
3. simplify - do the sheets on the beds really have to match the yellow, blue, red and orange themed rooms?
4. standardize - go for white
5. sustain - now that's the most difficult part!
The same rules applies to the cleaning products cupboard. I have made life a lot easier by using one bio degradable product that is diluted to different levels depending on the use.
It can be very annoying when you are looking for bed sheets and pillow cases and nothing seems to match. I find it easier to organize the bed linens so that it is easy to find each set of sheets, pillow cases, etc. for each bed. This method also makes it easier to get rid of sheet sets that are old and worn - if the top sheet is worn and you get rid of it, you may forget about the bottom sheet if you don't see them together. Blanket boxes for spare mattress, pillowcase protectors, blankets etc. are clear plastic ones. The emergency medical box also lives in the linen cupboard - it is one of those plastic drawer types and I use the same type to store bathroom amenities.
I would recommend that you reuse any sheets that are no longer part of a matching set for other things around the house. For example:
You could use old sheets and blankets to make new ironing board pads and covers.
Donate old sheets and towels to a local church or homeless shelter or to a local animal welfare society.
On that note, if you have a dog, make some thrifty knot toy from your old towels. Cut the towel into strips lengthwise about five inches wide and tie knots along the length of the towel close together. Your dog will love chewing on it.
You could also sew a couple of old sheets together and use as a beach blanket.
Use your old sheets to make gift, laundry or shoe bags. Just cut the size you need, sew a one-inch seam for the drawstring, and then sew the bag together.
Make your own cleaning cloths and rags.
A few years ago a guest wrote in our guest book: Fairview = Philda.
Initially I thought: "what an odd thing to write in a guest book", but then I realized that this man actually understood the essence of what it is about when you stay in a B&B opposed to a hotel -that personal touch added by the owner.
Whenever I show guests through our garden I feel such a fraud because if I am the one adding the special touch to the guest house, then our garden = Desmond.
Shortly after we started the guest house I asked him to move his gardening activities to the front garden as we had two sets of guests arriving and I wanted him to let them in as I just quickly wanted to go to the grocery store. My instructions that it was a couple for Room 1 and a family for Room 3 was met with: “which one is Room 3 again?". So I patiently explained for the millionth time: Room 1 is the yellow room to the right as you enter, as it has been since the restoration 17 years ago. Room 3 has been Room 3 since the boys left home more than 12 years ago...
When they arrived he told them he was not sure which rooms I had allocated and that it was best to wait for my return. The one guest told him that they were in Room 1, on which he asked if they knew whether that was a yellow room. In his defense I must add that he invited them into the lounge and offered tea and chocolate cookies.
Our guest came up with a super solution: why not ask him to name the rooms after flowers - the yellow room could be Sunflower Room, the orange room could be the Pincushion Room etc.
The incident reminded me of another occasion when he was working in the front as guest arrived. It was pouring with rain - not that the rain has ever prevented Desmond from gardening. When I opened the front door it was to find Desmond and the guests in a fit of laughter ; as he explained later - he did not notice the guests initially and wearing his bright yellow rain suit he must have looked quite a sight - they rang the front door bell and then asked him if the proprietor was in? He answered: “She’ll be down presently. I'm just the gardener, but I do sleep with the proprietor".
Last Saturday evening we went to bed early as we only had one couple staying - only to be cruelly awoken at 11.45 by the gate bell being rung - repeatedly... As I have a slight hearing impairment the bell is set to ring very loudly and to discourage people from ringing it repeatedly it is also set to ring loudly at the gate. Desmond went down to open the gate as we could see that these people were not taking 'no' for an answer.
To my surprise I could hear that he was actually booking them in - we normally, as a security measure, do not take off-street bookings after hours. It transpired that they had made an online booking earlier and for some reason the text message notification never came through on my mobile phone, so I did not know about their arrival as I never checked my computer between returning from a late afternoon movie, making dinner and retiring early. That they did not think it unacceptable to book in nearly midnight without prior arrangement just added to the chain of events of how things go very wrong when they start going wrong.
They told Desmond that they had booked a different room to the one he gave them and they were none too happy when he insisted that that was the only room that they could have booked (the others were either occupied or closed for renovation). The next morning I printed out the confirmation e-mail to show them that they had indeed booked room 2 and Room 2 was the room that they got as I pointed to the number 2 on the door.
They did not take to a proprietor who did not believe that the customer is always right and neither did the proprietor take to argumentative guests - we were on a speedy downhill slope. To the point where I said to Desmond that I wondered if I could give myself a bad review on TripAdvisor?
Over breakfast they said that the shower was not draining properly and that they therefor could not shower. I asked their permission to send our housekeeper into the room to check out the drain while they were having breakfast. Prior to them I had guests who stayed 5 days in that room with no problem.
I gave Liesbet a dose of bio degradable drain cleaner with instructions to pour it down the drain of Room 2 , add a liter of boiling water, to replace wet towels and to make sure the electric towel rails were on. She came back reporting job done, but found it strange that the water ran down perfectly well and assured me that the towels were nice and toasty on the heated towel rails as instructed. Well, you guessed: Liesbet had gone into Room 1, not Room 2! This transpired when the understandably unhappy guest came to me with a look of exasperation on her face and frustration in her voice to tell me that the wet towels were still lying exactly on the floor as she had left it. What more could go wrong? Desmond being Desmond answered: ' they could eventually have a shower and the gas bottle could empty right then"!
As a fellow B&B owner told me: 'Only one thing to do Philda. Make yourself a cup of tea, go and find yourself a quiet spot in the garden, take your guest book and read all the gushing thank you's and compliments about excellent service, hospitable hosts etc. etc.!'
But I still wonder if I could give myself a bad review on TripAdvisor?
One of the sites we market on, just asked to give the 'house rules' Which had me thinking... In the end this is what I gave them: Fairview Homestead is a 7 bedroom guest house in B&B style - that means we, the owners, live on the premises. Our guest rooms are private, but we have a communal lounge/breakfast area for the guests. The only rules I can think of are : no non-paying guests in the bedrooms for longer than 10 minutes ; no cigarette buds in the garden, no unsupervised children in the swimming pool, be nice to the hosts...
That was said 'tongue in cheek' ! We have had paying guests in our house for more than 17 years and I've never had to pin down rules, so I do not think I am going to start now.
So often friends will ask if we do not get tired of sharing our home with guests. After all these years I can honestly say that we still enjoy it. ! But being put on the spot to think about house rules, I also realised that those mentioned are the only things that sometimes gets me upset. I once found two children playing by themselves - their parents had gone shopping. We have not had much trouble with the cigarette buds in the garden, but we find cigarette buds on the beach repulsive, so I can just imagine what Desmond would say if he found them amongst his flowers. About 'be nice to the hosts' you'll understand if you read the post http://www.fairview.lithe.co.za/right-of-admission-reserved/
And the rule 'no non-paying guests in the bedrooms for longer than 10 minutes' is because of another incident which ,I think, is any guest house owner's worst nightmare. I woke up with a start one morning at 2am , walked downstairs to get a glass of water and then got a start as the front door slammed , accompanied by female laughter as someone came in. Not so abnormal, but what woke me up completely was that I had two single businessmen booked into the two doors at the front. As I contemplated how to handle this, the laughter just became more raucous. It dawned on me that both these gentlemen had ladies in their rooms. As I said to Desmond afterwards - I went from scared to angry in 3000 revs. I stormed down the passage, banged on the doors, shouting: 'every non-paying guest in these rooms have exactly 5 minutes to leave. How dare you abuse my hospitality like this?'.
Now, the evening before, Desmond saw a program about Dachshunds and thought a baby Dachshund would make a good friend for Juno our Bull Mastiff and he always thought they were such cute looking dogs. Juno is such a softie and in the television program they said that Dachshunds have more aggression than most breeds and make the perfect guard dogs. So he argued that the Dachshund would be the guard dog, while Juno looks scary because of her size. South Africans have a thing about guard dogs that I find so overrated. I would have none of this. I do not like yapping dogs ; my father had a little Dachshund that yapped incessantly - I had enough of yapping dogs as a child to last me a lifetime. As I crawled back into bed Desmond whispered in my ear: 'who needs a Dachshund, I've got you babe...'
Man comes to the front door of a guest house and says he's Mr. Smith, booked in for two nights.
Proprietor: 'Would you like me to carry your bag from the car, sir'.
Guest: 'No, she can walk, but you can bring the luggage.'
Innkeeper: The room is R1000- a night. It's R50- if you make your own bed.
Guest: I'll make my own bed.
Innkeeper: Good. I'll get you some nails and wood.
Paddy is booked into a guest house, and looking round,notices a sign on the wall. He says to the owner: "What time do you get in by?" The owner looks confused and says: "Well, I am the owner, I live here. Why do you ask?"
Says Paddy,"Well, on that sign there, it says guests have to be in before you!"
The owner replies,"No, it says: "Guests must be in before 1 am"!
I do believe in laughing through the turmoil of running a B&B and let's face it there are lots of opportunity for a good chuckle every now and then. At the time I was not amused, but I often tell people about the grading assessor who gave me 3 out of 10 for my furniture. When I queried it she waved her hand in exasperation toward my antique furnished room and exclaimed, "but you only have mismatched second-hand furniture". You can only smile... and cancel star grading.
A fellow guesthouse owner told me about one of her guests who asked in a strong ‘Indian’ accent whether her young employee (fresh out of high school, and not yet with an ear accustomed to foreign accents) had “toilet paper”. The young lady promptly went to get what she heard the guest had asked for – the guest was of course very surprised when she returned, as he had in fact asked for “today’s paper”! Fortunately, the guest had a sense of humour and not only had a good laugh about the incident, but shared the joke with the guest house owner!
Sometimes my ability to smile lands me in trouble. I once walked out to greet guests and there they were sitting in their car, while the husband lets rip with a tongue lashing of note. What to do - turn around and leave them to it? But what if they take that as inhospitable? In the end, I pretended not to hear them and industriously started deadheading the nearest daisy bush. When the wife timidly walked toward me I smiled bravely and told her to come in - I'll make them a nice cup of tea. She explained that her husband was very upset with her map reading abilities. At that stage, Angry Hubby was slamming car doors and huffing and puffing with the luggage, but the next minute he tells me to wipe that smile off my face! Me? Wipe the smile off my face? In a flash, it was gone. I then calmly pointed toward the Right of Admission sign above my front door and told him to put his luggage right back into the car as he would not be sleeping in my guest house.
Today I can laugh at this incident, but at the time it was not funny - I am in the business of welcoming guests into our home, not chasing them away! But that is the promised blog post about the day that I fell back on the "right of admission reserved" sign.
I have noticed that guest houses will often set the television to a news channel during breakfast.To me that is just one notch above listening to rap while having a meal - who wants to start his day with bad news, and let's face it, 'news' will inevitably be bad news. For seventeen years my background music of choice at the breakfast table has been light classical music, but I also have quite a collection of 'soothing' background CD's. I think one should be careful with vocals and I prefer to play soothing instrumental music if not light classical.
As I was grocery shopping today I suddenly became aware that the shop was playing classical music. It will not surprise me if they find that clients shop longer and more with soothing classical music in their ears. I for one immediately went off to find the floor manager and compliment her on their choice of music. You have to understand - at the end of the year I run through the supermarket like a mad woman just so that I can limit the time that I have to listen to 'jingle bells rock' and the likes. I just do not understand how shops and restaurants do not grasp the power of music - how it can build or destroy the shopping mood in a flash. Imagine buying a pair of shoes with a waltz playing in the background.... Now imagine buying a pair of shoes to the beat of a rap song... I rest my case.
When my children were still at home I once had a CD with Gregorian chants playing in the background and just as I was serving breakfast my one son came running into the breakfast room and, without greeting anyone, he grabbed the remote from the table, changed CD's and with blazer coat flying went running off to school. When he came home I reprimanded him for not greeting the guests and just changing my music without asking me. His answer: 'Mom, I heard that freaky music and thought to myself, shame, those poor guests will never get their bacon and eggs down with that playing in the background'.
I suppose each to his own...
I have a few friends who also run B&B's and whenever we get together, you can be sure that within minutes we'll be sharing tips, recipes, a joke or a funny incident. Exactly a year ago my friend Liza encouraged me to write candidly about the joys (and frustrations) of running a guest house, categorized on my blog as "My B&B Life". This week I want to tackle tricky issues around accents and cultural differences.
An Afrikaans speaking person will ask for breakfast at 'half sewe' (6h30), someone from England will talk about 'half seven' (7h30) and another person may talk about 'half-past seven' - three different meanings to similar-sounding request, fertile ground for misunderstandings! I'm sure fellow B&B owners will sympathize with my frustration (because it's probably happened to them often!) when a guest who requested breakfast at 6.30 (which requires a wake-up time of 5.30 for the guest house owner) then casually waltzes in at 7.30. The problem is that you've been robbed of an hour of sleep with only yourself to blame as, chances are, you were the one who made the mistake with the half-past six / half six story.
And then there are the incidents caused by accents - lost in translation in the true sense. A fellow guesthouse owner told me about one of her guests who asked in a strong 'Indian' accent whether her young employee (fresh out of high school, and not yet with an ear accustomed to foreign accents) had "toilet paper". The young lady promptly went to get what she heard the guest had asked for - the guest was of course very surprised when she returned, as he had in fact asked for "today's paper"! Fortunately, the guest had a sense of humour and not only had a good laugh about the incident, but shared the joke with the guest house owner!
I recall another incident when I welcomed an American couple and the man informed me in a heavy drawl that "you South Africans have the most atrocious accents"... That got me laughing: for a moment I imagined what it would sound like if all South Africans suddenly spoke English with American accents. Again the guests were, fortunately, able to appreciate the humour.
Shall I be daring enough to tell about cultural differences making for 'lost in translation' incidents? I asked an Xhosa speaking guest what time he wanted breakfast the next morning and he answered: "about seven or eight. " When I asked whether that would be seven or eight, he answered: "when a black man tells you seven or eight, it means you have to be ready from seven until nine". Being in the hospitality business I saw to it that I was ready from seven until nine. The next morning, however, when he held up the empty coffee pot and called me with a brusque "hey, sisi, bring me more coffee", I decided I had to draw the line! I told him firmly that I was not his 'sisi', and that I sensed a condescending tone in the manner that he addressed me, and while I was at it, I found his comment on arrival offensive too. He claimed that it was not wrong in his culture to speak like that. I must confess I was stumped - for all of 10 seconds! Of course one has to be sensitive to cultural differences, but there was something in his manner which seemed to go beyond that: arrogance is an unattractive quality in any culture surely!
Fortunately, I can report that this kind of incident is very rare indeed - we all have our differences, but almost all misunderstandings are manageable if we approach it with humility and a willingness to see the funny side of things.
Which gets me to the topic of my next post: RIGHT OF ADMISSION RESERVED. Watch this space...
About the blog
This is the story of our house, lovingly restored and shared with guests and family since 1995.