What it is about The Benjamin on Durban’s Florida Road that makes it different? There are swankier establishments. The rooms are fine, but not exceptional (although the beds are excellent), there’s only breakfast service, no room service and no spa.
But what it does have in its favour is extremely friendly and attentive service, an unhurried air and a sociable atmosphere – aided in no small measure by guests enjoying a free bar.
When I came down from my room after checking in and briefly testing the mattress there was quite a gathering in the front room, mostly non-guests, it seemed, chatting away on the comfortable settees under the high, pressed ceilings.
Although I can be quite anti-social, I found myself chatting amiably to Dee at the reception desk while being introduced to a flow of people. A short while later my friend Illa and I were sitting poolside with regular guest Bob Wynne, engaged in conversation with Franschhoek winemakers, staff and various captains of industry.
The Benjamin is a networking hub of note. It’s very conveniently located and popular with families and business travellers – and guests from neighbouring establishments since breakfast is served from 6am.
There are two conference rooms. Little Ben, like the hotel in general, has a relaxed, easy feel similar to a parlour or dining room and is perfect for intimate meetings, interviews and such. Big Ben, with projector et al, seats 35 or so.
There is limited secure parking and arrangements are made by the hotel with adjacent properties if there is an overflow.
The workings of The Benjamin took me back to a different era, though you would be mistaken for thinking they aren’t right up with the times.
The complimentary wi- fi works like a charm and they use their network to ensure their monthly charity benefits are a success. Now that’s commendable.
Most of the 43 rooms differ in layout since The Benjamin was established 16 years ago by linking two gracious Edwardian buildings.
Many open on to a garden or the pool and there are two sections of four rooms, great for family or groups. Passages and stairways abound, so I wouldn’t recommend the place to the wheelchair-bound.
We appreciated the welcoming wine and snacks – and the cheese platter in the fridge. While there is no restaurant at night, there are a multitude just beyond the front door – and plenty of night life.
You can, of course, order in and watch TV in your room, though it’s far nicer in the garden.
Breakfasts at The Benjamin are highly regarded – the omelettes in particular.
A coffee shop at the entrance to the hotel serves open sandwiches and delicious cakes from 9am. Try it, you’ll be charmed.