"How about a weekend in Umhlanga with the Damselfly?" So the email I received from the InterContinental Hotels Group didn't quite say that, but it could just as well have. A weekend at any of their South African hotels and I got to choose which one. I could have chosen the luxury Intercontinental Johannesburg Sandton Towers or any of their other hotels in Jozi, Cape Town and Pretoria, but we decided on the Holiday Inn Express in Umhlanga. Firstly because of the destination and secondly because I have never stayed in a Holiday Inn Express before and wanted to know what it was like. And disappointed we definitely weren't.
We got picked up at the King Shaka International Airport, got delivered to the hotel's front door and from the moment we walked in it was smiles and great service all the way. The ladies at reception welcomed us with open arms and checked us in while asking about our flight and if we had been to Umhlanga before. In no time all the necessary admin was done while we were also signed up for the IHG Rewards program. Not just do they offer great benefits to regular guests, but you also get additional Wi-Fi vouchers which meant we could connect both our phones and the laptop to upload photos over the weekend. After a quick chat to the hotel manager who came past while we were busy it was time to go and check out the room.
I don't know why but I always had an impression that the Holiday Inn Express was some kind of budget hotel where you have to push yourself flat against the wall when you're partner wanted to pass you or where you had to stand on the toilet to be able to close the bathroom door. It was anything but. We had a spacious room waiting for us with, big enough to also have a couch next to the bed (not that I needed it over the weekend being in the Damselfly's good books and all), a coffee making station and a bathroom bigger than what I always imagined the rooms were. What a surprise! Just shows when you have ignorant preconceived perceptions about places. Not just did we have a big room but also one with a sea view and a balcony. Ha! VIP treatment bonus. Unfortunately the PE wind followed us to Durbs so we didn't spend a lot of time out on the balcony though.
Umhlanga is divided into two areas. Umhlanga Beach and Umhlanga Ridge. The hotel is located up on the edge of the ridge which means that you're not quite on the beach itself, but rather about a kilometer or two up the road. It does mean that the hotel has a killer view of Umhlanga Rocks below as well as the whole coastline all the way to Durban. It also means that it's a lot cheaper than the ultra expensive hotels right on the Umhlanga beach (making this no ministerial R11 000 a night visit), making it a lot more affordable to visit this popular coastal destination. What really counts in your favour as well is that the hotel has a local taxi company they use with whom you can bill your taxi fare back to your room. It means you can head down to the beach for a walk and leave your wallet in the hotel safe.
Breakfast, included in the room rate, is served in the Great Room and includes the full buffet offer of hot and cold options with coffee and muffins available if you just want a quick snack before heading off to an early meeting or the airport. The first of our two evenings at the hotel we decided to have dinner at the Butcher Block next door. I'm purposely not posting anything about it because I'm doing a totally separate post about it. Why? Because we probably had the best steaks we have ever had. EVER. Another bonus is that you can also bill this back to your room.
As we flew into Durban and didn't have a car, we were worried that we may get stuck at the hotel or will have to take a taxi every time we wanted to go anywhere. Other than taking the taxi down to the beach and back, we actually ended up not needing any transport. Gateway Shopping Centre is literally 5 minutes' walk from the hotel and other than crossing one road it's just about a walk in the park. Except you're walking on a sidewalk. We popped up there for a few things Friday afternoon, dinner on Saturday and then again to check out the Sunday market nearby. If the weather played along we would have spent some time next to the hotel's pool as well, but the wind was horrible. Not the hotel's fault though. Actually, the pool is quite sheltered but it was a little too chilly to take my shirt off, not to mention going in the water.
All in all the weekend was a rather pleasant surprise. Not just did the Damselfly get to visit Umhlanga for the first time, I actually got reminded, as mentioned before, that preconceived ideas about a place can be very wrong. In this case we got a huge surprise in both the quality and well as the substance of the Holiday Inn Express brand of hotels. Sponsored trip or not, I can definitely recommend the Holiday Inn Express hotels for anybody looking for something just below the top of the range type places with what the hotel didn't have in luxury it definitely made up for in friendliness, service and location.
Disclosure: We were invited for a weekend at the Holiday Inn Express Umhlanga by the InterContinental Hotels Group and they carried all the costs for the weekend. They asked for a blog post to be written but had no editorial input in the content of the post.