Red Carnation Hotels (RCH), the hotel group of The Travel Corporation (TTC), was named the number two hotel brand in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine in its 2018 listing. Looking closely at the company, it’s easy to see why it was given the honor.
The group, which has grown to include 17 unique boutique hotels, is the brainchild of Beatrice Tollman, the wife of Stanley Tollman, the chairman of TTC. Bea Tollman oversees all of the hotels; directs the design of each; and keeps in touch with the management of each on a daily basis. She is closely assisted by her daughters, Toni and Vicki.
Though the company maintains a consistently impeccable sense of quality and service across the group, each of the hotels is distinct in style and sensibility, as well as location. The design of each is tailored to the individual qualities of the property and its surroundings.
The company’s history can be traced to the 1950 meeting of Bea and Stanley Tollman in their native South Africa. But, the modern history of the company gets rolling in 1984, after the family moved to England, when the Tollmans purchased The Chesterfield Mayfair in London and The Chesterfield Palm Beach in Florida.
The Chesterfield Mayfair
The Chesterfield Mayfair was originally created in the early 1970s by combining three private homes, during a time when the city of London was trying to boost hotel inventory by offering subsidies to anyone who added rooms to the market. The property is a dignified, warm traditional London hotel, the grand dame of the group. It embodies the qualities that have come to characterize the company, as it has grown to include 17 properties.
Bea Tollman operates and decorates each hotel as if it were her own personal home. Her design acuity is reflected in every detail of each hotel. Each property radiates a sense of comfort and hospitality, with an abundance of art pieces and collectibles, creating an environment that is friendly and aesthetically stimulating.
The company went on to acquire several more London properties, including The Milestone Hotel & Residences (opposite Kensington Palace), 41 Hotel Belgravia, The Egerton House Hotel (in Knightsbridge), The Rubens (opposite Buckingham Palace, overlooking the Queens Mews), and The Montague on the Gardens (near The British Museum).
The group also includes the Chesterfield Palm Beach (in Florida); The Hotel d'Angleterre (on the banks of Lake Geneva); two hotels in Guernsey; and two properties in Dorset, England. In South Africa, the brand has three properties: Twelve Apostles (outside of Cape Town), Bushmans Kloof (in the Western Cape), and the Oyster Box (in Durban).
In 2013, Red Carnation purchased the stunning Ashford Castle, an actual historic castle that has been transformed into a magnificent hotel that has deservedly won many awards, including Best Hotel in the World in 2016 by Virtuoso, #1 Best Resort Hotel in the U.K. and Ireland by Travel + Leisure, and the fifth ranking on the list of the Top Resorts in Europe in Conde Nast Traveler’s Reader Choice Awards in 2016.
Parts of The Ashford Castle date back to 1228. It was first turned into a hotel in 1939. It has hosted luminaries such as King George V, Princess Grace of Monaco, John Lennon, Ronald Reagan, Edward Kennedy and Brad Pitt. In 1951, it was the temporary home of John Wayne and Maureen O’Sullivan during the making of the film “The Quiet Man,” some of which was shot on the castle grounds.
After Red Carnation purchased the hotel, the company put it through a two-year, $75 million restoration.
The Twelve Apostles
The Twelve Apostles hotel stands on the seashore near the point where the Atlantic meets the Indian Ocean on Victoria Road, east of Cape Town, under the Twelve Apostles mountain range. It’s a 20-minute drive from the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront, in the heart of the city of Cape Town. Free shuttles are provided into the city center.
The Twelve Apostles reflects its colonial history, with its origins as a hunting lodge in the 1820s. The original building was torn down in 1920 and a house was erected on the site, which still forms the core of the hotel. Wings were added in stages over time so that there are now 70 rooms. The décor is highlighted with fine quality prints and sculptures throughout.
The grounds are lush and manicured. There is a garden with a rocky waterfall, an outdoor wedding area, and a variety of conference rooms of different sizes. The rooms in the hotel are classed according to their views of the mountains or the sea. Every room has some kind of balcony or porch. Each room is individual. They all have the same essential features and amenities, but they differ in dimensions and individual design features.
The view over the ocean is gripping, at any hour. The hotel faces west over the ocean, and sunsets can be spectacular. The Azure Restaurant, where the breakfast buffets are served, has an outdoor deck that looks over the sea. When I was there, it was late autumn and the weather was mild and comfortable for breakfast. The Leopard Room Bar and Lounge also has a balcony over the sea, and it’s a popular spot for locals as well as guests of the hotel. There is also a more informal Café Grill, which is open 24 hours a day. During certain months of the year, whales can be seen out in the ocean from the hotel.
The Oyster Box
The Oyster Box was purchased by the Tollmans in 2006, but the property has a unique historical connection with the family because it was actually the setting where Stanley and Bea’s romance first blossomed in the early 1950s.
It is located on the shore of the Indian Ocean in Umhlanga Rocks, Durban, South Africa. The original Oyster Lodge was a cottage made of Burmese teak, corrugated iron and concrete, constructed in 1863. The red-and-white lighthouse, which still stands in front of the property, was originally a navigational beacon.
In 1952, the cottage and grounds were purchased by Ken O’Connor and his sister, Kay O’Connor Hill. They built it up, created a tea garden and a restaurant, and opened in March 1954 as the Oyster Box Hotel. It went through several changes in ownership before it was acquired in 2006 by RCH, but it was in a very run-down condition. After a two-year renovation, they opened the new Oyster Box in 2009.
Also in South Africa, the brand owns Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Retreat, which is a Relais & Chateau property.
In 2020, the company plans to introduce a new property, Xigera safari lodge in Botswana.