Love is at the heart of Red Carnation Hotels. Our story began when our President and Founder, Bea Tollman, met a distinguished young hotelier named Stanley for dinner on the scenic bluffs of The Oyster Box. With the acquisition of The Chesterfield Mayfair some 30 years later, The Red Carnation Hotel Collection was officially born—its name and striking logo chosen for the bloom that Stanley always wore on his lapel; and its ethos inspired by Bea and Stanley’s life in hotel keeping together. 

Over 30 years later, love remains our muse. Across our collection, we strive to create unique romantic moments for our guests through unforgettable experiences and evocative dining. Here, we cast our eyes back to that star-crossed evening at The Oyster Box while celebrating how our guests may craft their own love stories with Red Carnation Hotels.

Our greatest love story...

Oh, what a night…

'In my life, love and travel have long been—and always will be—inseparable,' Stanley Tollman recollects. His whimsical philosophy was born after an unforgettable night with our President and Founder, Bea, at the height of a mild South African winter in 1952. The two young trailblazers had arrived in Durban, having driven down together—with Bea’s friend—from Johannesburg: Bea for the Natal Tennis Championship, Stanley for the July Handicap (South Africa’s premier horse race).

While the two had met a few times previously and were fast friends, Stanley had an undisclosed crush on the South African debutante and desired to take Bea on a special date while they were in Durban together. After Bea pulled a back muscle and was forced to withdraw from the tournament, Stanley took his chance. He called the maître d’ of the legendary Oyster Box restaurant, famed for its oysters and seaside vistas, and arranged for the best table in the house: 'the place to see and to be seen.'

As with any lasting love story, the first encounter was a mild calamity, with Bea’s first reaction to an oyster (which she’d never tasted before) being to immediately and emphatically spit it out—right in front of the entire restaurant. Later, back in Durban, Stanley, enthusiastically performing a theatrical joke, tumbled from a beachside fence. Embarrassed and bruised, upon falling he looked up in dismay at the architect of his demise—but much to his surprise, Bea was laughing hysterically. 'There is no doubt that this was the moment where it all began.'

Barely two years later, on 7th March 1954, the two were married. A life in hospitality has ensued, from which numerous other couples have found each other, some through the shared joy of travel, others through working at Red Carnation Hotels and the wider TTC family. 'It gives Bea and myself tremendous joy to know how our love has brought together so many couples.'

Romantic experiences

Today, Red Carnation Hotels is replete with personalised experiences for two, which can be as intimate as a private cocktail masterclass or as adventurous as days spent exploring new frontiers together. Our hotels are set in the world’s most beautiful locations, in the historic heart of culture-filled capitals, charming cities and amidst stunning natural surroundings. At each, we have formed thoughtful partnerships to create mesmerising experiences unique to each location.

Wild adventures

For couples who love the outdoors, there are few places better than South Africa to wander into fanciful wilds. At The Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa, the stunning peaks of Table Mountain and Lion’s Head are visible from its many suites, Azure restaurant and the Leopard Bar. The imposing silhouettes of these natural giants inspired Sir Francis Drake to label Cape Town the fairest Cape in all the world, and four centuries later, nothing has changed. From the summit of Lion’s Head, sweeping views over Cape Town and the hues of adjacent Table Mountain provide an inimitable backdrop for a memorable moment. Take them in as part of a romantic excursion along scenic mountain paths, led by an expert guide. Upon reaching the summit, enjoy a delicious cocktail prepared for you and share breath-taking sunset vistas of the rambling city, mighty mountains and cerulean ocean beyond.

Closer to the hotel itself, couples may arrange a scenic sunset picnic atop Stanley’s Rock—so named for Bea’s husband—where the temperate Cape winds gently course over the fynbos-covered hills. From this natural belvedere—which has been the site of numerous proposals and treasured wedding photographs—the Atlantic Ocean and Cape cliffs can be seen stretching towards the horizon, illuminated in the golden glow of evening. Couples may also combine the surrounding natural beauty with a masterful gin cocktail at the Gin Lab of the Leopard Bar. Our talented mixologist will take you into the heart of the foothills to forage through the Cape’s complex natural botanicals, which you may then use to create your own unique gin masterpiece, just in time for the dramatic rouge sunset so vivid from The Leopard Bar’s terrace.

North of Cape Town, Bushmans Kloof is blessed with natural trails, which visiting couples can enjoy throughout their stay. Of these, perhaps the most romantic is the Crystal Pools Trail, our longest and most rewarding hike. Spend a day with your loved one—and one of our expert guides, if you like—exploring the winding ravines and hidden pools of South Africa’s golden mountain ranges. The trail climaxes with the symphonic cascades of a natural waterfall. Under its sonorous thunder, cool off in the plunge pool’s crystal waters or savour a freshly prepared picnic whilst delighting in the beauty all around you.

Couples at Ashford Castle, meanwhile, may lose themselves in the mossy forests and glass waters of Connemara. Our itineraries explore the castle’s hinterland, combining local history, rhapsodic culture and lyrical landscapes. Whether tracing Connemara’s emerald mountains—beautifully haunted by centuries-old ruins—with a local archaeologist or cruising the sheltered bays of West Ireland’s jagged coastline in a heritage sailing boat, our journeys are an unforgettable way for couples to immerse themselves in Connemara’s melodic sweeps.

In Guernsey, discover the Channel Islands’ wilds, environments utterly unique and exclusive to the small cluster of isolated landforms bridging the British Isles and continental Europe. One of our local Guernsey experts, Andy Taylor, will whisk you around the more remote countryside of this gorgeous island in a special open-sided Land Rover. With the fresh Channel Island breezes coursing over you, admire Guernsey’s astonishing bird life (it’s home to over 300 species in just 25 square miles) or visit its charming farms, where passionate Guernseymen will enchant you with local stories. Just a hop across the pond at Sark, guests may experience wilds the old-fashioned way. Here, no cars are allowed, so couples may take to a caleche—or horse-drawn carriage—to explore the captivating, sparsely populated island.

Intimate and urban experiences

In addition to our rural retreats, our urban enclaves are heavenly pieds-à-terre from which to explore the charms of Europe’s, America’s and Africa’s cultural heritage with your loved one. In London, Kensington is a history-laden borough, itself the product of Victoria and Albert’s royal romance, artfully dotted with memorials to their inspired patronage. For guests wanting to learn the hidden secrets of this iconic neighbourhood, The Milestone Hotel & Residences has partnered with Russel Nash, one of a very select number of guides awarded the Blue Badge qualification. Couples can even arrange a bespoke tour to explore everything wider London has to offer.

At Summer Lodge Country House Hotel & Restaurant or The Acorn Inn, the pastoral charms and historical elegance of Dorset’s rural countryside are yours to unlock. Recreate scenes from Austen, landscapes from Constable and stanzas from Wordsworth with your loved one while strolling down its hamlet paths and green fields. To fully acquaint yourselves with the charming Evershot setting of our hotels, our resident historian, Ray Wilton, can guide you through local heritage—including Evershot’s direct link with Thomas Hardy.

Couples seeking a gift for their loved one in Geneva should look no further than our Swiss watchmaking experience. Here, you may guide your partner on an immersive voyage through the watchmaking capital’s most revered temple of time: The Patek Philippe Museum. Specially designed to showcase the grandest, most bizarre, complex and beautiful timepieces ever made, it is a must for timepiece enthusiasts. Combine your tour with a visit to our partner Initium to build a one-of-a-kind luxury wristwatch—just in time to show it off at dinner in Windows Restaurant.

Those who prefer not to venture far can discover a wealth of indulgent on-site experiences. At The Egerton House Hotel in Knightsbridge, our expert mixologist Esley will guide you through the delicate intricacies of pouring the perfect classic martini. Meanwhile, at The Duke of Richmond, embark upon a couple’s safari of the world’s wild and wonderfully rare gins at the Leopard Bar. One of the most underrated complex spirits, our resident gins range from the floral and fruity to the spiced and exotic.

At The Chesterfield Mayfair, sweeten up your special day with our traditionally treaty afternoon tea in the delightful natural light of our conservatory. While you sip perfectly perfumed brews and dine on finger sandwiches, savour the characterful candies of Hardy’s Original Sweetshop, presented in our Edwardian lollipop candy trolley.

In The Milestone, couples can master mixology in the comfort of their own suite; signature classics such as our Smoking Old Fashioned or our Duchess Hourglass Negroni will be yours to recreate. If you’d like a musical accompaniment, or even a standalone concert, a select ensemble or solo harpist from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra can also be arranged to play for you, an ideal way to close a romantic experience.

Bespoke dining experiences

Across our hotels, our restaurants specialise in romantic dining experiences. Yet in the rugged wilds of the Cederberg mountain range, couples may combine Bushmans Kloof’s sensational culinary creations with stunning scenery through our River Boma and Kadoro dining experiences. Under a clear lilac sky, enjoy exclusive, private dining by the Boontjies River, to the playful murmur of eddying trickles and whistling notes of resident birdlife. Or, in the heart of our reserve, dine in our beautifully restored ‘Kadoro’ shepherd house by candlelight. The quiet tranquillity of this exclusive haven is an ideal setting for a romantic grilled dinner; and when night comes in its full glory, gaze out at a midnight-black tapestry woven with bright stars, nebulae and all the glittering colours of the galaxy.

Red Carnation Hotels excels crafting love stories, from romantic excursions into the wild to curated private dining.