AUTHOR: Louise Watts
Once home to mighty herds of elephant, Franschhoek valley, ‘French Corner’ in Afrikaans, lies between towering mountains in the beautiful Cape winelands. Steeped in over 300 years of history, it has now become the gourmet capital of South Africa with internationally acclaimed restaurants, great wines and stunning hotels in a natural setting. The hardest thing is deciding where to eat and where to stay.
La Residence is one hotel that has won several accolades (a recent one being the ‘Best hotel in the World 2013’ by Conde Nast Traveller reader’s choice awards). Its breathtaking setting attracts everyone from the tourist to connoisseur plus privacy-seeking celebrities. And as soon as you step into this tranquil haven you can see why.
Built on a private 30-acre estate filled with vines, fruit trees, flowers and herb gardens, the hotel was constructed on a grand scale: marble floors, glittering Indian chandeliers hanging from vaulted ceilings, original artwork and vast mirrors grace the walls. Opening onto wide verandas and rugged mountain views, the 11 extravagant suites are individually decorated but all boast a lavish mix of art and antiques plus palatial en-suite bathrooms. Guests can laze by the private infinity pool and dine alfresco during the day, while dinner is a grand event with candlelight, violinists and elegant dishes served up using the best local produce.
Whether you stay here for a weekend or a month, the setting and excellent staff at this hotel makes it very hard to leave.
The inside track…
What’s on offer:
Living like royalty
Maximum capacity of La Residence is 22 guests, who you barely see, unless you want to. Likewise with the staff, who pad about as discreetly and silently as panthers throughout the lofty corridors and impressive rooms. Children aren’t allowed in the main hotel (accommodation is only offered in the villas) so restful afternoons are guaranteed.
The rooms: 11 suites plus five villas
Each one of La Residence’s opulent suites is different and there are a range of tastes to suit all; if you’re looking for a touch of grandeur, try the Disa Suite with its vibrant pink chaise longue and grass green four-poster. Or, for a more contemporary feel, The Armani Suite boasts an impossibly chic vibe with its understated neutral tones. My husband and I stayed in the Huguenot Suite, a calming room that is peppered with French and Asian antiques, exquisite flowers and Persian carpets. We loved the monumental mustard-gold four-poster, 18th-century French dressers and huge en-suite bathroom, complete with chandelier and majestic mirrors. The view of the mountains from our private balcony was spectacular too.
The five Vineyard Villas are also something special and are ideal for families as they offer a sociable and fun alternative to the main hotel.
What to do: As much or as little as you like
La Residence specilaises in absolute comfort and doing things in your own time, at your own pace. So for those seeking some R&R, enjoy sitting by the pool under a shady umbrella or reading a good book in the library. Cycle or stroll around the estate and soak up the beauty of the olive groves and gardens. If you want to wander farther afield, the hotel provides complimentary transfers into the Franschhoek village so you can visit art galleries, play golf, go trout fishing, or enjoy cheese and wine tasting in the surrounding Franchhoek farms.
Babylonstoren: One of the most stunning gardens in the world. An alluring place with lines of lavender, organic fruit trees, flowers and herbs situated on one of the oldest Cape Dutch farms. (www.babylonstoren.com)
Moreson Farm: A popular lunchtime venue, it boasts the bestcharcuterie platter in town for a mere R65 (Dh23) (www.moreson.co.za)
Pierneef a La Motte on La Motte Farm: South African dishes with a modern twist. An excellent choice for dinner in a beautiful setting. (www.la-motte.com)
At the hotel:
Outdoor infinity pool, gardens, courtyard, library, sitting room, spa treatment room, shop, gym, complimentary laundry. In rooms: air conditioning, underfloor heating, fully stocked mini-bar, flatscreen TV, free Wi-Fi, walk-in showers, luxurious toiletries and separate baths.
Scene-stealer: Sundowners overlooking the vineyards
Hard as it is to drag yourself away from your generous egg-shaped bath swathed in flickering candlelight, the place to spend your time is the loggia or courtyard with their unparalleled view of the mountains. Perched high above the valley, there are few natural landscapes in the world that equal this one. Directly in front of you the vineyards stretch their branches so close they feel within arms reach. To the right, plum orchards and olive groves emerge with a mouth-watering scent, and farther afield, trees and rural surrounds blend into the background of the rugged unspoilt mountains.
Best time to go:
Pack your sunscreen if you visit in January or February as temperatures can rise above 30C. For cooler temperatures, visit in April or October when they drop to around 17C.
How to get there:
Franschhoek is less than one hour’s drive away from Cape Town International Airport. For flights from the UAE to Cape Town see Etihad Airways (www.etihad.com) or Emirates (www.emirates.com).