Tucked away in Franschhoek’s vine-covered foothills in South Africa’s Cape Winelands, five star La Residence embodies the kind of levels of luxury other high-end hotels can only hope for. Set across a 30-acre wine estate, you might recognise it from the BBC series ‘Amazing Hotels’ but consistently placed among the world’s best places to stay, and a personal favourite of Sir Elton John himself, ‘amazing’ is just the beginning – as our girl Beth discovers.
With its gabled Dutch homesteads, quaint avenues, quirky galleries and sprawling vineyards Franschhoek has its Huguenot heritage to thank for its peculiarly French feel. This is the South of France meets South Africa – a foodie hot-spot where world-renowned restaurants, fine wines and an upmarket artsy scene come together. A feast for the senses, the delights of the Franschhoek Valley are all somehow distilled into our guest experience at La Residence.
Just five minutes drive from the main street, a grand driveway transports you to a tranquil haven of manicured lawns surrounded by vineyards, orchards and flowers, where grazing Springbok, Antelope and miniature ponies add to the fanciful feel.
Drawing up in our dusty rental, we spot the sienna walls of what looks from the outside, like a grand Tuscan-style manor, against a movie-set mountain backdrop.
Greeted by a beaming host of staff, you enter into a world of decadence and intrigue. A black and white marble floor spans the length of The Grand Hall, chandeliers hanging from triple-height beams of the vaulted thatch. French antiques and a vintage writing desk hold chalices overflowing with the largest floral arrangements I’ve ever seen in a riot of crimson and purple.
Ahead, a wide veranda opens up to a palm-lined avenue, a water feature leading us down the lawn to a heated half-moon infinity pool that seems to stretch right into the vineyards and mountains beyond. Yellow and white striped loungers and beanbags make for a Soho House vibe, while the odd roaming peacock adds to the whimsical.
With glasses of delicate house-grown Rose shiraz pressed into our hands, we’re given a tour of the grounds – from a private wine cellar in which you can request a personal tasting, to the palatial gardens filled with roses and vineyards beyond. As well as the 11 suites in the main building, we’re also shown around the 5 vineyard suites with private pools, better suited to those with children as the main hotel is (blissfully) an adult-only zone.
It’s all so decadent, yet with an eclectic, almost french-inspired bohemian charm – owner and interior decorator Liz Biden’s speciality. Part of the Royal Portfolio – a collection of iconic hotels and private residences in South Africa owned and run by the Biden family, art and design is deeply ingrained into the property’s character – reflecting owner Liz and Phil’s keen eye. Drawing inspiration from their travels, lavish interiors are complemented by exotic antiques and artefacts from far-flung destinations, as well as by an astonishing collection of South African art.
Even our key is extra – a huge plush tassel, I think as we open the door to our room, number 7 – The Pink Suite. Opening onto a sunny verandah with views out over the lake, it’s a treasure trove of the fantastical. From Provencal antiques to a pink chaise longue upholstered with the flamboyant tropical print, fantastic local artwork and plush Persian rugs. Our mirrored bathroom is as large as our bedroom, with a feature roll-top bath looking out over the grounds. With velvets, silks and spoiling details like complimentary wine from the estate’s vineyards as well as crystal decanters filled with dessert wines, and the rooms here were made for romance.
One of 11 suites in the main building, each room has its own distinct personality – from our girly boudoir to the palatial honeymoon suite which is decked out in white marble. The Maharani Suite’s Indian-inspired décor, dual aspect balconies and steps up to the bed happen to be Elton’s favourite. He liked the hotel so much that he gave the beautiful Jacaranda trees that surround the dam as a gift.
But the thing about La Residence is that you don’t have to be Elton John to get the rockstar treatment. In keeping with a gastronomic capital like Franschhoek, the food is world-class – with the opportunity to dine at the Chef’s table, or alternatively, a complimentary car will whisk you the five-minute drive (instead of a 20-minute walk) to reservations one of the top restaurants in town. The breakfast ‘buffet’, a huge spread laid out in the Great Hall complete with a cheese trolley and multi-tiered stands of goodies, is perhaps the best I’ve had, and even comes with an a la carte option to follow.
With 11 hectares of vineyards yielding Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz, the hotel also offers a total of 8 ways to taste wine, including a helicopter tour.
But the devil is in the detail. Like the staff, who remember that I like my chardonnay unoaked. Who bring a huge table across the lawn complete with flower arrangements so we can lunch while admiring the view. It’s picking up our rental to find it’s been valeted, always knowing your name, encouraging you to stay well beyond checkout and the free-flowing service from a warm, sincere staff.
We take one of the wine bottles home as a honeymoon present. It’s sat in the corner of our little London apartment, waiting for an occasion. Until then, I’ll look at that bottle of La Residence Nicole Charlotte 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and be glad to be reminded of our time in this most special corner of the Cape, the kind of place where everyone from us to Elton, can come to feel like a rockstar.
La Residence www.theroyalportfolio.com/la-