In this impressive corner of South Africa, mountains run high and pockets run deep. There’s world-class food and wine, of course, plated up around Franschhoek and Stellenbosch, but it’s the characterful hotels that really make the Cape Winelands a destination worth savouring.
DELAIRE GRAFF ESTATE
This 24-carat Stellenbosch stay has a sparkle in its eye – perhaps because it’s owned by Laurence Graff, the rags-to-riches billionaire businessman behind Graff Diamonds. As you might expect, the food and drink is a cut above. Vine-threaded fields enfold the hotel, which sits on scenic slopes of the Botmaskop mountain. The rewards of all this hand-tended viticulture are reaped in the Wine Lounge: an elegant tasting room, graced with paintings by William Kentridge and Lionel Smit. Hotel guests get a free tasting – best sampled fireside in winter and on the Indian-style terrace in summer. Afterwards, dine on tender Karoo lamb, ostrich fillet and estate-grown vegetables at the signature Delaire Graff Restaurant, or head to the Asian-accented Indochine, whose Thai curries and Malaysian rendangs defy second-restaurant notions.
One of 10 original wine estates in Franschhoek, the roots of Grande Provence stretch back to 1694. More recently, it’s been bought by Alex van Heeren, the Dutch entrepreneur behind Huka Lodge in New Zealand and Dolphin Island in Fiji. Needless to say, the attention to detail is high. Guestrooms are tucked away on one side of the estate, while the buzzy tasting room and restaurant sit on the other, fed by a stream of visitors from the wine tram – a hop-on, hop-off service that takes in the area’s best scenery and wine estates. As the sun sets, there’s no better place to be than sitting in the tasting room’s sculpture-lined courtyard, watching the Franschhoek mountains turn red. Except, possibly with a glass of the hotel’s Amphora wine, made in Roman-style clay pots. The restaurant here, by chef Guy Bennett, is not to be missed.
This 19th-century Cape Dutch manor sits on the fringes of Franschhoek, with a location that blends the best of the town’s soaring scenery, with proximity to its bars, breweries and restaurants. During the afternoon, stay put in the Wine Studio, where guests get a free tasting. This grape-scented, barrel-filled space is a collaboration between the owner of Leeu Estates, Analjit Singh, and the award-winning, wine-making Mullineux family. Dutifully oiled, prize yourself out of the leather armchairs and head into town, where the hotel’s sister restaurants include fine-dining La Petite Colombe and Marigold, which nods to Mr Singh’s Indian roots. Craving something other than grapes? Their third place along Franschhoek’s tiny main street is Tuk Tuk Microbrewery, which takes the same approach to beer as Leeu does to wine.
If we say this one’s owned by the chap behind Kasbah Tamadot and Mahali Mzuri, it might give you a clue. Yes, step inside Sir Richard Branson’s South African hideaway, with the same nothing-is-impossible service as its sister properties, but a setting that’s unmistakably South African. Rolling green lawns are bordered by native flowers and the folded Franschhoek mountains rise all around. You’ll be greeted by Ms Blom – the hotel’s cat – and effusive staff such as Peter Karanja, who can advise on the best stops along the wine tram, on which Mont Rochelle sits. It disembarks at the casual Country Kitchen, which has a lovely terrace and lively atmosphere, and doles out free tastings to guests, too. Grab a picnic hamper and gambol around the grounds, or save space for the centrepiece Miko restaurant, which celebrates Cape Malay spices and robust South African dishes, such as rooibos-smoked kudu.
If you think it’s an all-male, international cast transforming the Cape Winelands into South Africa’s most upmarket enclave, think again. Liz Biden is the powerhouse hotelier and interior designer behind the Royal Portfolio, a collection of hotels that includes Birkenhead House in the whale-watching hub of Hermanus and La Residence in Franschhoek. She’s South African and has a character all of her own. Each room at this palace of a place is different. Room seven is lavished in shades of pink, room 11 is favoured by Sir Elton John (there’s a signed photo to prove it) and room three comes with vineyard views galore – and all are decorated in Liz’s inimitable style. The gastronomy is taken seriously, too: guests sit with the chefs to discuss their preferences, perhaps resulting in dishes such as roast loin of springbok with porcini jus, served in the decadent Great Hall, or the outdoor Persian Alley, overlooking rows of palms.
Feature image is Delaire Graff Estate near Stellenbosch.