On our last trip to the Cape Winelands, we got greedy and added not one farm but two. La Clé des Montagnes – a French-accented retreat in the former Huguenot enclave of Franschhoek – reveals itself as a food-focused double act, spread over two South African estates, including a working vineyard, orchards and lavender-flecked gardens, plus a few surprises in between. Choose either the Village (for families) or the Lodge (for ages 12 and above), both a swift stroll from the celebrated restaurants of Franschhoek – home to a host of Michelin stars. You won’t go hungry at La Clé, either: run by a husband-and-wife team of chefs (yes, another double act), it lays on everything from farm breakfasts to summer braais, personalised picnics and communal dinners each week. In short, it’s the key to local life…
Get this when you book through us:
A ZAR500 voucher to spend at Desray, Mans Art Gallery, Haute Cabriere, Rueben's, Shared Table at La Clé or Holden Manz Wine Estate
15, spread over two farms: the Village (for families) and the Lodge (for ages 12 and above).
10am, but flexible (subject to availability). Earliest check-in, 3pm. Luggage storage is available.
Double rooms from £198.79 (ZAR4,367), including tax at 15 per cent.
Rates include a farmhouse breakfast of home-made breads, rusks, jams, local cheeses, fruits and charcuterie. Eggs, bacon and more are cooked to order and eaten family-style at a communal table. During the festive season, the minimum stay is two nights.
Interiors at the two farms are immaculate throughout and created by two different South African designers: Sarah Ord’s style is bright and playful, best seen in La Clé Village; while local boy Jacques Erasmus leans towards refined and understated in newer La Clé Lodge.
At the hotel
La Clé Village offers boules and croquet; La Clé Lodge has a putting green, rugby field, two swimming dams and a tennis court; in-room spa treatments are available at both, plus free bicycles and WiFi. In rooms: snack basket on arrival; free bottled water; kettle, tea and coffee; black-out curtains; Le Naturel bath products made from ingredients in the Franschhoek Valley.
Our favourite rooms
Check into thatched-roofed, green-shuttered La Clé Lodge for a refined take on farmhouse life in Franschhoek. Of the five bedrooms in this house, the Courtyard Room was our favourite for its opulent bathroom. At La Clé Village, the various rooms are spread between three village houses, the exclusive use Manoir, Galerie and Domain, plus a private three-bedroom villa (the Grange).
Water babies are well served by a stay at La Clé. Between the Village and the Lodge, there are no less than five pools; an adults-only pool at the Grange (also in the Village) and another at La Clé Lodge, for adults and over-12s only. Whichever you choose, you’re guaranteed dramatic views of Franschhoek’s crenellated mountains, which glow red at sunset.
Swimwear is essential for the six months of South Africa’s spring and summer (September–March), especially in Franschhoek where life revolves around the pool and backyard braais.
There’s no special provision for wheelchair users. A nightly community fee of R55 is charged per guest (over-12) at check-in, which is used to fund the local education programme, the Kusasa Project.
It's over-12s only unless you're booking out one of the farms for exclusive use. There are free cots for two and under, roll-away beds ages two–12 (ZAR550.00 per bed, per night). Board games, books, puzzles, DVDs, baby bedlinen and more available.
You’ll dine at one of two sturdy farmhouse tables, either in the Lodge or the Village, so you can’t go wrong. In summer, the action moves outside.
Casual and relaxed. The locals of Franschhoek do understated chic well. Something to do with the town's French roots…
For Head Chef and General Manager Melanie Shepard, food comes first and foremost. However, there’s no formal restaurant. Instead, the concept is based around weekly chef-cooked meals served in the Lodge and in the Manoir, the main house of the Village. These communal farmhouse dinners aim to give guests a taste of everyday Franschhoek life. In terms of the menu, expect the unexpected: dishes are decided afresh each day, depending on what’s seasonal in the valley.
There’s no a bar, but who needs one when the Cape Winelands are one giant premium-stocked cellar? Go forth and find your favourite: all tasting rooms and wineries offer excellent – and affordable – bottles to take home (or just drink during your stay, if patience is a problem).
Breakfast is served 8–10am daily in each of the villas. The special chef-cooked dinners are agreed at a time that suits all.
This isn’t a traditional hotel: more of a luxury homestay. Exclusive-use guests can summon some wine and a pool-side food platter from their dedicated host. Personalised picnics, backyard braais and pizza evenings are also on the menu.
La Clé des Montagnes is set in the peaceful suburbs of Franschhoek, a tiny Cape Winelands town that punches well above its weight for gastronomy, wine and mountain scenery.
Cape Town’s main international airport is a 50-minute drive to the west. Transfers are available on request: prices depend on the season and the number of guests (call Smith24 to enquire).
There’s no train station in Franschhoek, but nearby Stellenbosch is served by the Metrorail from Cape Town, taking around an hour.
Driving is the way to go in South Africa and car hire is available at all major airports. Roads are well maintained and easy to navigate, especially along the main N2 highway that links Cape Town with the Garden Route and the Eastern Cape. On arrival, both farms at La Clé have free parking.
The two sites at La Clé are just four minutes on foot from Franschhoek’s main high street. Free bicycles are available to borrow for exploring the village and wineries. There’s also a helipad, if you plan to arrive in style.
Worth getting out of bed for
For those who want easy access to Franschhoek on foot, La Clé is the perfect choice. A stay here gives the feel of farm life, all just a short four-minute stroll from the tiny town’s main high street with its well-regarded restaurants, tasting rooms and wine bars. La Clé’s two sites are a few streets away from each other in a quiet residential enclave, graced by willow trees and accented by mountain views. A great way to explore is on the Franschhoek Wine Tram, a vintage hop-on, hop-off bus, that offers six colour-coded routes, each stopping at eight different wine estates. Our tip? Even the most committed drinkers will struggle to sample all eight estates, so select four of the best: start with a tasting or two, followed by a lazy lunch and end with one more for the road. Next, don’t miss the chance to explore the area’s peaks and vine-clad slopes on two feet or two wheels: Bike 'n Wines offers cycling and hiking tours, though La Clé also has free bikes to borrow if you’re keen to go it alone. Summon a picnic from the in-house chefs to take with you on trail.
The area’s Huguenot heritage can be sampled in the many Gallic restaurants that grace the Cape Winelands. Some of the best are Protégé where celebrated chef Scot Kirton showcases younger culinary talents; La Petite Colombe, amid Le Quartier Français complex in downtown Franschhoek; and Le Coin Français, a new arrival on the fine-dining scene by Darren Badenhorst. For these and other high-end restaurants – including Reuben’s, Rust en Vrede and Chef's Warehouse – you'll need to book well in advance, at least six months ahead (call Smith24 and they can help to arrange). There’s also an abundance of farm-to-fork fare on the surrounding wine estates, such as La Petite Ferme and the Werf Restaurant at 17th-century Boschendal (go at lunch to follow food with a walk around the grounds). For families, Village Grill & Butcher serves up a children’s play area and sculpture garden, while Fat Butcher offers alternatives to the South African staples. Cosecha Restaurant at Noble Hill wine estate dishes out Spanish cuisine with vineyard views. Order sharing plates of crispy shredded pork taquitos, sweet potato flautas, beer-battered fish tacos and duck carnitas. Many of the ingredients (not just those in the wine bottles) are grown on site and breakfast is served throughout the day – perfect for late risers.
Smith-approved stops on the Wine Tram include Sir Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle, home to the relaxed Country Kitchen tasting room, where knowledgeable staff will talk you through their favourite tipples – which just so happens to be walking (or staggering) distance from La Clé. On the slopes of the Simonsberg mountains, Noble Hill estate has been producing South African wines since the late 17th century. Another favourite on the route is Grande Provence, where a sculpture-strewn courtyard serves up a tasting room and dramatic views at sunset. If you tire of grapes, there are hops to be had at Tuk Tuk, Bovine and Taproom, all within a short walk of downtown Franschhoek, allowing you to create your own beer trail, too.
Every hotel in our collection is visited by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval and anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this farm-fresh stay in the Cape Winelands and unpacked their case-loads of cabernet sauvignon, a full account of their South African adventure will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a quick peek inside La Clé des Montagnes in Franschhoek…
Two farms, two chefs and two designers form the key to unlocking La Clé des Montagnes. Less hotel, more luxury farmhouse – spread over a duo of sites – it offers the chance to experience a slice of local Franschhoek life. And what a life that is: five minutes spent in the Cape Winelands had us eyeing up estate agents' windows, quitting our day jobs and emigrating immediately to South Africa’s foodie capital – specifically Franschhoek. This tiny town runs either side of a compact high street that just so happens hold some of the best restaurants in the world. The surrounding mountains of La Clé’s name are spectacular, too. And don’t get us started on the area’s award-winning wineries. In short, we’re applying for South African residency. Or maybe just checking in to La Clé…