A South African Winelands estate with a private palace feel, La Residence hotel resembles a miniature Versailles and overlooks the valley of vines in Franschhoek. The façade may be modern, but inside is all colonial romance: historic paintings, romantic antiques and Persian rugs fill every nook and transport you in both time and place.
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A Franschhoek Valley wine tasting in the La Residence's private cellar
11am, but flexible whenever possible. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from $599.96 (ZAR8,947), excluding tax at 15 per cent.
Rates include full American breakfast. The property can be booked in its entirety (to sleep 22), from R73,200 a night.
All the unoccupied rooms are left open for you to peek into, which makes you feel even more like a privileged guest in a stately home or palace.
At the hotel
Swimming pool, gardens, courtyard, library, free WiFi, laundry, parking. In rooms: flatscreen TV, DVD/CD player, minibar, Molton Brown and Charlotte Rhys toiletries, underfloor heating, walk-in showers and separate baths.
Our favourite rooms
Every one of La Residence’s beautiful suites is different, but they're all large, with gorgeous views and a lavish mix of art and antiques. We loved white and gold Frangipani, the most tucked-away of the ground-floor suites, for its monumental marble four-poster, 18th-century French dressers and mirrored ‘Versailles’ bathroom, complete with chandelier, roll-top bath and chaise-longue. The Armani Suite’s muted Whistleresque palette gives it a more contemporary feel; we love its oversize ballet painting, distressed sideboard and Moroccan bathroom chest. The feminine Disa Suite is all delicate pinks and pretty greens, with a balcony looking over the pool to the mountains beyond, an unusual grass-green four-poster and mirrored deco-style sink cabinets. There are spellbinding views from the pond to the peaks from pink-hued Hibiscus; the ground-floor Chambre Bleu has two private verandahs, for those days when you don’t know what sort of view you fancy; and the exotic Indian-themed Maharani above it has two balconies.
The outdoor infinity pool set in the expansive gardens is surrounded by attractive sunloungers covered in fluffy luxury towels.
Jodhpurs or jeans, so you can ride through the vineyards; bikini for poolside lounging; headache tablets, because the wine is so tempting, you’re bound to overindulge.
In-room spa and beauty treatments can be arranged with reception. No pets allowed.
This hotel is aimed at grown-ups in need of a little spoil-me time, so under 12s are not accepted (unless you're booking the property in its entirety). Older children are welcome, but you’ll need to book them their own room at the full rate.
The daily set menu features fresh seasonal local produce and – of course – excellent South African wines; La Residence recycles as much as possible (including waste water).
The alfresco tables all have panoramic mountain views; and at dinner, it’s more a case of choosing which richly upholstered chair you prefer.
South Africa is relaxed, but this place will make you want to dress like holidaying royalty.
The vast black-and-white tiled reception room doubles as a dining room (for hotel guests only), opening out onto the verandah where tables are set for breakfast or lunch. By night, regal red velvet wing-backed chairs are pulled up to white linen-draped tables, softly lit with candles. A sommelier will help you match wine from La Residence’s cellar to the daily changing set menu of seasonal, local produce, such as Franschhoek cheeses, lamb shank, roasted quail and line-caught trout.
In a tucked-away ‘beverage room’, you’ll find a selection of cigars and drinks of all kinds; you can help yourself but a member of staff is always on hand to serve you or help you pick something from the impressive cellar. Take your drinks wherever you please: in the library, on the terrace, in front of the huge fireplace, or to your private verandah or balcony.
As you wish: around 2pm for lunch, and 8pm for dinner.
There’s no room service, but staff will help you out as much as possible, and there’s a well-stocked minibar in every suite.
The nearest airport is a 45-minute drive away in Cape Town.
Get to Cape Town (roughly an hour away by car) and you’ll be able to travel by train to Worcester, Beaufot West, Kroonstad and Bloemfontein with luxury companies Blue Train (www.bluetrain.co.za) and Rovos Rail (www.rovos.com).
The drive from Cape Town should take an hour along the N2. There’s free parking.
Helicopters can land at the hotel’s helipad, provided pilots give enough notice.
Worth getting out of bed for
There’s plenty to do in this area if you’re feeling active, including tennis, mountain walking, golf, cheese tasting, horse riding, and wine-tasting on horseback, for those who like to multi-task. La Residence can make recommendations and book for you.
Huguenot Street, in the centre of Franschhoek, is home to a number of very fine eateries and, of course, they all have excellent local wines on offer. Reuben’s is perhaps the favourite, with Med-tinged food and gorgeous puddings. Get a table outside in the courtyard if you can. Le Quartier Français (021 876 3606) is another good place for modern Mediterranean cuisine, and it has a relaxed bar and terrace, too. Down the street, the French Connection (021 876 4056) is a good little bistro for lunch. Other stylish and tasty wine-and-dine options nearby include the Grand Provence winery restaurant (021 876 3603) and the Haute Cabriere cellar restaurant on Mountain Pass Road (21 876 3688).
‘Let me get this straight, you say they’ve bought some miniature horses off eBay?’ asks Mr Smith when I relay what the charming manager at this luxury hideaway has just told me. Mr Smith’s eyes are on stalks when I tell him that apparently they’re getting some zebra to put in a paddock. La Residence’s setting amid a fertile Winelands landscape of blueish evergreen-sprinkled mountains and lush vined valleys is thrill enough. ‘Did they tap into my mind while I was sleeping here to make this my actual dream hotel?’ asks a chap who’s clearly watched too much sci-fi. I put it down to him still reeling from the discovery that the drinks and snacks in our Bentley-sized mirrored cabinet in our private villa are complimentary. ‘What even the bottle of Johnny Walker?’ he gasps ‘And all those sweets?’
La Residence couldn’t be accused of doing things insouciantly. We’ve been here a day and barely a moment passes without this luxury Franschhoek hotel, or one of its considerate members of staff, slipping us a surprise or a treat. There was the champagne on ice in our villa’s opulent red-and-gold Persian-carpeted boudoir-cum-sitting room. The discovery of the table of toys and children’s toiletries for our little one in her private first-floor suite was tantamount to Charlie's when he won his golden ticket to the chocolate factory. We returned from the fit-for-a-king breakfast to find our cases unpacked and clothes perfectly hung and folded. We asked about suncream, and next thing someone had been to the village to buy the right factor for us. Before la Residence, I thought getting a babysitter organised in the blink of an eye was a pipe dream.
Indeed, thanks to Naledi coming to the rescue, Mr Smith and I are now on a sofa at La Residence’s main house, sipping pale pink house bubbly gazing at the kind of violet sky you’d look at on a postcard and roll your eyes at how fake it looked. No wonder they lay on the champers: with no shortage of things to toast, we mull over how ridiculously relaxing our final days of holiday are thanks to spending them at this Royal Portfolio residence.
Rolling into our mini private drive the night before, it had seemed impossible that the palatial art-filled duplex (one of six opened in 2011) was our very own house. Ordering a light supper from room service in no time elicited polished cloches and a ta-da of zingy, imaginative seasonal salads at a table resplendent in fresh flowers. In-room eating doesn’t get more romantic. (For less than the cost of a canteen lunch back home too, observed the ever spreadsheet-minded Mr Smith). Bridging the time between supper and sleep? A ballroom-sized bathroom with a huge freestanding tub for me, a Pavarotti-proportioned shower for him, an orgy of Charlotte Rhys toiletries, then a whirl with the home cinema.
My first taste of La Residence’s charms was back in 2006 when it was still at Liz Biden’s original country-house retreat. Hearing she’d sold my favourite of all the hotels we filmed for our ‘Smith Hotels for 2’ series for the Discovery Channel had been disappointing. I never imagined her new-build version on a nearby plot of land, even lavished with antiques, art and soft furnishings, could recreate a rendezvous to rival those cherished memories. I confess the terracotta-toned exterior today isn’t as charming as that of the last historical manor, but is the experience still extraordinary? Above and beyond. The attention to detail, the explosion of extravagant decor and nothing-is-too-much-trouble TLC made our two nights in the Winelands unforgettable all over again. No wonder so many of La Residence’s guests return – be it from Johannesburg, Asia or America. Best of all, now they can bring their whole entourage, however young, thanks to the private villas.
The 11-suite main house is a mini, modern Versailles within a contemporary shell, with interiors that are pure romance: everywhere the eye comes to rest there’s an objet recherché, an exotic antique from India, Indochina or Tibet, or one of the beautiful canvases that make up an astonishing art collection worth several billion rand. As this is an adults-only playground, when they developed the villas they also created its own clubhouse with mountain-view infinity pool. We were even lucky enough to have that to ourselves for our stay – everyone else was out horse riding or wine-estate touring.
Back to us sipping that house bubbly at dusk, savouring about as heart-stirring an evening as I’ve known. These aren’t honeymooning or anniversary-marking Mr & Mrs Smiths – this is a mum and dad holidaying with their four-year-old. When the sun finally disappears behind the mountain ridges, we head in for more delicious time as a twosome. There are only a few tables in the gilded, chandeliered dining room – enough to make it exciting and have an atmosphere, but sufficiently spread apart for you to whisper sweet nothings to each other without making your neighbours blush. Should conversation stall, there’s distraction in the edifying inch-thick wine list.
Franschhoek is celebrated internationally for its incredible restaurants – la Petite Ferme, Quartier Français and Reubens – but we couldn’t have been happier staying put. After saluting the freshest, most flavoursome vegetables I’ve ever tasted (presented so beautifully I drove Mr Smith mad sharing those moments with Twitter), I filled our glasses with a world-class local chenin blanc for a final toast. ‘Please can we come back to see the miniature horses?’
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