Wine sets the scene at boutique hotel Mont Rochelle in South Africa’s scenic Winelands. Occupying 39 hectares of vineyards and hills, the hotel produces wine on-site, and guests can tour the cellars or wander the paths between vineyard plots. Even the signature spa facial uses grapes. Rooms are named for the estate’s four varietals, and house wines can be enjoyed anywhere in this laid-back property – whether sipping merlot on a private terrace or dining with perfectly paired wines at hip, house restaurant Miko, which serves locally sourced ingredients in global preparations. It’s the best of South Africa’s Winelands in one exceptional space.
All rooms are spacious and bright, and most are named after locally grown wines. Of them, the Cabernet Rooms stand out: all look out over the verdant valley, and each has a private terrace and a head board made from local fabrics. For complete privacy, the Manor House, a short walk from the hotel, is a sprawling villa with four suites, a kitchen, a lounge, two pools and a dedicated gym.
Surrounded by sunloungers, the heated outdoor pool has prime views of the Franschhoek Mountains.
With two treatment rooms and a hammam, the Mont Rochelle spa uses eco-friendly local products by Africology, made with natural plant extracts and essential oils. The Cape Malay Spice Journey lets guests select their favourite spices and herbs from a dedicated apothecary for bespoke treatments.
Bring walking shoes: the hotel has horizon-brushing grounds for guests to explore on foot or with the hotel’s two, free-to-hire mountain bikes.
The hotel maintains immaculate gardens and rolling greens with walking trails that are ideal for pre-breakfast strolls. In the afternoon, tackle garden games like giant chess and croquet.
All ages welcome. The hotel has games available for children and can organise child-friendly tours; however, the space is romantic and best suited to couples.
On balmy nights, take a table on the terrace at Miko for views of Klein Dassenberg Mountain.
Keep it casual with khakis and wrap dresses. Mrs Smith should wear wedges for pre-dinner strolls on the greens.
Mont Rochelle has two dining options. Miko, which has front-row views of the nearby mountains, specialises in international dishes with a South African accent and exceptional regional ingredients. Dishes include lamb with wild garlic and pan-fried kingklip (a fish caught off the western coast). The restaurant has a superlative wine list – of course – showcasing local vintages. The more casual Country Kitchen, a short stroll from the main hotel building, is ideal for easy lunch and dinner, with salads, local cheese and roosterkoek, a traditional griddled bread served with dried beef and gorgonzola. Staff can also prepare a picnic basket with charcuterie, sandwiches, salads and desserts.
The bar is open throughout the day for drinks and light bites, with a terrace that’s perfect for icy white wine in summers and warmed by a fire pit on chilly winter evenings. Order a classic cocktail or sample the house wines, including the Miko Red, a blend produced only using top vintages in honor of Miko Rwayitare, a former owner of Mont Rochelle.
Miko serves three meals a day; the Country kitchen is only open at lunch and dinner. Breakfast is available from 7am to 10am, lunch from noon to 2:30pm and dinner from 6pm to 10pm.
Sandwiches, salads, burgers and local delicacies are available 24 hours a day.
Mont Rochelle is in Franschhoek, in the Cape Winelands.
Cape Town International (www.capetown-airport.com) is the nearest major airport, an hour’s drive from the hotel. Direct flights from London arrive here, and flights from most major cities connect via Johannesburg. The hotel offers transfers for up to four guests for ZAR1,100.
The drive from Cape Town is pretty and takes about an hour on the N1 road, following signs for Stellenbosch and Wellington, then Franschhoek. The hotel’s car park is by the entrance, and it’s free for guests.
Worth getting out of bed for
South Africa’s wine country lures oenophiles from around the world for sips of its famous tipples. Mont Rochelle grows sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, merlot, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon; and if you’d like to explore more wineries and varietals, including the region’s renowned pinotage and chenin blanc, hop aboard the Wine Tram, an old-fashioned rail car that travels Franschhoek's valley and stops at eight wineries. The region’s beauty spots include Stellenbosch and Paarl. Explore wine country on foot with a hike through the hills and vineyards around Franschhoek; the hotel can map out routes, depending on your desired length and intensity, ranging from three to eight hours. Guests can hop on horseback and ride through the region, and – if you haven’t drunk your fill – you can add on a wine tasting at the end.
Succumb to 10 courses of locally inspired food with La Petite Colombe at Leeu Estates, a 10-minute drive away. The menu includes local meat, foraged herbs and tableside preparations, all best enjoyed with area wines. With a background in foraging, Chris Erasmus uses unexpected plants, wild mushrooms and edible flowers to create innovative and beautiful dishes at Foliage, a five-minute drive from the hotel. Specials include kudu, a regional antelope.
It can invite some awkward questions when you arrive to a renowned honeymoon destination…alone. Pulling up on my tod at the white pearly gates of Mont Rochelle (rather than with Mr Smith as advertised in my hotel booking), I was fully prepared to bumble my way through countless excuses about Mr Smith’s last-minute business trip. To my surprise, I was only ever asked the question once, quite understandably, by the security guard.
By the time I had made it up the long, curvaceous driveway to the front door of the hotel and was sat by the fireplace with a glass of welcome bubbly in hand, it was clear Mr Smith’s name would never be uttered again. Ms Smith was just as welcome flying solo. Such is the discretion at Sir Richard Branson’s luxury outpost in the Cape winelands.
As I sat sipping golden Cap Classique bubbles and admiring the eccentric art adorning each wall, the hotel manager, James, began regaling in an enthusiastic manner the endless activities I could busy myself with while staying at Mont Rochelle residence, from exploring the nearby nature reserve to winery-hopping on the Franschhoek tram. He even made the chivalrous offer to be my tennis partner on their outdoor court, should the mood take me. I explained I was more of a spa, wine and dine sort of type, and soon found myself booked in for a facial, wine tasting and three course dinner. Now that sounds like a Ms Smith sort of holiday.
Bubbles duly downed, another equally – if not more – enthusiastic member of the Mont Rochelle staff, Gabriel, escorted me to my abode for the weekend and a whistle stop tour of the grounds. Sat high on a vine-laden hilltop, Mont Rochelle appears from below as a modest, thatched-roof farmhouse fashioned with the typically quaint Cape Dutch architecture. Colourful gardens of spring flowers immediately surround it and vine rows lead the way down like the thick knitting of a blanket towards the historic town of Franschhoek, nestled at the bottom of the valley just 10 minutes away.
If you look upwards from the horizon, the rocky faces of the Franschhoek mountains tower in the distance as majestic birds of prey swoop overhead marking their territory over the 39 hectare estate. Every square inch of the view is picture worthy, and the panoramic terraces and countless windows take full advantage of their enviable location.
As Gabriel ushered me via the outdoor heated pool and handsome gardens (with lawn games strewn artfully in different corners), we arrived to my room for the weekend: a Cabernet room. Fittingly there was a bottle of Mont Rochelle’s Cabernet Sauvignon red blend on the side table, and Gabriel went to great lengths to explain that I am invited, in fact expected, to drink it. Along with everything else in the minibar: the chocolates, the cookies, the chilled Chardonnay – it’s all for the taking. I thank him. No-one likes an ambiguous minibar, and I am clearly not his first solo Ms Smith visit.
With a private patio and garden just beyond the sliding glass doors, there’s an assortment of blankets and duvets at my disposal for picnics, star-gazing and ruminating over wine. I opt for the latter and relax with a glass of said Chardonnay and my book before my spa date later.
It’s the little touches that make Mont Rochelle a fun place to stay. Now I’ve never met Mr Branson, but I have a feeling he has a sense of humour. A trio of grumpy-looking pink and green porcelain pugs guard my bedside; there’s a rubber duck on my bathrobe (‘You can keep it, it’s a gift!’ enthuses Gabriel); the ‘Service Please’ sign actually reads ‘Time for a top up!’; and the instructions for the Bose wireless speakers tell you to ‘Remember to turn up the volume!’. Mont Rochelle is a hotel that actually wants you to have fun.
Fun here can come in many forms but the Africology spa, using local and luxurious essential oils and plant extracts, is my chosen manner. Perhaps all too obviously for a wine scribe, I’ve opted for the grape stem facial, and I’m made privy to a whole new style of wine therapy. My spa therapist Bronwyn gets to work scrubbing, steaming and massaging away the years, and I leave on cloud nine – radiant and ready to explore the charming town of Franschhoek on an afternoon stroll before a visit to their own boutique winery.
The winter rains arrive just in time as I return to the hotel for the evening and head to their in-house restaurant. There’s something quite exquisite about a candlelit dinner alone, and even more exquisite when it involves being at Miko restaurant. On a chilly winter night, the rain on the windows make the lights of Franschhoek town glisten like a mirage and the other candlelit tables and their respective Mr & Mrs Smiths became a glamour glow in the background to my own romantic three-course culinary experience.
The warming, fusion flavours of the Cape Malay please my palate and a healthy dose of sunny Cape wine lubricates my mind. Sometimes it isn’t about the person you’re with or the weather you are having, sometimes a good holiday is about enjoying some quality ‘me’ time. And, just sometimes, that means running yourself a hot bath, pouring yourself a glass of wine, and turning up the Bose. That’s just what I did that night at Mont Rochelle, and it was magical.