With a luxury retreat as base, Adam Rodriquez enjoys the riches of South Africa’s wine country.
CAPE TOWN 14 OCTOBER 2010 – In 1688, 176 French Huguenots arrived in what is now South Africa’s Franschoek Valley, fleeing religious persecution and looking to make new lives for themselves. Subsequent waves of their brethren continued to arrive in the area, lending the region its name, which translates to “French Quarter.”Today, this pocket of South Africa’s famed wine country still welcomes people looking for an escape; only to day’s wanderers are generally looking to evade the pressures of modern life, rather than find political asylum. To recharge my batteries and hang up the everyday stress of New York life, I booked a luxury retreat at Franschoek La Residence resort. I found a welcome refuge from the moment I arrived, with a personal greeting at the entrance by the general manager, who, along with staff, poured crisp, bubbling glasses of Champagne for me and my travelling companions. The woman in our group, meanwhile, was also given freshly-cut roses plucked from the property’s private rose garden.
After receiving a brief tour of the property, during which our bags were taken to our room, we settled into The Maharani Suite. where a chilled bottle of wine and several plates of hors d’oeuvre awaited our arrival.
The room was truly palatial (to give you an idea of just how large it was, I had to scale a set of marble steps to climb into luxurious king-size bed each night), with vaulted ceilings and two spacious balcony one overlooking a private pond and the other facing the mountains.
Later that evening, La Residence took care of our car transfers to and from dinner, we returned to see that the turndown service included chocolates and lighted candles throughout the bedroom and bathroom. I awoke thirsty in the middle of the night but I wanted something aside from the water that had been placed on the nightstand, so I searched the room for the minibar .I didn’t want to wake my partner, so I opened countless cabinets and doors in the dark carefully feeling for the steps that took me down from the bed), but it was all in vain. The room was just too big to search in the dark.
The next morning, in the revealing light of day, I found the minibar with no problem. I told my friends about this at breakfast the next morning to have a laugh at my expense,
But the staff must have picked up on it, because after turndown service that night, there was water on the nightstands, along with glasses, an ice bucket, and cans of ginger ale. This mirrored the staff’s readiness to please throughout my entire stay, as every request was met with, “But, of course.”
Each morning before walking to breakfast (which included not only a seemingly limitless selection of cereals, baked goods, yogurts and cheese spreads; but also a menu
of hot items and remarkable omelettes), we received a personal wake-up call, with a knock at the door announcing the arrival of our coffee and a plate of butter biscuits. We were then able to wake up at our leisure over the warm brew, while watching black swans, ducks, guinea fowl and other birds navigating the waters in the pond below our deck.
This particular morning at La Residence kicked off with an early meeting with Richard Hilton, Roar Africa’s resident wine expert. He boasts an enviable resume, but fortunately, it’s complemented by an affable disposition and a readiness to share all he knows, without a hint of pretension. The British native moved to Burgundy in the early ’90s, thus sparking a lifelong passion for wine production. After spending several years working with the local vineyards, Hilton moved to South Africa in 1996 to work under a number of other producers, before presenting his own product, Pax Verbatim Vineyards, in 2003.
Today, Hilton boasts his own Rhone varietals of Syrah and Viognier, of which he makes just 1,000 cases annually to be sold to top restaurants in Cape Town and exported to select countries around the world. In 2007,he also launched Greatest Cape Wine Tours as a means to share his intimate knowledge of wine production in one of the world’s top producing regions.
That day, he took us to nearby Stellenbosch, where we visited Vergelegen Estate, Morgenster Estate and Uva Mira Estate, before sitting down to lunch at Delaire Graff Wine Estate for a sample of his superb Viognier. We had also tasted select wines at each vineyard we visited that morning, all
while admiring the dramatic views of the countryside. This inevitably made us late for lunch, but we were keeping company with a local celebrity of sorts, who had a personal relationship with the kitchen. He was able to call ahead when it became apparent we were behind schedule, so the fires were kept burning just for us.
When we returned to La Residence, we were greeted once again with chilled glasses of Champagne and decadent slices of mousse pie. We had the rest of the afternoon to enjoy the amenities at our fingertips, not the least of which were 30 acres of vineyards, plum orchards and fragrant, manicured gardens. With only 11 guest rooms on site, each with its own unique decor, we felt like guests at a private home, making the name so much more suitable. Of course, this residence had spa treatments available to us in our room, or on our private balcony.
Later that evening, we met for cocktail hour in the common room, where we nibbled on appetizers and basked in the glow of the two large fireplaces. At various points, we each wandered over to the adjacent, partially-enclosed conservatory to capture the magnificent mountain views on film.
Finally, almost reluctantly (we were just too comfortable), we got up from our plush seats for dinner, a seven course chef’s table dinner with the general manager. Each course was expertly paired with a local wine from the hotel’s private wine cellar, and the chef was gracious enough to teach us how to make his delicious risotto.
Afterward, we returned to the common room for more drinks, chatting with the GM until late into the evening. We’d all been up so late that night that the last thing we expected to see was his smiling face at breakfast the next morning. But he was so involved in the day-to-day activities at La Residence that he made sure to be up and ready to say his goodbyes before we left.
As we piled into our private transfer provided by the hotel, I found it hard to say goodbye to my retreat, but I smiled at the thought that whenever I feel the need to escape the fast-paced life of New York, La Residence will be there, ready with open arms .