Updated: Aug 9, 2021
August 6, 2021
As we found ourselves at a crossroads where we have sold the big house, proven we can work effectively from home in any time zone, hosted a wedding for our son, rid ourselves of some material possessions, and now looking forward to a future of downsizing, living the life we’ve imagined through experiences, enjoying friends and travel without the weight of house maintenance and real estate taxes, (at least in the short term). Yes, we are homeless, and yes in 3 months’ time we will find our way back to southern California, but for now, just now we are able to step back and truly smell the roses, experience a vagabond life living through Airbnb in a lovely parts of the world- currently Southern Africa and more specifically Franschhoek and Cape Town where we are discovering all that this beautiful country has to offer. With weekend escapes to safari in South Africa and Botswana we are truly living the dream, but more importantly living the dream while we scope out the best properties and destinations for our clients.
After 3 weeks on safari throughout Botswana (more on this in another blog), I was happy to land in Cape Town in mid-July to head out to my first “home” in the small town of Franschhoek in the beautiful valley surrounded by the Jonkershoek, Drakenstein, and Simonsberg mountain ranges. The grandeur of the landscape is enough to make one truly appreciate the good things in life- beauty of the place makes it easy to explore- from hiking and biking, to golf, to merely walking down the main street of this small-town, peeking into the shops, getting to know the locals, and settling into a fine lunch with a glass of wine. There is beauty in every place you look. The Cape Winelands region, which includes the larger city of Paarl, the university town of Stellenbosch and quaint Franschhoek are home to more than 200 wine estates, divided according to wine style, climate, and location. The region is blessed with the ideal grape growing climate- hot and dry in summer and cool and wet in winter.
While rain and cool are annoying, we are also enjoying 70 degree cloudless days with cool nights around an open fire. Not so bad a winter for sure, making us miss our California summer a little less. Of the 200 vineyards here, 148 are open to the public to wine, dine and be pampered. Many wine estates also offer accommodation, some of which I will share here.
Once a sleepy country retreat, Franschhoek experienced a boom nearly 30 years ago. The ideal summer weather, snowy peaks in winter and proximity to Cape Townhave turned Franschhoek into one of South Africa's most sought after residential addresses , although the housing prices are still by US standards quite affordable.
Franschhoek is also notable for having some of the top restaurants in the country. This fact, together with the strong wine culture, and pristine natural and architectural beauty has made Franschhoek into what many describe as the "food and wine capital" of South Africa.
I was privileged to visit 10 great properties in the Valley; I will focus on some of my favorites, although each property I visited has appeal for a specific client and budget. I would gladly stay in any of them!
La Residence is part of the Royal Portfolio collection. Think Silo in Cape Town and Royal Malewane in the bush. This is a fabulous property where Sir Elton John even has a favorite room. With just 11 suites in the manor house and another 5 1–2-bedroom cottages among the Cab and Shiraz vineyards, olive groves and plum orchards, this beautiful sanctuary is owned by the Biden family. (No, not Joe and Jill!) Liz Biden is the curator of each opulently designed and colorfully decorated suite and the cottages are like 1–2-bedroom apartments. I can avow to sumptuous food served in the dining room that resembles a contemporary art museum, complete with Indian chandeliers, original artwork, a vaulted ceiling, welcoming staff, an exquisite pool, comfortable nooks and crannies to settle into- It’s all here!
Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited’ Mont Rochelle is another treasure within the confines of Franschhoek. Rising just above the town in the foothills, the private wine farm includes 22 suites of different categories, based mostly on size. Even the smallest suite is spectacular! Families with small children can easily add beds into the larger suites. Also available is a 5-bedroom manor house complete with a kitchen, 2 pools, tennis court, outdoor kitchen, and private gym. A chef and butler can be added, or meals taken on premises or nearby Franschhoek. Note that one of the bedrooms is of bunkhouse variety and can sleep up to 6 kids of all ages.
The property has a spa and steam room and a shared guest pool along with The Country Kitchen open for lunch and the award-winning gourmet restaurant, Miko open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
A third property located the main street is The Last Word, a 10-room oasis within the village that includes 8 large “standard rooms” and 2 pool suites, that have private pools. The manor itself has a shared swimming pool and shared common areas including 2 large living rooms and a bar. The appeal of the Last Word is location, and it is priced for great value. When a group of 8 or more travels it’s ideal for exclusive use – still priced on a per room basis. If you were walking down Huguenot Street, which I did 30 or so times in my stay in Franschhoek, you would not even notice this lovely property snuggled into an escape just off the beaten path.
For those wishing to have an authentic farm stay experience consider the garden paradise known as Babylonstoren that offers a delicious taste of idyllic country life: from Provençal-inspired gardens bearing fruit to luxurious suites that are replicas of the old farm workers’ cottages, to gourmet food offerings in both on property restaurants and in the farm shops. Owner Karen Roos has drawn on her extensive travels abroad, and masterfully merged those with the very best local flavors and creature comforts. Karen’s scrupulous attention to detail puts some of the most lavish hotels to shame.
The farm buildings are characterized by thick whitewashed walls, elegant gables, and hearty fireplaces, emulating an authentic farm stay experience. The choices among suites and cottages is diverse: from 2–4-bedroom stand-alone cottages with full kitchens, to a manor house with 6 bedrooms surrounding a private pool, a hot tub, steam room, salt room and sauna, to 1–2-bedroom row houses also complete with kitchen.
Excellent wine and a beautiful property aside, Babylonstoren is also home to a 3.5-hectare garden that supplies the restaurants and a juicery, a spa, modern wine-tasting center, a boathouse with rowboats, a pond for fishing, 3 swimming pools, endless dirt roads (which hotel guests can explore on available mountain bikes), a bakery (where guests can take breadmaking classes), a butchery, a candy and nut shop, a fresh produce store, dairy shop and gift shop.
For winetasting, head off to a fabulous venue with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer breathtaking views of Babylonstoren Hill, Simonsberg and the Banghoek Mountains. Children of all ages will enjoy the chickens, goats, donkeys, and turkeys that populate the acres. The farm is also home to several hundred head of Angus beef. This is truly a property that you could enjoy for 3-4 nights, tranquility and well-being at its best.
Last but not anywhere the least is Delaire Graff Estates just outside of Stellenbosch, perched high above the valley with stupendous views of the mountains, olive trees, orchards, and vineyards. Timeless elegance and natural beauty define all that Delaire Graff has to offer. This stunning
property has spacious, private rooms, all with private heated pools and decks overlooking the valley. Each suite has unique, beautiful art and begs one to just relax and stay awhile.
Guests can enjoy two fantastic restaurants, great wine, hiking trails, beautiful shops, and majestic art . Handpicked by Laurence Graff from his private collection, over 400 pieces of art and sculpture await discovery on the estate. Graff is an English jeweler and billionaire, best known as the founder of Graff Diamonds, supplier of jewelry and diamonds throughout the world. Many of his diamond pieces are on display and can be purchased for the right price! The cheetah sculptures that welcome guests were commissioned from Dylan Lewis, a famous artist whose nearby garden is a must-see in Stellenbosch.
The property includes a spa and gym, an extraordinary store with African art and design, luxury clothing, accessories and homewares rivaling any boutique on Rodeo Drive. A stay at Delaire is sure to invigorate and delight all the senses.
The Cape Winelands region is a short 30- 45 minute drive from the airport or 45-60 minutes from central Cape Town depending on which of the 3 cities you visit. To really soak in the vibe and enjoy this beautiful and tranquil valley, consider staying here 3-4 nights or 3 weeks like I did!