What and where is it? This 26-bedroom (excluding those in the new Manor House) boutique hotel and vineyard sits on 100 acres of fertile rolling countryside near Franschhoek, in the Western Cape province of South Africa. It is one of Richard Branson’s exclusive Virgin Limited Edition properties and was recommended for purchase by a good friend of the billionaire businessman, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, whose daughter got married here this year.
A vineyard you say? Oh yes. Wine has been produced here since it was settled, in the early 1700s. Mediterranean-like conditions – dry summers and wet winters – help finesse the vineyard’s sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, merlot, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon. This was the first black-owned vineyard in South Africa. Rwandan billionaire Miko Rwayitare owned it before Branson and his name is still used for Mont Rochelle’s premium wine and the main restaurant, Miko.
Speaking of food and drink ... Miko has a semi-circular wall of windows overlooking the recliner-bedecked pool area and the stunning Franschhoek mountain range. Furnishings in colourful African fabrics are arrayed before an open fire and the menu features local specialities such as pan-roasted springbok and Cape Malay mussels. Across the paddock, near the wine cellar, Country Kitchen is a bright, airy, more casual affair, with a sunny umbrella-clad terrace where locals feast on cheese and charcuterie platters, mod-Euro dishes and regional wines.
What’s new? About 500 metres from the main hotel, across a field of wild flowers, stands the Manor House, which opened in July as an all-inclusive luxury villa fitted out for gatherings of friends and family. The building has been extended and renovated to accommodate eight couples in eye-catchingly tasteful en-suite rooms (the loft being the pick of the bunch), plus a (very fancy) bunk-room for six kids. Within the Manor House is a caterer’s kitchen (which comes with the option of a chef and a sommelier), two swimming pools and a gym (Branson is a gym man, we’re told).
What if you’re not into wine? You’ll be in good company; Mont Rochelle’s head sommelier doesn’t drink; she spits and sniffs, but if that’s not your thing, make use of the property’s heated outdoor swimming pool, gym, spa and hammam. Games such as petanque and croquet are set up around the grounds. Or you can go further afield for a bike ride, a hike or a picnic with a pre-prepped hamper.
Isn’t that dangerous advice in South Africa? The area around Franschhoek is one of the safest in the country and these activities are fully endorsed by the hotel, with or without guides. For those who remain unconvinced, though, the property is big enough to do all these activities within the grounds.
Any tourist must-dos? Potter around boutiques and galleries in Franschhoek’s main street, five minutes away, or, better still, drive 30km to Stellenbosch, which became, in 1971, the first wine region to open as a tourist destination. It now has more than 100 wineries, many of them with restaurants. Its pretty town centre has oak-lined streets and lovely examples of white gabled Cape Dutch architecture. This is a foodie heartland so there are plenty of culinary pit stops, including the unforgettable Schoon Dutch bakery.
What’s the bottom line? Double rooms start from 3,210 rand (HK$1,830), including taxes, breakfast, minibar drinks and snacks, Wi-fi, bus shuttles to Franschhoek and a wine tasting. Exclusive use of the Manor House starts at 46,800 rand, including the above, plus daily lunch or dinner on the property. For more details, go to www.virginlimitededition.com/en/mont-rochelle.