CHRIS MOERDYK feels at home chez Mont Rochelle in Franschhoek

Most five star hotels are luxurious. Some are elegant but only a few make you feel as though you might be staying at the home of a generous cousin who happens to be rich as Croesus; the sort of cousin who will smile and hug you even if you piddled on his carpet.

High on a hill in the prettiest part of the Franschhoek Valley Mont Rochelle Hotel & Mountain Vineyards has that magic touch. This is not a compliment that I dish out easily. Most five-star establishments I have reviewed in Johannesburg for example, don’t come close. In fact, most should send their staff to Mont Rochelle to see how it’s done. Class begins with the way you are treated by the staff from the duty manager to the guy tending the gardens. It’s all in their eyes.

I find that in many of the big five star hotels in this country, the eyes are pretty blank – working to the book and nothing more. Mont Rochelle Hotel has only 28 rooms. All have that understated class I keep banging on about. They are comfortable and luxurious with every modern amenity. The hotel oozes elegance without looking as though somebody was just throwing money around. Au contraire. It has a contemporary interior with an elegant Cape Dutch handwriting.

None of the public rooms, bars, restaurants and suites has that “commercial hotel” look about them. You know, those rooms where the staff use tape measures to precisely position the magazines on the coffee table and where one feels guilty taking down a bath towel from where it nestles among rose petals and sprigs of exotic herbs because it took some poor serf 100 man-hours to get it exactly right. Just a two-hour flight from Gauteng and a 45-minute drive from Cape Town International airport, Mont Rochelle is the ideal getaway in Africa’s most exquisite valley. In Franschhoek there’s something for everybody from trout fishing, to mountain walks, wine tasting, shopping and fine food.

Not for nothing is it called the food capital of South Africa. And Mont Rochelle lives up to this in no uncertain terms. The diminutive and highly experienced Leigh Trout is chef supreme at Mont Rochelle’s Mange Tout restaurant with its extraordinary views across the valley and vista of the Franschhoek Mountains. In the morning you can catch him in the hotel’s enormous herb garden picking all manner of garnish and spices for lunch.

I believe Chef Trout should be padlocked to his kitchen table because he’s one of the hotel’s greatest assets. Every one of his culinary creations from his West Coast Crayfish Cannelloni with orange segments, coconut and pepperdew sauce to his delicate Thai Inspired chicken curry is a delight. Just like the hotel – understated but leaving you with an overwhelming feeling of cheer. A short walk from the hotel is the Country Kitchen – a less formal restaurant with outside dining and a menu that is extraordinarily creative and tasty. When it comes to the wines from its own estate, the 2004 Mont Rochelle Cabertnet Sauvignon is superb and my wife says their Chardonnay is one of the best she has tasted. Mont Rochelle is, in my opinion, an opulent home from home kind of hotel.

Its the kind of place that makes the stresses and strains of  life disappear as you drive up the long winding road through the vineyards.

Other Amenities Include:

  • Wine tasting on the estate, spa, gym, boardroom on site with golf and trout fishing nearby.
  • Hiking, cycling, birding, antique, curio and clothing shopping in nearby Franschhoek Village.
  • Dozens of wine estates close by.