Luxury Explorer Review

5-Star Hotel Review

La Residence

South Africa

This little kingdom of luxury will delight any 5-star explorer

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La Residence

Location

Franschhoek, Haweqwa Nature Reserve, Stellenbosch

Travel Information

45 minute drive from Cape Town International Airport

Top Tips

Stop off at the fantastic eateries on Huguenot Street in the centre of beautiful Franschhoek

5-Star X-Factors

Dining alfresco surrounded by panoramic mountain views and vineyards

La Residence takes precedence

La Residence is South Africa's answer to Europe's leading examples of Villa/Châteaux/Palazzo 'extraordinaire' such as Villa Feltrinelli, Château de Bagnols and Ballyfin. The drive from our vineyard pit stops in Walker Bay was outstandingly beautiful. Nature performed, even showed-off en route with traffic halting skies, mountains, lakes, forests, valleys, vineyards and vertiginous passes. This has to be one of the most glorious drives in the world. Many could be forgiven for questioning where heaven really resides when the shafts of light shine through oceans of cumulus and cerulean onto the blessed valley of Franschhoek.

La Residence is a little kingdom of luxury would put a smile on 5-star explorers, from Bali to Bermuda and back again. Nestled beneath rocky-tipped mountains surging skywards, bejewelled in vineyards and verdant forests, with circling eagles above, the setting alone is priceless. But La Residence appears to have made a pact with nature's wonders by creating a sparkling sanctuary with a positively radiant ambiance, which complements both the scale and the grandeur of its luxuriant setting.

Bold and beautiful

La Residence is a bold terracotta new build, with European and Moroccan architectural influences; loggia, arches, fountains, palms, courtyards, to name but a few. Again, as with all of Liz Biden's properties (see also Birkenhead House) there is a piquant uniqueness that renders the property as a crowd stand out. A 'princess feeling' came over both of us as we entered one of the most spectacular aircraft-hanger sized 'reception-halls' imaginable. Grand. even exquisite (I am not a fan of many), crystal beaded and engraved lantern chandeliers hang in mesmerising splendour beneath a soaring beamed ceiling.

As the sensational smell of cedar log fires and jasmine seduced our receptive senses our widening eyes were drawn to the castle-sized mantles surrounding grates of glowing warmth. Much loved, and long time 'comme il faut' host, Len Straw, handed us a frangipani and rosebud posy along with a glass of sparkling pink nectar. Our royal status was confirmed.

En-route to our suite, tip-toeing across the magnificent black and white marble (à la Claridge's) I spied the next boutique. The cold front had followed us farther and a princess never has enough cashmere, especially when hand embroidered and fringed in ostrich feathers. We behaved like royal-lambs to the boutique-slaughter.

Suite sensations

Our chosen suite looked across a terrace to God's mountain. The chamber was flavoured in Burgundian and olive green with a splash of ruby-red, in deeply covetable velvets and silks, on chaises, high backed armchairs and a voluptuous bed-head. Chinese rugs are lavished throughout the property and ours was a very fine one indeed, which worked wonders with the room's Eastern idiosyncrasies.

The bathroom was utterly divine. A freestanding cast iron bath is centrally placed on thick wooden casters, beneath another dreamy chandelier, atop a heated (if you wish) travertine floor. The twin vanities are sunken into hand painted dressers beneath gilded scalloped mirrors. Every square inch has been scrutinised by Liz and her extraordinary, oft-flamboyant, interior designer. Lashings of Molton Brown, enough for years let alone one night, were placed around the bathroom.

Back in the boudoir a round wooden gift was sitting on our beds while champagne on ice stood beside a silver cake-tray piled with strawberries around a bowl of clotted cream on the table by the window. The now fatter princesses, opened up their small circular boxes revealing the perfect gift for their princes; a complete, connoisseurs wine-set, in dark wood and metal. They think of everything here, even the loved ones we leave behind.

La Res

We were fortunate to have a sneak preview of several other suites, some still with drying undercoat. The suites overlooking the lake with a pair of loved-up black swans enjoy the crimson sunsets from private terraces, or from beds that I have only seen in pay as you view palaces. Honeymooners will not want to leave, as, until they return, they will not be this spoilt again. Each suite is crowned in bespoke grandeur with vintage imports as well as exceptional local pieces.

We were so excited about our evening meal as we knew the acclaimed chef, Wayne (ex-Birkenhead House), was of serious culinary note, and having briefly met another host with the most, Edward, the evening had delectable promise. We only had one night here as we had a bush call in the morning, so with no wine tour time, we took a trip to the centre of town. As we were leaving I mentioned to princess Anna the word 'creased,' in earshot of Len, who leaped forward and demanded I hand over the irksome frock. At La Res (affectionate term) the surroundings are exceptionally glamorous, however the quintessential luxury-villa hosts make you feel so at ease, that for the duration of the stay you relish in this sense of belonging.

Franschhoek is one of the most picturesque towns in South Africa; it is charming in capitals. Few towns or villages can boast such an exceptionally attractive architectural lineage. The quaint classic Cape Dutch cottages, in pastels and white, are beautifully maintained, with many covered in cerise bougainvillaea, pale-pink climbing roses or a mass of wisteria with outstandingly complementary contemporary builds dotted between. With an almost Mediterranean climate and a forgiving soil, flora flourishes here in beauteous abundance leaving its lushness in spades. Few would not want to own a house, villa, estate, vineyard or box-room here. It is now regarded as the 'gourmet' capital; it has fabulous wine estates, memorable walks, rides, climbs, paragliding, great shopping, cycling... the list is endless. It is also the third oldest town in the country circa 1694.

With this life now tap-rooted into our souls we went back for a royal soak and change (my returned frock was honestly better than new), followed by drinks with the host of hosts, Edward. We sipped champagne on a butter-soft sofa by the roaring fire beneath the galleried library stacked to the beams with vintage watermarked books. The villa's glamorous luminosity by night matches its glorious setting by day. The dining tables that beckoned were a veritable vision in white, silver and fine glass, with garnet-red skin covered high-backs, and scalloped rouge velvet banquettes on that illustrious marble floor.

Menu 'Prestige'

Wayne cooked up an exceptional menu 'prestige', delighting our palates in a style worthy of many gastronomic accolades, while the sommelier surprised us with excellent local matches. Fresh asparagus wrapped in Parma ham with halloumi cheese on a swirl of well-pitched vanilla essence oil, delectable cauliflower soup with fresh truffles, local stream caught salmon trout - outstanding, followed by aromatic Karoo lamb on an al dente porcini risotto. The wines were, in order, Haute Cabriere Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend - 2007, Glenwood Merlot - 2005 and Graham Beck Rhona Muscadel - 2003.

We took our Sauternes styled digestif into the Moorish courtyard for a gaze at the velvet star-struck sky above the twelve statuesque palms. What a life. What a sensational assault on the senses, but one night is most definitely not enough. Alas, even princesses need their sleep and with beds such as these, floating off was Z's to Zion.

Our early morning cappuccinos were faultless, though it was our cue to pack up and leave for the airport. Breakfast was sublime - the am-winner by far. We will return as you could never visit La Res only once, even if you simply wanted to admire the next phase of its, no doubt, resplendent metamorphosis.

Flushed with Franschhoek's finest we took to the Airport for our 'real' bush adventure, only to have the good fortune of meeting Liz and her husband on the plane. They kindly suggested that we accompany them on a small plane from Nelspruit to the third regal peach in the 'portfolio', Royal Malewane, for a quick lunch before being driven to our tented camp. Oh my! No wonder rock-royals and movie moguls visit year on year. I think it's fair to say that if you can, you should, and I mean all three!

Sophie Marchant
Sophie Marchant


Luxury Explorer
Luxury Explorer