Do you know where you want your ashes scattered?
I haven’t decided yet, but I’ve just been to a contender – the winelands around Franschhoek in South Africa.
It’s a staggeringly dramatic landscape, with vineyards blanketing the valley and rugged mountains rising up at the edges. Like Burgundy meets the Land That Time Forgot.
This is the view that greeted Ted on his first morning at Mont Rochelle in Franschhoek
Mont Rochelle is a hillside vineyard hotel on 39 hectares of land that’s part of Sir Richard Branson’s ‘Virgin Limited Edition’ collection. Pictured is the hotel’s rather lovely swimming pool
The views from Mont Rochelle just never get dull, so it’s a 10 out of 10 for location
Lingering over breakfast on the terrace (pictured), is one of the top activities at Mont Rochelle
We were afforded a wonderful panorama of this most arresting environment at Mont Rochelle, a hillside vineyard hotel on 39 hectares of land overlooking Franschhoek that’s part of Sir Richard Branson’s ‘Virgin Limited Edition’ collection.
On the first morning, I stepped onto the dewy grass outside our room just as the sun edged its way over the mesmerising block of cliff-style mountains opposite, illuminating rolls of clouds pouring over the edges… and I was smitten.
Franschhoek itself is also somewhat splendid – it’s the food and wine capital of South Africa, crammed with restaurants of renown.
It’s cute, too. Easily small enough to fully explore on foot and peppered with winsome wooden houses and boutique-y shops and art galleries.
So it’s a 10 out of 10 for Mont Rochelle’s location, then.
Ted feasted on a very good tasting menu in the main Mont Rochelle restaurant, Miko (pictured)
Rates at Mont Rochelle start from ZAR 5,000 per room (£270/$340). It has 26 bedrooms
And the same mark for the greeting, courtesy of ever-beaming staff member Peter, who exclaimed ‘welcome to your home’ when we disembarked from our hire car and excitedly brought us inside, straight to a brace of chilled white wines in the bar.
Our bedroom – one of 26 – was superb, too. A ‘Cabernet Suite’ with a rather brilliant layout.
A king-size bed faces full-width glass doors and that stupendous vista I mentioned and behind it lies an open-plan en-suite, which features a rain shower on raised decking.
And because the two areas are separated by a chest-height divider it means you can take a shower and gaze at the landscape at the same time.
Ted’s room is a ‘Cabernet Suite’ (pictured). He is impressed with the design, which allows guests to take in the view while having a shower
Once dressed, I also enjoyed gawping at the geology while swinging on the hanging egg chair on the terrace.
That’s about as much energy as I ever expended at Mont Rochelle – life there moves to a mellow rhythm.
We flopped by the wonderful outdoor pool, lingered over hearty breakfasts on the terrace, feasted on a very good tasting menu in the restaurant, Miko, and quaffed wine.
Mont Rochelle makes its own, of course, and gets some critical acclaim (in the Platters wine guide, for instance). I can certainly vouch for the sauvignon blanc.
Franschhoek (pictured) is the food and wine capital of South Africa, crammed with restaurants of renown
But the hotel stumbles at the last hurdle to five-star-rating-dom.
For me, its décor is a just a tad too ‘off-the-shelf’ in feel, and the loo by the main restaurant was bland and functional, like a cheap chain hotel toilet.
What was I expecting? Maybe an ornate mirror and/or a quirky sink design. Something bespoke.
And we were disappointed by the cheap wine glasses. And shocked. Given that it’s a vineyard hotel and that Virgin has good links with Queen Elizabeth’s London vintner, Berry Bros, which supplies Virgin Atlantic’s business class wines.
Sir Richard, give Riedel a call and get some proper stemware in. Show that wine some love, for goodness sake.
Still, we didn’t want to leave.
The magical sunset Ted enjoyed from the lawn at Roca restaurant on his very last night
Rates at Mont Rochelle start from ZAR 5,000 per room (£270/$340), per night based on two adults sharing a Shiraz room. Rates include daily breakfast, local taxes, complimentary selection of drinks and snacks from the minibar, a complimentary transfer service between Mont Rochelle and Franschhoek, as well as one complimentary wine tasting session per guest.
For bookings call 0800 056 343, email email@example.com and visit www.virginlimitededition.com/en/mont-rochelle for more on Mont Rochelle.
Rating key: one star – poor; two stars – ok; three stars – good; four stars – very good; five stars – exceptional.
For more on South Africa and all it has to offer visit www.southafrica.net.
And for more on some brilliant local experts – including great white shark, wine and graffiti specialists – you can meet up with while you’re there, check out southafrica.net/meetyoursouthafrica.
And Franschhoek and its enticing eateries were partly responsible for the inertia.
We had a last night I would happily repeat every day for years.
The chirpy hotel manager booked us into a vineyard restaurant called Roca on the opposite side of the valley for our last-night meal, but we were handed laminated menus and there were multi-coloured lights in the dining room, not good omens for a quality meal.
So we opted to eat elsewhere, but not before drinking two very nice glasses of rose and standing on the lawn by Roca’s vineyard totally mesmerised by the sunset.
The last rays of the day caressed the mountainsides as we sighed deep sighs.
It was just magical.
Then we jumped in a taxi and headed to a newish restaurant in town called Protégé, which was a smash hit.
We had the tasting menu of dreams with a great pinot noir.
The next morning Peter was there to wave us off, as cheery as ever.
Virgin should find a way of bottling his joie de vivre.
And I should find a way of returning, preferably not in an urn.
FROM THE BEVERLY HILLS OF VINEYARDS TO RUSTIC SUNDAY LUNCHES: TOP EXCURSIONS
Mont Rochelle happens to be in an superb location – to visit other wine estates.
And one nearby that’s firmly in the ‘unmissable’ category is the Delaire Graff Estate.
It has the lot – incredible views, extremely posh restaurants, exuberant landscaping and a wine tasting experience that’s top notch – and affordable.
The Delaire Graff Estate is a must-visit nearby vineyard. The views from it (pictured) are stupendous
The Joostenberg Wine Estate: It’s a deli, it’s a butchery, it has accommodation and it has a restaurant called The Kraal, which offers the most wonderful Sunday lunches and Friday suppers
It’s the Beverly Hills of vineyards.
Another extremely worthwhile escapade is lunch at the Joostenberg Wine Estate.
I say ‘wine estate’, but it’s more than that.
It’s a deli, it’s a butchery, it has accommodation and it has a restaurant called The Kraal, which offers the most wonderful Sunday lunches and Friday suppers. The menus change regularly, the food is sourced from local farmers and the setting is something else – wooden tables placed amid fruit trees and wild olives. Unforgettably splendid and rustic.