Lease On Life

Hillside hotel offers feasts for the eyes, stomach and soul


Franschhoek is in full flow again post-COVID. Venues are full of people, and the town’s culinary attractions remain the basis of perhaps the tastiest walking tour in the country. A short drive (or slightly longer walk) up the hill behind the town, the La Petite Ferm hotel has its own fantastic restaurant, but it is the views, particularly when the sun is low in the sky, that make you gasp in wonder.

The ‘golden hour’ light of the late afternoon makes it tempting to fill several camera memory cards – it’s the same panorama, but each slightly altered version somehow looks better than the one you took 30 seconds earlier. Editing that camera roll can be done in comfort
that rivals anything in a valley that hosts a more concentrated collection of five-star accommodation than just about any town in the country. All the Vineyard Suites face the valley, with a whole wall of windows creating essentially the largest-screen TV you’ll ever see. There may be only one channel, but the programming is spectacular. Everything is set up to make the most of the view, with the bed facing that way, along with a luxurious bathtub and the plunge pool on the patio.

Fed up

That theme continues up the hill at the restaurant in the main hotel building. The dining room is long and narrow, minimising clutter between where you’re sitting and where you’re looking, and wood-burning fireplaces remove the chill from the room. Add the warmth from the excellent staff – they also act as sommeliers – and you begin to feel positively balmy, helped no doubt by the effects of the estate wines suggested to you, all of which are accessible and easy on the palate.

This same room is where, at the beginning of each day, guests must face a bracing but appetising challenge. The default breakfast offered is continental. In almost every other hotel, this means a spoon of fruit salad, a small rack of toast, a pastry or two, a plastic-wrapped slice of processed cheese and a cup of coffee. Here, there are platters, plural. One for a range of pastries (croissants, cinnamon rolls and muffins – all just out of the kitchen). One for cold meats. One for fruit – a lot of fruit (the fresh version; there is also a container of dried fruit). Then there is a tub of yoghurt and jars full of bran and muesli. And you can supplement the coffee with vitamin-rich shots (ginger and beetroot or kale and cucumber or whatever fresh bits and pieces the experts know how to combine). If you get anywhere close to finishing all of that, there is a menu full of hot breakfast options too. All of which makes it a happy circumstance that most of Franschhoek’s attractions lie below you – just roll downhill!

Peace plan

Waking up in the rain adds a new dimension to the experience. There are now three colours instead of 70, and the scale of your surroundings feels completely different when the mountains are obscured by clouds. Such a day is ideal for exploring the town, which offers a number of options for keeping warm. The Terbidore Café is at the far end of the main street relative to where you enter town coming from La Petite Ferme; the Huguenot Memorial Museum is at the T-junction close to the hotel. Both offer diversions, culinary and intellectual respectively, in venues that keep the cold out and the hospitality (or history) in. Franschhoek also hosts a number of festivals – wine, books, art, food and more – throughout the year, which have the effect of highlighting the variety of venues and community interests in the area. Not that you need a festival as an excuse to visit a restaurant, a gallery, a bookshop or one of the wine-tasting opportunities up
and down the valley (once you’ve sampled the one at La Petite Ferme, on offer a couple of times a day). One thing not available in the shops or restaurants is something less tangible: peace. For that, head back up the hill. When the rain has cleared and the valley is revealed once more, take a book and head up to the lawn in front of the main hotel building. There are a couple of benches there and sitting there – just sitting – is an experience many travellers may have forgotten the full value of. Watch the shadows of the tall fir trees lengthen and shift; contemplate what you have coming up, and let the pieces fall into place. Pause being deep and meaningful and wander into the lounge to snaffle a piece of cake (it’s on offer every day for guests) and see if someone can deliver a cappuccino to your bench (they can). And then go back outside and enjoy the true luxuries of not being in a hurry; of having relatively unpolluted air to draw into your lungs; of being surrounded by beauty and, if you’re lucky, of having a loved one with you to enjoy it all.

Text and photography: | Bruce Dennill
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