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Richard Branson does 5 star his way at Mont Rochelle

Posted in Franschhoek on Oct 05, 2015

A short drive from Cape Town international is the gastronomic capital of South Africa, Franschhoek. On your way there you drive through roads lined by some of South Africa’s best wine farms. We recently decided to check out one of South Africa’s hidden gems to find out how Virgin puts its unique spin on something as special as a 5 star hotel in the country. Arriving in Franschhoek we found it easy to find Mont Rochelle as it was very well signposted from the main road. We drove up a well paved vineyard road and were directed to the valet parking area in the drive away. We strolled into the checking area, where we were welcomed like close relatives who had not been seen in a while. It seemed as if we were part of the family already even though we had just arrived. We slowly sipped on some welcome champagne while secretly in the background our bags were whisked of to the rooms and our vehicle was parked by the valet service.

Once the formalities of the paper work were done we were left to wonder at the beautiful artworks in the hotel cocktail bar while sipping on our champagne. The artwork tastefully cheers up the elegant bar with a sense of humour that we can only ascribe to Richard himself. From bull dogs to sheep and colourful plates made by local craft people, make the five star welcome homely and distinctive when compared to the aloofness of most five star establishments.

We when then escorted to our rooms. This is where Branson’s unique way of kicking sand in the eye of the norm really shows itself off. The rooms, like most other five star hotels are well appointed and have all the regular trappings that one expects when visiting an establishment with a five star grading, but there are little touches that make this place very special. Aside from the staff who could easily be considered family members, the rooms had really effective heated flooring throughout the room and bathrooms that made you immediately want to kick off your shoes. There was a tiny Bose Bluetooth speaker that you could connect up to your mobile phone so that you could play your own music making it feel even more like you were home. There was a fully complimentary mini bar in your room that was well stocked and replenished daily. There was a complimentary bottle of wine from the Mont Rochelle winery, so you could sample their gorgeous wine with your dinner. I think however, the most special item was the complimentary duck in the bathroom. The hostess told us that Richard has a different duck in the bathrooms of each of his Virgin Limited Edition establishments and that we should take it home as a keep sake to start our collection. This is a really special touch as it intrigued us so much, that this hotel was one of a collection that we immediately looked up the others so that we could hopefully increase our duck collection. We found that Richard has another hotel in South Africa (Ulusaba) which we are bound to try out soon using the excuse of increasing our duck collection to motivate our visit.

After having a little time to refresh we were invited to dine in the Miko restaurant by our hostess. The restaurant is beautifully set under a double volume large thatched roof with a large fire place in the middle, to ease the chill of the spring evening after the sunsets behind the Franschhoek mountains. The menu is uncomplicated yet offers something for all palates. The maitre d’ offered us a choice of table to be seated at and then made some great recommendations on the food. We had brought down our complimentary bottle of Month Rochelle Artemis 2008 which was opened while the maitre d’ shared his knowledge of this specific bottle of wine.  Our whole family wanted to leave space for desert and thus did not have a starter, but went straight for the mains. We tried the Beef Fillet, the Karoo Lamb Loin and the Risotto of the day. All 4 plates were cooked to perfection and presented very nicely. The food was thoroughly enjoyed as we moved on to a dessert of Tonka Bean Crème Brulee and Seasonal Berry Soufflé. This was the pièce de résistance of the meal. Every bite was slowly savoured with as much care and time as it would have taken the chef to construct these masterpieces. The Soufflé could not have been prepared any better and is certainly one of the best I have had.

On arrival back in our room for an early night, our room had been turned down and even though we had only just removed the complimentary bottle of wine in the room to have with our dinner it had already been replaced for more sampling the following day. We then got to experience the stunning Africology bathroom products. The products have the most amazing lasting scent of African blossoms and yet are natural and eco-friendly.

The following morning it was raining a little, but nothing dampened our spirits. We had booked a horse ride with the hotel concierge and we were definitely doing that, no matter what the weather had to say about it. We were taken to a neighbouring horse farm for the activity and met Pieter the owner of Paradise stables. This amazing man woke up that morning to take us for a ride in the rain. When we arrived we had our Springbok apparel on in support of our local team in the Rugby World Cup. Pieter also had a Springbok shirt on, only his was the real deal that he had earned for endurance equestrian riding. Pieter was very patient with us and lead us up a mountain path while explaining the history of the area to us. He continually managed the horses without skipping a beat on his story telling. We are so glad the hotel recommended this very passionate horseman and in turn would recommend this activity to you should you be in the area.

On our return to the hotel we decided to take a trip into Franchhoek to see why so many people recommend the journey to this little town. We were not disappointed.  We stared at the top of the street near a restaurant called Reubens and criss-crossed the street down to a market that happens every Saturday in the middle of the town. We found amazing organic products, a shop dedicated to baking wares, some unique clothing stores including the much loved Franschhoek store. In this store we noticed that the Franschhoek branded apparel had two elephants on the logo. We questioned why there were elephants in the logo and were told that once Franschhoek was an area where lots of elephants roamed free. Its original name then, was Olifantshoek (Elephants corner), but was later changed to Franschhoek as many French farmers had settled in the region to farm. We finally ended up at the market and got to sample lots of great local organic food straight from the farm to the table.

We eventually returned to the hotel to try out their spa. The hotel has a Hammam on the premises which you can use at any time provided it is not being used for a specific treatment. They also have 2 trained therapists that offer a whole host of treatments. I had a 45 minute bespoke massage which started at 17H00 and finished 17H44 as I had told the therapist that we really wanted to watch South Africa play Scotland at 17H45. She duly kept me up to date with the time, while she massaged away all the stresses of the day.

After the massage we all went down to the hotel lounge to watch the game. We ordered dinner from the room service menu which was delivered to the lounge. The food on this menu is not any less special than the meals served in the dining room. The room service menu meals are excellently prepared and taste amazing. The waiters brought us cutlery, drinks and complimentary bar snacks through the entire game. Finally we turned in after South Arica had beaten Scotland.

A final note is that the room rate includes breakfast daily. The menu is superb and includes champagne and orange. The service is impeccable and the maitre d’ was very attentive and even offered to take pictures of the whole family so that we were all in one picture.

I have to say this hotel is certainly something special. Yes it is five star, but it is different. It is unpretentious yet still treats its guests in a respectfully manner. It is relaxed yet is still sophisticated. It is slightly wacky, but oozes the charm of Franschhoek so gracefully with its beautiful vineyards and thatched building. I would like to commend Richard Branson for doing 5 star in his own special way at Mont Rochelle. We will return and will visit more of your establishments to collect all the ducks. Thank you Sir Branson.