There are places you can’t help but fall in love with at first sight and return to year after year. Home to some of the most prestigious wineries on the planet, Franschhoek – carpeted in pretty vineyards, dusty olive groves and châteaux – is a paradise for oenophiles everywhere. And springtime, with its blossoms and golden-yellow flowers blooming between the vines, is the perfect moment; before steamy summer envelops this town that lies at the head of a scenic steep-sided valley in the Cape Winelands. Most visits are motivated by a desire to see fine art, sample culinary delights as well as admire swoon-worthy architecture and celebrated gardens – and you can do all of that right here, at Leeu Estates. Our detailed itinerary has been road-tested and perfected by our editor. Here’s why you need to pack your bags and head to the food and wine capital.
Check into the pinnacle of Winelands luxury – Leeu Estates
For an experience straight out of French fantasy, visit Leeu Collection’s flagship property – the timeless, stately and serene 23-room Leeu Estates – and lavish in the idyllic grounds, over-the-top suites, a much-applauded restaurant, paradisiacal poolside allure and the best views in the area. The founder, international entrepreneur Analjit Singh, is no stranger to hotels: He’s the man behind the eternally lovely prime properties Leeu House and Le Quartier Français in the characterful Franschhoek village.
This discreet spot nestled in the heart of the Cape Winelands, which spreads across a 100-hectare estate, is so deliciously private that you might not see the sign from the R45 Main Road. The height of French grandeur and opulence, it’s a draw for the elevated location, astonishing views, sense of secrecy, winding Franchesca Watson-designed gardens and small working vineyard overseen by A-game winemakers Chris and Andrea Mullineux. The first thing you notice is the landscape. In every direction there are rolling vineyards of deep emerald and mountains beneath a fine layer of silvery mist – and almost nothing else. This is a gilded, awe-inspiring and powerful bucket-list destination even for locals. However, as they say about all kinds of raving beauties, it’s what’s inside that counts.
Despite being classified as worthy of having even more than five stars, the extravagant edifice feels delightfully homely. If, that is, your home has impeccable interiors, a hand-picked contemporary art collection and a light-filled spa with a glass-walled relaxation room and a fitness centre for private yoga and Pilates – not to mention a whitewashed Cape Dutch-style cellar. For the rest of us, Leeu Estates feels like heaven. The handful of Rooms and Executive Suites in the Manor House, Max House and Protea House display a triumph of good taste, while small clusters of Cottages have a more pared-down elegance. If comfort and style are priorities, it’s best to book a Studio Room – a chic retreat tucked away above the spa with easy access to the spa, gym and pool – to sip, sleep and wake up to vineyard views.
Most of the high-end but understated rooms are similar in décor, rich with classic lines, natural linens, splashy canvases, mineral tones of grey and heather, artisanal furniture from South African makers Pierre Cronje and James Mudge, and vast arrangements of orchids, proteas and sweet-smelling blousy roses on the tables. The views are of the bluey-purple peaks of the Franschhoek Valley and surrounding mountains. Big, cool and very quiet – our room was decked in velvet flourishes and tea-dyed kudu leather, jazzed up with pale earth tones and splashes of jade and turquoise. It had elaborate doorways, a dreamy terrace, a fireplace, air-conditioning and underfloor heating, a whopping king-size bed with brilliant-white linen and plump pillows as well as a marbled splendour bathroom the size of an apartment outfitted with a deep bathtub, roomy rain shower and dual vanities for extra getting-ready space (plus fabulous technology, of course). There can be few places finer on a lazy, bee-buzzing day.
If the huge walk-in shower doesn’t soothe your woes, the Leeu Spa by Healing Earth – which can whip years off your face with a Healing Earth Tailored Facial Journey – might just also offer the best massages in the whole of the Winelands. Drawing on its surrounding greenery and olive groves to craft treatments incorporating all-natural ingredients, the spa has wide windows that highlight sweeping views of surrounding mountains. Four treatment rooms host exfoliation with pinotage vinotherapy or coffee, cinnamon and orange body polish as well as signature essential oil facials and massages. Steam rooms, a 15-metre infinity swimming pool, a plunge pool overlooking the lily pond and friendly staff (who know how to deliver the perfect guest experience) complete a day of indulgence. It’s an ideal venue for couples experiences too, such as the Signature Couples Connect – including a glass of wine or bubbly, full-body exfoliation, a massage using rose quartz crystals and a pinotage antioxidant facial ceremony.
There are a couple of other things that seal the deal here. One is the link with Le chêne Restaurant, meaning ‘the oak tree’. In keeping with Leeu Estates’ dining pedigree, room service dishes are well-crafted and beautifully presented. Multiple award-winning chef Darren Badenhorst (previously executive chef of The Restaurant at Grande Provence) is a wizard at injecting modernity into traditional French dishes. Using fresh-picked ingredients from the estate, he whips up exquisite seasonal two and three-course menus – think burrata salad with heirloom tomato ragout, wild rosemary shortbread and foraged wild herbs; sustainable line-caught hake with prawn, salted lemon and garden pea risotto and aerated bisque; or a monochrome of summer berries. After a breakfast of buttery croissants, homemade breads, estate-made preserves and spreads, local trout and cream cheese and melty croque monsieur, swim a few laps in the pool to make room for lunch at La Petite Colombe, Epice or Protégé.
Wine, wine and … did we mention wine? Be sure to do the complimentary Mullineux & Leeu tastings at designer winery, The Wine Studio. Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines is a collaboration between wine industry pioneers from the Swartland region and Leeu Collection. They’re especially known for their versatile chenins such as the Kloof Street Chenin Blanc 2020 and their rich, powerful and full-bodied syrahs like the Mullineux Syrah 2018. Work your way through the Signature Tasting of highly rated limited-availability wines with breadsticks to cleanse the palate. Post-tasting, meander the stunning grounds or retreat upstairs for the most comfortable night’s sleep. To daydream with impunity is a luxury, and Leeu Estates – in all its glory with a savvy team, spellbinding views and mouthwatering cuisine – is one place to do it. A stay here is as much a part of the Franschhoek experience as the town itself. There exists no five-star property more gorgeous or interesting in the Winelands right now.
Cost: Rooms start from R9,200 per room per night, suites from R17,700 per room per night and cottages from R27,200 per cottage per night
Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek
021 492 2222
Treat your taste buds to the flavours of spring at La Petite Colombe
You don’t have to be a wine lover to love Franschhoek … but it helps. For luxury-seeking couples who want to indulge their love of food and drink, Leeu Estates has it all – including one of the country’s very best restaurants, La Petite Colombe, not to mention chefs who love what they do and want you to feel the same (you will, we promise). Specialising in molecular gastronomy and food you consume via all five senses, it’s all very fairy tale-like – and probably not surprising that reservations are tough to come by, so be sure to book early. If getting in proves impossible, the more casual Protégé Restaurant is just down the road inside Le Quartier Français boutique hotel. La Petite Colombe serves what we’d call an updated interpretation of wine country cuisine, which translates to local ingredients that get a global makeover. Head chef John Norris-Rogers relies on the estate’s on-site garden for culinary inspiration, and you’re completely at his mercy when it comes to what ends up on your plate. The new spring tasting menu – your choice of the 11-course Chef’s Experience or 8-course Reduced Menu – could include anything from zesty beef tataki with a hint of warmth coming from kerala cauliflower, avocado and coconut; and confit salmon that celebrates spring produce with bacon sambal, asparagus and quail egg; to a light-textured and brightly flavoured guava, lime, coconut and tamarind dessert. You’ll have the opportunity to ooh and aah as whimsical creations are brought to your table. The restaurant also caters to vegetarians and pescatarians with tasting menus every bit as good as its carnivore counterpart. It’s all meant to pair with the vast wine list for unparalleled food memories, but you can save yourself the trouble of making any decisions by ordering the optional beverage flight. It’s certainly a food and wine pairing fit to awaken the senses. For the most extraordinary outdoor dining experience, we recommend opting for a table on the covered terrace amid life-size bronzes, blooming pink roses, exotic plants and magenta bougainvillea. The excellent valley views only add to the ambiance of this serene meal. Otherwise, the intimate glassed-in dining room with crisp white linens is the next best thing to dining outdoors. A meal here can last anywhere from two and a half to three hours, but the staff like it when you take your time.
Cost: R795 per person for the Reduced Menu (additional R450 for the optional beverage flight) or R1,095 per person for The Chef’s Experience (additional R650 for the optional beverage flight)
Leeu Estates, Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek
021 202 3395
Explore your love of spice at Epice Restaurant
Since its opening, Epice Restaurant – the latest addition to Leeu Collection’s restaurant empire – has dominated the Franschhoek culinary scene with a cutting-edge interpretation of fine Indian and European cuisine. This contemporary-looking eatery in the heart of the village is smart, modern, devilishly cosy, quietly conservative and, most of all, offers an unforgettable fine-dining experience. Inspired by head chef Charné Sampson (previously sous chef at La Colombe) and her team’s travels through India as well as Spain, Japan, Mexico, Denmark and the Unites States, each course is an adventure – a chance to break out of your comfort zone and try new ingredients, flavours and textures. First-timers often wonder if the place is all hype, but the first bite of wagyu short rib roti with ginger and chilli puts all of their doubts to rest. The tasting menus will surprise, delight and linger in your memory for years to come. As you might expect, fish and seafood take centre stage, alongside meat and vegetable dishes fragrant with masala, cardamom, star anise, nutmeg and curry leaves. If you’re not sure how to navigate the wine list, opt for the beverage flight (the local bear pairing with the bread course is top-notch) or trust the sommelier to find the perfect bottle to complement your meal. Splash out on the 10-course Full Spice Journey and you’ll be treated to inventive fusion dishes like wonderfully moist seared tuna with mango, avocado, mustard and cumin; balanced, joyfully bright quail and prawn with yoghurt, ginger and masala; and tender kabeljou with squid, mussel and coriander smothered in a rich marinade with a gentle kick of curry. Oh, and let’s not forget the sorbet trolley. For pudding, coconut, vanilla and curry is accompanied by a feather-light mango sorbet. If seven courses feels more manageable, diners can opt for the Reduced Spice Journey. Matching the artistry on the plate are wood furnishings and tones of amber and brown, echoing the spice theme throughout the design-forward setting. Think of eating at Epice Restaurant as a visit to India without the pricey flights. Arrive with an open mind (and large appetite) and don’t miss The Spice Test in place of the petit fours at the end. Leeu Estates offers a complimentary shuttle service to and from Le Quartier Français (approximately a five-minute drive) for in-house guests.
Cost: R695 per person for The Reduced Spice Journey (additional R425 for the optional beverage flight) or R1,045 per person for The Full Spice Journey (additional R755 for the optional beverage flight)
Le Quartier Français, corner of Berg & Wilhelmina Streets, Franschhoek
021 492 4044