South Africa’s culinary capital Franschhoek remains the go-to location for people who relish fine cuisine and excellent wines as Brian Berkman visits L’Ermitage.
To help stimulate the local economy year round rather than only during summer’s warm weather, the historic village has a number of festivals to pull the crowds.It was the bolthole for the Huguenots who fled French religious persecution and settled in South Africa in the 1700s taking the name French Corner or Franschhoek in Dutch.
It is also one of the Western Cape’s most picturesque farming villages with high mountains that hug its inhabitants. In May is the Franschhoek Literary Festival as well as the Franschhoek Open Gardens Festival and in July the village celebrates its French roots with a Bastille festival on the 14th.
There’s plenty of top-end accommodation available. Most notable is La Residence, part of the Royal Portfolio’s exquisite lodging set in a vineyard abutting the mountain. Richard Branson’s Mont Rochelle Hotel is another. For those wanting vast private quarters in an intimate setting, The Last Word cannot be beaten for its location in the epicentre of the village.
For luxury and comfort but at a more affordable price point, consider L’Ermitage, a charming mixed-use development just outside the village and near highly Instagrammable Huguenot Monument.
Expect cascading iceberg roses and neat lavender hedges with cobbled streets and a beautiful lake on one side and ornamental fountains on the other.
Stay in a one-bedroomed villa to enjoy a vast covered patio overlooking the water and views onwards to the mountains.
A fine breakfast, Continental buffet and hot items a la carte are served in the main lodge but meals are also available in your suite. You may also want to self-cater. Suites are well equipped with kitchen items and laundry facilities. Free Wi-Fi is included along with the use of a hand-held digital device that will also allow you to make calls and provide local information.There are six suites in the Chateau which houses the restaurant, one three-bedroomed villa, 10 two-bedroom villas and 12 one-bedroom villas.
Bathrooms are spacious and well appointed with marble finishes. Ours in villa 16 included twin basins, shower cubicle and large tub. A drawback is that there is no door to separate the loo and bathroom from the bedroom.
Furnishings are elegant but unfussy so it is easy to relax on the over-stuffed couch in the sitting area where there is a flat-screen TV or indeed in two wonderfully deep and comfortable cane-cushioned armchairs on the patio. There’s a rustic outside dining table and chairs to accommodate six people and inside, an elegant round dining table for four.
We loved our large bedroom with two armchairs and two opening windows looking out.
If your choice is not to dine in one of the many award-winning restaurants in the village, there are two nearby supermarkets as well as many casual dining options.
Consider the Wine Tram tour of the nearby Franschhoek wineries or a visit to the local coffee roasters. L’Ermitage also has a special relationship with Glenwood Wine Estate where you can blend your own wine. Although many attractions are within easy walking proximity of the main road, a vehicle is recommended and probably necessary to get to Franschhoek which is about one hour from Cape Town International Airport.
In summer the village is warm but in winter, the often snow-covered mountains make for a charming place in which to feel cosy and to enjoy the crisp air of the misty mornings.
Chef Darren Badenhorst’s Le Coin Francais is one of the newer fine-dining restaurants to open in the village and is delightful. And, for keen walkers, the Mont Rochelle Private Reserve has well-marked routes on the mountain.
Give yourself at least two but three days is better to spend in this charming and tranquil village. From Franschhoek, it is easy to explore neighbouring Paarl, and Stellenbosch which is accessed via the Hellshoogte mountain pass. That said as soon as you ease into village life it will be hard to leave.
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Double occupancy and breakfast at L’Ermitage from about £150 per night.