With a hefty front door guarded by regal bronze lions and a statue of world-renowned peace-keepers Ghandi on the left and Mandela on the right, it's little wonder a stay at Franschhoek's exclusive Leeu House leaves guests feeling peaceful and relaxed.
From the warm welcome at the private parking just off the main Huguenot Road to the speedy check-in at reception, and yes, a lingering look at the well-stocked honesty bar and roaring fireplace in the lounge, it's just a quick stroll to your room, one of just 12 on the property.
Tastefully furnished in neutrals to soothe the weary traveller, whether you've jetted in from distant shores or just made the hour-plus road trip as we did, Leeu Collection founder Analijit Singh's love of fine art is clear. You’ll see it everywhere you look, from the copy of Art Times
left for you to browse in your room to the Nicolene Swanepoel stylised dog sculpture
on your night table, known as a spiritual guardian meant to welcome good forces. At Leeu House, you'll find all the creature comforts that make a night's stay feel like a home away from home and little extra touches. Think blindingly white bath robes, underfloor heating in the bathroom, complimentary Nespresso pods, a variety of teas and cute little bottles of tipple, as well as nutty nougat, dried mango, and – fitting for our stay – two fresh kiwi fruit, with just the right knife to slice them.
I say 'fitting', because the New Zealand fruit reminded us that the country's Highlanders rugby team was playing the South African Lions in the Super Rugby Championship semi-finals that afternoon. So we ate the kiwi fruit – growling softly like lions, sure – and hey presto, the Lions won the match. Well played, Leeu House.
Also well-played? The fact that you get more than the standard limited set of DSTV Channels from the hotel bouquet to watch that rugby on, which is a big plus if your stay is over a rainy winter weekend that limits your exploring of all Franschhoek has to offer.
Luckily for us, the weather played along nicely with glorious sunshine and just a breath of wind so we didn't need to make use of the umbrellas in our room when we stepped out to explore the town. Perfectly situated near the Huguenot Monument end of the main road, you could easily spend a few hours exploring all the quality curios stores, art galleries, delis and fine dining options.
Non-conservative French-style feasting
With the Conservatory situated on Leeu House's property and open exclusively to hotel guests, it was our obvious choice for dinner that night. Warmly lit with soft jazz music fluting through, there were just five tables in the intimate space on the night, with the cosy feeling extended by the warm herby cubes of olive ciabatta brought to the table. Chef Oliver Cattermole outdid our expectations by whipping up the locally smoked salmon appetizer with brown bread triangles, fresh capers - quite different to what is usually found atop a pizza – and a pleasing amount of preserved lemon crème fraiche
For mains, my husband went for the grass-fed beef – asked what temperature he’s like it, he responded ‘medium’ – along with mushroom ragout and roasted carrot mash, perfectly paired with a glass of the Mullineux Kloof Street 2013 red blend. I went for the rigatoni, Toulouse sausage and vine tomato ragout with Parmesan shavings for my main, and couldn't resist the ‘white coffee brûlée and chocolate’ for dessert. It was out-of-this-world amazing, with a large pearl of chocolate mousse resting atop the delicate surface. When cracked open with my spoon, it exposed the creamiest warm custard that blended into the cappuccino I’d cleverly ordered to wash it down. I was in dessert seventh heaven.
Bellies humming a happy song, we stopped at reception and took the Scrabble board back to our room where we were surprised to find slippers had been placed by the bed side, along with a bite of nougat each and some passion fruit cordial. Of course, all the complimentary snacks we'd munched on during the afternoon had also been restocked. While the authentic sisal carpet was a little rough on our unshod feet, those lovely cushion-soled slippers were the perfect salve, as was a soak in the super-deep tub that filled up super-fast.
We slept the deep, regal sleep of those who know there are lions and good forces guarding them and soon found ourselves seated for breakfast, now with the temporary ceiling removed to reveal the beautiful glass dome of the Conservatory. We started off with more cappuccinos and shots of carrot-ginger juice packed with just the vitamin C zing we needed as the weather quickly turned foul. After a ‘starter’ bowl of crispy coconutty granola with tea-dried fruit, double-thick yoghurt and berry purée from the buffet, I went for the duck’s egg benedict, served with thick, tart Hollandaise sauce and slivers of locally smoked ham. At the other end of the table, my husband started off with assorted Franschhoek charcuterie before the piece de resistance West Coast crayfish open omelette, topped with tiny rounds of tomato, sprigs of spring onion and a Béarnaise sauce that blended right into the eggy yellowness.
The only downside to our stay was that that we had to give the beautiful but chilly outdoor pool a miss. It was simply too cold to take a dip but mark my words, that's what I'll be dreaming of this summer. Click here
for a reminder of my review of Leeu Collection's 21-room village favourite, Le Quartier Français.*Leigh Andrews was a guest of Leeu House and The Conservatory. Contact them on +27 21 492 2222 or click here for rates and availability.