Most five star hotels are luxurious. Some are elegant but only a few have class - Mont Rochelle has that magic touch by the bucket load.
Its that combination of elegance, luxury and a very special ingredient derived from a mix of understatement and the feeling that you are not so much staying in a commercial establishment but rather at the home of your favourite, outstandingly hospitable and generous cousin who just happens to be as rich as Croesus. A cousin who would smile and give you a hug even if you piddled in his carpet.
It's that elusive touch that every five-star establishment in the world desperately tries to find but which few actually manage to achieve.
Mont Rochelle Hotel & Mountain Vineyards sits high on a hill in the prettiest part of the Franschhoek Valley and has that magic touch by the bucket load. This kind of compliment is not one that I dish out easily and certainly my reviews of all the five-star establishments I have reviewed in Johannesburg for example, don't come close to getting this ultimate accolade. In fact, most should send their staff to Mont Rochelle for a few days to see how it's done.
Because that's where class starts. In the way that you are treated by the staff, whether they are the duty manager or the guy tending the gardens.
It's in the eyes
I believe it is all in the eyes and ears. You just have to look into the eyes of those who are serving you, at reception, in the restaurant, at the poolside. The eyes are a dead giveaway and tell you whether they really mean what they say when they ask how you are, whether you'd like another drink or if there is anything else they can do to make your stay more enjoyable. I find that in far too many of the big five star hotels in tyhjios country, the eyes are pretty blank. Working to the book and nothing more.
Mont Rochelle Hotel has only 28 rooms but all of them have that very understated class I keep banging on about. They are comfortable and extremely luxurious with every modern amenity, set in a building the oozes elegance but which, at no stage, looks like somebody was just throwing money around at the furniture and fittings in an attempt at overindulgent opulence. Quite the contrary.
It is a contemporary interior in a sort of elegantly homely Cape Dutch-ish skin.
Something else that put it into the "class" category is that none of the beautifully appointed public rooms, bars, restaurants and suites have that commercial hotel look about them. You know, those rooms where the staff use tape measures to make sure that the magazines on the coffee table are precisely positioned and where everything is placed with so much infinite care and attention that one feels guilty taking down a bath towel from where it nestles among rose petals and sprigs of exotic herbs, because it looks like it took some poor serf a thousand man-hours to get it exactly, precisely right.
Mont Rochelle is all about being a home from home
It is the ideal weekend or mid-week getaway. Only a two hour flight from Gauteng and a 45 minute drive from Cape Town International airport. And it is in what I believe is quite the most exquisite valley on the African continent.
There is a lot to do in Franschhoek - something for everybody from trout fishing, to mountain walks, wine tasting, shopping and fine food. It has not been called the food capital of South Africa for nothing.
And Mont Rochelle certainly lives up to this in no uncertain terms. The diminutive and highly experienced Leigh Trout is chef supreme at Mont Rochelle's wonderful Mange Tout restaurant with its extraordinary views across the valley and vista of the Franschhoek Mountains.
In the morning you can catch him in the hotel's enormous herb garden picking all manner of garnish and spices for lunch. When asked by the duty manager what I thought of Chef Trout I said I believed they should padlock him to his kitchen table because he is one of the hotel's greatest assets.
Anyone for a mousse?
His West Coast Crayfish Cannelloni with orange segments, coconut and pepper dew sauce is exquisite as is his delicate Thai Inspired Chicken Curry. I could go on for pages about his culinary creations but all I need say is that every one is a delight. Just like the hotel, in fact - understated but leaving you with an overwhelming feeling of good cheer.
And don't forget to try his do-it-your-self Tiramisu where Mascapone Mousse, Coffee and Savoiardi Biscuit Ice Cream and Marsala Sabayon are served separately.
A Short walk from the hotel will find the Country Kitchen - a less formal restaurant with outside dining and a menu that is a quite extraordinarily creative and tasty.
I almost had the feeling that Mont Rochelle was one of the Western Cape's best kept secrets. It's not a name that crops up in conversation all that much. Particularly when it comes to the wines from it own estate.
The 2004 Mont Rochelle Cabernet Sauvignon is quite superb and my wife claims their Chardonnay is one of the best she has tasted.
Mont Rochelle is, in my opinion, an ideal get-away-from-it-all hotel. It is an opulent home from home. And it has some wonderful winter packages that are proving to be extremely popular.
It's the kind of place that makes the stresses and strains of every day life disappear as you drive up the long the winding road through the vineyards.
Get there from Cape Town or Cape Town International Airport, via Stellenbosch, Helshoogte Pass and Pniel. Driving time is approx 45 minutes.
Amenities: Wine tasting on the estate, spa, gym, boardroom on site with golf and trout fishing nearby. Hiking, cycling, birding. Antique, curio and clothing shopping in nearby Franschhoek Village. Dozens of wine estates in close proximity.
Rates: Room rates vary from R3500 per room per night for a luxury double room with mountain and courtyard views to deluxe suites with lounges, dining areas, plunge pools, private patios at R9900 per room per night.
Choose from Mont Rochelle's special offers such as the One Night Winter Escape at R2300 for two per room for one night and including Full English breakfast, 3-course dinner for two and 2 bottles of Mont Rochelle wine to take home.
Apart from currently being a corporate marketing analyst, advisor and media commentator, Chris Moerdyk is non-executive chairman of Bizcommunity. He used to be head of strategic planning and public affairs for BMW South Africa and spent 16 years in the creative and client service departments of ad agencies, ending up as resident director of Lindsay Smithers-FCB in KwaZulu-Natal. Email Chris on and follow him on Twitter at @chrismoerdyk.
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