On every level, Babylonstoren is a knock out. One of the Cape’s oldest farms (founded in 1692) has been transformed into a picture-perfect rural idyll, best appreciated on the sundowner drive up the slopes of Simonsberg, one of several spoils exclusive to staying guests. When Koos Bekker and Karen Roos purchased the farm in 2007 they set about creating a formal kitchen garden in the classic French style, with the aid of French architect Patrice Taravella, whose work at Prieuré Notre Dame d’Orsan they much admired. A restaurant to serve the garden and farm produce followed; the hotel the next extension – 13 cottages built in the Cape Dutch style on the footprints of the original labourers’ cottages, with contemporary glass cube ‘clip ons’.
One- and two-bedroom Fynbos Cottages have also been added and 2022 saw a large-scale reinvention of the lovely spa. Every detail is considered, from gates that close with riverstone counterweights to the blue china shards unearthed by gardeners displayed under glass, gorgeous cockerels strutting through your garden at dawn to freshly harvested produce and wine in your elegant cottage. The 2023 regional winner for Best Accommodation in Great Wine Capitals, Babylonstoren is indeed in a class of its own.
Don’t miss: Babylonstoren Nebukadnesar 2020
Brookdale Estate, Paarl
Backdropped by the jagged Klein Drakenstein range and surrounded by vineyards, Brookdale Estate enjoys a setting so picturesque the approach will stop you in your tracks. A proponent of field blend winemaking, UK serial entrepreneur Tim Rudd purchased the overgrown 67-ha farm in 2015 and set about interplanting the vineyards with cultivars new to South African terroir, and extensively renovating the manor house.
The result is splendid: Six spacious and elegant suites; a homely atmosphere but five-star standard facilities that include a pool with great views and superb dining. (chef Gary Coetzee is incidentally a specialist in conjuring up the most delicious meals for guests with special dietaries.) Rudd’s planting experiment too is bearing fruit – his winemaker Kiara Scott Farmer released the first Brookdale Sixteen Field Blend in 2021. Depending on time of year, hotel guests can pre-book a private wine tasting or time in the vineyards or cellar.
Don’t miss: Brookdale Chenin Blanc Single Vineyard
Delaire Graff Estate Lodges & Spa, Stellenbosch
In a region that has no shortage of views, the vantages from Delaire Graff – set above the Helshoogte Pass connecting Stellenbosch to Franschhoek – are literally jaw dropping. Owner Laurence Graff spared no expense in creating what is generally considered the most luxurious and exclusive Winelands hotel (Leeu Estates now a serious contender), with a price tag to match. The hotel showcases contemporary South African art with more than 400 works from Graff’s private collection, including Chinese Girl by Vladimir Tretchikoff on view outside the sumptuous tasting room.
Upgrades are ongoing: The enormous free-standing suites – each privately located, with separate lounge, stocked butler’s kitchen and doors sliding open to a heated plunge pool – were once again entirely refurbished in 2023 (re-opening 16 October). With a private cinema, top-tier spa, two superb restaurants (Indochine is a personal favourite), you’ll be hard-pressed to leave your hilltop eyrie.
Don’t miss: Laurence Graff Reserve 2018
One of the oldest heritage farms in the Cape, Lanzerac is set amidst rolling vineyards in the pretty Jonkershoek valley, with walking trails leading from the vineyards into the surrounding Helderberg Mountains. With 53 well-appointed rooms and an array of meeting spaces this is more corporate in atmosphere but with deserved five-star rating for service and facilities (three dining options for different moods; a spa, excellent gym, three pools).
There are also some generous inclusions: complimentary wine tasting, a daily 11am cellar tour, and complimentary transfers to Stellenbosch at set times. A five-minute drive away, and you’re in the buzz of the town, which vies with Franschhoek for ‘gourmet capital’ crown. Lanzerac was the first wine estate in South Africa to use Pinotage on a label. Its 1959 vintage was launched in 1961, 36 years after Professor Abraham Izak Perold successfully crossed Pinot Noir and Hermitage (Cinsaut) to create South Africa’s very own wine grape variety. Under the leadership of cellar master Wynand Lategan, Lanzerac produces a leading Pinotage to this day.
Don’t miss: Lanzerac Pionier Pinotage
One of the largest remaining farms in the Cape Winelands, this 1,800-ha tract located in the fertile Drakenstein valley was first deeded in 1685. In 1897 it was purchased by an opportunistic Cecil Rhodes after phylloxera decimated the farm’s vineyards. Rhodes’ cottage (Cottage 1685) is one of several accommodation options available to guests wanting to overnight on this sprawling and beautiful wine farm.
The luxurious Werf Cottages are the most conveniently located within walking distance of the historic Manor House (now housing a satellite of the Norval contemporary art gallery), as well as the Werf Restaurant, coffee shop and deli, farm shop, well-curated homeware shop and reception office. That said, the Orchard Cottages offer excellent value if you are self driving, clustered together with one- to three-bedroom units, particularly well-suited to those travelling as a group. Wine tastings are conducted at The Cellar Door, located next to Rhone Homestead, another historic Cape Dutch monument, and a 20-minute walk or 5-minute drive from the Werf Cottages.
Don’t miss: Boschendal Heritage Collection Black Angus 2019, Boschendal Jean Le Long Cuveé Prestige
La Residence, Franschhoek
Liz Biden – co-founder of The Royal Portfolio’s select range of opulent boutique hotels – does nothing in half measures. She creates richly textured spaces with bold colour and plush fabrics, statement antiques, enormous Persian rugs and gilt-edged mirrors that reflect large bowls of roses. Not for those who prefer monastic restraint – La Residence is after all one of Elton John’s favourite hotels – but the generosity and decadence is captivating. The location too is gorgeous, with framed vineyard and mountain views, the atmosphere intimate and homely, with staff that really know how to spoil.
The excellent wine list and pairing is curated by The Royal Portfolio’s group beverage manager, Wayve Kolevsohn, who is vice chair of the South African Sommeliers Association. Kolevsohn can also create an entirely bespoke winelands tour based on your interest and palate. Since 2022 the vineyards of the 12-ha property – producing very quaffable house wines – have been under the auspices of Jacques de Klerk from Radford Dale winery in Stellenbosch.
(Worth noting: Sister hotel Birkenhead House, which enjoys a marvellous seaside location above the Hermanus clifftop path, offers bespoke guided wine tours of the Hemel en Aarde valley, a 15-minute drive away.)
Don’t miss: A meeting with Wayve – worth booking prior to arrival
Leeu Estates, Franschhoek
Analjit Singh purchased three farms on the slopes of the Dassenberg to create the 68-ha Leeu Estate in 2015. He virtually rebuilt the 19th-century Cape Dutch manor house, filling it with contemporary art, landscaping the grounds with the help of acclaimed local designer Franchesca Watson and even realigning the oak-lined river. You can walk from the hotel to The Wine Studio to taste Chris and Andrea Mullineux’s wines, produced from their Swartland farm (worth booking ahead to taste their single-soil ‘Granite’, ‘Schist’ and ‘Iron’ Chenins and Syrahs) as well as surrounding Leeu Estates vineyards. Then stroll back to cocoon in your elegant room, finished in Singh’s trademark palette of muted colours and layered textures provided by natural materials.
The pool is large with exceptional views; the adjacent spa is also excellent. La Petite Colombe – offering a tasting menu of edible art – is a must to try even if you are not staying here; the hotel also offers a complimentary shuttle to Franschhoek’s high street where there are plenty more dining (and shopping) options.
Don’t miss: In addition to Mullineux single terroir Chenins and Syrahs, the Leeu Passant Cabernet Sauvignon 2019
Mont Rochelle, Franschhoek
An enviable position perched on a hillock overlooking the Franschhoek valley, with 39-ha grounds planted predominantly with Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. As befits a Richard Branson-owned property, the atmosphere is fun, with giant chess and lawn croquet, happy hour, and iPod dock and Bose speakers standard in-room issue. Service standards are excellent. The 26 rooms are named after varietals, top-end Cap Classique Suites enjoy a seamless flow to a garden area with plunge pool. The elegantly-furnished private four-bedroom Manor House is one of the best-looking villas in the Cape.
Guests can visit the cellar and wine tastings are offered in The Country Kitchen, one of two dining options. MIKO, a chic alternative, serves a good five-course tasting menu. There are more prime vantages from the lovely pool area and the tennis court. This is great hiking territory – the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve on the opposite side of the valley features wonderful views and fynbos (highly-recommended guide Dominic Chadbon offers hiking tours). A complimentary shuttle to the high street clinches the deal.
Don’t miss: Mont Rochelle Syrah 2017, MIKO Chardonnay 2017
Steenberg Hotel & Spa, Constantia
A wonderful origin tale here: A mere 10 years after the first sods had been turned in the VOC Company gardens, a 22-year-old young woman arrived at the Cape looking for a better life, which in the 17th-century could only be a good marriage. By the time Catharina Ras, affectionately known as ‘Tryn’, approached governor Simon van der Stel for a portion of land in the lee of the Steenberg, she had been married five times, had several children, and was well-respected for her industrious nature. Van der Stel granted her a 25-morgen (21-ha) farm title deed, on which this prescient farmer planted vines.
Today the Constantia wine estate offers a boutique hotel, with accommodation including well-appointed classic rooms in the 17th-century Manor House and two- and three-bedroom villas. There’s also a lovely pool, spa, preferential access to the Steenberg 18-hole golf course, as well as two destination restaurants. Tryn is located in the Manor House; Bistro Sixteen82, where tastings take place, is in a purpose-built double-volume Glenn Murcutt-style barn, surrounded by vineyards. Note that the hotel also offers complimentary scheduled transport to the V&A Waterfront and local Constantia restaurants.
Don’t miss: Steenberg The Black Swan Sauvignon Blanc, or any of cellar master Elunda Basson’s bubblies
Stanford Valley Country Lodge, Stanford
A low-key, delightful farm stay, with comfortably fitted whitewashed cottages (most with fireplaces; some equipped for self-catering) dotted on plush lawns. The Manor House alone is reason enough to dally, serving up innovative Cape country cuisine in lovely surrounds: great art, proteas, mid-century furniture and fireplaces crackling in winter. The farm is surrounded by mountain views, with mapped hiking trails to explore. Head through vineyards for a spot of wild swimming in the farm dam, or just relax poolside, or in the dinky spa. First harvest of what is destined to be the house bubbly only took place in 2023 but the lodge is included due to its exceptional value, and the fact that is at the epicentre of regions well worth exploring.
Elim (for Sauvignon Blancs with great minerality), Hemel en Aarde (all-round superb), and Cape Agulhas wineries (more great Sauvignons as well as Pinot Noirs) are all within easy driving distance. Stanford route stand-outs include neighbouring Raka Wines and Sir Robert Stanford Estate. Alternatively, simply work your way through the Manor House wine list, a well-curated showcase of the surrounding terroir.
Don’t miss: Raka Biography Shiraz, Lomond Pincushion Sauvignon Blanc