Where to stay in Franschhoek, South Africa: Mont Rochelle

The heaven that is Mont Rochelle

Franschhoek is one of those places I keep going back to. I simply have to. This small town deep in the Winelands of the Cape, just about an hour from central Cape Town, is known as the food capital of South Africa. For good reason – there are certainly more restaurants than you can possibly eat in on one visit (or even several!). And there’s even more wine to taste. A serious gourmet heaven in the most beautiful of surrounds.

Today we’re heading for the paradise that is Mont Rochelle. This intimate 26-room hotel is part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition Collection. It’s set in expansive grounds just outside the centre of town with fabulous views across the vines and valleys towards the majesty of the distant mountains.

Mont Rochelle: hotel

The beautifully stylish hotel awaits, across the vines

Here’s what I loved about it.

The welcome and the service

You’ve barely stepped foot out of your car when you’re enveloped in the warmth of Mont Rochelle. Peter is waiting to enthusiastically welcome you and before you know it you’re on the verandah taking in the breathtaking view with a glass of bubbles in your hand! I certainly felt instantly at home.

All the staff are friendly, helpful and knowledgable without being intrusive. Some of the best service I’ve ever encountered makes Mont Rochelle an even more enjoyable experience.

The beautiful suites

Having finished our bubbles, we were escorted to our Cap Classique Suite in the Vineyard Wing. And some suite it turned out to be, too! An enormous bedroom, ensuite bathroom with spacious shower and deeply inviting bath and large lounge area with inclusive mini bar make up the interior. It’s certainly breathtaking.

Mont Rochelle: bedroom

A hotel room that’s the ultimate in comfort

Mont Rochelle: lounge

And then there’s the elegant, spacious lounge

Gotta love an expansive bathroom. Unfortunately due to the dreadful drought so I didn’t have the chance to luxuriate in this mega-bath. Think it’s worth going back for that alone. Not that I need an excuse.

Mont Rochelle: bathroom

Being clean and fresh has never been so stylish

And then you go outside. The double verandah leads to a private, heated plunge pool and looks out across rich green vineyards and valleys towards the towering mountains in the distance. This is the sort of place you’re never going to want to leave. Like ever.

Mont Rochelle: verandah

Looking back over our private plunge pool to our double verandah

Mont Rochelle: hanging chair

Terry chills out on the hanging chair

Mont Rochelle give all guests a signature duck, so cute. Here are mine chilling by my plunge pool.

Mont Rochelle: pool

Little Mont Rochelle ducks chill too, by the pool

Beds are turned down and scattered with rose petals while you’re out exploring the delights of Franschhoek.

Mont Rochelle: petals

Petals, robes and slippers ready for you after dinner

The pools

The main pool has even more spectacular mountain and valley views. It’s heated and lined with plenty of comfy loungers with a bar at one end for a reviving poolside cocktail or a glass of the local wine. The perfect place to soak up the sun and relaxation in luxury.

Mont Rochelle: pool

The perfect pool complete with sun loungers

Our suite also had its own heated plunge pool, twinkling invitingly in the sun with more fabulous vineyard and mountain views.

Mont Rochelle: room view

Chill out overlooking the private pool towards the valley

The stunning design and art

As well as being set in fabulously beautiful natural surroundings, Mont Rochelle is stylish and packed with quirky art. And there are plenty of surprises in store with myriad nooks and crannies to explore. Like this beautiful fountain.

Mont Rochelle: fountain

The picturesque fountain and beautiful valley views

And the Mont Rochelle rhino looking majestically across the valley.

Mont Rochelle: rhino

Love the Mont Rochelle rhino hiding in the garden

And also the clambering goats in the restaurant. I really wanted to take one home.

Mont Rochelle: goats

Quirky goat statues grace the restaurant

Mont Rochelle: Miko

Miko is stylish and unique in its design

The feast at breakfast time

Start off your day with a wonderful selection of tropical fruit, pastries, cereals and other cold delights. Passion fruit is my favourite and these were real beauties.

Mont Rochelle: breakfast fruit

Perfect passion fruit tops the tower of fruit

Before moving on to ponder the delightful cooked options on offer. A full English is always hard to resist and this was a substantial plate complete with all the favourites.

Mont Rochelle: full English

Starting the day with a tasty full English breakfast

I treated myself to a twice baked cheese souffle with mushroom sauce, crisp bacon and creamed spinach. What an indulgent start to the day.

Mont Rochelle: souffle

Souffle for breakfast, the ultimate morning indulgence

Beautiful Franschhoek town

As hard as it is to tear yourself away from the luxuries of Mont Rochelle, Franschhoek also has a lot to offer. The best way to explore the picture perfect town and taste the incredible range of local wine is on the legendary Wine Tram. You can read all about my hedonistic day of wine tasting here.

And finally, explore the lovely, individual shops, stop for a coffee at Sacred Ground (my favourite name for a coffee shop), and certainly try out one (or some) of the amazing, high quality restaurants. I’d particularly recommend Marigold in the main street for fabulous Indian cuisine. You can read about our dinner at Marigold here.

Of course in a foodie heaven like Franschhoek there are always new restaurants opening. So there’s just the excuse I need for another visit. Bring it on!

Mont Rochelle is at Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek, 7960, South Africa.

Chill out tapas time at Lady of the Grapes

Today we’re heading to one of my absolute favourite streets in the whole of London Town. Maiden Lane in Covent Garden is home to myriad bars and restaurants – the choice is quite mind-boggling. And there’s always somewhere new to try – like Lady of the Grapes.

This cosy little establishment describes itself as an organic wine bar and wine shop. It champions female winemakers with its extensive wine list. There are shelves along the walls packed with delicious deli products and there’s a delightful tapas menu.

What’s on the menu

We started off with a bowl of the freshest bread and some delightfully salty salami – with a side of tiny, crunchy cornichons.

Lady of the Grapes: Salami

Tasty salami served with cournichons

There’s a wide cheesy choice and we went for the beautifully creamy blue which was served with the sweetness of preserved figs.

Lady of the Grapes: cheese

Blue cheese with preserved fig

Luscious salmon gravlax was served on the freshest of bread and arrived looking a bit like a magical garden with the lovely fresh salad accompaniment.

Lady of the Grapes: gravlax

Little gravalax toasts beautifully presented

I am partial to a pissaladiere – a kind of tart of caramelised onions topped with anchovies – and in this case some roast red peppers too. The simplest of things so often taste the best.

Lady of the Grapes: Pissaladiere

The fresh and tasty pissaladiere with anchovies

Here it is up close and glorious.

Lady of the Grapes: pissaladiere

Close up on the scrumptious little tart

Lady of the Grapes is also a deli and the shelves are packed with bottles of delectable goodies and salamis hang temptingly, too. Don’t know how I resisted and didn’t take some home with me.

Lady of the Grapes: deli

The shelves are stacked with tempting goodies

Lady of the Grapes is the sort of place I’d want to be my local. Perfect for a quick after-work drink and a bowl of olives or a leisurely dinner lingering over their lovely range of tapas dishes.

Service is warm and friendly and the place gave me an all-round feeling of happiness. Well, that’s Maiden Lane for you.

Lady of the Grapes is at 16 Maiden Lane, Covent Garden WC2

Where to stay: South Hill in the Elgin Valley, South Africa

Continuing on my series of lovely places to stay, today we’re deep in the Elgin Valley. It’s time to get away from it all.

Just over an hour’s drive from central Cape Town, yet feeling a long way from the bustle of the city, South Hill offers luxury accommodation in their modern five-bedroom guest house. Large en-suite rooms and a fabulous communal living area (both inside and out) offer all the comforts of home and more. There’s a 15m pool to cool off in the garden – and a pizza oven, too –  how’s that for a cooking dream come true (well, one of mine anyway).

And then there’s the Pumphouse, set overlooking row upon row of Shiraz vines, which is where we stayed. A self-contained little cottage, again with cooking facilities, a comfortable seating area and a sleeping area with expansive vineyard views and a large, comfy bed. Outside there’s a verandah and deck overlooking the lake, a jacuzzi and tempting hammock to while away the hours in.

pumphouse

The peace and comfort of the Pumphouse beckons

South Hill is the perfect place to get away from life for a while. Here’s what I loved about it.

The total tranquility

Seriously, it doesn’t get more peaceful than this. A winding drive off the busy N2 motorway through apple trees and vineyards takes you deep into the valley where South Hill feels like it’s the only place for miles around. You’re surrounded by mountains, vineyards and wide open spaces and pretty much nothing else. Watch the stars light up the night sky (an unusual sight for a city dweller) and open your curtains to the rosy dawn across rows of vines groaning with luscious grapes.

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Vines as far as the eye can see from the Pumphouse bedroom

The views

There’s no doubt that life is better with a view, and there are plenty of stunning ones here.

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Blue skies and green vines viewed from The Gallery Restaurant

The wine

The first thing to do to get yourself into the South Hill state of mind is taste their wine. There are seven of them and they’re all delicious. Four of the reds are named after members of the King family who own the place – nice touch – I’d love to have a wine named after me.  Inevitably we left with a case tucked under our arm…there’s no escaping that.

grapes

The Shiraz grapes look so good on the vine you can tell they’re going to make stunning wine

The food

The Gallery Restaurant at South Hill is open for breakfast and lunch from Wednesday to Sunday. The food is prepared from local, seasonal ingredients. We had a delicious, laid-back lunch which you can read about in a previous post by clicking here.

Beautiful olive bread got lunch off to a good start

Beautiful olive bread got lunch off to a good start

goatscheese

My wonderful starter with a mouth-watering pea panna cotta

The restaurant is also a gallery showcasing the work of local artists. So great views both inside and out.

restaurant

The stylish light-filled restaurant

The activities

There’s plenty to do in the area if you’re feeling active like walking, mountain biking, kayaking or quad biking. Just don’t forget to take your camera as you’ll see endless photographic opportunities. Of course you could just curl up with a book and exercise your mind instead.

The farm stalls

Okay, this is an unusual one, but for me it’s part of the Elgin experience. I love a good farm stall and these are two of my favourites. Peregrine is fabulous, packed with freshly baked goods, preserves, fruit and veg, local produce galore. Also the perfect place to stop for breakfast or lunch – and their coffee is very good. Or just a bit further along the motorway you’ll find Houw Hoek whose pies are legendary.The restaurant at South Hill is only open for breakfast and lunch, so stock up on your way there and enjoy local delicacies in the comfort of your home away from home for dinner. And don’t forget to buy some apples – Elgin is apple country after all.

Try out the delicious local fruity preserves

Try out the delicious local fruity preserves

South Hill is at Valley Road, Elgin. Find out more at www.southhill.co.za

Laid-back lunch at Steenberg’s Sixteen82

Today I’m heading for Steenberg, at the end of Cape Town’s M3. It’s a Wine Estate with a hotel, two restaurants and a golf club. What more could you want?

Our destination? Bistro Sixteen82, which is named after the year the winery at Steenberg was established (so that’s a while back) and opened its doors in 2009.

Executive Chef Kerry Kilpin (always nice to hear of a female chef) aims to use fresh, seasonal ingredients. She also says that her travels to Thailand mean she has developed a passion for Thai food. So that sounds very good, you know how I love Thai food.

We’d managed to wangle a last-minute booking – today’s lunch was an unexpected treat. So we started off with a bottle of their beautiful pink sparkling Brut Pinot Noir, well, if you’re going to treat yourself..

The menu doesn’t offer a massive choice of dishes, which makes ordering decisions easier. And there’s a blackboard with daily specials chalked up.

From the board, a clever chicken liver dish served with perfectly cooked pasta, all nestling in a little bowl. A melt-in-the-mouth dish with a real chilli kick.

chickenlivers

Chicken livers and pasta make a heavenly starter

The spicy black mussels came with a sauce of onion, garlic, Steenberg chardonnay, lemongrass and tom yum. Plump, flavoursome mussels matched with a simply perfect sauce the flavours transported me straight back to Thailand. The dish also comes as a main course – guess what I’ll be having on my next visit?

mussels

Mussels in a tasty Thai-style sauce

The calamari came with harissa mayo, avocado pulp and paprika oil. Some of the softest, sweetest calamari I’ve eaten in a while that went perfectly with the creaminess of the avocado.

calamari

A must-eat dish for calamari lovers

For mains I couldn’t resist ordering the pork belly. It came with apple mash, greens and balsamic juice. The pork was perfectly cooked, packed with taste and topped with the crunchiest of crackling. And I loved the apple mash – going to be making some of that myself soon. There was a lot of juice and it was very rich, personally would have liked less of it, or had it on the side so I could add it at my leisure and really savour the flavour of the belly. Looking at my picture, I am thinking it does look a bit saucy…

pork

Another pork belly to add to my sampling list

The braised lamb neck came with millet, sultanas, cumin juice and greens. Tenderest of lamb (the neck is a great cut to cook with) with an interesting combination of ingredients – a taste of Northern Africa possibly?

porkbelly

An exotic lamb dish

Again on the specials board was beef fillet which came with a wild mushroom sauce. A beautifully velvet mushroom sauce, served with tender steak cooked to perfection.

lamb

Tender fillet with delectable mushroom sauce

On a sunny day, the stylish light-filled restaurant was packed with a mix of the beautiful people of Cape Town and tourists from all over the world, enjoying tasty food in a great setting. Oh and great wine, too. Aside from the bubbles, which I’d really recommend, their Merlot is lovely and at the top of the tree is their Nebbiolo with its amazingly soft fruity and herby tones and great depth – I’m not a trained wine expert but you get the picture. It’s wine heaven.

Thanks to Juanine for using her influences to nab us a table for a fabulous, spontaneous lunch….let’s do it again soon.

Sixteen82 is on the Steenberg Wine Estate. Find out more by clicking here.

What to drink in Chaweng, Koh Samui

We’ve explored the fabulous food in Koh Samui, but what is there to drink? Nothing quite says Thailand to me than the array of colourful and tasty fruit shakes available everywhere. There’s such a selection the best thing is to start at the top and aim to sample everything on offer during your stay.

In Chaweng, they were often served in console jars with handles attached. Looks really cool and tastes amazing. And a shake on the beach is a great way to start the day.

Like the beautiful yellowy orange of a mango shake at Sabroso on the beach in our little bay.

mango shakes

The sweetness and vibrancy of a mango smoothie

Or how about the beautiful pinkness and sweetness of watermelon. Sipped here under colourful umbrellas in the aftermath of one of many downpours. I think it’s my favourite…though I am also particularly partial to mango and pineapple too. Oh and the mixed combinations are lovely and fruity.

shake

A jar of liquid watermelon to savour

It’s always important to find your coffee place when you arrive somewhere new. And we soon gravitated towards The Coffee Club in Chaweng Main Road. The perfect spot for some people watching and the day’s caffeine fix.

coffee1

Cappuccino at The Coffee Club

latte picolo

A piccolo latte – the mini version

Breakfast at our hotel also offered some lovely beverage offers. Like this Bael fruit juice…we also enjoyed lemongrass, ginger and freshly squeezed orange juice.

bael

Breakfast juice that gives you health

And then of course there’s the gamut of alcoholic options to chose from. Wine is more widely available in Koh Samui than I’ve found in other places in Thailand. A lot of the restaurants and bars we visited sold wine by the glass and had a wine list of sorts. Prices are still pretty steep, expect to pay £20 upwards for a bottle of wine, choices are normally Australian or Chilean.

whitewine

Chilled white wine on the beach at Sabroso

Unless you visit the Samui Wine Oasis which has a book of a wine list with a selection from all over the world, including some incredibly high end options. It soon became a regular pre-dinner drink venue when we made the most of happy hour and sipped on a decent glass while watching the world go by on the bustling main road.

wineoasis

The perfect place for wine lovers in Koh Samui

And then there’s our favourite bar – Your Place – right on the beach with the sea lapping up against your feet when the tide was high.

bar

The ultimate beach bar

Our friendly local bartender was a dab hand with the cocktails. And it was so beautiful sitting there it soon became a regular pleasure. Go at happy hour for bargain drinks (90 baht, which is less than £2) for a cocktail. This is called Coconut Wonderful, and it was wonderful.

coconut wonderful

The joy of Coconut Wonderful on the beach

Or how about a Welcome to Samui.

mixedfruit

Seaside Samui cocktails decorated with an orchid

Or the Sombie was a tasty citrussy combination.

sombie

Artfully made for our drinking pleasure

I bet these pictures have made you thirsty! Happy drinking.

A piece of wine heaven in England

So last week I was invited on a day of wine tasting and dining in a vineyard – an English vineyard. English wine is highly regarded these days, and I was intrigued to find out more so I headed into Surrey on the train to Denbies in Dorking.

I love travelling by train, it’s relaxing and comfortable and gives you plenty of time to work, read or simply ponder as you watch the countryside go by. Dorking is a short journey from London and as you emerge from the tunnel just before the station, it feels like you’ve magically arrived in a different world (or country at least). There are vines growing both sides of the track and hilly, lush green countryside surrounds you. Good start!

Set just minutes from Dorking Station, Denbies is the largest vineyard in the UK, grows 19 grape varieties and produces 400,000 bottles a year. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful. There are walking paths through the estate that are open to the public, so there are quite a lot of people walking their dogs, which I’m always happy to see.

Denbies  vineyard full shot

The beautiful vineyard nestles in a valley

denbies3

Grapes abound in September, it’s nearly harvest time

There’s plenty to do at Denbies. You can take the train tour up to the highest point of the vineyard where you won’t be able to help yourself gasping at the view. You can also enjoy a Vine & Dine experience where you are taught about grape picking (and pick grapes), have a wine tasting and lunch. Or on bad-weather days there are even indoor wine tours in their unique circular (and slightly bewildering) cinema with surround vision.

And then there’s the restaurants. The Conservatory is a spacious atrium which is open for lunch and tea. The Gallery (which is where I had lunch) is upstairs and is a beautifully light-filled room with panoramic views across the vines. It’s open every day for lunch and Thursday, Friday and Saturday for dinner.

The food is truly lovely (as the pictures clearly show), made using local ingredients where possible. To start, their signature duo of soups which is a healthy and hearty combination of Heirloom tomato and butterbean served in the same bowl, but separate – novel!

soup

Start with a tasty two-in-one soup

I enjoyed the most perfectly cooked piece of salmon (I’m quite a fussy salmon eater and if it’s even slightly overdone I can’t eat it…sorry), served on bed of creamy pesto mash with lovely roast tomatoes and peppers. It looks as lovely as it tasted.

salmon

The perfect dish for a sunny day in a vineyard

pork belly

Tender pork belly with perfect crackling, served with mash

wellington

The vegetarian option: mushroom, brie, hazelnut and cranberry wellington…stunning

And to finish off, a fabulous cheese platter with grapes, naturally. All local cheeses, the middle one was garlic and herb and incredibly moreish.

cheese

There’s also a lovely farm shop (how I love a farm shop) and a modern wine tasting area. And the wine is excellent, too, I loved their Juniper Hill white which I had with lunch.

Find out more at www.denbies.co.uk