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We Stayed at Richard Branson’s Lush South African Estate — Here’s Our Review



Our longest journey as a family yet began in Boston at 4 a.m. on a Wednesday and ended a day and a half later, about an hour east of Cape Town, in the Cape Winelands. Known as the culinary and winemaking capital of South Africa, we had chosen to start our 10-day April trip to South Africa wandering through vineyards, chasing guinea hens, and gorging on local delicacies. And the region would not disappoint.

In 2014, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition opened Mont Rochelle, a 96-acre, 26-room, one-villa estate in Franschhoek. The property is split into two distinct parcels. On the far side, where the winery is located — we stopped in for a visit after a refreshing sleep on our second day — guests will find The Country Kitchen. With each stay, guests receive a complimentary wine tasting of the winery’s star performers, like the steely Mont Rochelle Sauvignon Blanc or the robust and reserved Miko Syrah.

We stayed on the secondary parcel, near reception. In that cozy corner, a fireplace was often burning in the cool fall mornings and evenings. Our Pinotage Suite room category included an ample living room with space both for a sectional sofa and two twin beds and a separate bedroom with a king-sized bed, as well as a large open bathroom with a double-headed walk-in shower and freestanding tub.

All room categories, of which there are five (beginning with the entry-level Shiraz room and ending with the Cap Classique Suite, which has its own plunge pool), come with complimentary use of the mini-bar and gifted bottles of white and red wine.

One sunny afternoon, when I retreated to the spa for a massage, my husband and boys headed first to the heated pool and next to the wide lawn for a game of cornhole. We spent two nights at Mont Rochelle, dining, on our first night, at Miko, the on-premises fine dining venue. While my husband and I enjoyed a multi-course tasting menu of venison, beef, and lamb, our children ordered from a curated kids menu — and then promptly went to snuggle on the restaurant’s fireplace-facing couch.

In the golden-hued final hours of our stay, as we surveyed the rosy light washing over the property, it was impossible not to feel quite lucky. Mont Rochelle is imbued with not only good fortune but also good cheer. It’s a delicious little getaway if you can spare the time.

Here, my review of Mont Rochelle — and what you should know before booking your stay.

Mont Rochelle

  • The property’s spacious, comfortable rooms made for a warm and welcoming respite at the end of the evening — and our room opened directly into the garden.
  • Mont Rochelle is practically within walking distance to the town of Franschhoek, where you can catch the Franschhoek Wine Tram to other neighboring properties for tastings. But you don’t have to walk into town because the concierge can arrange a shuttle for free.
  • Every room rate includes two bottles of wine, a complimentary mini-bar, and a tasting at The Country Kitchen, the on-premises casual restaurant.
  • Miko, the fine dining restaurant, serves impeccable cuisine and leans into a small garden outside the main building.

The Rooms

Jack Brockway/Courtesy of Mont Rochelle


Our 893-square-foot Pinotage suite had one large bedroom and a separate living room, a bar, a large bathroom with a walk-in shower and freestanding tub, and access to the garden. The hotel embraces a neutral palette, with flashes of color throughout, like a vibrant pop-art rendering of Nelson Mandela in the lobby bar. It’s a subdued space with light earth tones. Mont Rochelle takes a cue from the environment, which is mainly agricultural, preferring a more delicate decor and sensibility.

Jack Brockway/Courtesy of Mont Rochelle


Mont Rochelle’s five total room categories are named for grape varieties and styles of South African wine: Shiraz, the entry-level accommodation, Merlot, and Cabernet are all traditional rooms, while the Pinotage and Cap Classique are suites. The latter also comes with its own plunge pool. Guests can also book the Manor House, a four-bedroom villa near the vineyard and tasting room at Country Kitchen. It can accommodate up to eight adults and six children in the bunk room and offers its own private pool.

Food and Drink

Wil Punt/Peartree Photography/Courtesy of Mont Rochelle


There are two restaurants at Mont Rochelle. The resort hosts breakfast each morning at Miko, located near reception. Fresh fruit, tiny pots of verrine — essentially clotted cream with sugar draped in strawberry jam — cheeses, charcuterie, cereals, and yogurts are offered in a cold buffet, and guests are also invited to order from a hot menu.

For lunch and dinner, the restaurant is a more formal affair. On our first night, we dined at Miko and accepted the option for a tasting menu, a parade of perfect dishes: ash-cured venison loin with a leek purée, grass-fed beef filet with carrots, and a take on millionaire’s shortbread that was nothing of the sort.

adam slama/Courtesy of Mont Rochelle


Lunch at The Country Kitchen, though informal, was no less delicious. Chicken wings were licked with smoke, and corn ribs were so delectable that they didn’t stand a chance against my children’s appetites. Shaded by hibiscus and citrus trees, it is comfortable and lovely, exactly where one might while away an afternoon over a glass (or two) of wine.

Activities and Amenities

Hannah Selinger/Travel + Leisure


Anyone can walk the grounds and experience the wine life at Mont Rochelle, which I did my first morning alongside Gustav Coetzee, the property’s farm and maintenance manager (the winemaker is Michael Langenhoven). Coetzee talked me through the vineyard’s complex history, the plots, and the growing practices. “We don’t let them bear fruit in two years, like most guys do,” he told me. “I push them for three, so you lose a year.” The result, he said, is more concentrated and flavorful juice.

Jack Brockway/Courtesy of Mont Rochelle


Beyond the vineyard and attendant winery, guests can check out the good-sized pool with an outdoor bar and other outdoor amusements, like croquet and cornhole for kids and adults alike. A complimentary shuttle is available for rides in and out of the village — and also to wineries that are within a reasonable distance, should guests choose to visit, as we did neighboring Klein Goederust, where there is spit-fired lamb on weekends or Maison Estate, which serves deep-grooved oysters with their flights of wines (at an extra cost).

If guests wish to bring back a souvenir, a small gift shop at reception sells bespoke reminders of the area. The property also boasts a petite gym and an astroturf-covered, floodlit tennis court. Reservations are not required.

The Spa

The Mont Rochelle Spa features two treatment rooms and a hammam, available for scheduled treatments and guests’ use if available. Africology, an eco-friendly brand that uses essential oils and plant extracts, works with the property on its signature spa products. Guests who choose the Spagista pedicure or the couples’ Devotion Journey massage will also be helping to support the property’s Kusasa Project; 15 percent of the treatment price of these treatments is donated to support this project, which is a fully accredited independent primary school.

Accessibility and Sustainability

Mont Rochelle has limited all plastic bottles and now serves filtered water in branded, reusable glass bottles. The Winery and Vineyards are certified members of IPW Scheme, which ensures that South African producers focus on sustainable winemaking practices. The Winery and Vineyard are one of only 10 EnviroWines-accredited members, meaning that the cellar and vineyards have received distinctions for IPW audits since 2017. Mont Rochelle has installed Raptor Poles in and around the property, allowing raptors — environmentally beneficial birds of prey — to roost in these artificial perches.

“A professor at Stellenbosch University believes that they need at least seven meters to do their swoop, catch what they need to catch because they do sit on these poles, but they don’t pick up enough speed to catch the rodents,” Gustav Coetzee, who helped organize the program, told me on our vineyard walk. “I thought we could go a little bigger. They do attract my feathered friends.”

The property offers accessible parking, well-lit entry to the hotel, elevator access, ground-floor bedrooms, and curbless shower entry in dedicated rooms. Accessible rooms are outfitted with a shower seat and a hand-held, as well as a waterfall shower. There is also level access to the restaurant and bar and accessible seating within Miko, the primary restaurant.

Location

Located just over an hour from Cape Town International Airport, guests require a car or hired driver to reach this property.

How to Get the Most Value Out of Your Stay

The property’s lowest rates can be found between May 1 and Sept. 30 of each year.

More than Just One Trip

adam slama/Courtesy of Ulusaba Safari Lodge


Mont Rochelle wasn’t the only Branson property we enjoyed spending time at, either. From Franschhoek, we were escorted — with help from the luxury tour operator Ker & Downey — to Cape Town International Airport, where we caught a flight to Johannesburg and another, smaller flight to Skukuza, within Kruger National Park.

From there, a tour guide and driver named Pony drove us to Ulusaba Safari Lodge, a private game reserve in Sabi Sand, which lies adjacent to Kruger National Park. Branson’s 20-room-and-suite lodge is spread across two properties: Safari Lodge and Rock Lodge. There, we were met at reception by our field guide, Henry Woest, and our tracker, George Mnisi, who would spend three days showing us the incredible wildlife of the Sabi Sand reserve. (It didn’t hurt that our stay included the top-tier accommodation at Cliff Lodge 1, the 3,552-square-foot, two-bedroom villa that juts out over the rocks and overlooks the watering hole below.)

I treasured the stark contrast between the manicured fields of the Winelands and the gruff boundaries of the bush. Luxury has different meanings in travel. In Franschhoek, it’s decidedly rooted in food and wine, and at a place like Ulusaba, it’s in the deep-seated knowledge and hospitality of the staff. If it had not been for our field guide and tracker, perhaps we would have missed the chameleon on the side of the road in the dark or the jackal nested down in a field.

It was a stunning coda to a Branson adventure, with new surprises at every turn: leopards stalking prey in tall grasses, lions roaring feet from us in the ink-black night, venomous puff adders scooting across the road.

But there’s no way to adequately quantify a Branson experience in just a few words. It’s not either/or. Safari or Winelands. Garden or bush. In our visits, we found a resounding sense of hospitality that emanated from the Virgin portfolio and that we could take home with us, as sure as a souvenir, as sure as a memory of a sundowner from the roof of a Land Rover Defender overlooking the river. Is that a hippo over there? You never can tell. 



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