Sunday, 27 October 2013

La Residence, Franschhoek

Artful Kindness

In any part of the world, if you follow the artists, they will lead you to places of golden light. This is true of the village of Franschhoek, one of the loveliest places on earth. Artists of all kinds have settled here – photographers, painters, musicians, writers, winemakers, food artists, and of course accommodation artists. And one such artist is Liz Biden, creative genius behind La Residence Luxury Hotel and Villas (

Daring and deft, to be recognised as a world class artist, one must have both exceptional skills and be willing to push the boundaries of creativity. Finally at the last minute, it is necessary to reign this verve back in with a 6th sense of restraint. Each room at La Residence shows a dazzling display of colours, materials and influences which pushes luxury accommodation into a whole new level of opulence. Sumptuous fabrics, bold hues and antiques are contrasted and then perfectly balanced in each of the individually decorated suites. It is for this that the South African Tourism Board should create a six star rating, in honour of Liz Biden’s Royal Portfolio.

I stay in the Frangipani Suite, in the downstairs corner of the East Wing. Here a brave fusion of Far Eastern and French Chateaux style is balanced within a South African setting (don’t try this at home). Fitted throughout in creamy white and grey marble, the calm look is offset by rich red and gold Eastern wall hangings and gold Louis XV chairs. Floating muslin curtains mute the full height curved window and double doors. The raised four-poster bed surrounds one with marble.

But of course I choose this suite for its resplendent Versaille Hall of Mirrors bathroom. “Yes, Liz does like big bathrooms” says my host drily. Indeed I estimate the bathroom to be at least 5 X 6 meters in size. Wall to wall mirrors surround one from a deep double slipper bath placed centrally in the room. Glass double doors frame vineyard and mountain views.

What I love about La Residence:
  • There are sensory delights throughout the hotel, with delightful pairing of colours, textures and styles.
  • Each suite faces onto mountain and vineyard views and Franschhoek-blue skies.
  • The gardens have been cleverly designed for privacy and interest, with green hedges, roses, wisteria and irises.
  • Peacock and Guinea Fowl punctuate the stillness. In the early morning an owl softly hoots from the roof.
  • High double doors and enormous windows bring the outdoors into every room.
  • Splendid bathrooms each have their own unique features and verve.
  • Local Charlotte Rhys bath products create fragrant delights.
  • La Residence wins both my bath towel and bathrobe award. The white towels are plentiful, thick and soft, heated by warm towel rails. There is a choice of bath robes – a cream, silk summer kimono and a heavier suede-like pale gown.
  • The bed is dressed in the finest monogrammed cotton linen.
  • There is temperature-controlled under-floor heating throughout the vast suite.
  • Gilded mirrors decorate the entrance to the suite, where there is complementary tea, coffee, mini-bar and snacks.
  • Crystal chandeliers abound, as does poignant original wall art.
  • There is a separate working area with a desk.
  • The upstairs suites have high pitched roofs with exposed roof trusses.
  • The accomplished chef serves an array of light yet full-flavoured, sophisticated courses.
  • The day ends with a turndown service with gifts of handmade Belgian chocolates filled with plums from the estate.
Accommodation experience:
I am a little ashamed to say I have 3 lengthy bathes within the space of my 20 hours at La Residence. But it feels like the personnel here would only be delighted at the compliment. And what impresses me at the end of the day, aside from the general splendour, sumptuous d├ęcor and breath-taking scenery, is the simple kindness of the staff at La Residence. I saw one staff member assist a rather brittle elderly gentleman, desperately clinging to his dignity, with care and grace. At dinner the waitrons and sommelier moved in formation to ensure I did not feel lonely. One waitron confessed “I am so lucky to work here. This becomes like your family.” There was a sense of everyone playing their part in putting up an interesting and fun show for a wide range of guests. Their relaxed and caring attitude broke down the self-imposed barriers between guests and soon we were sharing enthusiastic stories of our week’s South African travels.

There is a tangible difference when a team who work in a place like this enjoy their role and appreciate each other’s company and support. This brings a softness to what could otherwise be an intimidating and ostentatious scene, which, let’s admit, brings out the worst posturing in all of us. I saw a sign while shopping in Franschhoek earlier today which said “Be kinder than necessary, for we are all battling our own demons”. Be it the onset of age, past hurts, current failures or struggles with worthiness, we are all insecure little beings at heart. And to this we should only respond with kindness and grace. It is this that I will take away with me from this creative and nourishing stay in this sumtuous place that is a celebration of all that is luxurious hospitality. 

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