Any stay in historic Franschhoek is almost guaranteed to be a win - more so at La Petite Ferme, just three minutes from the main road but a world away on the curve on Oliphants' Pass leading to the Middagkrans mountain range, with a dazzling view of the verdant valley of vines and Mont Rochelle nature reserve below. The dazzling start was just the beginning.
Images supplied. © Claire Gunn
On a sizzling Christmas weekend, we gently slipped into the La Petite Ferme lifestyle with flutes of cordial and cool facecloths to freshen up after the scenic hour-long road trip from Cape Town, seated on velvety, jewel-toned chairs in the cool wine cellar, while gazing at the Franschhoek view below.
Purr over the Provencale suite life
The view only improved from our Provencale-themed mountain-view suite. It was the stuff of dreams, of honeymoons and luxury weekends away. Strong Wi-Fi throughout meant we could post pics to social media throughout our stay. But I’ll describe it in words, too…
One of the first special touches we noticed was the blue Christmas wreaths, complete with dried Proteas, outside all five Cape Vernacular-style suites. And then we opened the door…
The recently renovated suites cater to guests’ every whim, from middle-of-the-night munchies that are washed away with homemade sugar cookies, quality coffee pods, and the minibar’s stock of wine and cans of Cola; to cold feet warmed with underfloor heating and heated towel rails in the bathroom.
The coffee mugs with tiny birdies printed in the bottom will delight the nature lovers, complete with wooden saucers to hold a handful of those delicious biscuits, as will the gorgeous marble coasters shot through with copper inlay to ensure your glasses of wine don’t leave a mark.
The renovated bathrooms are also a sight to behold, featuring handmade tiles unique to the theme of each suite, and offering both tub with a view of the vines directly outside our room, as well as an impressive walk-in shower with huge shower head and Theravine products. All you need to pamper yourself!
Speaking of pampering, we could have spent all afternoon simply watching TV or gazing out at our private terrace, while relishing the coolness of both in-room aircon and a sturdy, silent ceiling fan on the supersized soft bed, complete with micro-allergenic pillows and a padded floral headboard that just screamed luxury.
You’re welcome to a lazy stay, but there’s so much more to do and see at La Petite Ferme.
While lazing on the shaded adjustable loungers and daybeds at the retiled private splash pool to the nap-inducing drone of Christmas beetles and cicadas, it wasn’t long before we took the plunge.
That cool private pool definitely made our stay, but this is by no means a summer-only spot. There’s a hearty fireplace at the restaurant as well as wood-burning ones in the suites’ lounge areas, guaranteeing this will be a toasty winter stay, too.
And then there’s the wine tasting experience.
Liquid lunch over the little’s farm’s long history
Free to guests, the ‘vine orientation and tasting’ is a twice-daily walking tour of the vines and seated tasting of five of the farm’s best. This ranges from the chilly white Viognier and barrel-fermented Chardonnay to their red trio: Cab Sav, Shiraz and Verdict, served with complimentary (and so complementary) canapés, from La Petite Ferme’s charming ‘kitchen brigade’
We were the only two taking part in a private tour of the ‘little farm’ with an utterly engaging guide, Avron Williams, who has lived on the farm all his life. We were soon caught up in his tale of the farm’s history, from its early days as a fruit farm to the boutique wine estate we know today.
Key tidbits were all about the personal touch. For example, the staff caught and smoked their own river trout and became so skilled at deboning the fish that if you found a bone, it was free. The original little thatch restaurant also burnt down in 1996, but a sad thing turned into a lovely thing as many of the female kitchen staff at the time helped recreate it, which instilled much pride in their work.
There was also a wealth of wine knowledge to soak up. Williams shared that roses were planted in front of the vines not just for their natural beauty but because they also stop phylloxera
beetles from attacking the crops.
He also showed us how they crafted hybrid vines from different rootstocks, such as South American with Syrah/Shiraz. There are roughly 10 types of soil and 80,000 plants on the farm and a bottle of wine per plant is estimated as best for the optimal quality of the end result.
Keen to test that quality, our next stop was the shaded wine tasting area, set under an old oak tree.
Williams explained that Sauvignon Blanc is one of La Petite Ferme’s best-selling wines. It spends six months in cool stainless steel tanks before it’s bottled, with no wood contact at all. There’s a hint of crisp Granny Smith apple on the nose, and the initial ‘Sav Blanc acidity’ at the back of the throat quickly disappears. We found the wine to pair well with green olives.
Next was the Viognier. One of the oldest wine varieties in the world, it’s a white grape made for red Shiraz, adding a touch of fruitiness. This goes especially well with basil pesto on La Petite Ferme’s striking charcoal bread.
Taste buds now attuned, we tried the wine that tends to be either a hit or miss if you bat for the ABC (Anything But Chardonnay) team. La Petite Ferme’s version spends 12 months in oak barrels, with the barrels used four times for a tank of wine. There’s an initial creamy caramel aroma with fruit at the back of the palette, making it a good match for cheese, pork belly or creamy pasta.
By now we were ready for red, and Williams said to feel welcome to put it on ice, as South Africa tends to be much hotter at ‘room temperature’ than Europe.
A swirl of the Shiraz offered more white pepper than strong red taste, particularly good with salty biltong, while the Cape blend Verdict 2016 offers a liquorice hit. If you’re interested in any of these, we highly recommend a visit to La Petite Ferme for the full introduction by Williams.
As a parting shot, he offered the following tableside tips:
- Buy a bunch of table grapes, freeze them and use instead of ice cubes in your glass or red or white accordingly – or try strawberries in a glass of rose.
- Just because it’s called ‘oaked’ or ‘wooded’ Chardonnay doesn’t mean it’s from the barrel – some brands just add wood chips. Look for the words ‘barrel fermented’ on the label.
- A screw cap is one of the best sealers in the world, but many wines still use a cork stopper just for the ceremony, romance and tradition. If you have a similar rosy rose view, remember the cork can be used to help feed orchids as it aerates the soil.
- Sweeter wines tend to go well with spicy Mediterranean and Indian food that often includes raisins, peaches and dates. That said…
The saying used to be that you savour white wine with fish and chicken, while red meat goes with red wine, but today it’s more about the sauces and seasonings – you may find that a creamy mushroom sauce on steak goes well with white wine, so start rather enjoying the wine for the weather.
- You can experiment with your ‘end of meal’ tipple, too. Skip the sweet Muscadel and sherry and try a Merlot or milk stout with chocolatey desserts, or Chardonnay with caramel.
Wreathed with wine smiles and new wine knowledge, it was time to splashing around in the splash pool again, for a good hour or two – we are water babies, after all – before it was time for dinner with one of the best views in the country.
A short walk from our chalet revealed a natural delight: The pregnant peahen, which had been guarding her eggs for the past month, had moved off her precious treasure as two eggs had cracked open, and the chicks were sitting on mom! No wonder we were serenaded by the odd meowing call of the peacock that night.
Yes, really – peacocks would alight on the laws then leap into the trees, leaving everyone scrambling to snap a photo. Amidst the excited flurry, we were seated at a table outside, the best spot as we could join in the families taking in the sunset over the mountain from benches dotted along the lawn.
Prettiest Provencale plating
Soft jazz fluted through while we perused the menu, eventually opting for the night’s specialties – the trout we’d heard so much about from Williams earlier in the day, and the lamb mains, with a shared zucchini starter and the chocolate torte and pumpkin doughnuts with peanut butter ice cream for dessert, all served on specially numbered serving plates.
Images supplied. © Hein van Tonder.
To drink, we put our new wine knowledge to the test with a glass of La Petite Ferme’s own Baboon Rock Unwooded Chardonnay, while my alter ego ‘the milkshake queen’ simply had to sample their outstanding caramel milkshake. Wondering how the rest of the fare fared? Read on!
The bright colours of a charcoal bun and spinach-seeded roll served with spicy harissa paste and balsamic and olive oil were swiftly by our zucchini roll starter.
Pretty as a picture, this was beautifully presented on a black plate, with thin zucchini slices rolled up and topped with orange and lime paste and peppery powders, while the proud peacock father took things up a notch in leaping off the restaurant roof to display his feathers to the admiring audience.
From one impressive experience to another, the mains were cooked to perfection. We both ‘oohed’ at the tenderness and stunning plating of the whole cooked trout and the pulled lamb. Both included edible flowers, hot polenta cubes and puréed veggies served in deep dishes, to ensure nothing rolled onto the table. You never know!
And the taste? My husband declared it the best trout he has ever eaten. It was so well was it deboned that he could pop off the head, set it aside and chew right down to the tail. The pulled lamb was also deliciously salty and rich, so much so that I would have been happy with just that.
But there was more to come, of course – any meal’s true finale, dessert.
The chocolate torte was dark and divine, enhanced with pops of blueberry, while the warm, cinnamon-y mini pumpkin doughnuts with forkfuls of peanut-butter ice cream were a taste revelation.
We weren’t the only ones having the meal of our lives, as forkfuls were being enthusiastically shared across tables while laughter and conversation flowed and lights came on across the valley below.
On returning to our suite, we found the bed had been turned down, with slippers and gowns helpfully laid out and a chocolate shamrock for luck, domed beside each bedside.
Eggs benedict-y breakfast bliss
The night may have been over, but we were still in for the treat of a delicate farm-style breakfast.
The buffet spread was set up in front of that magical mountain view from dinner the night before, now softened by a light mist.
It included muesli with berries and nuts, a creamy sausage stew, as well as farm breads, fresh pastries, fish, cold meats and cheeses.
Luckily we were warned not to fill up on these morning delights as there’s also a hot breakfast option, not to be missed.
We can vouch for the eggs benedict-y Breakfast Onassis, which is topped with both spinach and salmon, as well as the French toast with caramelised apple slivers and blocks of crispy bacon. Both pair well with a complementary cappuccino.
And with that, it was time to pack away our memories and check out. Delicious, relaxing, and with a touch of magic – that’s the essence of the La Petite Ferme luxury boutique hotel and wine estate.
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for the pics we took during our stay.*Leigh Andrews was a guest at La Petite Ferme. For bookings, call +27 021 876 3016 or email az.oc.emrefetitepal@noitadommocca, and visit the La Petite Ferme website or follow their updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more information.