Finding The One isn’t always fairy-tale straight-forward. It takes patience, searching (and soul-searching). It means experiencing the not-so-right, the you’ve-got-potential, the what-on-earth-was-I-thinking?! But they always say, ‘You know when it's The One’. And I knew.
I knew from the mountains whose beauty rendered me speechless (a rare occurrence) as we wound our way along the drive, through charming vineyards and plump plum orchards. I knew from the moment we stepped into the exquisite banquet hall, greeted by beaming faces, a baby bouquet bursting with white flowers and a glass of local red wine. I knew from the lullaby purple hue of the blossom on the trees, from the brash strut of the resident peacocks, from the afternoon light melting onto warm copper-coloured walls.
I knew that this hotel was The One.
A tour of La Residence, set in South Africa’s Winelands just outside Franschhoek, confirmed my instincts. Vast fireplaces roared their welcome beneath enormous golden mirrors, delighting in their task of multiplying the hall’s beauty. A hall of brazen monochrome tiles, resplendent red dining chairs, high-vaulted ceilings, beneath which I felt miniature (as did my partner, all 6 foot 4 inches of him). Not lost in, or intimidated by the grandeur, but rather invited into it. Past cloud-soft sofas overlooking the lake, past the Pool and the stream and row upon row of lavender – a lilac crescendo as we headed towards our Huguenot Suite.
If I could grab armfuls of glowing adjectives, shake them all up and explode them onto the page, then I might stand half a chance of being able to describe just how fabulous this suite is.
Should I start with the view across the vineyards and mountains immediately commanding your attention, or the astonishingly beautiful antiques that tousle your gaze back inside? Perhaps I begin with the king-size four poster bed or the chandelier glistening with history? Or the pepper-yellow cabinets filled with crockery - delicate teacups, China teapots, glass bottles, all endowed with a good-enough-to-eat elegance usually reserved for story book illustrations? Or maybe the bathroom’s delectably pompous pièce de résistance – a roll-top bath with its toe-curlingly glorious mountain view?
There’s just too much to choose from. So I won’t.
Instead, I’ll take you out onto our private balcony, only the humorously inelegant peacock squawks reminding us that we’re not completely alone. Indeed, Franschhoek means ‘French Corner’ in Dutch. Not only did we have our own piece of South-Africa-meets-France charm, but we had our own little corner of La Residence too.
Champagne waited patiently in pop-me-please anticipation beside an enormous bouquet of flowers. On our balcony table lay a picnic of salmon, fresh fruits, scones, homemade cakes (and much, much more, but I’m even starting to envy myself so I’ll gloss over the other delicacies). This was all just too perfect. I didn’t want this day to end.
So, in a bid to refuse the night’s arrival, I persuaded my partner into his swimming trunks and we dived into the Pool, the mountains silhouetted by moonlight, two goose-pimpled bodies creating moments that, I hope, will be re-lived when we’re old and casting wistful trips down Memory Lane.
Dinner was a divinely romantic affair. One thing is for sure, La Residence knows how to make you feel special. At one end of the hall, candlelit steps tiptoed to our table for two, a dancing fire, a personalised ‘Matthew and Helena’s Dinner Menu’ awaiting. Each dish had been meticulously thought through, featuring fresh, local ingredients, many flourishing in the estate’s vegetable patches.
I began with paprika-fried calamari with rosa tomatoes, pickled zucchini, mango and papaya salsa (although I made sure to steal some of my partner’s cumin seared lamb loin with artichoke purée). Having never eaten springbok before, this was an absolute must. My new-found delight was accompanied by butternut fondant, asparagus, caramelised plums and cranberry sauce (now it was his turn to steal!). He chose roasted beef sirloin, cauliflower cream, sautéed celeriac, purple cabbage and truffle jus. There couldn’t possibly be any food envy to speak of. Every mouthful was simply delicious.
Our evening was made even more perfect by our waiter, Bruce. Even when all the other guests had disappeared, and the clatter and chatter of a hall in its element as host had given way to the quiet crackling of the fire, he encouraged us to stay and enjoy all that was left of the night. It was a night of sharing stories, of laughing, of contentment. Bruce talked to us about the history of La Residence, and whose artistic eye is behind all the stunning furniture and fabrics of The Royal Portfolio - and at my mere mention of chocolate-coated strawberries disappeared straight into the kitchen, only to appear minutes later with the mouth-watering fruit blushing beneath dark, white and milk chocolate.
Perhaps this is the perfect example of the staff’s attitude at La Residence. There is no distinguishing between You and Us. Instead, it’s We. A family happy to help in any way possible. No pomp and false grandeur. No stuffiness (despite the fact that guests include celebrities like Elton John). Just warmth and a joy that comes with knowing they’re giving you the most wonderful experience they can.
Breakfast. Now this absolutely must not be missed. Apple and walnut waffles, ricotta toast with poached eggs, portabellini mushrooms and red pepper relish, smoked kudu carpaccio with truffle oil and parmesan shavings. Freshly squeezed juices, a rainbow of fruits, pastries, cheeses, a Christmas-has-come-early display of deliciousness.
Our post-breakfast stroll took us through the Persian Alley, where alfresco diners had begun gathering for an early lunch, around the sun-speckled lake and past the vineyard suites (a perfect option for families or groups), along the fields where animals acknowledged us lazily as we went by, through fragrant rose gardens and vegetable patches bulging with nourishing goodness, and back to our own little corner on our balcony, where we took a moment to take it all in. To bottle up these memories.
Finding The One isn’t fairy-tale straight forward. But the patience, searching (and soul-searching) pays off. It means experiencing the not-so-right, the you’ve-got-potential, the what-on-earth-was-I-thinking?! But they always say, ‘You know when it's The One’. And I knew.
I knew from the moment I met him. I knew, sitting in that Sri Lankan restaurant in Soho on our first date that, should he ask one day, my answer would be ‘Yes’.
The morning before our arrival at La Residence, we walked to the top of Table Mountain. There, Matt got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. It was a gorgeously unexpected proposal. I arrived at La Residence practically pirouetting on Cloud 9, and they made sure I didn’t come off. An utterly magical stay.
This was The One.
For more information or to book a room, visit: https://www.theroyalportfolio.com