Mountain peaks soared up to the sky either side of us and big white letters spelling out the word ‘Franschhoek’ came into view on the hillside. We were on our way to the Leeu Estates, a five-star boutique hotel that’s attracted plenty of interest since it opened its doors in the Cape Winelands last summer.
It was like South Africa’s answer to the Hollywood Hills.
Popping the indicator on, we pulled into the hotel’s driveway which appears just before we hit the middle of Franschooek village.
We crossed the small river which fringes the estate vineyards and approached the golden lions which mark the gates. After a nod from the security staff, we pulled into this sprawling property and that’s when the manicured gardens and ridiculously photogenic scenery really hit us.
Even a few days into our travels in the Cape Winelands, we hadn’t yet become complacent by its utter beauty.
A bit of background on The Leeu Collection
Like many vineyard hotels in the Cape winelands, the Leeu Estates is a former farm and has all the Cape Dutch features nicely preserved, yet has heaps of luxury and style.
Today the vineyard is owned by Analjit Singh – or ‘BAS’ as his colleagues known him – an investor who was on holiday here in 2010 and fell so head over heels with the region (I mean, who wouldn’t?) he went into business with the Mullineux Family wines group.
Leeu, by the way, means lion in Afrikaans but it’s also the word for Singh in Sanskrit, hence the logo they use.
The Leeu Collection comprises the stunning Le Quartier Francais and a few restaurants in the middle of Franschooek which I’m going to tell you about in another post. They also own the beautiful Linthwaite House in the Lake District and have just taken on a property in Italy.
The Setting at Leeu Estates
With the help of some super-duper aritsts, landscape gardeners and designers, BAS has injected his own personal style into the hotel and you’ll notice the ridiculously perfect gardens here during your stay. The only downside to their perfectionism here is the baffling number of gardeners that were everywhere we turned. We’ll forgive them for the steady traffic of gardeners and soundtrack of hedge trimmers which greeted us at the spa pool each day. We visited in November so they were working tirelessly to get things in ship shape before Christmas.
The arrival and general vibe at The Leeu Estates was a little more formal than other places we’d stopped at in the winelands. The beautiful reception is within the main manor house where you’ll also find a reading room and a lounge where you can read and relax.
They don’t take themselves too seriously here though. During our tour, we came across Xaviar, or ‘Tim’ as he’s affectionately known in the hotel. Tim is an eerily life-like art installation on a man in one of the manor’s reception rooms. The staff here must get used to guests’ confusing expressions when they see him, head-in-his-hands against the wall. She assured us he wasn’t real, but he’s the work of artist Daniel Firman. You’ll also find his friend ‘Justine’ down the road in sister property Le Quartier Francais.
A bit about the Art at Leeu Estates
In fact, art plays a big role in the very polished aesthetic of the Leeu Estates. A wander down to the lawn will take you to Artemis and her three dogs and you’ll find many other small and large contemporary art sculptures across the property and in your rooms.
‘SIT’, otherwise known as Reflective Resonance by Angus Taylor is without a doubt, the most extraordinary of them all. Take a walk over to the relaxing Bokkie Garden and you’ll spot this giant human-like form, sitting back and admiring the view.
The Hotel Rooms
There are various room categories at Leeu Estates. You can stay in various classic and deluxe rooms within the manor house or one of the stand-alone suites and cottages. Either way, you are heading for a treat.
The ever-so-cute Pomegranate cottage where we stayed was a cosy hideaway yet with no-holds-barred level of luxury.
Think sisal carpets, chunky armchairs, marble clad bathrooms and calming neutral colours..
… as well as a fully stocked minibar with delicious nibbles, a coffee machine, TV and all the essentials you need such as an excellent hairdryer, security box, immaculate turndown service and plush toiletries.
The thing that impressed me was the dressing room / wardrobe area which separated the room and the bathroom. Possibly one of the largest I’ve seen in a hotel.
Our courtyard was the perfect place to relax in the sunshine in privacy too.
Wine tasting is a must if you stay at the Leeu Estates. The property itself is nestled in nine hectares of Sauvignon Blanc vines. And the tasting room is a cosy standalone haven of sink-into armchairs, curios on the shelves and floor-to-ceiling glass walls that allow you to see the barrel maturation cellar as you sip.
Each guest staying here can enjoy one complimentary signature tasting which comprises two signature white wines and two signature reds. If you want to splash out, you can pay more for the Master wine tasting session.
This winery has twice earned Platter’s Wine Guide award for Best winery in South Africa and the sommeliers are fantastic. We learnt so much about the sustainable farming practices and grape cultivation in one single sitting. Their Chenin Old Vines White is so good, I ordered it later for dinner.
Oh and did I mention there’s a buggy that will whizz you around the property? Just in case the five minute walk is a bit too strenuous.
Dining at Leeu Estates
Dinner here is incredible with a capital ‘I’. The Dining Room has a grand yet modern feel and spills out onto a dreamy verandah area looking out over those valley views.
The menu is an interesting collection of traditional dishes we’re all familiar with, yet with very subtle South African and Cape Malay influences.
British Executive Chef Oliver Cattermole does a grand job of delivering fine dining that packs a punch but isn’t overly fancified. Pork terrine and Cape Malay butternut squash soup made for delicious starters.
And the west coast lamb and spiced fish (with a deliciously crisp skin) with aubergine puree made for outstanding mains.
Incredible desserts followed of chocolate fondant and the most amazing apple terrine I’ve ever tasted, topped with salted caramel.
We were there slightly ahead of the peak season so the only thing that would have taken it from excellent to unbeatable was a fuller room. But really, I can’t recommend this restaurant enough.
Again, breakfast is more than worth rising from your slumber for and the buffet itself delights you with gorgeous fruit selections, granola and pastries and cakes clearly made from highly skilled pâtissiers.
I’d recommend expanding your belt to try the hot breakfast menu. After eight weeks of travelling, the very British sausage sandwich with brown sauce was heaven. Oliver Cattermole is clearly a man after my own heart.
Things to do
The rooms (the cottages especially) are so private at Leeu Estates, you could easily spend a few days just relaxing here. But if you have wheels (the hotel can also arrange transfers), the bars, shops and restaurants of Franschhoek are a short drive away. There are also plenty of opportunities to drive further afield, head up to the ‘Hollywood’ Hill and get some hiking in. If there’s one thing you must do, it’s take a walk up the hill behind the property to get some gorgeous photos of the valley.
Phew, if you’ve made it this far down this post, I applaud you. But how can we not mention the spa? I’ve saved one of the best things until last.
This is a contemporary haven where we dipped in and out of a couple of times during our stay. Like the rest of the property, the attention to detail is impeccable, there’s a beautiful lounge area and sleek air-conditioned gym where I tried to work off that bacon sarnie.
And it’s here I bumped into BAS’s personal trainer and fitness expert, Dhiraj Singh, who was visiting for the week. He was introducing some yoga sessions to the hotel.
Then there’s the pool. Oh, the pool.
Fringed by vines and perfectly placed so you can enjoy the garden and mountain views, it’s a real showstopper. There’s also a heated indoor pool which you can access from the changing rooms after you’ve had a steam room session, which offers a slightly more private experience.
In between all that wine tasting, you need to kick back and admire the view.
Nope, not tired of it yet.
Have you been to the Cape Winelands or have you stayed at the Leeu Estates or a property in the Leeu Collection? Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts and plans.
Leeu Estates, Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek, 7690 South Africa, +27 21 492 2222