Cape Town - The “best hotel in the world” is a lofty accolade, and I’m not sure what to expect as I drive up to La Residence in Franschhoek. Two miniature horses (Tango and Twist, I learn later) and a family of springbok, with babies, graze on the grass, the first indication that this is a somewhat special hotel.
La Residence, one of three hotels in The Royal Portfolio’s stable, is surrounded by vineyards. Part of the original plum orchard remains and olives have been planted, all framed by mountains in the distance.
General manager Edward Morton welcomes us at the entrance, a Dylan Lewis sculpture outside a taste of the wonderful art inside.
La Residence has just been awarded The Best Hotel in the World by Condé Nast Traveler magazine’s readers.
Morton is delighted. As is Liz Biden, owner of the hotel but not present at my visit. Her comment on the award: “I am truly honoured and humbled by the award and I am pleased South Africa has been recognised internationally as a luxury destination.”
Morton has been here since the establishment opened in 2008 – he has been with The Royal Portfolio Group much longer – and is charming and warm.
We enter the main hall, the antique Russian reception desk catches my eye and from then on it’s a visual feast from beginning to end.
The main hall is a huge room, with raw wooden beams and a vaulted reed ceiling, resplendent with chandeliers from India, beautiful furniture, rich fabrics, paintings and sculpture. Morton describes it as “an old French barn with the horse long gone” which stretches out as the dining and lounge area.
Above the fireplace is a Beezy Bailey painting. There is an oriental statue at its base, an old period painting next to it.
It’s Biden’s incredible eye for detail and eclectic touch that is at play here – East meets West and old meets new.
Biden, I’m told by Morton, loves shopping, which she does all over the world to find the furniture, the fabrics, the art, the furnishings.
Sometimes he accompanies her. This is a private, family-owned and managed hotel group, and the personal touch shows.
La Residence is a small hotel with 11 suites and five family villas – the maximum number of guests that can be accommodated is 42.
It’s great that this little hotel competed alongside the grand and large hotels of the world and came out tops. Actually, it shares top honours with a hotel in New Zealand, which does nothing to lessen the honour, of course, each achieving a 99.2 average (out of 100), voted for by 80 000 Traveler readers.
So what is it that’s so special about La Residence, I ask Morton.
“What sets us apart is that we are warm and hearty, not stiff and starchy,” he says. “It’s a magnificent title to have. Our guests know Liz Biden’s hotels and word is out that it’s a home from home. It’s on a farm, in the middle of nowhere, off the beaten track.”
One of those guests is Elton John, and in the Maharani room there’s a signed photograph of him. This is the suite he stays in, rich in golds and yellows, with marble steps leading up to bed. Tigers abound in paintings and scultures, and there’s a painting of an Indian princess.
As in all the rooms I’m shown, there’s a feast of texture and colour, in the fabrics, the furniture.
The suites are truly magnificent – there is no other word to describe them. Every room has a different colour theme and unique style. Some are flamboyant, others less so.
All are luxurious. For me it’s the décor that gets my vote.
Biden’s impeccable eye for colour, texture and fabric plays itself out everywhere, but especially in the suites. I sense the joy she has in bringing together different styles and combining colours.
It’s tempting to wax lyrical about each suite but space prohibits that. However, my favourites are the Tibetan and Chinese rooms.
The hotel has 74 staff – six of them chefs, which may be one reason the hotel’s food received 100 points.
Guests may request a chef’s table if they want an interactive dining experience. On fine days, patrons can dine outside in the Persian alley.
There are mountain views from all parts of this hotel, which is on the urban edge of the little town.
Voters also awarded 100 points to the rooms, the service and the location. What brought down the hotel’s average to 99.2 was the 96 for design.
Much of the artwork is South African and the fresh flowers are generous.
The hotel is fortunate to have a high occupancy rate, says Morton – August was one of their busiest months.
The huge fireplaces in the main hall and the sumptuous suites would make for a cosy winter stay.
The hotel is grand, yes, but it’s not stuffy or formal. Best hotel in the world? You have to believe those who travel the world. - Cape Argus