It's the little things – especially when those little things come free.
It's the valet parking as soon as you arrive. It's the glass of rose that's handed to you upon stepping into the foyer. It's the bottle of sparkling wine that's waiting on ice in your room. It's the mini bar stocked with high-end spirits. It's the concierge service. It's the private car into town. It's the a la carte breakfast. It's the sunset drinks down by the pond.
It's all of those perks and services and luxuries that make you feel like an absolute rock star, and here, they're provided for free. That's what it's all about.
Of course, technically speaking, these things aren't actually free. You pay for them in your room bill. They're tucked away in their somewhere. It's more the fact that at La Residence they feel like they're complementary – they're the luxuries you'd usually pay extra for, the extravagances for which you'd be slugged a whopping amount by most hotels in order to enjoy. And yet here, they're on the house.
La Residence, a luxurious nook nestled on a hillside amid grape vines and olive groves in the South African town of Franschhoek, has got everything right. Spectacularly, perfectly right.
In fact I can say, hand on heart, that this might just be the best place I've ever stayed. Yes, I visited La Residence as a guest of the hotel. But I've been extremely lucky to have experienced that treatment in numerous properties around the world, and La Residence is still the best.
Let me explain.
This isn't some big, fancy resort. It's small enough that everyone knows your name, and the staff most definitely take the time to do that. It's not too flashy from the outside – there are no turrets or ridiculous fountains or grandiose signage. It's just a rust-coloured building set among the vines, a place that lets the scenery of Franschhoek do the talking.
And it's spectacular. Franschhoek is only a one-hour drive from Cape Town, and yet it's another universe. Gone are the skyscrapers and the bustle of city life. This is still a sleepy little village nestling in a stunning valley, a place that has become the epicentre of South Africa's gastronomic scene, as well as the producer of some of its best wine.
La Residence is a product of this environment. There's wine made from the grapes on site. There's oil made from the olives. There's also a small-town warmth to everyone who works here that makes you feel instantly comfortable.
Of course the large glass of rose doesn't hurt either. Nor does the sight of the huge Afro-European entrance hall, with its chandeliers and exposed wooden beams and works by local artists. Art seems a big part of the La Residence experience – there are pieces sprinkled throughout the hotel grounds, including in the rooms, with huge Tibetan paintings hanging from all the walls in my suite.
That room is furnished tastefully, but lavishly: there's a huge four-poster bed, two large armchairs, a chaise lounge in the bathroom (below the chandelier, of course), antique wooden vanities, a freestanding bathtub, Persian rugs, deck chairs on the balcony, a couch on the balcony, even a table and chairs on the balcony.
It takes a while to appreciate just how many spaces there are to hang out in and relax. There are all those chairs and views in the room itself, but then there's also the public spaces: the breakfast room, the pool area, the library, and the patio down by the pond at which people gather to watch the sunset.
And the minute you settle yourself in any of these positions there is immediately a member of staff standing next to you, offering some sort of refreshment. A coffee, a glass of wine, a tray of snacks – free, of course.
At some point though, you have to leave La Residence. You have to go into Franschhoek to sample one of the fine-dining restaurants, somewhere like the Tasting Room, or Foliage, or Bread & Wine, places doing modern takes on South African cuisine. You have to call past a few of the wineries, maybe Chamonix, or GlenWood, or Moreson, to sample the drops.
But then there's always a car handy to come and pick you up and bring you back to paradise.
La Residence isn't a place you'll just book into on a normal holiday. This is a special occasion place. It's a honeymoon, or an anniversary, or a retirement present place. It's a place you'll save for and savour and be assured that this splash-out is going towards something that's truly worth the expense.
It's the little things. And at La Residence, there are a lot of them.
Qantas flies direct from Sydney to Johannesburg, with onward connections to Cape Town. See qantas.com.
Luxury suites at La Residence start from ZAR4700 ($455) a person peranight, twin share, inclusive of full mini-bar, breakfast, snacks, house wines, laundry, wifi, and a shuttle into town. See website above.
Ben Groundwater was a guest of La Residence.