Stay at Rhodes House, formerly occupied by South African PM Cecil Rhodes

An entry in the guest book at Rhodes Cottage claims there are no ghosts here, but I beg to differ.

Cecil John Rhodes' presence permeates this place: there are the portraits dotted about the cottage – above the fridge in the beamed kitchen, beside the ball-and-claw bath in the annex bathroom – reminding visitors that the original owner of this Cape Dutch masterwork was Rhodes himself, mining magnate, businessman and one-time prime minister of South Africa's Cape Colony. 

There's the beautiful period furniture, the Union Jack hanging emblematically in a bathroom, the views that sweep across fallow vineyards and all the way to those commanding, snow-capped Hottentots Holland Mountains, suggesting that it was indeed an important person who once lived here. 

And then there's the late-night visit we receive while playing Scrabble in Rhodes' cosy, fire-warmed lounge. We've polished off the home-made pizzas delivered to us from the farm deli, refilled our wine glasses and returned to our game when we hear a distinct clatter coming from the kitchen. 

"Jones has come back to clean up after us!" exclaims my older daughter, referencing our personal butler, whom we'd dismissed several hours earlier. 

The kitchen door is securely locked, our dishes piled neatly beside the sink. It could only have been the ghost of Rhodes, we decide, come to disturb the peace.

But the noise subsides and upon inspection we discover that Jones – miracle worker that he is – has not re-entered the house.

The kitchen door is securely locked, our dishes piled neatly beside the sink. It could only have been the ghost of Rhodes, we decide, come to disturb the peace. Perhaps he's annoyed we've been eating pizza, swilling wine and laughing raucously in his esteemed gentleman's parlour. 

Indeed, we're privileged to have been granted entree into this space. After years of private use, the Herbert Charles Baker-designed cottage is finally open to the public. Set on the sprawling Boschendal Estate, it's part of a broader refurbishment in which other long-empty cottages and labourers' quarters have been transformed into beautifully-appointed, boutique accommodation.

The result is a scene of photo-shopped perfection: Cape Dutch dwellings scattered about a 120-hectare  swath of Drakenstein Valley; the valley framed by the majestic Simonsberg mountain range and filled with vineyards stretching out towards its foothills; a central werf (farmyard) containing a restaurant, deli and wine tasting room, and shaded by towering oaks that were brought to this place as seedlings so many centuries ago.

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Reflecting its 330-year history as a refreshment station for ships passing the Cape of Good Hope and a fruit-and-wine producer, Boschendal functions today as a working farm and continues to produce an impressive bounty of first-class wines, free-range Angus beef and pickings from the orchards upon which Rhodes built his deciduous fruit export business. 

The farm is all ours to explore. We follow the trail to Rhodes Dam, where we try our hand (unsuccessfully) at fly fishing, and venture up towards to the silver mines that are tucked secretively into the mountainside.

The view from up here is breathtaking. Snow has fallen on the Hottentot Hollands range overnight and the valley shimmers cold and bright below them. Farm workers stream down a hillside, tweaking vines in preparation for the coming spring. 

In the afternoon, we ride horses to the farm's opposite side. Our mounts lead us through the werf, where visitors eat lunch and taste wine and chocolate, past the vegetable and herb gardens, past herds of cattle and wild horses, and finally into the ragtag woods on the farm's edge. Emerging from them, we spy Rhodes Cottage, a tiny dot of bright white against the lavishly-carved mountain-scape.

Maybe Rhodes wasn't really annoyed when he visited us in the kitchen last night, I think. Maybe he was just toasting our good luck instead.

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

boschendal.com

GETTING THERE

Qantas flies daily from Sydney to Cape Town via Johannesburg, with connections available from other Australian capital cities. Return fares start from $2299. From February 3, 2016, Qantas will offer six return services a week, operating every day except Wednesdays. See qantas.com.au.

STAYING THERE

Boschendal offers several accommodation options. Rates start at about  $150 a night for two people staying in the Orchards cottages, $265 for two people in the Werf Cottages, $420 for up to four people in Clarence Cottage and $1080 for up to six people in Rhodes Cottage (the Rhodes rate includes breakfast; the cottage can accommodate up to eight adults and two children – additional costs apply). 

The writer and her family were guests of Boschendal.

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