If Laurence Graff is the King of Diamonds, his first entry into hospitality is definitely worthy of royalty. Now over a decade old, his Relais & Chateau winery estate in Stellenbosch features only 10 villas, but soon to be expanded to 16 and then 17. It’s a popular daytrip, an hour’s drive from Cape Town, or you can arrive by helicopter (there are three helipads). I would strongly encourage staying at least one or two nights although if you have the time, longer would be fine too, particularly if you want a base to explore the many neighboring vineyards. The area is considering the Napa Valley of South Africa. At Delaire Graff Estate there is no detail too small, starting with the driveway from the main road lined but an array of flowers and plantings. The parking area that leads to the reception entry area offers dozens of Instagram worthy opportunities, gardens in the foreground, vineyards in the lining the valley, multiple green mountains of varying shapes and sizes in the background. We try not to use lots of platitudes in these reports, but breathtaking comes to mind.
Jeweler and winemaker are both traditional artisan crafts that are centuries old, but today combine state-of-the-art technology and systems at leading producers. It’s apparent that Graff brings that approach to Delaire, both in the design, construction and aesthetics across the property. You won’t find any musty cellars. Everything in the working winery is new, high-tech with spotless white floors. Of course there are the traditional aged woods for barrels to age the wine and an award-winning winemaker.
Graff the entrepreneur is a leading collector and owner of art. He has been selected by Art News as one of the world’s Top 200 Collectors for 15 consecutive years with works that span from Renoir to Andy Warhol. At Delaire, however, he uses the property to display only his works from South African artists, paintings and unique sculptures around the buildings and on lawns throughout the property, including gardens and vineyards.
Forbes, which lists Graff’s net worth at $4.6 billion, claims his modern and contemporary art collection is worth more than $600 million and he collects vintage cars, including period Ferraris, Aston Martins and Mercedes. His climb in the jewelry industry began after “dropping out of school at age 14 and scrubbing toilets as a jeweler’s apprentice in London’s Hatton Garden.” I mention all of the above because Delaire to a large degree feels like visiting a very wealthy friend’s home instead of a hotel. For the main building that houses the winery, restaurants, bars and wine tastings, the entry way feels more residential than hotel, although a giveaway would be the Graff boutique just off to the left. In the separate enclave where the villas are located slightly further up the hill there is another reception area that again feels more like a central area in a home than the typical hotel lobby. You walk out to the pool, fitness room or spa across a Koi pond where you will instantly make new friends until the fish realize you don’t have anything to feed them.
The Telegraph recently listed Delaire as one of the six best places to visit in the entire country, writing about its location, “Perched high above the Helshoogte Pass, Delaire offers the full 360: to the west is the distant outline of Table Mountain; east lies the tiny Franschhoek valley, cupped by mountains so close it feels like you can reach out and touch them, while the lodge itself is anchored on the slopes of Botmaskop.” And then the place itself: “Graff has made sure the gardens and interiors are as spectacular as the panorama. There’s a serious investment in local design and art that elevates this beyond a mere hotel experience. There are two excellent restaurants; a spa that uses diamonds and 24-carat gold in its treatments; and a tasting room so glamorous you could shoot a Bond scene there. Service is intelligent, with lots of unexpected touches, such as the arrival of canapés and champagne at dusk so guests can toast the setting sun.”
Forbes, in 2015, shared similar sentiments: “The Delaire Graff lobby’s high ceiling is laced with a bamboo and reed texture, its walls marked by a sort of woven-grass wallpaper. Were it not for the fireplace, you’d think you were in an art gallery. And anywhere else, the massive exotic flower displays in the center would dominate your attention; but here, it’s a series of Lionel Smit’s enormous Malay Girl portraits that draw your eyes immediately. “Ditto, Deborah Bell’s life size, antique-looking sculptures. An atrium that leads to the spa is filled with a shallow pool in which koi fish swim among water plants, above which are mounted a number of Bell’s bronze Sentinel human figures, and a dog standing in an African style pirogue canoe. Eclectic is an understatement.”
While I don’t think Trip Advisor review are particularly helpful, I like to read the Poor and Terrible ones to see if there are any common themes. While 93% of the 294 reviews are Excellent or Very Good, of the four negative ones in the past year, three were related to the spa and two touched on high prices. I didn’t use the spa, so can’t comment on those points, but if your objective is to do South Africa on a budget, I suppose bypass Delaire. Personally, I found it to be one of the most beautiful settings I experienced, and the prices were all reasonable for what you would expect to find at a world-class 5-star resort. There are other excellent places to stay in the wine lands. The alternatives have more of a farmhouse or historic styles, so Graff with its art filled hallways and lawns and use of all African woods and materials with a clean, modern aesthetic, high ceilings and large floor to ceiling windows provides a setting that makes you feel you are part of the dramatic landscape, and definitely a different experience. Says CEO of luxury travel agency SmartFlyer Michael Holtz, “Graff Delaire is refined chic where every element of the property was well thought out.”
There are four levels of accommodations to cover the 10 lodges, each of which have one or two bedrooms. Six new lodges are under construction, due to be ready in April, and then later this year a four bedroom lodge. The lodges are separate from the reception area (pictured above) for hotel guests. In that main building a few minutes walk down a floral pathway and art filled gardens is gym, spa, a shop, pool, private cinema and Indochine restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. Keep in mind that the difference within the two-and four-bedroom categories is the view, not the size. With the new lodges, numbering may change. I recommend taking a bit of time and confirming the view you will be getting (you want unobstructed mountains and vineyards) and requesting a specific villa based on that.
The Owner’s Lodge
The Owner’s Lodge at 1,400 sq. ft. provides an entry over a running water feature (as do all the lodges). You end into a high-ceiling foyer looking out into a living room split between a sitting area with working fireplace and dining area. Outside is your own heated private pool and garden.
There is a butler’s kitchen near the entry making it possible to have a full dining experience in your lodge, inside or al fresco on your deck. Bedrooms are located at opposite ends of the building providing a nice level of privacy. Both have walk-in dressing areas.
Also 1,400 sq. ft. with a full-size pool and two full bedrooms there are views across the Simonsberg mountain range and the estate vineyards. Floor to ceiling windows provide plenty of natural light in the living area. It’s the same floor plan as the Owner’s Lodge.
Luxury Vineyard Lodge
The 861 sq. ft. Luxury Vineyard Lodges offer valley views. The layout and design is similar to the two-bedroom lodges, just with a single bedroom instead and smaller terrace, garden and heated plunge pool.
Deluxe Garden Lodge
The Deluxe Garden Lodges are the same as the Luxury Vineyard Lodges, just with garden views instead of the vineyards and mountains. My recommendation is to book your stay based on availability of the above categories.
Restaurants and Bars
In addition to the current offerings, a new Italian restaurant is under construction on the hillside behind the winery building which should like the others offer spectacular views. The resort operations, including restaurants, are eco-friendly recycling all waste, including water which is then used after treatment for irrigation and landscaping.
Delaire Graff Restaurant
With its David Collins Studio designed dining room, including massive fireplace, or expansive stone terrace with some of the hotel’s best views, we found the international menu diverse, interesting and excellent. Dishes such as watermelon carpaccio, homemade pasta, roasted fish and ostrich filet were fresh, light and well presented.
Indochine with its location adjacent to the lodges serves breakfast for hotel guests. For lunch and dinner it’s Asian inspired with local ingredients straight from the estate’s own greenhouse, including fresh Asian herbs, micro greens and vegetables.
The Wine Lounge
Accented by high ceilings and African woods, the lounge offers a wide variety of wine tasting options. Designed with a copper roof and full-length glass walls, traditional dry packed stone and oak-trussed ceilings make way for an expansive traditional teak floor. Lionel Smit’s African Woman and collaborative work by Robert Hodgins, William Kentridge and Deborah Bell create an elegant, modern, relaxed environment. Wine flights are offered along with a menu of light accompaniments and you can sit outside on the terrace or when it’s colder next to a working fireplace.
Private Dining and Events
Vinoteque is the basement wine cellar private dining room that can accommodate up to 18 guests. Additionally, the are an array of indoor and outdoor venues for private cocktails or seated dinners.
Health and Fitness
There is a residential sized pool and sun deck with spectacular vineyard and valley views. The area is only open to hotel guests and is quite private and a good place to catch some sun from its hilltop location.
The small gym features Technogym weight machines, cardio as well as dumbbells and is fine for most workout needs unless you are a powerlifter.
There are six spa suites, including a couples’ suite, each with ensuite bathtub and toilet. There is an extensive menu from light, medium or deep pressure massages. You can choose from hot stone, cool marble or Bellabaci cups for your treatment. There is also an aromatherapy massage, body exfoliation, hyrdo jet bath and treatment cocoons, vanilla enrichment, a lavender and peppermint cooler, plus a variety of facials. You can choose from 45 minutes to four hour and full day rituals.
The hotel is popular for full takeovers, weddings, top corporate retreats and product launches. One top carmaker has used Delaire to host dealers and top journalists taking over the hotel for several weeks and then rotating the VIPs every couple nights. The local roads are apparently world renowned among driving aficionados, both for the curves, views and lack of interest by the local law enforcement to interfere with your driving pleasure. Up to 24 guests can be accommodated at one time, but that will expand to over 40 by end of the year.
Delaire maybe the only winery in the world where you can buy a million dollar necklace. I am told the Graff store does a brisk business, which probably reflects the clientele the resort attracts. There’s also a 100% Capri boutique featuring hand-made in Italy linens for women, men and children. There’s casual modeling at the main restaurant as a pleasant distraction from the views and food. Vanashree Singh features a Vana boutique with South African made accessories made with sustainable exotic materials, including ostrich, stingray and python.