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Vintage South Africa

LA CABRIÈRE COUNTRY HOUSE Franschhoek has dozens of practically interchangeable B&B's: all are fairly modest, with a basic French Country look and a relatively inexpensive price tag. Almost none, however, have an extra dash of style or a setting that really conveys the beauty of the surrounding countryside. La Cabrière has both. The property consists of two unassuming sand-colored stucco buildings plunked down in an unbeatable location that's just on the edge of town (you can walk to everything) yet provides wide, pastoral views across a lavender field, olive grove, and vineyard on the valley floor, and up to the mountains in the distance.

La Cabrière was taken over two years ago by Clare Broadhurst, a former financial analyst from Devon. She inherited a property with lovely gardens and three urbane (if not especially private) rooms with a beige-on-beige palette, polished cement floors, raw silk curtains, and mahogany beds. If you prefer toile-upholstered headboards and footed tubs, Broadhurst has added two new guest rooms in the building that also serves as her house; they're best for those who like things a little quieter and can picture themselves lounging about in Broadhurst's living room, a light-filled space right out of the pages of South African House & Garden.
27-21/876-4780; www.lacabriere.co.za; doubles from $120.

LE QUARTIER FRANÇAIS In many destinations, particularly those with a high-voltage social scene, staying at the right place—not to be confused, as it often is, with the best place—can make all the difference. Booking at the right place gives you immediate access to another world, and the privileged sense of having really arrived. In Franschhoek, Le Quartier Français is that place.

What makes it so, ultimately, is Susan Huxter, the hotel's owner and the unofficial mayor of Franschhoek, a woman who started out here 15 years ago with a small restaurant on the main street and didn't stop until she'd built a local empire, which now includes the hotel, a shop, and two additional restaurants. (More is on the way, too: Huxter recently bought some neighboring houses that will likely become additional guest rooms, and perhaps a spa.) Running all these businesses, plus the town's tourism board, Huxter has come to know everyone and everything. Get in with her, and you're in.

Le Quartier is Huxter's village within the village, four whitewashed buildings with lacy wrought-iron trim and wide porches surrounded by rose gardens, all set around an oval pool that functions as a kind of town square. Here a young couple with a newborn baby (heirs to one-sixteenth of the De Beers diamond fortune) lounge alongside a Swiss pharmaceutical magnate and two elderly sisters delighted to be anywhere but their drafty 15th-century manor in Scotland. And, unlike at a B&B, they're not all busy chatting one another up; they're just discreetly soaking in the sun on their chaises and minding their own business, as good neighbors should.

Perhaps they're also dreaming of dinner in the restaurant, one of the hotel's chief attractions. In her nine years at Le Quartier, chef Margot Janse has racked up awards (most recently, 2003 Chef of the Year by South Africa's Wine magazine); lately, she has refined her cooking, producing ambitious dishes that demonstrate a level of balance and restraint unusual in this region: brandade of local salmon trout in a shallow pool of seafood bisque tarted up with bits of preserved lime; a salad of pristine baby greens topped with a heady truffle hollandaise and a miraculously liquid fried egg yolk. Those in the know have one blowout meal in the proper restaurant and then eat the next night at an outdoor table, ordering off the bar menu; people drive out from Cape Town for the lamb burger.

That Le Quartier, like Huxter herself, is far from buttoned-up is much of the reason it has become such a beloved institution. The 17 guest rooms combine plenty of comforts (wood-burning fireplaces, complimentary snacks, great quantities of artisanal bath amenities) with sun-kissed pastels, painted wooden headboards, and sheer curtains suspended from steel cables. It's a whimsical, Matisse-y look that won't win any design awards but that most guests find a pleasing contrast to their more formal rooms at home. Given the devotion the place inspires, if Huxter ever revamped the rooms, there'd be a revolt.
27-21/876-2151; www.lequartier.co.za; doubles from $375.

LA COURONNE For travelers who care more about awe-inspiring topography than high style or easy access to town and who need a higher level of service than B&B's provide, there is yet another option in Franschhoek: La Couronne.

Set high on a hillside, surrounded by vineyards, and offering unbroken vistas from nearly every inch of the property, La Couronne has long been loved for its location, the most scenic of any hotel's in the area. The past few years, though, have been marked by transition: in 2000, new owners added a nine- room annex to the seven rooms in the original manor house; then, following another change in ownership last year, eight more rooms were added in a second annex, with a gym and spa due this summer. All this does not sound especially promising, but La Couronne has emerged as the Hotel Cipriani of Fransch- hoek—an exclusive enclave with a resort feel that's ideal for those who do not want to be in the center of everything.

Service often suffers at hotels that have experienced changes in direction, but here it has remained pitch-perfect, in that subtly choreographed way that seems to make everything happen exactly as it's supposed to. Go ahead: Try setting down a glass without someone appearing within five seconds to refill it and wipe the condensation from the table. Likewise, annexes are usually architecturally ugly, with rooms that pale in comparison to those in the more historic buildings; at La Couronne, however, they blend in well and take better advantage of the views. (Book one of the new Cabernet rooms for the best terraces overlooking the valley, a Merlot room in the older annex for a stylish Colonial feel.)

La Couronne is for those who like a certain formality and reserve in their hotels, and who appreciate the accompanying comfort and attention to detail. Does it have the most personality of any hotel in Franschhoek?No. But does it have views you'll never forget?Without a doubt.
27-21/876-2770; www.lacouronnehotel.co.za; doubles from $175.


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