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Vintage South Africa

Paarl and Wellington

A dozen miles north of Franschhoek, in the shadow of the Klein Drakenstein range and the second-largest granite outcrop in the world (after Australia's Uluru), lie the towns of Paarl and Wellington. While not as attractive or visitor-friendly as Franschhoek and Stellen- bosch, the surrounding landscape is equally dramatic—with knotty green vines cloaking the foothills of mountains that glow gold and mahogany in the sun—as well as a thoroughly relaxing atmosphere. Smart travelers, in fact, skip the towns entirely, base themselves instead at a laid-back hotel deep in the rural countryside, and spend their days wandering around the area's excellent, less-visited vineyards. It's about as pastoral an experience as you can have in the Winelands, and well worth the detour.

DIEMERSFONTEIN COUNTRY HOUSE Most people come to Diemersfontein, a hillside wine estate south of Wellington, to taste its exciting wines (don't miss the 2003 Pinotage with a mind-blowing coffee-chocolate nose). What they often don't know is that the property includes a hotel as rooted in the past as its wines are in the future, a place that gives you an irresistible taste of life among the Winelands' class of patrician farmers at the turn of the last century: plenty of horseback rides through the mountains; gin and tonics at sunset on the porch; and undisturbed peace and quiet.

The hotel's centerpiece is a 100-year-old manor house that, six years ago, was turned into a guesthouse by its third-generation owners. It looks like they just left; their antiques, family oil portraits, and photographs have all remained. The result is a hotel with unusually pedigreed furnishings—from the embossed and gilded leather armchairs and longcase clock in the foyer to the bronze statuary and towering 19th-century armoire in the sitting room—that nevertheless has the homey quality that comes from having been lived in for decades. Thirteen of the 17 guest rooms are housed in new cottages set amid mature gardens, but nothing can beat the four in the main house, all of which have dormers and double-hung windows with hand-glazed panes. Among the best are No. 2, a festival of blue-and-white chinoiserie toile de Jouy, and No. 4, with a brick fireplace and terrace, an old bowfront mahogany chest of drawers, and a fabulous mint green-tiled bathroom straight out of the 1940's.

In January the estate opened a sleek, light-filled restaurant a short walk from the hotel that is already turning out accomplished dishes such as deboned quail wrapped in pancetta and filled with apricot-studded stuffing. Combine a dish like this with one of the estate's wines and suddenly you've stepped back into the 21st century.
27-21/873-2671; www.diemersfontein.co.za; doubles from $140.

ROGGELAND COUNTRY HOUSE Some hotels are so welcoming that you can't help but give yourself up to them despite their flaws. Roggeland, a 17th-century Cape Dutch homestead near Paarl run by two generations of the Minkley family, is that kind of property. You should by no means consider staying here if you demand luxury and cannot imagine sleeping on a lumpy mattress, drying yourself with thin towels, or staring at knotty-pine furniture. But sitting in the shade of an old English plane tree, a delightful fizzy lemon drink in hand, and watching a family of barn swallows swoop in and out of their nests—it's hard not to fall in love.

The hotel is prized for service that is not only warm but exceptionally attentive to your needs. At evening wine tastings on the lawn, several vintages are generously poured while you sit and admire the play of light on the mountains. Later, guests are encouraged to linger over superb four-course dinners—each course paired with an interestingly chosen wine—of well-calibrated dishes using fresh local produce (velvety green bean soup; perfectly rare beef fillet and roasted sweet potatoes; silky panna cotta with a compote of berries). If Roggeland doesn't sound like a place you'd like to spend the night, book well in advance and just come for dinner; it would be a shame to miss it.
27-21/868-2501; www.roggeland.co.za; doubles from $165.


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