The fire that ripped through the historic Lanzerac Hotel in 2017 destroyed antique French furniture and irreplaceable works of art as flames consumed everything in their path. South Africans were in mourning in the days that followed as they viewed the charred remains of an iconic landmark that had been a central feature of the Stellenbosch wine region for hundreds of years.
Fast forward just 13 months later, however, and something beautiful had emerged from the ashes.
Like all good business-people, the Lanzerac’s owners sensed an opportunity in the wake of the tragedy and managed to raise funds to rebuild with gusto. They were helped by the fact that, as greedy as the fire had been in gobbling up so many priceless assets, it appeared cowed by the hotel’s magnificent Cape Dutch architecture. The façade and gables, which dated back to 1830, were somehow left intact, creating the building blocks for a spectacular renaissance.
When my guest and I arrived, there was not a single hint of the inferno that had threatened the hotel’s future. Replacement furniture and paintings had been lovingly selected from antique stores from around the world, the finest Norwegian spruce had been shipped in to rebuild the rafter’s in the Governor’s Hall, and designer Con van der Colff had carried out a painstaking redesign that gave the hotel a fresh look while keeping hold of its trademark grandeur and old world charm.
We were constantly awed by the sense of peace and serenity we experienced as we toured the Lanzerac’s 162 hectares filled with lush vineyards and dramatic mountain views. And there was so much history to soak up as we explored, including the colourful past of one of the estate’s most influential owners.
Founded as a working wine estate in 1692, Elizabeth Catherina ‘Kitty’ English bought what was then called the ‘Schoongezicht’ vineyard in 1918. She changed its name to Lanzerac in honour of her rumoured lover, General Charles Lanrezac: a French General who commanded the French Fifth Army at the outbreak of World War I.
The lavish guest rooms that dot the estate did not come into being until 1959 when the then owners took inspiration from the French trend for merging hotels with vineyards. At the same time, Lanzerac became famous for its place in the history of South Africa’s signature Pinotage wine. A blend between Pinot Noir and Hermitage, it was largely ignored by wine lovers until 1959 when Stellenbosch Farmers’ Winery cooperative realised the potential of that year’s vintage. Two years later they bottled it for the first time using the Lanzerac label.
Just a few rare examples of the 1959 Lanzerac Pinotage remain in the hotel’s heavily guarded vinoteque and we cannot claim to have tried it. But today, hotel guests can sample a tribute version, the Pioneer Pinotage: a fantastically complex big red costing 975 rand, or £52.
We enjoyed a bottle (or maybe two) of this while eating a hearty main of braised oxtail and potato lasagne (R180) and a slow cooked lamb shank (R225) in the hotel’s country-style pub, The Taphuis, which features a beautiful oak bar, antique plates on the wall above the fireplace, and an original till from the 1800s.
To explain how we got here, though, we have to go back a bit.
We arrived at the Lanzerac on a sunny December afternoon where we were met by a spectacular arch of ancient, bending trees that spread out along the main drive, and the service we experienced from the first moment we set foot outside our car was befitting of the hotel’s five stars.
The receptionist, through some gift of magic, greeted us by name as we walked through the front doors.
The subsequent hike to our room under imposing rafters and past neatly trimmed lawns was a long one and we were grateful to have a bellboy carrying our bags.
There are 53 rooms at the Lanzerac in total, each one individually designed and named to give them unique character and charm. Ours featured a private plunge pool in the garden, a living room with a chandelier and floral sofa and a king-sized bed, the cotton sheets on which had a thread count so high it was off the charts.
Opening a heavy door beside the bed, we realised it is probably worth booking a trip just to see the bathroom. Think his and hers sinks next to an exposed brick wall, a huge tub to while away the hours in and a glass-walled shower big enough to fit an entire family. Bath time is certainly not done by halves at Lanzerac.
Strolling around the grounds outside – which lie in the foothills of the Jonkershoek Valley – we noticed three communal swimming pools, a long dining room that can be used for weddings and other parties, and a gym. There was also spa that includes a deck with sun loungers where you can inhale the nectar-sweet air and listen to nature rustling in the trees across the valley.
On our first morning, we sampled the cooked breakfasts and sumptuous pastries on offer in The Manor Kitchen while reading a printed copy of the London Times (the hotel can print almost any newspaper in the world for its guests). The rest of the day was spent touring the numerous wine estates that dot the Stellenbosch region then at night – after a satisfying meal – we took up residence next to the crackling fire that dominates the Craven Lounge bar where guests can drink whisky, enjoy a last glass of wine, or smoke cigars.
The Lanzerac is just five minutes from the bars and restaurants that dot the very civilised and tranquil town of Stellenbosch. So while there is plenty of wine sampling and eating to be done at its ‘Deli’ restaurant, where you can also buy bottles to take home and request a wine cellar tour, I would thoroughly recommend a trip outside its walls too.
We emerged from the Lanzerac two days later feeling satiated and calm – and with an enhanced understanding of why the great fire of 2017 had abandoned its cruel charge.
Classic rooms from £341 including breakfast
Address: 1 Lanzerac Rd, Jonkershoek, Stellenbosch, 7600, South Africa
Phone: +27 (0)21 887 1132