Things to do
British Virgin Islands
The grounds at Mont Rochelle cover 39 hectares (about 100 acres) and you’re welcome to go exploring. A favourite activity for many of our guests is picnicking on the estate – our kitchen can arrange a well-stocked picnic basket with a chilled bottle of wine (or two!). There are two restaurants, a cosy bar, a spa, a gym and a heated outdoor pool. That’s not forgetting a 37 hectare vineyard and wine cellar of course!
The area around Franschhoek, which in the Afrikaans language means ‘French corner ’, was as the name suggests once a French enclave when over 300 years ago a group of Huguenot settlers arrived fleeing religious persecution. That influence, which nestled right alongside the larger Dutch-speaking community, is what gives the region such a rich and varied history, and unsurprisingly, a taste for fine food and wine!
In the beginning…
Title deeds to the estate were first granted to the de Villiers family in 1688 and building commenced in 1700. The cairn of stones on the property marks the position of a beacon which was lit to advise local residents that the local preacher had arrived so they could all gather for prayer. It was also used to welcome VIPs to the district. Apart from the fact that wine has been consistently produced on the land since that time, not much is known about the ownership until the early part of the 20th century when the Roux family held title to the estate.
In 1940 Abraham Michelson purchased the land which at the time consisted of a cellar with 20 large oak vats with the majority of vines having been planted around the time of the last Boer War (1899- 1902). Descendants of the Michelson family still live in the area and own part of the land from that original holding. Michelson started Franschhoek Winery after the 2nd World War and the farmers in the district used to send their bulk wine to them for bottling. During this period Italian prisoners-of-war were used to work in the district’s vineyards and at the war’s end Mr Michelson employed one of them, a Mr AG Augustini, to manage their winery. In 1955 Abraham died and his three children inherited the farm. One son ran the farm while a daughter moved away to France, and Siggy Michelson moved with his wife and four children into a small residence where our present reception area stands.
Over the past 20 years the building has been extended on numerous occasions and has also changed hands several times. The most recent owner prior to Sir Richard Branson was Erwin Schnitzler, a German hotelier and Miko Rwayitare, who took possession of the hotel and winery which at the time was called ‘La Couronne’.
La Couronne Hotel and Restaurant was severely damaged by a fire in February 2006. After a period of repair and renovation, Messieurs Rwayitare and Schnitzler used the opportunity to merge the hotel and the neighbouring Mont Rochelle Mountain Vineyards to create ‘Mont Rochelle Hotel and Mountain Vineyards’. Mr Rwayitare was the first black owner of a vineyard in South Africa and the vineyard’s premium wine was named after him – as well as the current main restaurant.
Mont Rochelle was purchased by Sir Richard Branson in 2014 and now joins the exclusive Virgin Limited Edition collection which includes Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands and Ulusaba Private Game Reserve in South Africa. After an extensive period of refurbishment the hotel began welcoming guests in September 2014.
James joined the team at Mont Rochelle as General Manager, overseeing the entire property and team. Prior to his move, James worked at Bushmans Kloof Wilderness Reserve and Wellness Retreat (part of the Red Carnation group) for eight and a half years, four of those as General Manager. He has a real passion for the hotel business, team development and great guest experience, so you are likely to find him walking around the property making sure everything is perfect for our guests!
Elizma recently joined us at Mont Rochelle from Harbour House Hotel where she was the Hotel Manager. Fortunately for us, Elizma knows Franschhoek well as she previously worked at Le Franschhoek Hotel and Spa as the Front Office Manager. She is excited to have joined the team at Mont Rochelle and is looking forward to the familiar 5 star boutique atmosphere and environment she has grown to love over the years in hospitality.
Gys van Staden
Gys joined the Mont Rochelle team as Food and Beverage Manager in 2016 after relocating to the area from Johannesburg. Delivering high food and beverage standards has become Gys true passion and he spends a large proportion of his time recruiting and building up the expertise across his team. Outside of work, you’re likely to find Gys and his wife enjoying a visit to a local wine farm or restaurant - a true foodie through-and-through!
After a rocky start burning the kitchen curtains whilst making chips as a teenager, Shane's cooking ability has come a long way! Since attending culinary school and succeeding in a challenging first job at an Italian restaurant doing 250 covers per night with only 5 members of staff, Shane (in his own words) decided to knuckle-down and become the ultimate pan waving ninja! Over the next six years, he worked his way up in various restaurants around Cape Town, but then made the move into Michelin star dining and took on roles at Roger Hines at the Harrow (1 Michelin Star) followed by The Square in Mayfair (2 Michelin Stars). We're very excited to have Shane head up the Mont Rochelle kitchen.
Peter is a born and bred Kenyian and has been part of the Mont Rochelle family for more than 10 years. Legend has it that Peter was chased by a lion all the way to South Africa, but it was in the Franschhoek valley where his heart feels most at home. He joined us as a Restaurant Manager, but if you’ve ever met Peter you know his magic lies with guests which is why he moved across to become Guest Liaison Manager. Where Peter goes, his notorious little black book goes (after 10 years he has quite a collection) and in his top pocket lies the secret to every spectacular guest experience.
Annette de Villiers
Annette has the enviable job of managing our beautiful new Manor House at Mont Rochelle. With a real passion for food and creating magical dining experiences, this is the perfect job for Annette, plus she also gets the opportunity to indulge her other passions for wine and meeting new people. Welcoming guests to the Manor House (their ultimate home-away-from-home) is the perfect job for our very own hostess with the most-est!
Bronwyn loves coming to work each day and has a real passion for spa therapy! As Head of the Mont Rochelle Spa team, she loves offering her clients pure relaxation and total wellbeing and particularly enjoys seeing the difference from when clients walk into the spa to when they leave following their treatments.
If you’re after some top tips on wine and wine making, Dustin is your go to man! Dustin embodies the spirit of the new generation of wine makers, and is recognized among the most promising of South Africa’s new winemakers. Drawing on experience gained at prominent cellars in the Cape Winelands, and abroad, he has fast gained a reputation for producing top quality Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon from Mont Rochelle’s 14.5 hectare vineyards, where he produces around 20,000 cases of wine every year.
We know just how important it is to take care of the environment, and we are extremely sensitive to the impact our properties may have on the local communities within which we operate. We believe in environmentally sustainable tourism and remain committed to making a difference wherever we can.
What does this mean in practice?
Our approach includes a commitment to responsible supply chain management, fair trade policies, ethical dealings with our employees as well as the local community, and of course the environment. We know that some changes can be made immediately however others may take a little more time. Virgin Limited Edition is proud to have taken steps at all our properties to reduce any negative environmental impact, and Mont Rochelle is no exception.
Mont Rochelle is very conscious about ensuring that our supply chains are ethical in regards to the raw materials and labour used. We strive to ensure that as much of our food as possible is locally sourced in South Africa to ensure maximum economic benefit to the people and minimal transport and ‘food miles’.
Ditching the plastic
Some of the properties in our collection are in parts of the world where the local water supply doesn’t always inspire confidence, so we previously made bottled water available to our guests. As the result was a lot of discarded plastic bottles we worked with a supplier to source branded glass water bottles which are washable and can be reused again and again. A filter machine sits on site and the team is trained in how to operate it hygienically. The result is a complete elimination of plastic bottles used on the Mont Rochelle estate with similar results elsewhere.