Sir Richard Branson is one of the best-loved and most recognisable personalities in the world today, as well as one of the most respected and successful entrepreneurs. Branson started his first business at the tender age of 16, and since then has not slowed down. By far his most successful endeavour to-date is the Virgin Group. It’s a little known fact that Branson started the first of his Virgin companies, Virgin Music, in 1970 with his South African cousin. They no longer control that business, but the Virgin Group now boasts over 200 companies in over 30 countries (including the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, Asia, Europe and of course South Africa) which includes Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Health Clubs, Virgin Money, Virgin Mobile and even Virgin Galactic, his newest space-tourism business.
Branson has always loved Africa, her people and wildlife, and has established several properties – such as the incredible Ulusaba Private Game Reserve located in the Sabi Sands, which rates amongst one of South Africa’s most exclusive and top-rated safari destinations. He also recently opened Mahali Mzuri which lies in the Maasai Mara in Kenya. It was created in conjunction with the local Maasai Mara community and is an eco-friendly haven with Branson’s usual touch of uniqueness and magic.
With his love for the Rainbow Nation well documented, it comes as no surprise then that Branson’s latest venture is also located in South Africa. Mont Rochelle is Richard Branson’s New Hotel in the Cape Winelands and lies smack bang in the heart of the charming Cape Winelands village of Franschhoek. It’s a 22-bedroomed luxury hotel situated on one of Franschhoek’s trademark vineyards and home to not one but two world-class restaurants, boasting three separate wings and an entire off-site section dedicated to wine tasting. Mont Rochelle is set atop a hill on a sprawling 39 hectares estate overlooking the surrounding Franschhoek wine farms. The hotel is currently undergoing a million Rand upgrade and will re-open in early August of 2014 when it is sure to become one of the premier Franschhoek accommodation locations.
The quaint town of Franschhoek (roughly translated into “French Quarter”) is steeped in history and is renowned as South Africa’s gourmet food and wine capital, with some of the best wines the country has to offer. Filled with charming villas, luxury boutique hotels and world famous Franschhoek restaurants, the town has become an idyllic getaway only an hour’s drive from the bustling city of Cape Town. Franschhoek has a festive atmosphere, hosting and celebrating several events year round. Head down in May for the incredible Literary Festival or in July when the town comes alive for Bastille Day festivities. And of course there are numerous wine and gourmet festivals throughout the year, notably the Champagne Festival in November.
It was the Huguenot refugees in the 18th Century who established this curious bubble of history, and with them came the wine cultivating skills that helped set South Africa up as a leading wine producer. Today this corner of the Cape Province, including Stellenbosch and Somerset West, is the wine growing capital of Africa and full of exquisite Franschhoek hotels. Escaping persecution as Protestants significant numbers of Hugeunots helped establish the colony here and were granted land. They later chose to assimilate themselves into the emerging Afrikaans culture, which is the reason why you find French sounding names among some of the locals.
The Winelands wine tasting route (with someone else as driver!) is a popular excursion from Cape Town, as you meander through the rolling hillsides of vines. A rugged mountain range that hems in this part of the world forms a dramatic background with sometimes snow-capped mountains at this time of year. Some of these farms are hundreds of years old, still held by the same families. Hopping from one winefarm to the next to sample a unique South African Pinotage or perhaps seek out a crisp Sauvignon Blanc is all part of its charm. Don’t miss the L’Ormarins, Boschendal or La Motte Franschhoek cellars, but when it’s time for lunch or a luxury overnight, Branson’s new venture is sure not to disappoint.
Much of Virgin’s exciting and innovative branding is down to Richard Branson himself, who has proven to be an exuberant and youthful character. His thirst for adventure is unrivalled, having completed such feats as going hot air ballooning across the oceans. His property empire stretches from Necker Island in the Caribbean to Morroco’s High Atlas Mountains and the Cape, all under the banner of Virgin Limited Edition.
With great power comes great responsibility – something Branson has taken to heart. Awarded the United Nations Correspondents Association Citizen of the World Award, Branson has made it his goal to champion human rights and provide educational and business opportunities to promising youth around the world. Together with the late Nelson Mandela, he started The Elders, a group of influential leaders around the globe who speak out on key human rights issues. He also established his own organisation – The Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship – which supports budding young entrepreneur ideas, seeks venture capital and sets them up for starting a business.
When Mount Rochelle finally re-opens we can all be assured that it will have the same blend of unique luxurious style with a touch of magic that this incredible entrepreneur extraordinaire has become known for.
Want to read more about the wine culture in South Africa? Check out our post of the Top 5 Lodges for a South African Wine Safari.