First it was luxe safari camps. Then came boutique hotels. Now South Africa has some of the world's chicest houses to rent, especially in Franschhoek, a 45-minute drive from Cape Town, in the fashionable wine lands of the Western Cape. The current reigning address may be La Residence, a Tuscan-French maison where Elton John likes to stay. But the latest arrival—and one that we think just might knock La Residence from her perch—is the five-bedroom Owner's Cottage on the grounds of Grande Provence Estate, a small hotel surrounded by 74 acres of vines and a 15-minute walk from town.
Franschhoek, with neat clapboard houses and white picket fences spread out on the valley floor, is as chic as it gets:Think Saint Barths's Gustavia with the gourmet pedigree of England's Ludlow (a village of 10,000 with two Michelin-starred kitchens). On one short street are some of the country's top restaurants, such as Reuben's and Le Quartier Français, plus wine cellars stocked with rare bottles from the region's vineyards, some of the oldest in South Africa. Nearby is a smattering of sweet little boutiques. Beyond lies a dramatic mountainscape ripe for exploration (many do it on Franschhoek's excellent line of Arabian horses). You can charter a plane to go to Kruger National Park, a couple of hours away. Or take a helicopter for a quick safari in the neighboring Great Karoo desert, returning in time for an oyster dinner on the town's quiet main street.
The Owner's Cottage, dating from the 18th century, is the pet project of Alex van Heeren, a Dutch industrialist who divides his time between Belgium and South Africa (he also owns Huka Lodge in New Zealand and Fiji's Dolphin Island). The exterior speaks of Franschhoek's Huguenot heritage, but inside, a palette of slate, white, and pale gray creates an effect that is entirely modern—especially alongside the exposed beams, tribal artifacts, and clean-lined furniture set around a fireplace. Outdoors is one of the best private pools we've seen.
The house, which rents in its entirety, also comes with a staff. "The guest commands how the place is run," Van Heeren says. "There are no rules." If you want to eat at home, you tell the chef. Or ask the butler to make a reservation at the estate's dining room. One thing that sets the Owner's Cottage apart from the competition is its cuisine. At the Restaurant at Grande Provence, Vanie Padayachee (who used to work at Le Quartier Français) prepares superb modern dishes without too much gastronomic fuss, such as a warm squash salad with Gorgonzola and hazelnut dressing. And the wine cellar, heavy on fine local vintages, is as good as it gets—anywhere. From $2,240 for two people to $3,730 for ten people per night. At Main Rd., Franschhoek; 27-21/876-8600; grandeprovence.co.za.