Whether you’re watching the sun dip beyond distant Table Mountain or admiring the patterns of light filtering through the green shoots of next year’s harvest, sunset is a magical time just about anywhere in the Cape Winelands.
But there are perhaps few places quite so enchanting as De Zeven Guest Lodge.
With dramatic vistas out across the Banhoek Valley, the lush garden, expansive pool deck and cosy lounge all offer a front-row seat to the spectacle of the Drakenstein Mountains tinged pink by the setting sun, then swallowed by shadow as night falls on another glorious day in the Cape.
De Zeven is the passion project of Siobhan and Uys Meyer, who
since 2012 have called the Banhoek Valley home. From their Limoenkloof farm nearby, on the southern slopes of the Simonsberg, they are well acquainted with the charms of this quiet corner of Stellenbosch. It was their passion for the valley that partly inspired them to build De Zeven through the course of 2018.
Well, passion and a garden.
“Uys loves gardens and when we first bought Limoenkloof, it was actually the garden he fell in love with first,” explains Siobhan. “When this property came up for sale there was nothing here, just an old farmhouse, but Uys fell in love with the view. I think he was excited to create another garden! It was my task to come up with an idea for using the property and one that made the most of these incredible views.”
And the views from De Zeven are certainly impressive, particularly on those glorious, crisp winter days. Days when locals smile to themselves for their good fortune in calling the Winelands home and shake their heads at tourists who avoid these enchanting months.
Situated on one of the few smallholdings in the Banhoek Valley, De Zeven is just shy of 4ha of land that has seen a remarkable transformation since the Meyers took ownership. The gently sloping property had little garden to speak of and required enormous landscaping to provide a foundation for what was to come. Soils were improved, compost trucked in, endless paving pulled up and retaining walls built to create the attractive terracing of the property.
The Meyers then turned to Rentia Hobbs of landscaping consultancy Once Upon A Garden. For the past two years, Rentia has been closely involved with the award-winning South African displays at the annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show and she did a remarkable job of creating a living tapestry of water-wise flora on De Zeven’s bare site.
“It was very much a blank canvas,” she explains. “From the beginning Uys and Siobhan wanted a low-maintenance garden that still contributed to the architecture and character of the property.”
And that blend of heritage and contemporary architecture in the lodge is subtly reflected in the layout of the garden. “We have a little bit of everything, from cottage English to arid aloes to succulents and water-wise wild grasses that take up nearly half of the garden,” Rentia points out.
The plantings of the central courtyard are particularly impressive, with a blizzard of colourful bush sage, fragrant rosemary and eye-catching strelitzias, and there’s a pathway of pavers, interplanted with ground creepers, that leads towards a wooden deck and rim-flow pool.
While the garden competes with the jaw-dropping Banhoek views for your attention, the lodge itself is just as impressive.
“A lot of people come to the Banhoek Valley for wine tasting, to discover the likes of Bartinney, Tokara, Thelema, Delaire Graff and Oldenburg,” says Siobhan. “But many of the lodges here are geared towards large functions and your average Winelands’ traveller often doesn’t spend the night here in the Banhoek.”
De Zeven is sure to change that, with 11 elegant rooms split between the classically inspired Manor House and the more modern Barn Rooms overlooking the pool and courtyard garden.
Along with the desire to keep the lodge ‘boutique’ in both scale and style, “our priority was to ensure that De Zeven is manageable and provides an intimate experience for guests,” explains Siobhan.
While the original property came with an original farmhouse, once used as a home for children at risk, its unusual layout required major refurbishment to transform it into the luxury guesthouse it is today. Walls were broken through, rooms combined and expanded, balconies enclosed and staff areas built on.
This was all Siobhan’s vision, whose personal taste for a contemporary farmhouse aesthetic is also evident in their Limoenkloof home.
That modern look is most obvious in the newly built wings that extend like outstretched arms from the original manor house. While the northern wing is dedicated to four artfully decorated guest suites, on the southern, valley-facing side is the striking lounge area, where towering windows framed by steel pillars and concrete ceilings define the mountain views.
There are pops of colour in the delicate orchids and objets d’art, and it’s here that many a winter visitor will find themselves whiling away the afternoons in front of the fire, delving into the piles of books as they keep an eye out for the first pink tinges to colour the cliffs and vineyards of the Drakenstein Mountains.
Banhoek is today a wine valley at heart, so the blackboard at the adjoining bar isn’t wrong in its forecast: “There is a 99% chance of wine today.” At De Zeven, the concise wine list includes Siobhan’s personal pick of the surrounding cellars, along with De Zeven’s own wines. These have been handcrafted by acclaimed winemaker Van Zyl du Toit, using grapes from the vineyards on the Meyers’ Limoenkloof farm.
Guests to De Zeven are greeted with a glass of Van Zyl’s Méthode Cap Classique made from Sauvignon Blanc, a unique expression of Banhoek terroir.
Alongside the bar is the cosy breakfast room of blonde wood tables; all come with a side order of more valley views. Rooms at
De Zeven are booked on a bed-and-breakfast basis but Siobhan has a private chef available for bespoke dinners on request. While she’s happy to arrange the chef for special occasions or private groups, she adds, “We really want to encourage our guests to explore the wonderful restaurants that we have in the valley and surrounding Winelands.”
Also on the ground floor of the lodge’s Manor House is another stylish lounge area, where art graces the walls and a central fireplace of packed stone takes pride of place. This, like many of the landscaping and architectural features at De Zeven, is the work of Luigi Tucconi, a sought-after local stonemason hailing from Sardinia. Luigi did a remarkable job of upcycling bricks and stone from the renovations, repurposing waste materials into useful additions to the revamped lodge.
Working with local artisans, in the Winelands and further afield in South Africa, is a particular passion for Siobhan. The mirrors were custom-designed by Durban-based artisan studio Arkivio and sit neatly alongside quality furnishings by upscale brands that include Weylandts and Block & Chisel. But the pieces she’s most proud of are from Banhoek carpenter Lawrence de Wet, who handcrafted numerous
wardrobes, side tables and coffee tables around the lodge.
Those bespoke touches – giving a sense of uniqueness – are evident throughout the seven rooms in the Manor House. Here each room in the building delivers its own charms, quirks and character. Little wonder Siobhan advises guests to request a specific room on reservation.
Room 1 is a prime example. Without a vineyard view and tucked away at the back of the Manor House, it might seem less appealing. Nor are the small private lounge and spacious bedroom the main drawcard. Rather, step through the patio doors into a magical private garden, complete with sun loungers and – its Instagram-worthy pièce de résistance – an outdoor ball-and-claw bath against a raw brick wall dotted with plants.
“Many people love this room because of the privacy,” smiles Siobhan.
Room 2 offers a similar feel, with a separate lounge and exclusive balcony. Both seem like a private apartment and are ideal for guests on an extended visit to the region.
But most travellers will want to revel in the endless valley views and for that you’ll want Room 7. The king-size bed is framed by exposed brick and striking artwork, with picture windows looking south towards the mountains.
If you like a bit more space, Room 4 is larger, with both a bath and a shower, while Room 5 has the added benefit of a large shower that transforms into a steam room at the push of a button.
Extending from the Manor House is the newly built wing containing the four Barn Rooms, which offer more modern decor and a subtle African aesthetic.
The Meyers are keen art collectors and that African influence is most evident in the striking works in charcoal and chalk pastels by Gary Stephens that dominate each suite. Purchased from the Everard Read Gallery in Franschhoek, their impact is immediate and intended, says Siobhan. “I like big artworks and because of the brickwork walls in the Barn Rooms, you couldn’t have any small works cluttering the space.”
These airy rooms will certainly appeal to design-conscious global travellers but it’s not just Winelands’ tourists who will soon be making their way to this quiet corner of the Banhoek Valley. The elegant lodge has already seen bookings from celebrities in the global music industry and is fast becoming a destination of choice for executive strategy sessions and leadership escapes. There’s fast, complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the property, and an attic room in the Manor House has been transformed into a multimedia room with cosy chairs and a large-screen television for corporate presentations. If you’re travelling for pleasure, it’ll do nicely for major sports matches and romantic movie nights, too.
There’s romance aplenty here, so no surprise that Siobhan will open up De Zeven to just a handful of weddings each year. Working in conjunction with a bespoke planner specialising in international destination nuptials, “We want weddings at De Zeven to be intimate and unique,” she says. “We’re not looking for occasions with hundreds of guests. That’s not what De Zeven is about.”
She’s right. De Zeven is about tranquillity. It’s about thoughtful design and warm hospitality. About understated luxury and the joy of new discoveries. And, of course, it’s all about those Banhoek views.