The Key Lodge – A travel story by Anji Connell

TOP 1 1The Key Lodge is a perfect place to relax, rest, and reconnect with nature; it forces you to slow down and enjoying the simple pleasures, and appreciate the things that matter in life. It redefines luxury with its elegant, comfortable interior with a strong sense of place and low-key but attentive service. And with only five suites, it is an intimate and luxurious escape, where you can book a room for an individual stay or as a whole villa rental for a family or friends get-together or celebration.

It’s a secret hideaway with a tranquil atmosphere and a wonderful feeling of seclusion and remoteness, yet only a few minute’s walk to Franschhoek village, known as the Cape’s culinary capital renowned for its spectacular beauty and superb Cape wines and food. You can stay secluded, wrapped within the warmth of The Key and its beautiful and extensive grounds without venturing into the outside world, or sample a bit of both. Wander the boutiques, and galleries, restaurants, and wine farms knowing you can retreat at any time back to The Key.

I had only recently become aware of The Key Lodge through their marketing for “Gathered” their tempting new Covid conscious al fresco Sunday lunch events held in their garden with an option to stay overnight at a special rate. A further temptation came through a recent stay at the very lovely, beautifully restored, and decorated Jonkmanshof in Montagu, owned by Jacques Erasmus and his partner Hein Liebenberg. Jacques is the acclaimed chef-patron of Hemelhuijs in Cape Town, an artist, interior designer, and, I discovered, responsible for The Key interiors. What more temptation did I need? My fate sealed, lunch and an overnight stay arranged for the following weekend; my only dilemma was to drive or walk as I live in Franschhoek! Ordinarily, it would seem odd to stay somewhere other than home. 

However, as staycationing is one of our new normals, why not. Plus, I must confess to regularly snooping through the stylish black metal gates of The Key to the Mountain and was very keen to enter through the gates into the secret world; it did not disappoint.
2 5Take time out at the lovely The Key Lodge with a relaxing and reinvigorating staycation. The Key Lodge was formerly the retreats office block. It is now the latest addition to The Key to the Mountain exclusive villas that include the three distinctive and individually decorated villas that make up The Key Village. They are only a few minute’s walk from each other, and both are within a tranquil farm environment. 

The designer Jacques Erasmus tells me, “The Key Lodge interiors are paired back with muted colours and a mix of English, Cape Dutch, and modern furniture to create a feeling of being “lost in time. The house does not impose itself onto you but gently makes you aware of its personality and its extraordinary setting where the gardens and the mountains are framed from within the house. It serves all the purposes of modern comforts, yet gives a sense of living in a farm dwelling.” Which completely sums up the essence of The Key Lodge. We saw a completely different side to Franschhoek and loved it. We had no idea of the scale of the grounds, and the open views are breathtaking. Rain was forecast, but happily, Sunday turned into yet another glorious day in the Cape Winelands. We arrived to a warm welcome from Melanie Scott, the general manager and chef, and Julia Pillay, the assistant manager. Before lunch, Julia gave us a tour of the villa and a stroll through the beautiful and extensive grounds nestled amongst vines, and plum orchards, surrounded by the glorious towering Franschhoek mountains. It’s stunning; you instantly feel happy and carefree, in awe of such a beautiful view. Even for us and we live in Franschhoek. A water feature with a fabulous Marieke Prinsloo Rowe sculpture and rill traverse the lush lawns leading you onto the duck ponds and over a bridge to the tennis courts and the helicopter hangar, another wonderful architectural building, the helipad, and more. Back for lunch, and our table set invitingly on our private veranda shaded by a luxuriant covering of Wisteria overlooking the garden, pool, and garden pavilion, with the gorgeous scent of lavender permeating the air. 

The menu sounded good, but we had no idea how good it was going to be! The food was utterly delicious. Sunday lunch is the only time the Lodge is open to non-guests. You can, as our fellow diners did, go for the long leisurely lunch alone, a three-course set menu, with an option of a vegetarian and non-vegetarian. Mel is passionate about delicious and seasonal food. We were served set menus of relaxed platters of farm-to-table goodness with fresh ingredients sourced from Franschhoek’s best local suppliers. A perfectly chilled bottle of Elgin Iona Sauvignon Blanc selected and poured, we happily sampled the bread and fennel butter arriving at the table. And, oh my goodness, the bread! As bread fanatics, we are always on a mission to seek out the best bread we can find, and all the while, it has been hiding under our noses. Now, all we have to do is get Mel to make extra!! Fennel butter served with the bread was a first, and we loved it. Mel’s bread has an unbelievable crust and is fabulously chewy. It’s so good; having seconds was an easy option! *See below for Melanie’s recipe. The lunch was served leisurely with just the right amount of time between courses. The staff are lovely, attentive, and Mel herself took time to introduce each dish and was very happy to spend time chatting and sharing tips. After a long delicious lunch, we retired to our room, full to exploding, and nothing left on our plates! Our room was quite lovely. Jacques’ style very much in evidence. The signature large sleek black metal four-poster bed with crisp white bed linen and a bathtub to die for. We had French doors to the veranda and a sash window, all overlooking the garden, as did the gorgeous white freestanding bathtub, perfect for sumptuous soaks, sipping a glass of local vino. Our garden room had a large wardrobe, safe, a stylish, comfy chair, a desk with tea and coffee making amenities. A TV, air-con, remote-controlled blind operation for the window high in the roof gable, that along with lovely thick curtains and blinds, means the room is completely dark, just what you need for a night of deep sleep. And a large full-length mirror, an important feature often overlooked, and two luggage racks, not one to fight over!

Unbound by the schedules and routines of home or life in a larger, more impersonal hotel, the comfortable ambiance invites you out of your room to explore and experience the various inviting areas. Knowing that wherever we decided to chill, the lovely, attentive, friendly, and knowledgeable staff will serve you whatever you need wherever you need it. Life here is comfortable and relaxed. Just how it should be. 

Home away from home but better. The bathroom has deep pile white towels, plush robes, slippers, and double rain showers. Le Naturel, locally-made bathroom products using the Cape’s aromatic indigenous medicinal plants scent the room. All the rooms are luxurious and elegant. The opposite garden room is slightly larger. The courtyard bedroom to the back of the lodge has its own outdoor space. There are two in the upper-floor attic rooms linked by a lounge area—ideal for four friends sharing. They don’t have views, but they are so inviting. I’d happily stay here, and they have super bathrooms.

The Key LodgeThe same style as the other rooms but larger. Despite them being attic rooms, they have high ceilings and are spacious. Downstairs there is a cosy sitting room with a fire, above which is a large Lionel Smit portrait presiding over the room. Bookcases line the back wall and the large coffee table—an excellent spot for reading. The Key Lodge is an elegant and comfortable retreat. A lovely base to return to after a day spent exploring Franschhoek village or sampling the valley’s gourmet food and wines. There are many gorgeous hiking trails in the mountains, golfing, cycling, horse riding, and cycling; the lodge has a tennis court, boules, croquet, rugby, and Chip “n” Putt. Plus, guided art, garden, and historical village walks are also available by prior arrangement, along with personalised picnics, braais, and private dining, as well as cookery courses and spa treatments. Or you can simply relax away from it all at the lodge, by the pool, and strolling the amazing grounds with staggering views.
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To find out more about The Key Lodge, click here.
All images and story were written by Anji Connell ACID+Anji Connell Interior Design.

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