Excelsior’s ‘feather palace’ combines the elegance and grace of yesteryear with the luxury and comfort of today

Elegance and grace, that's the "Feather Palace" on Excelsior.

I fondly remember the manor house on my grandparent’s farm Elim next to the Orange River. It was a big house - grandiose, spacious, comfortable and serene – with 11 bedrooms, including the main bedroom at the top of the long corridor. The other rooms were either side of the corridor, the bottom six for the children and their spouses and the other four for the grandchildren. For holidays and special occasions.

I remember the eclectic mix of furniture, the many pictures against walls and on furniture of family members dating back many generations, as well as of prize-winning sheep, cattle and horses, the thick walls, the wooden floors that creaked ever so slightly under one’s feet, the low wooden ceilings with their massive beams and the large kitchen with its long dining table and double coal stoves.

I remember it well, even today. It has always reminded me of family ... and all that entails. There’s a guesthouse in the Robertson wine valley, on a wine estate by the name of Excelsior, that brings back those wonderful memories. We spent some time there recently ... and I was reminded of so many good times on Elim.

ABOVE: Our room! The door takes you onto the front stoep which overlooks the lawn, garden and trees. Bliss!

But first, a bit of history. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, Jacobus Stephanus de Wet, better known as Kowie, the youngest son of the first owner of Excelsior, became the most successful ostrich breeder in the Robertson district. As ostrich plumes were the essence of haute couture at the time, the affluence of the trade was soon reflected in the “feather palace” architectural style. The enormous farmhouse built by Kowie de Wet on Excelsior, embellished with impressive chimneys and Cape Dutch gables, shows the characteristic elegance of the Victorian era. Here the De Wets lived and swanked with ornate European furniture and various forms of entertainment, including dances, later also featuring regularly on the calender of the Cape Hunt and Polo Club.

When it was discovered that the old manor house had developed problems with rising damp, the expertise of Len Raymond, well-known renovator of Cape architecture, was called in to advise on the structural procedures required to ensure the house could proceed into the new phase of its glory. The result is a charming, four-star guest lodge which opened its doors to the public in November 2007.

ABOVE: The pool deck. Need I say more!

The rambling old manor house, famed for its wooden sprung floor in the lounge where waltzes, foxtrots and every other imaginable dance were enjoyed, now boasts nine spacious and luxuriously appointed en suite bedrooms, a fully furnished sunroom at the one end, ideal for relaxing with a book, a lounge and dining room at the other, and a large sundeck with swimming pool overlooking the vineyards, orchards and the Langeberg mountains. Oh yes, and a proper stoep in front overlooking the garden, perfect for an early morning cup of coffee as you watch the sun rising.

Each luxurious country suite is named after a famous thoroughbred and hackney bred on the estate and incorporates the style and grace of yesteryear with the luxury and comfort of today.

BELOW: The lounge: more grace, elegance, comfort and luxury. 

The tranquil proportions of the exterior has been retained, with the original wooden window frames and gables from a century ago all intact.  The gardens have also been revitalized and the large lawn and colourful garden now shelter in the shade of the old established trees.

The northern side of the “feather palace” offers a refuge of tranquility with fragrant roses and a rose labyrinth, while the southern face opens onto the large wooden sundeck which also doubles as a dance floor. It’s on this deck that we enjoyed sundowners before stepping into the dining room for a wonderful supper. The following morning we had a superb breakfast on the deck under a large sun umbrella before venturing out onto the many hiking and mountain-biking trails between the vineyards and orchards and over a koppie that serves to challenge the legs a bit more. If you don’t own your own mountian bike, Excelsior has two of its own and guests are welcome to make use of them.

Excelsior also offers a golf cart for those who wish to explore the estate in a more laidback manner, as well as several special packages. For the more energetic, there are wine walks and nature hikes, river cruises and rafting, and tractor rides, while the valley offers some outstanding art galleries and pottery studios, not to mention antique shops.

RIGHT: Here you don't eat and drink, you dine and wine!

Although the “feather palace” is a luxurious bed and breakfast establishment, dinners are available on request, and we found an excellent meal in the cosy and dimly lit dining room with a bottle of Excelsior wine the ideal end to the day. And don’t forget to fit in a wine tasting on the deck of the tasting room, about 100 metres from the guesthouse, situated on a man-made dam next to the cellar. As you take in your picturesque surroundings while sampling Excelsior’s excellent wines, you will be entertained by a variety of birds and horses.

ABOVE: Left is the guesthouse and right the tasting room on the dam.

Incidentally, if you book 24 hours in advance, you can spend a glorious wine tasting on the deck with a picnic basket arranged by the guesthouse. Heavenly bliss!

For more information or to book, call 023-615-2050, send an email to guesthouse@excelsior.co.za or visit www.excelsior.co.za. Excelsior is located just off the road between Robertson and Bonnievale, about 12 km from Robertson.