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WINE COUNTRY ACROSS THE GLOBE: An unexpected surprise at a South African boutique hotel makes this gay traveler feel at home thousands of miles away.

We had just spent the weekend in the Franschhoek Valley, located over an hour's drive from Cape Town, staying in a stunning little hotel that was best known for its restaurant. The days were spent in private tastings at different wineries and the nights were spent trying to figure out how to pack the bottles of wine we had purchased throughout the day. We were having so much fun and loving everything about our hotel in the hills that we made the decision to stay an extra night. Sadly for us, the property was completely booked up, so after a few glasses of wine, we began an online search for a hotel room. It wasn't long before we found a hotel with a similar feel just down the road, and thankfully, there happened to be availability.

Nestled at the base of the spectacular mountains in the southernmost corner of the Franschhoek Valley, the 22-hectare Holden Manz Wine Estate lies between the Franschhoek River and Stony Brook. Offering five spacious suites with gorgeous views of the valley's rolling lawns and vineyards, and the mountains beyond, the property exudes tranquil luxury.

Upon our arrival to Holden Manz the next day, we were greeted by a lovely gentleman at the front door of the estate. We left our bags with him and got back in the car to drive across the grounds to the tasting room, as it was ready to close and we didn't want to miss out on the wines. This was the only time I actually drove while in South Africa, as we were on private grounds and there were no other cars nearby. I wasn't really keen on driving on the opposite side of the road, seated on the opposite side of the vehicle, but I figured I'd take my chance on the dirt road, even while holding the freshly poured welcome glass of wine we received at check-in. Essentially I was drinking and driving, but the stretch of road was only about 300 feet long between the estate and the tasting room, so it was all in good fun.

Inside the tasting room, two pleasant characters greeted us and immediately began to pour wine, most likely because they were ready to close up, although I'm sure we can attribute their actions to hospitality as well. Returning to the home, we spent the evening with in-room massages, but since there was only one masseuse available on short notice, we took turns. As I spent my time waiting in the main living space, I sat on the couch with a glass of red wine from the estate and glanced up at this massive painting hanging over the archway to the dining room. It was of a pier with a Ruby's Diner at the end of it. Wondering why a South African artist would paint Ruby's Diner, I realized this wasn't just any Ruby's Diner. I had actually been to the exact location depicted in the painting. It was a rendering of Huntington Beach Pier in Southern California with the famous circular Ruby's Diner at the far end. I'd grown up spending many days and nights at this spot, and my mind was blown by seeing it in a small luxury hotel in the middle of South Africa.

My curiosity was piqued, so I began exploring a bit more, admiring the extensive collection of contemporary art that fills the main house and spills into a gallery just outside. Holden Manz isn't simply a boutique hotel and winery, it is a South African art museum too. Back inside, I noticed some family photos, and on closer inspection, I realized the owners of this impressive luxury country home/hotel/winery/gallery were a gay couple. In light of that insight other things began making more sense to me: The cute and friendly young man in the tasting room who was most likely gay too, and the curated art collection, the pristine state of the home, and the exceptionally trained staff all spoke to a certain refined gay sensibility.

I brought it up to our host, the same man who greeted us and checked us in, and he confirmed my hunch. He then spent a fair amount of time talking about how wonderful the owners and their children were, a lovely tribute to his bosses who happened to be away on an extended holiday. I'm not sure what it was exactly, and maybe it was a combination of everything, including the wine, but I suddenly fell even more in love with Holden Manz and wanted nothing more than than to enjoy the property and the calm surroundings, including the picturesque pond that dominated the front entrance. Alas, our time there was far too short. I've rarely been one to purposefully seek out a gay-owned hotel, so finding this one and loving it so much even before learning who owned it really made the discovery all that more special.

Caption: Above: The view of Franschhoek Valley from Holden Manz Wine Estate. Left: Some of Holden Manz's fine wines visitors come for

Caption: Top: A painting of Ruby's Diner hangs amid the collection of modern South African art at Holden Manz. Bottom: Inside the stately hotel.
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Author:Duran, David
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Oct 1, 2019
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