Inside SA’s new private villages


Inside SA’s new private villages

Val de Vie is South Africa's largest and most successful luxury lifestyle estate. ANNELIESE BURGESS talks to developer Martin Venter about his vision and why Cape Town is one of the world’s top five ‘sun property' destinations.


HE was passionate about farms and horses from an early age and it was always his dream, as a property developer, to create a peaceful, safe, farm lifestyle “where families can live happily together".

But it would be super-luxurious. And with every possible sporting facility.

This is the vision Martin Venter achieved with great success at Val de Vie, the sprawling lifestyle estate on 800 hectares between Paarl and Franschhoek in the Western Cape — essentially a private town with its own services, water and security.

And top-notch facilities — including polo fields, showjumping, dressage, golf courses, gyms, indoor and outdoor Olympic-size swimming pools, fishing ponds, vineyards, olive groves, a wine cellar, courts for padel, squash and tennis, delis, an organic vegetable farm and a health spa.

And now a second Val de Vie is in the making. This time even bigger and even more luxurious, but also with “new products" — such as entry-level housing.

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The beginning

The idea of ​​Val de Vie took shape in 2000 when Venter took a sabbatical to visit luxury lifestyle estates around the world and understand what works and what people want.

I then made a basic list of critical success factors with everything I noticed people liked. And realised that the little things are often more important than the big ones," he says.

“Independent of the physical facilities, the community life you create is incredibly important. And the quality of the environment. Calmness. Safety. Green spaces."

Image: Val de Vie

Venter knew he wanted to execute his plan in the Western Cape because its vineyards have always had a connection with farm life for him. But also because proximity to an international airport is another critical success factor he picked up on his recce.

“You can't do a successful development if it's two hours outside of a city. You should be within 40 minutes' drive of an international airport and close to schools, hospitals and basic shopping facilities. Otherwise it will never become a primary residential area. These were important considerations when I started Val de Vie."

Which made Paarl absolutely perfect.


Venter says two-thirds of Val de Vie residents are South Africans and the rest foreigners, of whom about 70% live in South Africa for more than half the year.

For the past two decades, the Cape housing market has attracted people from Gauteng, says Venter. But the trend has accelerated.

“Everyone thought it was a bit of a bubble but it is a long-term trend. And now people from KwaZulu-Natal and especially the Free State are also moving here. Bloemfontein's wheels fell off and about two years ago we started noticing an enormous wave of Free Staters moving to the Cape."

There are a few factors behind this semigration, he says. “The most important thing is that the Western Cape, from a political point of view, is definitely better managed than the rest of the country.

“And then people are also looking for reliable services, and on Val de Vie we do most of those services ourselves. This type of stuff can be managed much better and more effectively in private, so it's definitely a big factor that attracts people."

The foreigners who live at Val de Vie are mainly wealthy owners from elsewhere in Africa, followed by people from Europe and England.

It is a continuation of a tradition of “sun properties" for people who want to live in warmer places during the European winters. “In the Thirties, Buenos Aires was popular for this reason. And Monaco and the French Riviera as well. But Cape Town is now one of the top five places in the world where people come for sun properties," says Venter.

“For them, it is actually cheap for the quality of the product they get here.

“We find that the market for foreigners is by far the strongest in Cape Town. When I talk about Cape Town, I mean the Western Cape, because it includes places like Fancourt and the Garden Route. It's always interesting for me when I listen to the overseas polo players, for example. When he talks to his pal in Switzerland or in London, he says, ‘I'm playing polo in Cape Town'. Because Cape Town is not just the city. It's the surrounding area too. You actually live in Paarl, but 60km from here you are in the Waterfront."

The concept

“At Val de Vie we try to create something for everyone as far as possible. Many of the people who live here don't ride horses, but a house with a white picket fence and horses gives a sense of tranquillity, of open spaces, and that's what people are willing to pay a premium for. You can run a half marathon on all the paths through the green spaces and vineyards and orchards we have created here," says Venter.

“It's the same with golf. Only about 25% of residents of any golf estate in the world play golf; the rest buy for other reasons."

The other reasons are the green spaces and the cultural-historical landscape. “When you drive through the Cape winelands, you see historic homesteads and vineyards and mountains, and this is part of our value proposition. And we develop at a very low density — fewer than 10 units per hectare. In any town you are talking about 50 to 60 units per hectare."

And then security, of course. With a capital S. People want to feel safe, and the security of private estates is a big attraction.

“Security is not a security company that guards your gate. That is just one aspect. The operation of security, your intelligence network about what's happening in the wider area, your liaison with the authorities, with the police. That is actually the most important, but for that you need highly skilled staff and we take this aspect very seriously.

“At Val de Vie we don't lock doors. Ryk Neethling, my partner, mentioned just last night that he noticed that their front door key has been missing for three months."

Image: Val de Vie

Economic engine

“The primary and secondary economic growth this type of development generates is phenomenal for any environment," says Venter.

“We have 18,000 entries and exits through our gates every day. About 7,500 people live here. So who are those extra feet? These are jobs that have been created, and they make a huge contribution to the economy of a town. And, of course, that's on top of the tax that the city council gets."

The farm on which Val de Vie was built was poor agricultural land, says Venter, but they have created several agriculture-related international businesses and brands that also contribute to the economy.

If Val de Vie hadn't happened, not much would have happened on this farm because it wasn't really economically feasible to farm here. So I think we also achieved something positive with agriculture."

And while golf tourism has always been particularly strong in the Western Cape, Val de Vie has also developed a niche for polo tourism.

Island of wealth

“From the outset I had the approach that one cannot create an island of wealth surrounded by a sea of ​​poverty," says Venter when I ask him about the schizophrenic South African reality of such a luxury development in one of the most unequal societies in the world.

We are trying to create an economy for the whole environment. For example, we finance large-scale social housing projects. And then there are smaller contributions that we can also make, such as the 30 non-governmental organisations that we supply with products from our vegetable farm on Val de Vie — these range from soup kitchens to early childhood development projects."

During the 2015-2018 drought in the Cape, Val de Vie was also able to play a wider community role.

With Day Zero, we were able to give the municipal allocation of water for Val de Vie to the less privileged side of the community, because we were self-sufficient from our aquifer here in the valley.

“I think it's very important that with these types of developments you plan your larger area and larger socioeconomic impact from day one. And we did."

The next step

The same will presumably apply to Venter's new project, but for now he says only that Val de Vie's success convinced the team that it can be replicated, planning is well advanced, it is in the same geographical area and an announcement can be expected in the next year or so. 

♦ VWB ♦

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