If you were to imagine a real-life superhero, you would be imagining the owner of Ludus Magnus.
Much like the superheroes we grew up seeing in movies, he likes to keep his identity private.
Physically, he certainly looks strong enough to be a gladiator. Mentally, there’s no doubt. Perhaps that’s why he named it Ludus Magnus, which was a “Gladiatorial Arena” where gladiators from across the Roman Empire would live, eat and practice while undergoing training.
That’s pretty much what he and his equally mesmerizing wife have created in the heart of the wine valley, the French Corner of South Africa - Franschoek.
Ludus Magnus is a 5-star luxury guest house, completely off-grid.
It is a utopia that I had no idea existed until I met the aforementioned superhero.
I was covering a mountain biking stage race, and as is my job, I paid attention to everyone.
As is my personality, I joked with everyone too. I got to know a few phenomenal people at that event, my favourite of them being - shall we call him “Spartacus”?
While Spartacus preferred to generally avoid people, I harassed him for an interview. He wouldn’t budge at first, and no cameras were allowed. So, we just chatted, and as it turns out, he too is an extreme animal lover.
That was it, we were besties. We showed each other pictures of our dogs and discovered a shared code of life ethics.
And that’s how I got myself invited to one of the most WOW places I have ever seen.
Fast forward a couple of weeks later, I was taking a turn-off from the main road of Franschoek that I had never taken before.
I had never been down that road, firstly because it's private and closed-off. And secondly, I was unaware that this dream location, the Gladiator Arena, lay just a few kilometres up that road.
I got a thrill out of driving my 21-year-old Golf 4 along the last stretch, which crosses a river bridge and I sighed with relief when I made it across without issue, and then giggled at how out of place my old faithful was at that magnificent establishment.
I arrived at the entrance and called reception, they opened the gate for me and I was greeted by donkeys, freely roaming the property. I was on cloud 9 already, and after spending a few minutes with the donkeys, drove further to the manor house.
As I drove, my eyes grew in amazement as I saw what Spartacus had created. I drove past a running track, a rugby field and a "dam pool", perfectly set up for you to do laps in.
This was in between the most beautiful gardens and it is just the start of Ludus Magnus.
I was greeted with champagne and a tour of the manor house - which included going upstairs to the kitchen where I met the chef, who asked what I wanted to have for lunch. Lunch, prepared just for me, with ingredients all obtained from their farm.
They generate their own electricity, water, and a large portion of their food sources. Farm to table… to my stomach, yes please!
Before I sat down to my new favourite view of the Franschoek mountains to have my lunch, I went for a swim. I imagine it’s the first thing most people want to do when they arrive at LM.
When you see the pool, you’ll understand why.
Palm trees line it, and it seems as though the Simonsberg is at the end of it, saying welcome to nature, in the most luxurious way.
On the floor of the pool, as you swim the length of it, you will pass the words that Spartacus lives his life according to.
Failure Is Not An Option
Go Big Or Go Home
Smile, I did indeed, almost permanently for the 2 and a half days that I was there.
Let me tell you about them:
After my swim and lunch - I was treated to a tour of the farm. I had a look at the private villas and all the secret locations - like the outside gym down by the river, a hideaway boma and a private mini island.
After the tour, and seeing the dam pool up close, I couldn’t wait to do a few laps in it.
So, another swim it was. The weather was sweet and the views were incredible. I did a few laps and every time I looked up, I was greeted by a view of the mountains ahead of me.
My friend popped up for a moment while I was swimming, and before he rushed off to his next meeting, confirmed if I was good for going out for dinner that evening.
Franschoek is also known as the culinary capital of South Africa, so yes, I was definitely keen on that plan.
The three of us drove into town, a mere 15-minute drive into the centre of Franschoek, and if I remember correctly, we dined at the French Connection that evening and caught up.
Spartacus was due to race the Cape Epic the following week, and they told me about how they had built a pump track specifically for the race, as the riders would be riding through the farm on Day 5.
The next day, I rose before the sun and jogged down to the river deck, and attacked the outside gym. It is complete with a boxing bag, kettlebells of various weights, a squat rack and a power training rope along with other weights.
I did a HIIT session while listening to the sound of the river and the birds chirping. All this, while the sun was rising over the French Corner.
I’m not one to miss out on an opportunity, so I went straight to the running track to do a few laps there before Adidas took over that section in preparation for an event they were hosting on LM for their staff. I was impressed by the set-up I saw being constructed over the next two days and mentally gave kudos to Adidas for going all out for their employees.
Work of course still had to be done, and I spent a few hours on that, before heading out. While I was in the area, I wanted to say hi to my friends at Eikehof, one of my favourite wine farms and then went to an old favourite of mine for a beer, Taki’s.
Taki’s is the local joint in Franschoek. While everywhere else has the elegant French touch to it, Taki’s is where one goes to have a no-frills beer and talk a bit of rubbish. I am a master at such activities and found a few chaps to keep me company before heading back to Ludus where I had my second night of grandeur.
My third day's morning consisted of another run down to the river deck for a workout, before coming back to a surprise email from Sabine Spitz, the legendary German cyclist who had seen my name when she checked in. A couple of weeks prior, I got in touch with both Robyn De Groot and Sabine regarding MTB skills training and to my delight, they were both now at Ludus Magnus.
Not only them but Pauline Ferrand-Prevot, the French multi-discipline world champion.
Robyn and Pauline were teaming up for the Cape Epic, and Spartacus had invited them to stay in one of the villas the week before the event, to be treated to opulence before the sufferfest that awaited them.
I had breakfast with the dream team, which was cooked and prepared exactly to our taste by the private chef who catered to our every desire.
I sat back, looked out at the mountains, the palm trees and the magnificent pool, then looked to my right and left and realized that I was flanked by world champion cyclists.
Man, life is good!
Alas, I had to get back to my real world and took off a couple of hours later, after spending some more time with my friends, who made it all possible.
If you are looking to treat yourself or a loved one, this is the place to go.
Written by Simone Robyn Sharpe
An adventurer, writer and smiling go-getter.