The mountain ranges changed shape and colour with each bend in the road as we left Cape Town behind us. Quickly rows upon rows of vines crossing fields appeared to the left, to the right – the end of this years season now passed. A cheese farm or two, and – curiously – zebras sitting in a paddock. We were on our way into the Cape Winelands.
Quaint towns passed by, most notably Stellenbosch, the second oldest European settlement in the province, with its cellar doors and lively student atmosphere. Stellenbosch is also famed for having some of the countries best vineyards, the grounds fertile and the climate perfect for growing cool climate grape varieties, particularly Cabernet Sauvignon.
No stop to the Winelands is complete without a lunch at a vineyard and our choice was spectacular. Rolling into the driveway of Delaire Graff Estate the group let of a symphony of ooh’s and ahh’s that reached its crescendo after we’d been seated on the restaurants balcony overlooking the mountains and vineyard on a perfect autumn’s day. That is a story for another day, today I want to tell you about another of the Winelands most beautiful locations.
Leaving Stellenbosch, we headed further into the heart of the winelands to Franschhoek – Dutch for “French Corner”. The Dutch granted the land to the French Huguenots who moved to South Africa in the 1600’s after fleeing their homes when Protestantism was outlawed. Today, the town still very much feels like a little slice of French countryside and the farms retaining their original French names.
Franschhoek is the Cape Winelands food haven; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 8 of South Africa’s top restaurants are located in Franschhoek and it’s also home to Le Quartier Français, one of the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants (Cape Town also has a restaurant on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. Foodies, this is fate. You need to visit Cape Town and the Cape Winelands!)
The evening we were in town we dined at The French Connection. The lively bistro offers a relaxed atmosphere and serves great food accompanied by great local wines. I tried the springbok (pictured above) with most of my other dining companions settling on lighter options after the huge lunch we’d eaten. What we didn’t realise, until 20 minutes into our wait, was that springbok takes 30 minutes to cook. Aside from this little miscommunication the meal went smoothly, the springbok was cooked perfectly and everyone thoroughly enjoyed the meal and atmosphere.
Our home for the night was La Petite Dauphine, one of the first established farm in the area, still with the traditional housing on site. The farm offers 9 luxury suites, some including private plunge pools, overlooking the farm or vineyard. Each tastefully decorated offering a luxurious yet cosy feel for your getaway among the vines.
My stop in South Africa’s French corner was over far too soon but I’ll be back… there’s a table-for-one at one of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants waiting for me to check out!
Five Things to Do in Franschhoek
1. Wander the Streets
While you’re visiting be sure to take a walk around the town of Franschhoek. The quaint town is easy to navigate and offers stunning examples of Cape Dutch-style architecture, as well as plenty of boutique stores filled with quality food, clothing and locally-made products.
2. The Huguenot Monument
An important reminder of the town’s history; The Huguenot Monument, located at one end of the towns main road, was erected in memory that the Huguenots bought to the Cape Colony after their immigration from France in the 17th and 18th century.
The three arches represent the Holy Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with a sun of righteousness and cross, marking their Christian faith, above that.
On the site is also the Huguenot Memorial Museum which elaborates on the history of the French Huguenots who settled in the Franschhoek Valley.
3. The Franschhoek Wine Tram
A railway used to operate along the 27 kilometre track between Paarl and Franschhoek, an alternative to ox drawn carts for farmers wanting to get their produce to market. Since then steam and diesel locomotives have run along the line before it was discontinued in the 1990’s.
In 2012, the line was revived and now visitors to the region can ride the Franschhoek Wine Tram, between wine estates in the area.
Franschhoek may not be the biggest town in the Cape Winelands but it has the reputation of having some of the top restaurants in the country, often being called the food and wine capital of South Africa.
Dine at The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Français, which holds one of the Top 50 restaurants in the world, according to the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants.
5. Wine Tasting on Horseback
Explore the scenic vineyards of Franschhoek by horseback with stops at a selection of vineyards to taste delicious wines.
Guides will expertly guide your palettes, introducing you to some of the best drops of the valley, and the horses will transport you across the fields – just enjoy!
Now it’s over to you:
Which countries winelands have you visited?
Do you have any tips for Franschhoek?
My trip to Franschhoek and the Cape Winelands was arranged by South Africa Tourism.
All thoughts and opinions are, as always, my own.
Image credit: sunset over vineyard