Franschhoek is a uniquely South African name for one of the country’s premier wine producing regions in the Western Cape.
The area is unique in that it produces authentically South African wines that can compete with the best French wines. This makes sense since the viticulture tradition was handed down from decedents of French extraction, the Huguenots; victims of religious oppression in their native land, France.
The area is currently populated by a healthy mix of descendents of Khoisan, Dutch and French Huguenots and more recent transplants of nationalities from everywhere in the world including Congo DRC, Zimbabwe, England, Germany and Japan.
The town itself is a slow motion hive of fine dining (including the rather lively The Grill Room which serves Botswana sourced Rib eye steak for a very reasonable R155.00) and relaxed cafes, art galleries, and chic bed and breakfasts, village style cottages and more luxurious Mediterranean cum Cape Dutch style cottages all tucked up in a history over 300 years old.
The 5 Star Le Franschhoek Hotel and Spa is simply divine as a choice of place to stay. As part of the Three Cities hotel group (same group as the Phakalane Golf Hotel) you already know uncompromisingly good service is what you will get as standard.
However, when it comes to the view you will be convinced that the view must be worth at least two of the five stars that the hotel is rated as. At Le Franschhoek everything is fine, and not fine in the sense of good enough, but fine as in discerning.
The distance from Cape Town International Airport, 45 minutes, will seem a breeze after you are whisked through check in formalities at the tiny reception desk to your spacious room. There is more space than your average hotel room if you are fortunate enough to be in the Vineyard Suites, which offer an unhindered view of a nearby mountain range with vines in neat little rows on the lower slopes.
Dining at Le Franschhoek is something you will make time for as the chef creates, not cooks, what you order off the well considered menu at the restaurant simply called Dish. The menu takes recognisable ingredients in new directions, as was the case when our large contingent of all African travel journalists all ordered the chicken liver and cognac parfait starter. To their surprise they discovered that the starter was a thick sauce and not cooked lumps of poultry innards as they had expected.
The more sensible choice was the Duck Rillette salad with spiced wine poached pear, accompanied by a toasted bruschetta and Hennessy Cranberry Jelly, of course. The artistic presentation simply serves to remind a guest that in Franschhoek, there are no half measures. The Pavilion breakfast room is more relaxed in atmosphere but not is standards! Breakfast is served from this restaurant and the buffet style offering is a real smorgasbord of continental as well as what Batswana might term “English Breakfast” with the baked beans, fried tomato, bacon and sausages as well as your choice of eggs.
Vineyards such as Chamonix, La Motte, L’Omarains, Graham Beck, Leopards Leap, Plasir de Merle, Boschendal, Backsberg are all stars in the wine world. Many a Motswana wine aficionado has one or two (if not an entire cellar) just loaded with these winners. Guess what… they all within sipping distance of each other in Franschhoek as well as a dozen more vineyards you need to know about.
Frankly a bicycle tour of the area would be ideal since it would give one an opportunity to take in the beautiful mountainous landscape surrounding the valley cradling Franschhoek. However a designated driver who hates wine would be the better choice as there are more than 30 wine farms to sip from nestled in the area.
A wine tasting involves all the senses, and depending on how you feel a little spitting or swallowing. Chamonix offers all but three of its wines for tasting at R15.00 a glass as well as the rest of their offering which includes a brandy; apple, pear and pamplemousse (lime and passion fruit) flavoured aperitifs as well as a robust little grappa that will put some pep in your step. The Chamonix bottled water which is available at Woolworths is not available for tasting, but their distinctively chalky flavoured borehole water is available on tap to rinse your glass between wines.
The best time to go wine up your life would be at the tail end of the harvesting season which runs from January to April. At the end of March there is the Oesfees wine harvest celebration and music festival that one could take part in to add a little spice to the overall relaxation theme of village life.
Oesfees, currently in its fourth year, offers the distinct music of the Boland which you could loosely say feel like blues and country South African style. Oesfees is hosted at the Solms-Delta Wine Estate and features Delta Vastrap Genootskap bands based on the property. If you would rather inject some city buzz into your trip instead, the Cape Town International Jazz Festival takes place end of March as well, a mere 50 minutes away by car or half the time via NAC Makana’s helicopter service from the V&A Waterfront.