The original version of this post appeared in the Sunday Times South Africa, 21 April 2019
Franschhoek is coming in haute. From heritage to cuisine, wine, art, accommodation, sustainability and nature, the village is a showcase of excellence and synonymous with la belle vie. Whether you’re breezing through or jetting in for a vacay, this charming jewel of a town 45 minutes from the Cape Town CBD is a winning year round destination.
It’s not called the culinary capital of the country for nothing. With a string of eateries run by a league of A listers, the food in the ‘Hoek is taken tres seriously and will blow your hair back. At Big Dog Café and coffee shop, the plated breakfast choices are refreshingly different to the norm and the inclusive menu will sate even the pickiest vegan. Do lunch at Protégé at Le Quartier Français where Chef Cameron’s flavour spectrums will floor you, and his artistic dish presentations will leave your Insta Followers with a hefty dose of foodie FOMO. Save space for dinner at Chef’s Warehouse at Maison Estate, a next level affair. Dave Schneider, in close association with the legendary Liam Tomlin, has curated a superior tapas offering that is the perfect finale to a feasting binge in this little corner of France.
WINE, MCC & BEER
Catch the Wine Tram in town and enjoy a tipple as it trundles alongside rolling vineyards. Hop on and off as you please, stopping at some of SA’s most distinguished estates like Grand Provence, where you might fancy a cellar tour, or a country-style picnic under the oaks surrounded by exceptional art pieces sculpted by the likes of Anton Smit.
Later, move on to Black Elephant Vintners, the domain of the vine rebels Kevin Swart (Black), Raymond Ndlovu (Elephant) and Jacques Wentzel (winemaker). The maverick trio is all about making wine and MCC accessible to anyone who truly appreciates it, and their innovative unplugged music and wine pairings are a must.
If it’s a frothy you’re feeling for, stop at the Franschhoek Beer Co. for a tasting of the finest handcrafted beer. We can thank German Brewmaster Olaf Morgenroth – in partnership with Reuben Riffel, Alex McCormack and Frank Rodriguez – for adding such an excellent ale to the valley’s offering.
There’s no shortage of activities in between meals and with such stunning surroundings, getting out into nature is a given. La Motte offers a three-hour sustainability hike, available with or without a guide, along a well-marked five kilometre trail. The circular route snakes through swathes of fynbos in the nearby mountains that form part of the ancient Cape Fold belt. At the halfway mark, hikers can take a break at the Lapa and survey the glorious landscapes below over the rim of a glass of bubbly. Other fun ways to explore the village, vineyards and nature reserves, is via fat-tyre ‘scooters’ and e-bike tours. The emphasis is on fun and easily navigable paths have been mapped out to accommodate people of all ages and levels of fitness.
Good art by established and emerging creatives is omnipresent – there must be something in the water. On the heritage side, the Pierneef exhibition at La Motte’s museum is a national treasure. The collection features 45 of the grand master’s artworks produced between 1908 and 1955. Allocate time to be inspired by his phenomenal use of pastel pantones (see above), varied techniques and textures, and afterwards wander through the sculpture garden next door.
For more breathtaking installations, make a turn at Leeu Estates, on the opposite side of the valley, to view Deborah Bell’s Artemis and Dogs l-lll, the focal point in the centre of the manicured lawns in front of the Manor House. Take it all in over tea and a feather light croissant on the patio.
Another great village artist is one Pigcasso, the famous painting pig who was saved from slaughter by animal rights activist Joanne Lefson in 2016. The Farm Sanctuary SA that this endearing hog (and Baloo the cow and other rescues) calls home is where canvas and compassion collide and a visit there should be on everyone’s itinerary. It’s not every day you meet a fine swine with such deft snout capabilities. Pigcasso’s work is for sale and one of her creations now graces a Swatch watch face. For more breath taking installations, visit Leeu Estates on the opposite side of the valley to view Deborah Bell’s Artemis and Dogs l-lll, the focal point amid the precisely manicured lawns in front of the Manor House. Take it all in over tea and a feather light croissant on the patio.
There is choice aplenty at the star rating and budget of your choice, but since you’re in one of the oldest towns in the Cape, choose a place with historical gravitas, like La Petite Ferme. It’s posh sans pretension and the newly revamped vineyard suites (I stayed in the Africa Suite) make for a perfect staycation. Take a vine orientation tour and walkabout to get a better sense of the estates backstory, and be sure to try Chef Kyle’s new autumn menu that has just landed.
For more info on Franschhoek, visit www.franschhoek.org.za
I was hosted in the valley by Franschhoek Tourism*