Franschhoek, South Africa

[ 0 ] February 23, 2012 |

Food and wine capital of South Africa and home to one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, this 15,000 resident strong tiny town with a strong French influence resides in one of the most beautiful valleys in all of South Africa.

Franschhoek Valley

Franschhoek lies in the heart of South Africa’s wine valley just east of its larger better know cousin Stellenbosch.  Driving west from Knysna we wound our way through the Cape Fold Belt mountain range separating the Garden Route from the rest of the Western Cape.  Making our way over the mountain pass our jaws dropped as we descended upon one of the most picturesque vistas I’ve ever witnessed.

Road to Franschhoek

Down in the Valley

Littered with small B&Bs and hotels, Franschhoek is a perfect town to drop the pace down a few notches and take in the epicurean pleasures of life.  After poking around online for a place to stay and finding out that most places in town were fully booked (popular place indeed), we luckily stumbled upon La Bourgogne, a small orchard and winery just outside the city that had a few self-catering cottages for rent.  The “plum cottage” would be our home for the next couple of nights.  Set right in the middle of a pear orchard, the setting couldn’t be more memorable.  And good thing the pears weren’t ripe yet or I would have single handedly lowered their crop yield – they looked juicy and amazing.

We decided to take it slow and simple the next few days, taking in some winery tours and cherry picking a few restaurants that peaked our interest.  We started by swinging by the local tourist information office to get a good idea of what were the top attractions.   Lucky for us, Brett Garner the editor of “The Month” a regional monthly publication covering food, wine, events, and all things interesting was dropping off a stack of his January edition when we strolled in.  A bit more free to give us his partisan opinion vs. the must promote all things equally tourist desk, Brett was a wealth of knowledge.  After 10 to 15 minutes of probing this wealth of local intel, we had a city map annotated to the max with enough “must-see” spots to keep us busy for a month.

First on our list was a tour of Haute Cabrière, one of the local vineyards focusing almost exclusively on creating South Africa’s version of Champagne called “Cap Classique”.  Not your ordinary CO2 infused sparkling wine, Cap Classique undergoes a special process whereby the wine creates its own carbonation.  My favorite factoid was the fact that because of the pressure inside the bottles, the cellar workers have to wear metal aprons when they handle the bottles in case one of them over carbonated creating too much pressure and accidentally explodes.  They even gave a “sabrage” demonstration where they opened a champagne bottle with a sabre sword – cool and scary at the same time.  The icing on the cake was the view.  Their cellar has been built into one of the local mountainsides, making the view from their facilities breathtaking in its own right.

Welcome to Haute Cabriere

View from Haute Cabriere’s Patio

Sun Dial Panoramic

Chandelier Bottle Art

Cellar Room

Hanging in the Caves

Our next favorite visit was definitely My Wyn.  This boutique winery is literally a one-woman show out of the proprietor Jacoline Haasbroek’s garage.  Jacoline only does small batches given her space and her one (wo)man power – only a few thousand bottles annually.  She hand picks her grapes from various vineyards around the valley after which the alchemy begins in her garage/workshop as she starts formulating her various blends and specialties.  She’s made about 8 different wines to date but always trying out something new as she follows her whims and interests wherever they take her.

We had lunch at Grande Provence and ‘The Kitchen’ at Maison Estate – both out of this world.  Diners were at Dutch East Restaurant and The Common Room at the famous Le Quartier Français – great but not as good as our lunches.

The Common Room Feast

More Common Room

Amazing scenery, fantastic perfectly paired food and drink, and some of the most congenial people imaginable is what Franschhoek is all about.   It’s a town you could spend and hour or a year in – both with equal delight.  Not too fussy but not to pedestrian either.  It’s got a little something for everyone and that’s what makes it special.  Most certainly a town I look forward to returning to some day.

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Category: Blog, Destinations, Pat's Blog, Portfolio, South Africa

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