Surrounded by mountains with 360° of breathtaking scenery, Franschhoek – the “French corner” in South Africa’s western cape is a stunning part of the world.
Originally Oliphantshoek, named for the many herds of elephants who wandered this area, it was settled over 300 years ago.
A lot has developed in that time so let’s take a look at the picturesque beauty of Franschhoek.
Looking back to the 1600s when France was Catholic ruled, the persecution of Protestants saw more than 200,000 Reformed Church of France members, or Huguenots, ostracised by the Edict of Fontainebleau.
Fleeing to safer regions in Europe, many made it to the Netherlands and, via the Dutch East India Company, to a small colony on the tip of Southern Africa.
Arriving after punishing months on ships designed to carry cargo, they arrived at the Cape Colony to begin new lives.
Nine Huguenot families were supplied land by the Dutch authorities and combining their farming, bread, wine and cheese-making skills, set about creating their French corner.
Although included in the Stellenbosch municipality, Franschhoek is an entity unto itself with the Cape’s highest awarded restaurants in one area, numerous picturesque wine estates and activities for the adventurer to the snoozer.
Franschhoek has become known as South Africa’s Culinary Capital.
In October 2014, Franschhoek became a member of The Délice Network of Good Food Cities of the World, an international network of like-minded cities promoting the benefits of culinary excellence and good food.
Franschhoek is the only member of the network from the Southern Hemisphere.
Local wines complement menus from talented chefs who take advantage of the freshest of local produce to create globally recognised cuisine from all-encompassing 5-course menus to stylish light meals.
One such chef is Reuben Riffel. Recognised throughout South Africa as brand ambassador for Robertsons Herbs & Spices and Samsung Home Appliances; judge and host of Masterchef South Africa; author of 3 cookbooks; recipient of numerous awards including South Africa’s Best Chef and Riffel is also known for his philanthropy.
Growing up in Groendal on the outskirts of Franschhoek, it was inconceivable he would later live in and own his own restaurant in Franschhoek. Groendal and Franschhoek when Riffel was growing up were 2 very different places.
Through recognising opportunities, taking a few risks and genuine hard work, Reuben Riffel now has 5 restaurants to his name and here’s what to expect at his flagship in Franschhoek.
At Foliage, chef Chris Erasmus is more likely to be on his hands and knees foraging a forest floor than on our TV screens.
Erasmus made a name for himself at Cape winery restaurant Pierneef a la Motte during which time he made an appearance at Noma, Copenhagen with René Redzepi.
In 2014, Erasmus opened Foliage in Franschhoek’s main street, to pursue his passion for foraged ingredients and traditional preserving methods.
Foliage is listed in The World’s 50 Best Restaurant Discovery Series, basically the list of who is likely to be in the top 100 restaurants in the world in the coming year.
The 5-course chef’s menu changes daily with the availability of fresh ingredients. Paired with local wine, ZAR 895 per person for the Chef’s menu is money well spent.
On entering Franschhoek, you’re greeted by Cape Dutch homesteads, soaring oaks and French signage.
Vineyards follow the undulating terroir. This fertile region produces exceptional Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon and Chenin Blanc as well as full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Merlot.
Visit charming boutique cellars, join a comprehensive tour at one of the larger wineries or sample some of South Africa’s finest Méthode Cap Classiques along the Franschhoek MCC Route.
Solms Delta, just under 15km out of Franschhoek’s town centre offers the wine-loving history-buff a day of discovery.
In 2001, Professor Mark Solms established Solms Delta on the neglected Delta farm. Realising this was not only home for himself, but the 7 families who’d lived on the land for generations, Professor Solms set about developing an inclusive program ensuring everyone had a share of the land.
At first, he encountered some resistance. As a doctor, his natural instinct was to find the cause of the condition and provide a remedy.
Rather than immediately begin farming, the professor and tenants began digging into the earth and the history of their land. Artefacts were revealed and through these, they began to establish the history of the farm and their own ancestry.
Acknowledging Solms Delta’s establishment was built on the backs of generations of slaves, Professor Solms joined with social entrepreneur, Richard Astor, to develop a 50/50 joint ownership program. In 2007, the tenants received a 33.3% share followed by 45% in 2016.
When visiting Solms-Delta Wine Estate, it’s immediately evident the pride everyone has in this joint ownership agreement.
In the tasting room, along with the expert knowledge shared of the terroir, varietals, production and cellaring, expect to be entertained. The girls love to sing and after a couple of glasses of wine you’ll likely be joining in.
In Fyndraai Restaurant, the chef brings the Cape’s history into his menu with influences from all over the African continent, Europe and Asia. A story of culinary conservation is told through the produce grown on the farm and tours of the garden can be arranged.
For students of archaeology, history and wine appreciation spend an afternoon, or all day, at Solms-Delta.
The many wine estates in Franschhoek are certainly expected but there are other libations too.
Remember Charles Back and the Spice Route Destination? Well, Charles has his finger in another pie in Franschhoek.
Tuk Tuk Microbrewery on Huguenot Road in the centre of town is a joint venture between Back’s Cape Brewing Company (CBC) and The Leeu Collection, specialists in 5-star boutique accommodation.
With 300 years experience in brew system fabrication, Kaspar Schulz in Bamberg, Germany was commissioned to build the bespoke microbrewery.
Side-stepping from CBC to run the ship is Brewer Dewald, previously head brewer at Woodstock Brewing and an enthusiastic home-brewer.
The indoor space is industrial with the 250-litre capacity copper microbrewing facility centrally showcased for your viewing pleasure.
Prop yourself at the bar and sample 4 Tuk Tuk brews or even better, add 4 CBCs to the mix and compare the difference between all 8.
There’s a Mexican menu with some of the best tacos outside of Mexico that pair perfectly with the brews on tap, and on glorious clear days enjoy it all from under an outdoor umbrella.
Tuk Tuk Microbrewery is an absolute go-to for craft beer lovers.
At one of the many delightful manors offering world-class accommodation in Franschhoek, you’ll be introduced to a South African Craft Gin Tasting!
At the original Huguenot mansion, high ceilings and French doors open onto expansive terraces taking you back to an era where a bell tinkled at dusk to gather for G&Ts.
Today the only difference is, the gin is locally crafted, the bespoke Indian Tonic is Fitch & Leedes and the garnishes include herbs and berries.
In your tasting mix, Six Dogs Distillery Blue comes with summer berries & garden lavender, Cruxland Gin with lemon & garden rosemary, and Inverroche Distillery Amber with orange and cinnamon.
For gin lovers, this is a tasting experience not to be missed and at ZAR145 per guest, is a steal. Both hotel residents and restaurant visitors are welcome but bookings are advised.
It’s important to highlight that Franschhoek is not only a culinary and adult beverage playground but an extremely picturesque landscape full of activities.
For twitchers, photographers or to simply get your daily cardio in, pull on your runners and head to Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve (MRNR).
Part of the UNESCO Cape Winelands Biosphere Reserve, MRNR offers over 30km of well-maintained hiking trails.
Hike all day or a couple of hours and you’ll experience beautiful views of the Franschhoek Valley, the diversity of the reserve’s flora and the sheer joy of knowing you’ve had a workout ready for an evening of guilt-free indulgence.
Check webtickets or at the entrance to the reserve for information on permits and entrance fees.
If mountain bikes are more your thing, join Experience Franschhoek on guided tours in the mountains and through the Berg River Catchment area. Guides share the history of the town and info on the indigenous flora and fauna.
Are you more inclined to have the clip-clop of horses hooves accompany you on your adventure? With a Cape Winelands Riding experience, you can spend all day with your equine pal stopping off at intervals to sample the valley’s wonderful wine and food.
For those who are only in Franschhoek for the food and wine, take a wine tour with a difference.
Franschhoek Wine Tram is a hop-on-hop-off tram and bus-tram tour. Decide on your desired wine estates, choose the most compatible wine line and visit up to 9 estates in a day.
For more on Franschhoek Wine Tram, return here next week for an in-depth journey you won’t want to miss.
Golf enthusiasts are covered, there’s zip lining, hot air ballooning, museums, gardens, wellness centres, spas and picnic areas. You’d be hard-pressed not to find something you love doing in Franschhoek.
Franschhoek’s main street, Huguenot Road, provides hours of retail therapy.
Boutique clothing, jewellery and footwear stores are on hand for wardrobe malfunctions, to replace forgotten luggage items or to quell that burning retail desire.
Art galleries, collectable books, chocolate and more cater for gift giving even if that gift is for yourself.
For something truly unique, Avoova (Shop 3, Franschhoek Square) produce hand-crafted luxury home-wares from ostrich eggshells. Avoova’s range includes bathrooms, bedrooms the living room and even pieces you can wear yourself.
In the Karoo region of South Africa, in the relatively remote town of Prince Albert, these pieces are individually crafted by a group of talented artisans. Each piece begins its life from the cracked shell of a newborn ostrich.
Avoova’s team gather the discarded eggshells from the ostrich farmers and piece together thousands of fragments to shape beautiful designs creating the veneer of wood, aluminium and stainless steel pieces.
If you remember “The Spier Experience”, you’ll notice the hotel’s check-in desk is crafted by Avoova.
Shop online here and all shipping and delivery charges are included in the USD price. Purchase from the store and they’ll arrange delivery delivery from there.
Accommodation options in Franschhoek are plentiful, ranging from luxurious boutique properties to cosy B&Bs. Many of the wine estates provide lux accommodation with dining and spa packages.
For something more personal and truly homely, keep 21 Roux Street Guest House in mind. Located, surprisingly, at 21 Roux Street ;-), the property is a leisurely walk to the centre of Franschhoek Village for a morning coffee, a bite of lunch or to hop on the Franschhoek Wine Tram.
Accommodating 8 guests in 4 luxury suites, all imaginable needs are catered for and then some.
Sink into a dreamless sleep in the enticing queen beds; sip coffee in the sun by the pool admiring the mountains in the background; wake up to a breakfast second to none full of fresh fruit, eggs any which way and sides for Africa (pardon the pun).
Fill the deep claw-foot bath and soak away any remaining city stress and enjoy G&Ts on your terrace before heading out for a wonderful evening of indulgence at any one of Franschhoek’s famed restaurants.
Car hire from Cape Town Airport is not only affordable, it gives you the freedom to explore at your leisure. Take the picturesque route through Stellenbosch to Franschhoek or hit the motorway via the R300 for a quicker route.
Exploring the fabulous French corner of Franschhoek: it’s a thing we love….
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