The Franschhoek Connection
Words & pics Franki Black
Franschhoek - that French-inspired town situated in the heart of the Cape winelands - has so much to offer that it’s hard to know where to start. Award-winning restaurants, glorious wine farms, boutique shops, festivals, outdoor adventure and breathtaking mountains are some of the attractions that lure visitors from all over the world. To get you inspired, here is a checklist of some of the valley’s most exciting experiences.
1. Start at the Beginning: The Huguenot Museum
Franschhoek is largely what it is today thanks to the ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit of our French ancestors. The Huguenot Museum, situated next to the Huguenot Monument on Lambrecht Street, provides a thorough insight into these pioneering Protestants who fled persecution in France during the 16th and 17th Centuries. The museum tells of how France lost thousands of its most talented citizens to countries such as Holland, America and South Africa. Only a small group of Huguenots was willing to emigrate to the Cape, an area that was largely untamed and sparsely occupied by the indigenous Khoisan, a number of Dutch functionaries and a sprinkling of passing sailors. By 1720, a total of 270 French Huguenots had settled in places like Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek.
The Huguenot Museum houses Huguenot antiques, preserved documents, replicas of period homesteads and information boards that paint a clear picture of how these settlers had to rebuild their lives from scratch. Within decades they’d used their skills and talents to turn remote plots into thriving wine farms, still in operation today. Nowadays, the French Huguenot legacy is almost feverishly celebrated in Franschhoek through French-themed festivals, restaurants, wine and architecture.
2. Walk the Lane
Once you’ve immersed yourself in local history, walk down Main Road. Besides Franschhoek’s many wine farms and natural beauty, this lively street is its most prized attraction. Street-side cafes, award-winning restaurants and boutique shops line the street, attracting thousands of visitors every year. As you wander, you’re likely to spot local gumboot dancers and musicians entertaining the crowds and if you happen upon Franschhoek on a Saturday morning between 9am and 2pm, you’ll find the village market under the trees at the church hall in full swing. Craft beer, homemade pies and local art are some of the items on offer at the market. You can also join in the fun at the Bastille Festival in July, the Champagne Festival in December or the Literature Festival in May. One of Franschhoek’s best offerings is a hop-on, hop-off wine tour on an open-air tram. The route covers some of Franschhoek’s best and most historic wine farms and tickets are available at the Wine Tram ticket office on Main Road.
3. Make Music at Solms-Delta
Franschhoek’s rich musical history stems back to the indigenous Khoisan people who occupied the land long before the arrival of Europeans. They made their instruments from materials such as springbok ears and moth cocoons and used music predominantly for healing purposes. Over time, the Cape’s musical styles changed dramatically with the arrival of immigrants from all over the world. Today, Solms-Delta, a wine estate situated 15-km outside of Franschhoek, pays tribute to the area’s musical legacy through an annual harvest festival (“Oesfees”), and a Music Heritage Museum open throughout the year. At the museum you can listen to traditional musical styles, discover how regional music has evolved and play replicated indigenous instruments. You’ll also learn about the estate’s musical programme, which is aimed at developing the talents of farm workers. Since 2007, professional musicians have worked closely with the estate’s workforce to create a successful farm choir, a brass band and an “Optel” band. During “Oesfees” farm workers can be seen performing alongside musical greats such as David Kramer. Solms-Delta also boasts a Social History Museum (honoring the heritage of the Cape slaves), a restaurant, picnic facilities and a tasting room. Be sure to try their flagship wine: the 2012 Africana, a 100% Shiraz, made from grapes desiccated on the vine and earmarked by Neil Beckett, Editor of The World of Fine Wine (UK), as one of the wines you must try before you die.
Contact Solms-Delta: +27(0) 21 874 3937, Website: www.solms-delta.co.za
4. Indulge at Grande Provence
Grande Provence is a 300-year-old wine estate situated within walking distance of the village centre. This 47-acre farm is home to one of the Cape’s most highly-regarded art galleries, a chic industrial-style tasting room, accommodation, wedding facilities and one of South Africa’s top restaurants.
Over dinner at the estate’s restaurant I quickly learnt that Darren Badenhorst, its executive chef, treats his plates in the same way a painter would treat a palette. Every drizzle is strategic, every colour complimentary and every bite paired with an elegant wine. I started with asparagus mousse topped with grapefruit caviar, followed by a main course of Sous Vide springbok loin. For desert, I chose a rose chocolate macaroon crowned with candy-floss ice cream. After dinner, Darren told me about his approach to cooking. “I aim to create nostalgic experiences and journeys through my food,” he explained. Darren’s culinary mastery coupled with gracious, witty and professional staff members form a dining experience not to be missed.
As a destination in its own right, Grande Provence offers a range of accommodation options. Our overnight stay was at The Owner’s Cottage, a boutique guesthouse that can accommodate up to 15 guests. Combining Huguenot style with contemporary comfort and style, the Owner’s Cottage is the ultimate indulgence for a weekend in the country and especially perfect for a wedding party. It includes a lounge, a spa pool, a conservatory and a lush garden overlooking the mountains. All the rooms come complete with 5-star detail and are decorated in charcoal greys and crisp whites.
5. Go Underground at Haute Cabrière.
There are over 50 wine farms in and around Franschhoek, all of which offer vastly different experiences. Take Haute Cabrière, for instance. This family-owned winery, situated on the slopes of the Franschhoek Mountains, offers views of the entire valley. It’s also home to an underground cellar. Visitors can explore the cellar independently or join Cellar Master Takuan Von Arnim for a weekly tour starting every Saturday at 10:00am. Intriguingly, the cellar is built into the side of the mountain, and above it grows a lush garden. Once inside, you are transported to an elegant restaurant and a spiral staircase, which leads to the Pinot Noir Barrel Maturation Cellar. Packed on both sides with wooden barrels, the working cellar leads onto a tasting room, which houses Takuan’s dad’s colourful art collection. I joined Takuan’s tour and listened as he passionately shared philosophies about winemaking and animated tales about how his family started the business in 1980’s. He compared drinking champagne to jumping onto a cloud and then topped our glasses with the estate’s delicious Pierre Jourdan bubbly. Some of the other wines we got to sample were Haute Cabrière’s Chardonnay Pinot Noir, Unwooded Pinot Noir and Pinot Reserve.
For the full experience, conclude your cellar tour with lunch at the restaurant. Executive Chef Ryan Shell presents a sensational seasonal menu and uses ingredients sourced predominantly from Haute Cabrière’s vegetable garden. Some of Ryan’s imaginative platters include: Beetroot and chickpea salad; smoked beef fillet served with potato chakalaka, and white chocolate caramel bon bons. It’s to die for!
6. Smell the Herbs
Did you know that most of the herbs you purchase at your local Pick n Pay or Spar are likely to come from Allée Bleue, a working farm situated 17 kilometres from Franschhoek? This vast estate is home to four parallel businesses: fruit farming, wine production, hospitality and herb growing. We met up with Lario Moolman, the farm’s herb cultivator, for one of her weekly herb tours. Lario and her team grow 23 herb varieties on the farm and pack 1.5- 2 tons of herbs every week for distribution across the country.
“The demand for herbs is a barometer of what people are cooking with,” explained Lario, before leading the way to her 28 herb tunnels. We walked past large white tunnels filled with mint, rocket, coriander and parsley, whilst Lario elaborated on her farming methods. Some rows were lush, others in sprouting phase. Aromas of coriander inspired us all to want to cook an amazing meal, but instead Chef Beau Du Toit prepared one for us. After our walking tour, we gathered at Allée Bleue’s bistro restaurant for our herb-inspired three-course meal. Beau served an impressive spread of basil-pesto-stuffed squid, lamb shank ravioli and lemon-thyme-and-cashew-nut custard topped with lemongrass sorbet (absolutely mouthwatering!). Each course came paired with an estate wine, selected by award-winning winemaker, Van Zyl du Toit.
Lario’s herb tours are open to the public and scheduled every Friday at 11:00am. The tour -priced at R185 per person - includes a welcome cocktail and lunch at the bistro.
Franschhoek has come a long way since its humble beginnings. Imagine how astonished those French Huguenots of yesteryear would be if they could see how much variety, enjoyment and beauty their pioneering efforts have created for those of us who can relish it three hundred years later. Today Franschhoek is ranked one of South Africa’s top tourist destinations and if it’s not already on your bucket-list, be sure to add it over and over again.
Source: Travel Ideas