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Franschhoek is a very beautiful small town near Cape Town. It has an unofficial title as South Africa’s food capital, justified by the town’s French influence and borne out by the high number of award-winning restaurants, mostly headed up by classically trained chefs.
Franschhoek lies in a fertile vine-filled valley surrounded by imposing mountains in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. The area was originally allocated to French Huguenots escaping religious persecution in France in the 1680s. The Huguenots brought with them wine making skills and their legacy has left Franschhoek a quality wine producing region.
The drive into Franschhoek is spectacular; vineyards are planted all the way to the mountain slopes, the historic Cape Dutch homes are lovingly restored and, upon entering the town, you are greeted by a spotless solitary street lined with pavement café’s and alluring restaurants. The street ends at the Huguenot Monument, a fitting tribute to those that contributed to the town’s success.
Top 8 reasons to visit Franschhoek
1. Take the hop on-hop off Franschhoek Wine Tram to experience a range of wine varietals on offer at magnificent wine farms in the valley. Depending on the tour chosen, cellar tours and a formal lunch, picnic basket or cheese platter is included.
2. You’re in Franschhoek for the fine cuisine, right? You have a choice of 36 outstanding restaurants, some based in the town, others on wine farms. One of South Africa’s best known chefs, and part time MasterChef judge, was born in Franschhoek and owns a restaurant here.
3. The town has a number of boutique shops, designer jewellery and top quality African art and crafts, the merchandise all carefully selected to offer only the finest. Belgian style chocolates are made here and the local cheeses are popular.
4. Take a cellar tour of Haute Cabrière to watch the theatrics of the larger than life estate owner practicing the art of Sabrage. The owner and his son use French cavalry sabres to open bottles of the estate’s Methodé Cap Classique.
5. Travel the scenic Franschhoek Pass road to the Theewaterskloof Dam in Villiersdorp. The route has brilliant views of the Franschhoek Valley, the road drives over an old stone bridge and the Theewaterskloof Dam wall in flood is a magnificent sight.
6. Much of the area has a long slave history and visiting the Museum van de Caab at the Solms-Delta Wine Estate provides an accurate picture of what slavery entailed on a typical wine farm. One of the museum walls is covered with 200 stone plagues to honour the slaves who lived, worked and died on the estate.
7. The Huguenot Monument dominating the surrounding area was constructed in 1948 to celebrate 250 years after the Huguenots arrived, 10 years too late! The monument is surrounded by a pond and lovely formal gardens with a museum alongside.
8. Take the alternate Paarl road, the R303, to pass the Drakenstein Prison. It was at this prison that Nelson Mandela spent the last few months of his incarceration before being released in 1990. The large statue of the man outside the prison is a good photo opportunity. Ask your host to arrange an appointment to view the compound house where Mandela was imprisoned.
Franschhoek is 75kms from Cape Town International Airport. Paarl, nearby, and the airport have several car rental agencies, however, you could book your rental online. Local tour operators are your best bet for a fast and affordable shuttle service to and from Franschhoek.
Did you know?
The Huguenot museum is a reconstruction of an old 1791 farmstead, known as Saasveld, which was demolished to make way for a church in Cape Town. The original farm bricks were numbered, dismantled and rebuilt to create the museum.
Visitors arriving from Stellenbosch to Franschhoek are sometimes disappointed, expecting a large town. The difference is that Stellenbosch is a residential town whereas Franschhoek is a village centred around a farming community.
For a more down to earth experience there are guest houses. Less expensive than hotels, they offer a more homey environment, as well as more privacy. Converted from a private house it’s a much gentler environment and for those with furry friends, there are also pet friendly options. They are usually well situated with shops and places of interest nearby. Being so small it offers a much more personal and intimate attention to it’s upkeep, leaving you with a more polished and homely experience.