Franschhoek: the World’s Most Charming Town

Doug is getting pretty good at driving on the opposite side of the road now…sitting on the opposite side, while driving a manual…

Today I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.  Our South Africa trip has been everything we hoped it would be, having experienced 6 phenomenal days on safari, visiting one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and feasting like kings throughout.  Today was supposed to be a nice drive through South Africa’s winelands to go wine tasting, and instead, we were blown away by what I thought was one of the most beautiful places in the world.

We first said goodbye to Cape Town, who played an excellent host to us these last three nights.  I would’ve never imagined the food to be that memorable in South Africa, yet we were impressed meal after meal.  Even our breakfast today at Jason Bakery was amazing, as we went overboard on ordering delightfully flaky pastries at this adorable shop on Bree Street.

View of Lion’s Head Peak from the rooftop of our hotel. Yes, we are spoiled!!
Pastries at Jason Bakery. The croissant stuffed with blackberry/vanilla custard was soooo good.
The famous Long Street, bisecting Cape Town’s CBD with bars and restaurants aplenty

On our hour long drive from Cape Town to Franschhoek, city life gave way to townships, which then gave way to expansive landscapes that opened out onto mountains and valleys and vineyards galore.  It was literally like driving onto a scene of a fairy tale, but with wine and good food…even better!  As a little history lesson, Franschhoek means “French Corner” in Afrikaans, aptly named for the French Huguenots that sought refuge from persecution in the 1600’s.  Along with them, they brought their knowledge of agriculture and French culture, which manifested itself in the architecture and names of farms in town, so we felt transported to the small villages of Provence but with more dramatic landscapes.

We started off with lunch at the famous La Petite Ferme, a stunning farm that sat in the hills of outer Franschhoek, surrounded by lush valleys, vineyards, gardens, and mountains.  As is the case with most of viniculture, anytime there is good wine, there’s likely great cuisine nearby.  We had a lovely 3-course meal here inspired by French cuisine but with a distinct South African twist, with an even more lovely view.

Seared pork belly with butternut squash puree served with gnocchi and rice cracker
Lavender white chocolate panna cotta with black sesame meringue
The ever so lovely gardens of La Petite Ferme

Following lunch, we went on a bit of a tear through a few wineries so we could experience as many as we could in the limited time we had. Our next stop was across the street at Haute Cabrière, which was known for their sparkling wines (methode cap classique). On certain nights (not today, unfortunately), they even have a special sabrage show – opening a bottle of bubbly by beheading it with a sabre!

The cellars of Haute Cabriere
View from the terrace of Haute Cabriere. Life is good.
Starting the day off with a flight of bubbly at Haute Cabriere
Doug is already getting silly…

We then headed toward the hills to the magnificent Dieu Donné, perched along the slopes of the Franschhoek Mountains. It was yet another perfect spot to relax outside in perfect weather with a perfect, unobstructed view of the valley. The Winelands are known for Pinotage, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc (to name a few).  We tried all of them by the end of the day.

And, the day just gets sillier…
View of the Franschhoek Mountains from the tasting terrace at Dieu Donne
Taking it all in!

Heading back towards town, we next stopped at Rickety Bridge, which was probably the least remarkable winery (only because we are getting spoiled now) although they had a nice outdoor porch to relax on. It would’ve been a fun place to go with friends, as they had a cornhole set and some other outdoor games if we weren’t so rushed with trying to get to as many wineries as we could before closing time.

Conquering our fourth winery
View of the valley from the Rickety Bridge terrace

By this point, we had time for one more winery and honestly would’ve passed out if we had tried for more anyhow. So we ended our tour with a bang – at the world famous Boschendal, the one winery everyone recommended when we said we were going to the winelands. It was the mother of all wineries, located on quite an expansive estate complete with herb gardens, restaurant, butchery, and of course, a tasting room.  By the way, tastings in Franschhoek run cheap and aplenty – and most tasting fees were waived with a purchase. We finished the day having bought 4 bottles of wine and 4 matching wine glasses as souvenirs!  And would’ve definitely left with more, if we had more room in our luggage.

Iconic building of Boschendal
Enjoying our Boschendal tastings in their beautifully manicured gardens

We ended our night with dinner at Babel, the farm-to-fork restaurant located on the premises of the picturesque Babylonstoren winery.  Unfortunately, we arrived too late to check out the winery and their storied gardens, but that’s the price you pay to be able to see everything else!  Set in an old cow shed, Babel’s menu revolved around whatever was seasonally available in their gardens, so we knew everything would be super fresh.  I’m not sure if it was the alcohol, or the fact we’d eaten sooo well on this trip, but this ended up being one of our least favorite meals and we were falling asleep through half of it so we threw in the towel and called it a night.

The iconic Babel restaurant
Our appetizer…a yellow salad comprised of carrots, flowers, papaya, and orange.  Such a beautifully plated dish!

Our accommodations for tonight were at a cottage located onsite at the relatively new Topiary Winery.  There weren’t a ton of reviews online, so we were worried about its legitimacy, but the cottage was simply ADORABLE.  There were only two cottages on the premises, so it was super intimate, located toward the back of the farm, among the grapevines.  Since the tasting room was closed on the day we checked in, the manager was kind enough to let us arrange for a private cellar tour and tasting the next morning before we checked out.  So we were back at it again, at the ripe hour of 9am, so that we could squeeze in a visit as one last activity before heading to the airport.  The wine must’ve been delicious (the rosé certainly was on point!) because Doug got distracted and left his cell phone behind…and didn’t realize it until we got to the airport, one hour later.  Thankfully, the manager was awesome and mailed Doug’s phone back stateside, which he received several weeks later!

Sunset from our cottage terrace. Can we stay here forever?!
Our adorable cottage would look more adorable if Doug hadn’t photobombed
Beautiful oak casks for aging wine in the cellar at Topiary
View from our terrace
Saying goodbye to Topiary Winery…and to the winelands…

And with that, we wrapped up yet another international trip.  We handily agreed that South Africa has been our favorite trip together to date, for a variety of reasons.  This particular itinerary was perfect for us – it involved quite a bit of research upfront, but once we arrived, there was little we actually needed to plan so we were able to fully enjoy ourselves in the moment.  And the range of activities and sights were so unique – from the incredible game viewing on safari, to experiencing the fascinating culture and sights of Cape Town, and enjoying the stunning scenery of Franschhoek while tasting world class wines.  And of course, the food!  We’ve been talking nonstop about the trip since coming back, and already are dreaming about our next excursion back to Africa.  Until next time…

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