Joburg Expat: I've Fallen in Love

October 27, 2011

I've Fallen in Love

Everything about my new object of desire is perfect. I can't stop thinking about it. I'm already scheming to spend time together again.

No, this is not a marital crisis. In fact, Noisette is equally smitten. We've both fallen in love with Franschhoek.

Typical wine estate in Franschhoek


We recently spent a weekend without kids in this stunning valley not far from Cape Town. Maybe I should disclose upfront that I very easily fall in love with almost any place on Earth provided I get to go there without our four kids, who you might know from this blog are among the greatest debaters that ever lived. In fact, one of the most beautiful places in the world, when I have it all to myself, is our own house. So in case you suspect that my judgment might be just a tad clouded, you are right. However, take it from Noisette, who is rather a snob when it comes to travel, that Franschhoek is indeed a place much worth visiting.

Even before we ever got there, I fell in love with the name. It sounded so pretty and I couldn't get enough of saying it over and over again (you pronounce it “French hook,” in case you are wondering).  Which is perhaps why we settled on Franschhoek Manor as our Bed and Breakfast among the almost overwhelming selection of equally beautiful places, and it was an excellent choice. I’ve never seen a more beautiful garden and could have spent the entire day right there, surrounded by roses climbing and cascading every which way, occasionally getting up to move from the lawn chair by the pool to the loveseat by the river and finally to the swing under the giant weeping willow.


Beautiful gardens at Franschhoek Manor

View of the house from the double swing

I loved the French-ness of it and its history. Literally "French corner," this area was settled in the year 1694 by French Huguenots fleeing persecution for their Protestant faith. They brought with them their love and knowledge of wine making, and to this day many of the original founders’ names live on in the many wineries you will find scattered along the road and along the lower lying slopes. Although Noisette would argue that having scored a Renault from Avis on top of it all was a little too much French-ness for the weekend, as the poor car whined and clattered so much at times that we were afraid we’d have to get out and push it up the hill.


I loved the sweeping landscapes found in the Franschhoek valley and beyond. We didn’t even think to bring the nice camera (what with gathering a few necessities at the last minute, the possibility of which is the most pleasant part of travelling sans kids, even though it often leads to poor planning), so my pictures won’t do the real thing justice. But I hope you can still see the beauty all around. When we set out on Saturday morning, after tearing ourselves away from our delicious breakfast on the gorgeous patio, we hardly made any progress because I constantly stopped for yet another picture of a new angle of vineyards framed by mountains. And just a little way up towards Franschhoek Pass, you will be rewarded with the most stunning vistas in every direction.

Franschhoek offers views of mountains in every direction

View from Franschhoek Pass into the next valley

I loved how secluded it was, even though Cape Town is less than an hour away. We arrived when it was already dark, and finding our way along unlit country roads was quite the adventure. Our GPS was of no help, as somehow whoever was in charge of the Cape Town and surroundings map segment for Garmin must have been on drugs or otherwise incapacitated. Nowhere in South Africa have we gotten sent in so many wrong directions as in the Cape, but it has often led to the discovery of the loveliest places, which just goes to show that we’ve managed to lose the charm of the olden days with our hunger for technology.

A field of flowers just around the corner from our B&B

I loved the flowers everywhere. The entire valley had exploded in color, which is what happens in South Africa at this time of year, but particularly in the Cape. The most amazing thing about this area is the pure multitude and diversity of flora, unmatched anywhere else in the world. And I loved Franschhoek town itself, an artsy little place with plenty of sidewalk cafes and restaurants, each more inviting than the last, some nice art galleries, and chocolatiers galore. In fact, we oscillated between tasting chocolates and tasting wine that day, which I would argue is not a bad way to spend a weekend!


The Town of Franschhoek, a beautiful place to stroll and have coffee

Not surprisingly, we loved the wine. After all, it was what we had come here for. We had barely arrived and sat down for a very late dinner at La Grande Provence, which our B&B hosts had booked for us without us having any idea what to expect, when a glass of Chardonnay appeared in front of us. It was the best wine we’ve ever had, and the first thing we did the next morning was to go back and order an entire case (free shipping!). The wine tasting, of course, is what Franschhoek is famous for, and it lived up to its reputation. There are wineries everywhere, each in its own style with its own range of award-winning wines, and even before you’ve ever taken a sip you will be enthralled when you enter these estates. A grand gate framed by whitewashed walls, rows and rows of orderly vines on gently sloping hills, the main building in the Cape Dutch style looming in the distance… Some of the bigger places will charge you for a wine tasting and have a more commercialized feel, but there are many smaller wineries where you can just show up and start tasting away.

Our case of Chardonnay (3rd from left) arrived within 3 days - bottle chilling as I'm typing!

Good food of course goes with good wine, and it is in this department that I loved Franschhoek most of all. I’m not much of a planner and so I had not given much thought to this weekend other than getting onto the plane, but in the meantime I’ve looked at some brochures and magazines and it turns out that Franschhoek is considered the Gourmet Capital of South Africa. I had no idea! And it’s absolutely true. Our meal at La Grande Provence was outstanding, closely followed by Monneaux (at Franschhoek Country House). We already have Bread&Wine at Moreson on our list for next time (famous for their cured meats, they only serve lunch, which we showed up too late for), as well as The Tasting Room at Le Quartier Francais (book early).

I just couldn't get enough of these grand entrances

I remember driving into Napa valley a long time ago, expecting a paradise on Earth of sorts, and being sorely disappointed. Franschhoek, on the other hand, looks exactly like I had imagined Napa! There was nothing NOT to love in Franschhoek. It might not be the most fitting place for a family vacation, but even that would work. Plenty of the wineries offer accommodations as well, so you could park your kids poolside while you head straight for the wine. At least that’s what I would do.


If your time in South Africa and Cape Town is limited and you still want to get a glimpse of its wine making, your best bet is a visit at Groot Constantia winery. It’s not far from downtown, it’s South Africa’s oldest winery, and the land it sits on is beautiful. Or you could take a day trip to Stellenbosch, another fine wine tasting destination. But to me, Franschhoek is the absolute best. Once you’ve seen it, you won’t want to go anywhere else.

Noisette and I will definitely be back at the first opportunity.

This article also appeared on TravelWrite.

8 comments :

cat said...

Franschoek is indeed magical. And about the Hugenots - yes, all literature will tell you they were good honest Protestants, the "secret talk" is that a lot of them were the usual scoundrels that used the bandwagon to escape France. We Afrikaners are a good mix of all sorts of scoundrels.

Jenna said...

Ah Franshoek, I couldn't agree more with you :) It is Jurgen and my place which we used to always go for weekends away together, anniversaries, etc. I think this year in Feb we may go back for a visit again!

xoxo
Jenna

Sine said...

Haha, very true about new countries being founded by "the usual scoundrels." The fact that these beautiful places were often first settled by these less-than perfect people used to upset my youthful idealism but I've since made peace with that (or perhaps the fact that I'm also less-than perfect:-).

martina-in-jozi.com said...

I got married in Franschoek! It is the most stunning place

Bing said...

I love Franschhoek too, and I was there without the hubby. He was at work while the wifey was checking out the great wineries and quaint restaurants. Haha!

W. A. Jeffrey said...

Sounds wonderful and I enjoyed the pictures. Looks like a fun place to visit although the wine thing would be lost on me as I find wine to be thoroughly disgusting. I must be amongst a tiny minority. Give me whiskey, beer, or gin any day but not wine!

Sine said...

eeek! What is wrong with you:-) Having said that, you'd find enough to love in Franschhoek without the wine. The food is fantastic, and I'm sure they will serve you some whiskey or gin with it.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

Normally I would attribute it to growing up in a family of teetotaling Baptists but since I don't mind many other alcoholic beverages it must have something to do with my taste buds. I like grapes, I just don't care for the rubbing alcohol wang that wine seems to have.