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For those inclined to indulge their senses, Franschhoek warrants visiting again and again. By Jeanri-Tine van Zyl.
Lovers of cuisine and wine should be well acquainted with Franschhoek’s main artery – Huguenot Road – that runs past some of South Africa’s best restaurants. This stretch contributing its fair share to the little town’s big reputation as being the country’s gourmet capital.
Driving to Franschhoek for a leisurely Saturday is common practice for Capetonians. It is close enough and the “village” provides ample to-do’s and to-return-fors. However, there are also a whole lot to-staylonger-fors, making it a worthy destination for food and wine enthusiasts from all over. Eateries in Franschhoek have made the most of the natural surroundings. Many offer al fresco dining, and, if weather drives you inside, interior spaces typically make use of big windows to allow for view enjoyment while fireplaces keep you warm.
I visit this town on a tee-shirt autumn weekend in May. Approaching Franschhoek on the R45 from the N1 in Cape Town, it feels like entering a centrefold in a winelands coffee table book, the oak trees and vines that line the lanes in town are wearing their yellow, copper and muscadel robes, with the sun lending just enough shadow and contrast. May and June seems to be the months to visit – berg winds can make for balmy days and, this being “offseason”, finding an affordable stayover is easy. Also, winter months (stretching from May until end September) are perfect for those who like to avoid the tourist herds.
There are numerous places to stay in Franschhoek – ranging from A-rate R1 500 plus per person) to F-rate (from as little as R200 per person). What’s beautiful, is that an “F” rate does not necessarily translate into “shabby”, since establishments are very much focused on maintaining a level of style complementary to what the village has come to represent. Therefore, if you are visiting on a budget, booking into a lowerrate establishment makes sense.
Franschhoek Wine Valley & Tourist Association (www.franschhoek.org.za) lists over 100 establishments offering accommodation, so you’re spoilt for choice. My travelling companions and I booked into Bo La Motte cottages, just outside the village but still within easy walking distance to the town centre. Run by Jenny Troth and Maarten de Graaf, Bo La Motte over-delivers on price. Separate, cosy self-catering cottages allow for absolute privacy. It is winter friendly too, with a fireplace in each “country house” to warm up the country-chic interior. The stoep is the perfect location to open a bottle of Colmant bubbly, produced by Jean-Philippe and Isabelle Colmant on a farm adjacent to Bo La Motte. These Cap Classique wines are some of the best produced in South Africa. Rate: R600 to R1 200 per cottage. Tel: 021 876 3067, www.bolamotte.com.
Rose Cottages from R700 to R1 250 per night (May to end-September) also come highly recommended by locals. Tel: 021 876 3425, www.rosecottages.co.za.
Also ask for winter packages as most establishments offer seasonal specials.
Le Quartier Franais
The village is home to numerous awardwinning eateries, none more renowned than Le Quartier Franais. A boutique hotel, LQF is perhaps best known for its restaurant The Tasting Room, recently awarded 37th place in the S.Pelligrino’s 50 Best Restaurants 2009. When visiting Franschhoek, a visit to LQF is a must-do. The Tasting Room is a dinner-only restaurant and offers only a four or eight-course menu (with prices to match). Definitely worth it, but for those keeping an eye on the finances, iCi, LQF’s “relaxed caf-style restaurant”, offers patrons all-day dining, and generous portions prepared by the same chef, Margot Janse. Local diners are also attracted by The Screening Room, a private movie house, where movies can be paired with an early dinner at iCi, followed by a 20:00 screening.
Recommendation: iCi is perfect for light lunches and casual dinners. Have to have: Duck liver parfait with pear chutney. Starter: The organic fig and buffalo mozzarella salad with bacon and pine nut crumbs and pomegranate dressing is also a fresh lunch option. Main: The slow cooked pork belly with hazelnut, cabbage and honey roasted pear. Enjoy it with: Stony Brook SMV 2006 Tel: 021 876 2151.
French Connection Bistro
Another local love is chef Matthew Gordon’s fresh mussels. Patron-chef at the French Connection Bistro in town, Gordon also holds fort at Cabrire. “The freshest mussels in the country” according to Cabrire’s Achim von Arnim, who recommends pairing it with a few glasses of Pierre Jourdan Belle Rose. Opting to have the starter portion at the French Connection is a good call – although you might want to ask for french fries on the side, as these are made sinfully well. The bistro also has a friendly, relaxed atmosphere – and it is oh-so-French with its red-checkered tablecloths.
Recommendation: best for a hearty lunch. Have to have: Crme Brle. Main: Free range slow roasted crispy duck or the fresh mussels. Enjoy it with: Porcupine Ridge Sauvignon Blanc. Tel: 021 876 4056, www.frenchconnection.co.za
La Petite Ferme
This restaurant provides the perfect postlunch lull setting. Situated higher up opposite Haute Cabrire on the Villiersdorp road (just before Franschhoek Pass), it boasts one of the best views in Franschhoek. Run by winemaker Mark and wife Josephine Dendy Young, the restaurant is tastefully decorated, with guests served at tables on an enclosed veranda that makes the most of the spectacular vistas. The winelist features various handcrafted wines, made to complement the food on offer. They also make for perfect companions when sprawled on the grass outside.
Recommendation: The restaurant offers a late lunch menu between 15:00 and 16:00 to settle those just-too-early-fordinner munchies. Go for: The farmhouse cheese platter. Try it with: Baboon Rock Unwooded Chardonnay 2008 or a glass of La Petite Ferme Sieste. Tel: 021 876 3016, www.lapetiteferme.co.za.
Mon Plaisir at Chamonix
If it is authentic French dining you are after, then Mon Plaisir at Chamonix wine farm must be first on your list. Recommended by winemaker Marc Kent from Boekenhoutskloof, Mon Plaisir is run with true French flair by Celine Mandaglio and David Sadeh. Meal choices are scribbled on a black board with Mandaglio on hand to explain. On the menu you’ll find traditional frogs’ legs, duck, sweetbreads of veal, and rabbit, although they cater equally well for the less adventurous diner.
Recommendation: Mon Plaisir is perfect for a romantic dinner to round off a weekend getaway. Have to have: The almost wafer-thin apple tart. Starter: Traditional frogs’ legs with butter, pepper and garlic. Main: Fillet topped with foie gras. Enjoy it with: Chamonix Pinot Noir Reserve 2007 or Bourgogne 2001 Pinot Noir. Tel: 021 876 2393, www.monplaisir.co.za.
Make sure you visit the Salmon Bar at the yard sooner rather than later during your visit, since chances are you would want to return. Match imported salmon or local trout with bubbly and while away the day. Locals highly recommend the Salmon Bar’s bowl of noodles tossed with hot smoked salmon, chilli and lime as an inexpensive lunch option.
Recommendation: The Salmon Bar is an excellent brunch venue. Have to have: Smolax (lightly smoked, marinated Lesotho Highland trout with lime mayonnaise) or poached eggs with buttered spinach and hot roast salmon. Enjoy it with: Graham Beck Brut. Tel: 021 876 4591, www.salmonbar.com.
OTHER LOCAL RECOMMENDATIONS:
Mreson’s Deli for delectable products such as marula-infused balsamic vinegar,
tel 021 876 3055, www.moreson.co.za.The restaurant Bread and Wine should
also be paid a visit, tel 021 876 3692.
Bouillabaisse off ers the most delicious oyster snacks, tel 021 876 4430,
La Cotte Inn Wine Sales & Fromage de France, stocks French cheeses and rare
wine fi nds from the underground cellar, tel 021 876 3775.
Kalfi ‘s restaurant off ers home cooked meals and photographs of Franschhoek in
the olden days. Tel 021 876 2520.
Visit the Motor Museum at L’Omarins, tel 021 874 9000, www.lomarins.co.za.
Solms Delta’s Museum van den Caab features a history of the Cape Winelands,
tel 021 874 3937, www.solms-delta.co.za.
Masquerade Antiques &things for fine linen and French interiors.
Tel 021 876 3944
And if you want to party with the local chefs and villagers, Elephant and Barrel
is where it is happening after 22:00. Tel 021 876 4127.
In Franschhoek it
is important to get
your fix of bubbly:
Graham Beck wine cellar runs an
excellent tasting room, tel 021 874
Colmant Cap Classique & Champagne,
for ber-delicious bubbly, tel
021 876 4348, www.colmant.co.za.
Let winemaker Achim von Arnim
show you traditional sabrage at
Cabrire, tel 021 876 8500,
For the outdoor
Pieter Hugo from Robertsvallei offers
horse rides, which include wine
tastings at Rickety Bridge Wines and
Mont Rochelle, Tel 021 876 2160.
Rob Armstrong from Haut Espoir
offers biodiversity walks,
Tel 021 876 4000.
Geddan from Manic Bicycles rents
out bicycles but also offers tailormade
bicycle tours to include wine
tastings at various farms.
Tel 021 876 4956.
Vrede en Lust runs a “wine-safari”
that take guests up to Simonsberg
in an open Land Rover for a wine
and food pairing at R350 per
person. Tel 021 874 1611.
Want to know more?
for trip highlights
and best finds and also winter
package deals in Franschhoek.