Breathtaking scenery, warm hospitality, fine wines, distinctive artists, and a small village atmosphere. These are the hallmarks of the picture perfect Franschhoek Wine Valley, regarded by many as South Africa’s Culinary Capital, situated in the heart of the Cape Winelands.
The valley was originally settled in 1688 by French Huguenot refugees who brought with them their age-old French wine and food culture. Most of the Huguenots who settled in the area were given land by the Dutch government in a valley called Olifantshoek (‘Elephant’s Corner’), so named due to the vast herds of elephants that roamed the area. The name soon changed to Franschhoek, with many of the settlers naming their acquired farms after the areas in France from which they came. La Motte, La Cotte, Cabrière, Provence Chamonix, Vrede en Lust, Dieu Donné and La Dauphine were among some of the first established farms – most of which still retain their original farm houses, which have grown into successful wineries.
The heritage of Franschhoek is preserved by the Huguenot Monument, situated at the top of the village. The museum nearby chronicles the history of the first settlers, with each of the original Huguenot farms having its own fascinating story to tell. The Cape Dutch architecture in much of the village is unspoilt, with restrictions having been placed on the extent of renovations and new construction in order to preserve the spirit of the original settlers to the area.
As you make your way into Franschhoek you will notice that most of the farms still bear their original French names, some complete with a spectacular Cape Dutch homestead, towering oaks and rolling vineyards. You will find an assortment of cellars, ranging from quaint boutique wineries that cater for those in search of something unique, to the large cellars that offer visitors organised tours and tastings.
The fertile Franschhoek Wine Valley is home to some of South Africa’s noble cultivars and classic styles. These range from superb whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon and Chenin Blanc, to the full-bodied reds of Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Merlot. The area also produces some of the country’s finest Méthode Cap Classiques (MCC), available to visitors on the recently relaunched Franschhoek MCC Route, the first of its kind in the country, boasting a total of 18 producers.
Franschhoek is also home to some of South Africa’s ‘Top 100’ restaurants and has become known as the country’s Culinary Capital, affording visitors a memorable dining experience. Leading chefs create everything from cutting-edge cuisine to stylish light meals, using the freshest local produce paired with superb local wines. With fine dining playing a pivotal role in what makes Franschhoek a truly memorable experience, chefs and restaurants have been acknowledged for their contribution to the industry at top culinary awards. These include the Top 10 Eat Out DSTV Awards where Margot Janse, Executive Chef at Le Quartier Français was awarded Chef of the Year with The Tasting Room making it to number 2 on the Top 10 list. The Green House at Babylonstoren was awarded The Boschendal Style Award and was placed number 8 on the Top 10 list. Highly acclaimed Chef Reuben Riffel was awarded the Best Photography Cook Book in South Africa for ‘Reuben Cooks Local’, at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in 2012. Not forgetting the mouth-watering cheeses produced in the region, Dalewood Fromage Estate was awarded a Gold medal at the 2012 World Cheese Awards for their Huguenot.
The scenic valley offers visitors a wide range of accommodation – from luxury boutique hotels to quaint bed and breakfasts. Luxury five-star hotels include the Franschhoek Country House & Villas, L’Ermitage Franschhoek Chateau & Villas, Le Franschhoek Hotel and Spa and Mont Rochelle Hotel. For those wanting something more intimate, Franschhoek offers visitors an array of deluxe five-star guesthouses such as Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guesthouse, Asbourne House Guest House, Gable Manor and La Residence. Country style establishments for a calm and comfortable stay include Huguenot House, Cathbert Country Inn, Rickety Bridge Manor House and Holden Manz.
A short wander down the main road in Franschhoek uncovers world class shops and boutiques for an intimate and relaxed shopping experience. Some of these experiences include Huguenot Fine Chocolates and Masquerade, as well as galleries such as Ebony, IS Art at Le Quartier Francais, the Gallery at Grande Provence and the Pierneef Collection at La Motte.
With something for everyone Franschhoek also offers outdoor enthusiasts a range of activities, which include horse riding at Paradise Stables, hiring a bicycle from Manic Cycles, hiking in the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve, polo at Val de Vie and golf at Pearl Valley.
This picturesque wine valley is also the perfect host for weddings and functions.
Franschhoek also hosts an array of festivals throughout the year, which include: the Franschhoek Outdoor Challenge, the South African Cheese Festival, the Franschhoek Literary Festival, Cook Franschhoek, Franschhoek Summer and Winter Wines, the Franschhoek Open Gardens Festival, the Franschhoek Bastille Festival, the Franschhoek Uncorked Festival and the Franschhoek Cap Classique & Champagne Festival.
Only 45 minutes from Cape Town, Franschhoek is the perfect base for your exploration of the entire Cape Winelands region.
* For more information on Franschhoek and its offerings visit www.franschhoek.org.za.