Tag Archives: franschhoek

Following the Snow to Huguenot Fine Chocolates in Franschhoek (2020-08-30) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 01 JAN 2021

Given the previous couple of hot, dry years that Cape Town has plodded and panicked its way through, snow on its relatively low lying mountains has been somewhat… scarce. That all changed with last year’s winter season as we were treated to some spectacular snow hitting the mountain tops of all the Stellenbosch, Franschhoek, and Helderberg ranges, reaching as far down as even Cape Town’s famed Table Mountain itself!

Recalling the days of Chantelle’s winter baked goods deliveries to Sacred Ground in Franschhoek, we decided to head out for an afternoon drive to that side of the world, ostensibly to chase the snow capped peaks, but given the reality of the now long-running Covid pandemic, it was just as much a reason to get out of the house to stave off cabin fever for a little while longer.

We headed up over Sir Lowry’s Pass, swung a left past Grabouw, and then slid along the gorgeously green Viljoen’s Pass until we reached what now at last is a very full Theewaterskloof Dam, which it has to be said is looking a damn sight better than what it did just a year or two ago at the height of Cape Town’s drought crisis.

Pointing our nose up through the Franschhoek Pass, we moved in between the snow capped tops and were then flabbergasted as we hit the heavy mountain pass traffic caused by the long queue of cars all patiently waiting to take their turn at a walk in the snow at the now uber popular Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve.

Eventually though, we dropped down the other side of the Franschhoek Pass into Franschhoek itself, and given the various pandemic induced bans on alcohol, travel, etc, this normally bustling tourist attracting town was quiet and far more leisurely to stroll through than what we were normally used to. We found a parking, ambled down main street, browsed the various shop windows and reasonably empty restaurant fronts, until eventually coming to a stop in front of our almost always when in Franschhoek with the girls haunt, Huguenot Fine Chocolates.

Known as the makers of fine Belgian chocolates, Chantelle, the girls and I eagerly selected a bevy of different flavours and forms, and then proceeded to find a quiet bench in the little park across the road that usually hosts the Franschhoek Market in non Coronavirus lockdown times. Beautiful old buildings, snowy peaks all around us, and delicious chocolates begging to be savoured, this was thus a pretty enjoyable way of escaping the now very familiar four walls of our little home back in Gordon’s Bay – even if for just a couple of hours!

Huguenot Fine Chocolates and Pizza in Franschhoek (2019-05-18) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 20 OCT 2019

Chantelle and I woke up one Saturday and decided that we felt like a drive out to Franschhoek in order to check up on how the Theewaterskloof Dam was doing now that we were finally getting some much needed rain this winter season. (The answer, much, much better since we’d last been to see it!)

The journey out over Sir Lowry’s Pass, through the gorgeous Grabouw/Elgin Valley and then Viljoen’s Pass, past the vast Theewaterskloof Dam, and then up and over the Franschhoek Pass into Franschhoek itself is magnificently scenic, and one well worth doing if you ever get the chance.

This particular day was a beaut of a winter’s day, with clear skies and a warm sun guiding us to the food and wine capital of South Africa, where we strolled down main street, taking in the beautiful buildings, the stunning art, and the bustle of the many foreign tourists that bring Franschhoek to life.

We treated the girls with some fun (and delicious) chocolates from the excellent Huguenot Fine Chocolates boutique chocolaterie and then, because it was lunch, had pizza at the Col’cacchio next door.

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Snoek Pizza at the Franschhoek Station Pub & Grill (2017-08-13) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 26 APR 2018

Franschhoek is a fantastic town to visit, beautiful surroundings, incredible wine estates, brilliant restaurants, a grand monument – but in truth isn’t really all that geared for visiting families, given the general upmarket offerings of the area. That said, there is one restaurant that does actual cater for those needing a more casual experience – the Franschhoek Station Pub.

Situated in the historic, but now disused, town train station, the Franschhoek Station Pub & Craft Bar is one of those dining spots that gets a whole lot right when it comes to entertaining families (and men who want a place to watch sport). The menu is nice and cosy, the beer selection wide (and yes, this includes a lot of the local craft brews), the pub’s decorations interesting, and most important of all, they have a small kids play area behind the pub, right next to the big stretch tent that covers the outdoor eating area.

Oh, and they offer a biltong tasting too.

Our particular visit saw myself tucking into a particularly good hamburger and downing a surprisingly good Stellenbrau Craven Craft Lager, while Chantelle opted for something far less conventional – a snoek covered pizza! A weird combination for sure, but nevertheless a taste which wasn’t half bad in the end.

Chantelle and I had a good time, the kids had a good time, and so all in all a pretty easy spot to recommend to visitors looking for something a little more casual in among the rest of Franschhoek’s more sophisticated offerings.

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The station pub is on the main road and pretty much impossible to miss (the building is unique, the old steam engine stands out, and then there are the large tin buffalo, elephant and rhino statues to catch your eye), though here is a map for just in case you did somehow manage to ride on right past it!

Related Link: Franschhoek Station Pub & Grill | Franschhoek

Admiring the Tranquility of the Huguenot Monument in Franschhoek (2017-08-13) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 18 APR 2018

We don’t really create large scale monuments any more (makes sense, they’re expensive and usually only relevant to a small slice of the population), but I do find that a pity because I rather enjoy the spectacle of a well designed monument space.

For me, the Huguenot Monument in Franschhoek is a thing of absolute, tranquil beauty. The distinctive arches that frames the strong central character, the flanking pillars of the colonnade, and the reflective pool all combine to create a striking vision, with the large manicured lawns ensuring that the elegant monument stands central to the scene.

Inaugurated in 1948, the monument, designed by J.C. Jongens, honours the Huguenot’s who, fleeing religious persecution back in France, arrived in the country between the years 1683 and 1756 and primarily hunkered down in the valley of Franschhoek (literally “French Corner”).

It was here then that the French Huguenots settled, built farms, produced wines, and impressed their culture onto the area, leaving a huge mark on colonial South African life, and indeed, leaving a legacy which to this day survives in what is undoubtedly the premier wine producing region of South Africa.

The monument itself is dripping with symbolism: the three great arches represent the Holy Trinity, above from which the Sun of Righteousness shines, topped by the Cross of the Christian faith. The central female figure (created by Coert Steynberg) is meant to personify religious freedom, with a bible in her one hand and a broken chain in the other. Her cloak of oppression is being cast off as she stands upon the globe symbolising her religious freedom. The fleur-de-lis on her robe represents a noble spirit and character.

The still, reflecting water pond below expresses tranquility of mind and spiritual peace, important considering the strife and conflict the Huguenots had experienced back in France.

As for the globe itself, the central Southern tip of Africa includes a symbol of their religion (the Bible), a symbol of their art and culture (the harp), a symbol of their viticulture (the sheaf of corn and grape vine), and a symbol of industry (a spinning wheel).

In addition to the monument, on the grounds next door stands the Huguenot Museum, itself with a rather interesting story to tell. It used to be the elegant home of Baron Willem Ferdinand van Reede van Oudtshoorn, which had been erected around 1791 in Cape Town.

Despite all attempts to save it, the historic building was demolished in 1954, but not before an agreement was reached to use it as a French Huguenot museum. So each brick and stone was numbered, and transported from Cape Town to Franschhoek, where it was erected exactly how it had originally stood, complete with its original decorations intact.

As interesting as a stroll through the museum would have been, this particular visit to the monument had the kids along for the ride, which of course then meant that while open spaces with a boring building but interesting lizards was tolerable enough for them, a visit to a dusty old museum was definitely not on their acceptable things to do for the day!

Still, I got plenty of pictures from what was a quiet, peaceful experience:

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As with most monuments, the Huguenot Monument is best experienced when there are few or no other people around – a certain level of quiet is needed to truly experience the surreal tranquility of this beautiful space in the Franschhoek valley.

Related Link: Huguenot Monument | Wikipedia | Franschhoek

Water Level of the Berg River Dam in Franschhoek (2017-08-13) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 17 OCT 2017

Every time that we enter Franschhoek via Stellenbosch, a large mound/structure off in the distance on the right hand side catches my eye, I mutter to Chantelle, “I wonder what that is?”, and then continue to drive on into main road of this wine-soaked, tourist friendly little town and straight away forget all about it.

Which is silly really, because if I had just opened up Google and looked at a map then I would very much have known that what I’m seeing is a dam wall.

For its water needs, Cape Town relies heavily on the Western Cape Water Supply System, which is basically a big inter-linked network of six dams, their associated pipelines, tunnels and distribution networks – with the six dams in question being the Theewaterskloof Dam, Wemmershoek Dam, Steenbras Dams, Voëlvlei Dam and finally the Berg River Dam (i.e. the one that was right in front of me the whole time!).

As you can see from the photo above, the reason that the Berg River Dam isn’t all that apparent from the road (basically the reason I’m using to excuse my ignorance of the dam in the first place) is because of the clever decision to plant indigenous flora on the downstream face of the dam wall – the express purpose  being to try and get the dam and associated structures to blend in with the surrounding landscape and thus be a little more environmentally friendly.

As for the award winning dam build itself, well, from all accounts this was a very successful project (basically completed on time and within budget – something not often associated with government run projects of this scale).

With an exhaustive planning and consultation period that stretched from 1989 to 2002, construction began in 2004 and by July 2007 the dam started storing water – with it filling up a year later thanks to a particularly good spell of rainfall. The Berg River Dam was officially opened in 2009.

The dam itself is a concrete-faced rockfill dam (a type of embankment dam) which is 68 metres high and 929 metres long, with a gross storage capacity is 130 million cubic metres. The surface area of the reservoir is around 488 hectares.

That said, given our current drought conditions the current water level of the Berg River Dam isn’t quite where it normally would be…

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Unsurprisingly, the surrounding area itself is actually quite popular with local joggers, hikers and mountain bikers.

So, just in case that somehow, like me, you haven’t actually spotted it before, here’s a handy map:

Related Link: Berg River Dam | Wikipedia

Wine Tasting at La Bourgogne in Franschhoek (2016-10-01) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 22 APR 2017

Having tasted wine at both Rickety Bridge and Grande Provence, and lunched at Le Petite Dauphine’s Cafe BonBon, next on our wine tram experience was a wine tasting at La Bourgogne wine farm, itself a subdivision of the farm Bourgogne which was among the first Huguenot farms, proclaimed way back in 1694!

Shaded by 150 year old oaks, the farm house at La Bourgogne is the heart of this working farm which today produces quality wines, export quality plums and pears, and some rather good olive oils to boot.

It also boasts a couple of rather fine, secluded riverside cottages.

We were there of course to taste some wine, but to be honest, most of us were already pretty much done with wine for the day, which is probably why Chantelle immediately settled for a dessert, while Monty opted to try some olives.

So we sat and enjoyed some wine, olives and cake, overlooking the lush green, rolling lawns behind the tasting room, surrounded by vineyards, accompanied by the local St. Bernard dog, observed by passing horse riders, and completely satisfied in the tranquility of the surroundings.

So yes, it was rather nice.

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At this point then, everyone pretty much agreed that the day had now drawn to a close. The wine had been good, the company great, and besides, it was still a long drive back home for everyone involved!

Related Link: La Bourgogne Wine Farm | Franschhoek Wine Tram

Cafe BonBon Lunch at La Petite Dauphine in Franschhoek (2016-10-01) Food and Drink | Photo Gallery 21 APR 2017

The third stop on October last year’s fabulous Franschhoek Wine Tram excursion (having had already tasted plenty of wine at both Rickety Bridge and Grande Provence) was La Petite Dauphine, an estate that bills itself as a guest farm – which translates then essentially to superb accommodation nestled on a historic working fruit farm, with a particularly good wine collection and some fine dining options to boot.

After hopping off the Wine Tram bus, we made a beeline straight to Café BonBon, the main restaurant at La Petite Dauphine to make good on the lunch reservation that Chantelle had earlier organized for our group.

Although you can dine in the 200 years old, restored wine cellar, we instead opted to take full advantage of the amazing weather and sat at a large table outside, where we set about investigating the mouthwatering lunch options on the menu.

Naturally, wine was ordered, conversation flowed, and mouths salivated at the food eventually placed down before us.

Surrounded by large oak trees all around, the setting is one of serenity and tranquility, and once combined with the excellent food on offer, the experience is definitely one to savour!

So yes, definitely a contender if you are looking to stop for lunch whilst on the wine tram route then.

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Next stop for us on the day though? A final tasting at La Bourgogne!

Related Link: Cafe BonBon Country Restaurant | La Petite Dauphine Guest Farm | Franschhoek Wine Tram

Wine Tasting at Grande Provence in Franschhoek (2016-10-01) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 09 APR 2017

Last year saw Chantelle and myself tackle the fantastic Franschhoek Wine Tram experience once more, and following our first tasting over at the Rickety Bridge Winery, our next stop came in the form of the grand, art rich and 300 year old Franschhoek institution, the Grande Provence estate.

We were very excitedly telling our companions all about the fantastic massive elephant and horse rider statues guarding over the entrance at Grande Provence, which I guess then is precisely why when we did finally pull up via our tractor drawn carriage, neither of those two statues were anywhere in sight!

(Turns out, as we found out later following some inquiries, some wealthy American took a liking to the statues and had them shipped out back to the States. Which makes complete sense when all the beautiful pieces on display are actually there for sale purposes in the first place!)

Not that it matters in the slightest though. We were after all there to taste some wine, and indeed, the wine that we got to taste was very good indeed!

Grande Provence was slightly on the busy side when we arrived, so Chantelle and I opted to do our tasting inside the tasting room while the others waited to be helped outside. We got talking to the gentleman helping us with our tasting, and he surprised us by letting us taste some of the more expensive wines which weren’t even on our tasting list for the day!

Following our tasting, Chantelle and I headed outside to explore a little more. The estate’s classic Cape Dutch architecture is enhanced by the beautifully manicured and maintained gardens, which are of course studded with clever and thought provoking sculpture pieces wherever you look.

So pro tip: keep this in mind if you are there for only a short amount of time – be sure to set aside a good couple of minutes for yourself to be able to amble around the gardens and take in all the artistic sights.

Unless of course you really are there only for the wine! ;)

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As for us on the day? Next up, lunch at Café BonBon on the La Petite Dauphine guest farm!

Related Link: Grande Provence Wine Estate | Franschhoek Wine Tram

Wine Tasting at Rickety Bridge Winery in Franschhoek (2016-10-01) Photo Gallery | Travel Attractions 08 APR 2017

Chantelle and I did the Franschhoek Wine Tram experience again last year October, and as for most people who undertake this brilliant day out and about sipping wine, our first wine tasting for the day was scheduled at the fabulous little winery known as Rickety Bridge.

Arriving via the titular wine tram (always a lovely experience in itself), we were picked up by a bright red tractor (the usual truck was apparently in the shop for repairs), and we slowly wound our way through the vineyards (and across the titular bridge) over to Rickety Bridge’s dedicated Wine Tram tasting area.

If you are not familiar with it, nestled against the slopes of the Franschhoek Mountains overlooking the majestic Wemmershoek Mountain range, the Rickety Bridge estate has a lot of history in the wine making business, having originally been part of the land that made up the original La Provence farm granted to the French Huguenots who first settled in Oliphantshoek (which they very quickly renamed to Franschhoek).

The estate itself is not particularly large, clocking in at about 50 ha in terms of size, of which only around 15 ha or so actually have planted vineyards growing on it.

Apart from its wine producing operation, Rickety Bridge does also have its hand in a couple other ventures, namely accommodation (the Basse Provence Guest House and the Rickety Bridge Manor House), hosting weddings, feeding people via its newly renamed restaurant Paulina’s, and of course tourist wine tasting – for which it operates a very nice, dedicated tasting room.

On our first ever visit to Rickety Bridge (back in 2015), we had lucked out by a) not having a lot of other people on the tour with us for the first stop, and b) getting served by a very knowledgeable lady who had no problem in staying and chatting to us about the winery, the wine and the process (as newbies we had quite a lot of questions!).

This time around though we weren’t quite as fortunate, though in the bigger scheme of things that didn’t nearly matter all that much seeing as we actually had some of our own company around the table for change!

Pleasingly, the wine list allowed for quite a bit of tasting across various varietals and, as expected, the wine proved to be really good – so a really decent start to the day’s wine drinking outing then!

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Also, a map:

Related Link: Rickety Bridge Winery | Franschhoek Wine Tram