Franschhoek has never known a hurried way of life. The long Cape Dutch-style gabled terraced building overshadowed by ancient oaks stand shoulder-to-shoulder with quaint hotels, chic restaurants, art galleries and bespoke jewel-box boutiques.
In recent years Franschhoek, a gentrified village 45-minutes outside of Cape Town, has experienced a surge of energy. Analjit Singh, a self-made entrepreneur, fell in love with the area and subsequently purchased several properties along its streets.
Set on a 68-hectare wine farm, less than a mile off the high street, is Leeu Estates (the flagship property of the Leeu Collection), an elegant 19th century Manor House with 17 über-luxurious rooms and suites dotted throughout the winery.
Besides the boutique vineyard, which overlooks acres of rolling vineyards peppered with sculptures, there is a heavenly spa, a TechnoGym and a 15m infinity pool. Gourmet food, created by executive chef Oliver Cattermole, arrive in degrees of excellence – the rock-star service and attention to the smallest of details is unprecedented. Little extras are taken care of and include a free well-stocked mini bar, use of Estate bicycles and a shuttle service to and from the village centre.
The pièce de résistance is the complimentary wine tasting at Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines. A one-on-one tasting with Kayo McGregor is a genuine education. While witnessing the behind-the-scenes action of a working cellar, I listen to him speak of minimal intervention in the manufacturing process, of decomposed granite terroir, using just a little sulphur, no yeast or enzymes. He speaks of food pairing with their Kloof Street Chenin; of the aged characteristics found in the Semillon Gris; the Swartland Rouge which is aged in French oak barrels; and their Syrah – a complex wine that put them on the map.
The hotel is contemporary, with uniquely styled rooms and common areas. My suite (No. 6), has a wall of glass overlooking the comely swell of the Dassenberg mountains. The fireplace is warm and inviting and the terrace immense. The tactile textures are in calm shades of taupe; the bathroom is marble, the artwork carefully curated and the architectural detailing is customized throughout.
This is, without a doubt, one of South Africa’s most exclusive hotels.
The Wine Tram
The Franschhoek Wine Tram is a first in the world of wine tasting. It’s a hop-on-hop-off tour which includes being ferried around via Tram, a historic Dodge truck as well as behind tractors. It’s the best way to discover the true essence of the wine valley, with its picture-postcard vineyards and genuine warm hospitality.
One of the four route options had me roll along a track in an open-sided tram, delivering me to Rickety Bridge estate, where I disembark to a waiting farm tractor that carts me off to the shaded deck of the vineyard’s tasting room. An hour later, following several sips of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinotage, Chenin Blanc and Shiraz, it’s back to the tram and onto the manicured estate of Grande Provence, to sample their Chenin Blanc/Viogner, Pinot Noir and Shiraz. Rinse and repeat at Le Lude, La Petite Dauphine, Holden Manz, La Bourgogne, La Couronne and Mont Rochelle.
Artisan Food Finds
• Trained in Belgium, Huguenot Fine Chocolates, a petite chocolate shop on the high street, creates world-class Belgian chocolate using age-old artisan method by individually handcrafting small batched infused with ingredients like rosewater, rooibos tea or, because it’s Franschhoek, Chenin Blanc and Pinotage. For a ‘chocolate event’ I’m led upstairs by saggy-assed jeans clad Jermaine (aka Choc Norris) who raps his way through a half-hour fun programme covering chocolates history, demonstrations and tastings.
• At the Jam Jar, a small brick building behind a farm gate, Jill Pienaar, a retired Home Economics teacher, has been making jam since college and sells around 34,000 jars annually. Her customers view the jam-making process through a window looking into the kitchen and know her pectin is vegetarian and home-made.
• On the historic farmhouse of Auberge Clermont, home of The Franschhoek Olive Oil Company Gordon Frazer explains the meaning of ‘cold pressed’ and ‘extra virgin’, and what smells and tastes I should look for to determine good olive oil, then guides me through an olive oil tasting. Immediately I understand why he’s product is sought by delis, restaurants and hotels.
• Dalewood Fromage, a small artisanal farm cheesery on the outskirts of Franschhoek, is owned and managed by the Visser family. It all began when Rob Visser – a second generation strawberry farmer, bought a small herd of Jersey cows with lofty dreams of cheese-making. In a short space of time he turned his fruit farm into a pasture then become a cheese-maker extraordinaire. Visser is actively involved in every step of cheese-making; from growing pastures and feeding his now +200 strong Jersey herd, to making the cheese.
• On a farm, on Franschhoek’s outskirts, is Terbodore Coffee Roasters – one of the best roasters in the country where coffee connoisseurs and regular caffeine junkies can grab a flat white and a biscuit, then take it all in whilst breathing in the views from the stoep.
• Besides being one of the world’s most iconic wine labels, Boschendal has grown into the artisan food scene with a deli and farm shop housed in the estate’s former wagon house. Fresh and organic farm produce, baked the same day breads and cakes – a true farm to table concept and a good place to lunch.
• Tuk-Tuk Microbrewery is a laid-back craft beer option for those who prefer a pint. Tuk-Tuk doubles as a beer-pairing eatery (in the form of Mexican fair).
• La Cotte Fromages is a rustic cheese and wine shop in the village centre. Lodine Maske imparts her knowledge of cheese, speaking of the terroir, how it’s made and gives a few tips on buying, storing and eating cheese.
• Le Quartier Français is set back from the Main Road with its 21 auberge-style rooms grouped around a manicured garden and swimming pool. LQF temple to fine cuisine is The Tasting Room. Here internationally acclaimed executive chef Margot Janse, a Salvador Dali to the South African restaurant scene, is at the helm. Her tasting menu is a religious experience.
• Leeu House, located in a prime spot on the Main Road, is a transformed villa with a chic old-world feel. There’s an intimate restaurant in the main house, with accommodations built around a courtyard out back. The modern interiors feature some of South Africa’s top contemporary artists, resulting in the village’s finest address.
• For the discerning traveler, Auberge Cermont offers luxurious accommodation. There are six individually styled ensuite rooms, including a romantic honeymoon suite, plus a three-bedroomed self-catering villa. For the 2017 harvest (April to June) a ‘harvest stay’ will be on offer to guests who want to spend a day or two picking olives, then take their pressed pickings home. clermont.co.za
For further inspiration see franschhoek.org.za