Franschhoek & Stellenbosch
The Cape Winelands are situated north east of Cape Town, the three best known towns are Stellenbosch 50 kms. from Cape Town, Franschhoek 75 kms. and Paarl. There are trains and buses serving Stellenbosch but the train is not recommended for visitors carrying luggage and you can arrange a taxi for two for the same cost as two single tickets on the Greyhound bus. The main advantage of the taxi transfer is that it is door to door and comfortable.
We chose to visit two of the three, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, Stellenbosch was founded by Dutch settlers and the town of oaks, as it is known, is full of wonderful examples of the original Dutch buildings. The town is famous for it’s university and of course the wineries surrounding the town. Organised trips can be arranged to visit some of the wineries and of course if you have your own transport you can select the wineries to visit, the tourist office has some excellent information.
Transfers between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek can easily be arranged by your hotel or guest house. Franschhoek was founded by French Hugenots and while it has some excellent original buildings the main attractions are the stunning setting at the end of a valley surrounded on three sides by mountains and the 40 or so wineries that surround the town easily reached by the Franschhoek Wine Tram www.winetram.co.za Franschhoek is also known as the culinary capital of South Africa for the many top restaurants in and around the town.
We used www.booking.com and chose Bonne Esperance www.bonneesperance.com , the minute we arrived we knew we had picked well, it is a beautiful house surrounded by lovely gardens and five minutes walk from the main street. The rooms are all beautifully appointed and all the staff are charming and helpfully provide a list of places to eat and drink for those that have not already done their planning.
Again we used www.booking.com and from the many guest houses picked The Coach House www.thecoachhouse.co.za , this was another gem of a place to stay. We had a garden room with a small terrace area which was lovely for relaxing after a day exploring the town’s wineries. Sharon the owner is a wonderful host, she has lots of information on places to eat and things to see and organises a great breakfast to set you up for the day.
Schoon de Companje, corner of Church & Bird Street was recommended by the guest house and was a real gem, part bakers, grocers and wine store the rambling building also contains many eating areas where we shared an excellent meat and cheese platter accompanied by so many different breads we lost count. This is highly recommended as a good place for a relaxed lunch.
Hussar Grill, 23 Plein Street, is a branch of the Cape Town group and specialises in of course steaks of many varieties. We booked in advance and just as well as it was packed on a mid week night. The quality of the food was good and as you would expect an amazing wine list to go with the steaks, the service was slightly slow but a complimentary hot chocolate vodka martini soon made us forget this.
Foliage, www.foliage.co.za was one of the best eating experiences of our three week trip and delighted to hear it has been nominated as one of the top 20 restaurants in the country. It was from start to finish a great experience, we had a table near the kitchen and could see the chef’s at work, the atmosphere was relaxed yet professional and the food was outstanding. Our one regret is that we did not go back for a second meal, the love and care put in by Chris and the staff is apparent in every aspect of the restaurant.
The Living Room at Le Quartier Francois, is a relaxed bar and dining area with tapas style dishes on offer, coming from the same kitchen as the renowned Tasting Room. A good option if you have eaten just too many large excellent meals on your travels.
Le Bon Vivant, www.lebonvivant.co.za is the second most highly rated restaurant in Franschhhoek according to a well known web site. We were underwhelmed, while the food was very good the atmosphere lacked warmth and as an end to end experience it was disappointing.
Cafes & Bars
Bonne Esperance supplied a list of recommended places to eat and drink and we tried Craft a smart bar in Andringa Street, they had a good selection of craft beers and wine and also offered a wide range of food.
De Warenmarkt, corner of Plein and Reineveld Streets is a new addition part food market and wine bar, the market part is only open during the day but the wine bar is also open in the evenings. This is a very enjoyable place to sample the wines and craft beers and also the food on offer.
Stellenbosch being a university town has many bars that cater for a young crowd and even early in the week the bars around the university area were packed, none were particularly inviting to the more mature customer.
Franschhoek is much smaller than Stellenbosch and while there are lots of cafes open during the day there are not many bars for a drink before or after dinner. The Elephant & Barrel is in the Village Centre on Hugenot Road and is a late opening bar that seems very popular with a mixed local crowd particularly on a Friday night when there is live music. Taki also on Hugenot Road is another local’s favourite and as well as very reasonably priced beer and wine also does food, it has a pleasant beer garden.
Wine, wine and more wine, when you are in the heart of the South African Wine country and surrounded by local wineries it would be a shame not to try as many as possible. The Wine Tram, see above for the web site, is a hop on hop off service and allows you to do just that, there are two routes red and blue and ideally if you have two days you can book a route for each day. Tickets can be bought on line and this is advisable at busy times, a day ticket costs around £10, there are 7 wineries on each route and some offer free tastings, at others there is a nominal charge and many have top notch eating but booking for lunch is advised.
Recommended wineries include Maison, the restaurant has been nominated as one of the top 20 in the country, Grand Provence a stunning property, Rickety Bridge, Mont Rochelle, La Bri and La Bourgogne we also enjoyed. Dieu Donne was one with a complimentary tasting but we found it disappointing as was lunch at the restaurant, the views are great but otherwise perhaps one to miss.
The town is lovely and it is a delightful place to spend a couple of days during which you can visit some of the many wineries. The Botanic Gardens are lovely and should definitely be visited, there is a very pleasant café/restaurant called Katjiepiering in the grounds.
The Wine Tram has to be mentioned again as culture because this is what Franschhoek is about, but also visit the Hugenot Monument & Museum and enjoy wandering through the town.