South Africa kick started my love for personal travel. Aside from work ventures, my trip to South Africa in November 2009 was my first long-haul adventure since living in the USA six years earlier.
The trip was planned for 11 days. To ensure I maximised the time available, I planned an itinerary which allowed me to fly into Johannesburg, visit the Kruger National Park for 3 days, fly to Cape Town and spent 3 nights in Camps Bay, and spend 3 days in Franschhoek, a spectacular valley in the winelands region.
I didn’t really know what to expect before travelling to South Africa. I had done research into accommodation and transport, but I never dived to deep into the culture. I wanted to save that for when I landed.
After experiencing a fantastic safari in the Kruger National Park, followed by a relaxing three days on the beach and eating amazing seafood in Camps Bay, Franschhoek had a lot to live up to.
It didn’t disappoint.
|View of Franschhoek (from Dieu Donne)|
Situated an hours drive from Cape Town lie Stellenbosch and Franschhoek, two of South Africa’s most well know wine producing areas. It was the latter that got my attention when I was researching back in the UK. Situated in a sun-filled valley, Franschhoek had a certain allure about it in comparison to the more popular, bustling student town of Stellenbosch.
WHAT MAKES FRANSCHHOEK SO AWESOME?
As you drive over the train tracks and turn the corner into the Franschhoek valley, you are struck by its beauty. Lush green countryside, mountains on either side, wild flowers and vineyards as far as the eye can see.
There was some luck in the choices of accommodation, restaurants and trips, but everything seemed to be incredible and near perfect.
For accommodation, Val d’Or guest house was chosen, and it was even more remarkable that it’s website pictures lead you to believe. A stunning country house set on an estate, surrounded by greenery, with an incredible view of the surrounding mountainside.
|Val d’Or Estate. Photo from Jeff Browning|
With its slightly elevated setting, it also provides an incredible view of the sunset over the mountains to the West.
A short drive East along the R45 brings you into the main area of Franschhoek, with it’s many restaurants and yet more wineries.
I’ll go out on a limb and say the food I had in Franschhoek was some of the best food I’ve had in the world, and that includes many Michelin starred restaurants in the UK.
We ate at The French Connection, Le Bon Vivant and Dieu Donne, which has the perfect summer lunch setting – a pretty patio and garden, set high up on the mountainside overlooking the sloping, terraced vineyards.
Franschhoek has a very laid back atmosphere. Everyone that visits Franschhoek is there to relax, enjoy the sun, enjoy the wine, and enjoy the food. In turn, that contributes to bringing a smile to a lot of faces.
The views from some of the wineries are spectacular. My favourite was probably from Haute Cabreire, situated towards the North East of the valley. Here you have panoramic views of the valley, which are pretty spectacular.
|The view from Haute Cabriere winery|
On the second day, I found a nearby horse stables that provided wine tours and tasting by horseback. What better view to capture some views of the valley, and try some of the best wines around?! We booked with Paradise Stables, which was incredibly good fun.
For all intents and purposes, I’d never ridden a horse before. The safety briefing was limited (much like the disclaimer form), the walk through of how to ride a horse was basic, and to be honest, it was the best thing I did in Franschhoek.
|Check out me and my trusty steed!|
We trekked uphill, through forests, and I even managed a gallop across a sun-filled meadow. Sounds like an image you would play alongside soft music, right? Wrong. Back then, my riding ability was novice at best, and I misjudged the first few strides of the gallop, meaning my crown jewels took a bit of a battering.
Once my important organs had made their way from my throat back into my shorts, I eventually got into the rhythm, and with the sun beating down on the valley, it turned into an incredible ride.
Wine tasting by horseback was an incredible experience, and one I’ve recommended to many friends and colleagues since!
Did I mention the cheese platters available in the Franschhoek valley by the way? They are pretty incredible too.
Franschhoek has some of the best food in the world. It has some incredible mountain scenery, which lend themselves to stunning sunrises and sunsets. The wines are some of the freshest in the world, and the ability to taste them on horseback makes them taste even better.
As we left Franschhoek, I had a very odd feeling of calmness, and a sense, that one day, I would be back to see another amazing sunset.
|Sunset over Franschhoek. Image from Marc De Vries|
If South Africa is on your bucket list, do more than just a safari. Explore Cape Town, and give yourself at least 3 days to explore the delights of Franschhoek.
Don’t just take my word for it, even former Olympic champion Kelly Holmes agrees Franschhoek is awesome.
Not sure where to stay in Franschhoek? Check out this range of hotels and guest houses – http://www.booking.com/searchresults.html?city=-1228880