Linda and I married in February 1971. For our honeymoon, we elected to stay in Franschhoek. Linda and I recall the honeymoon suite at our hotel differently. I remember that they only provided a single bed; Linda says there were two single beds. No matter, a honeymoon suite with only single beds is a travesty. We have no idea where we stayed, so 48 years later we were unable to re-visit the old haunt. Franschhoek has blossomed as a tourist destination, especially with the wine farm tours and tastings. Art, crafts, and bead shops are very popular. I have another family tie to Franschhoek. My mother’s maiden name is Maris and traces her arrival in South Africa to the French Huguenots.
The first Huguenots arrived as early as 1671, when the first Huguenot refugee, Francois Villion (later Viljoen), arrived at the Cape. By 1692, a total of 201 French Huguenots had settled at the Cape of Good Hope.
The Huguenots were French Protestants who were members of the Calvinist Reformed Church established in 1550. From the mid-1500s through mid-1600s, Huguenots were persecuted in France for their religious beliefs. Therefore, thousands of Huguenots fled to other countries where they could enjoy religious freedom, including South Africa. Simon van der Stel (Governor of the Cape) set aside land for Huguenot settlement in Franschhoek (‘French corner’) and Drakenstein (present-day Paarl) and gave orders for the French to be interspersed with the other burghers (Afrikaans citizens). His reasoning for this integration was “that they could learn our language and morals, and be integrated with the Dutch nation”. Today, many farms in these areas retain their French names.
In 1688 French Huguenot refugees began populating the valley establishing farms and businesses bringing with them their experience in agriculture. The name of the area soon changed to le Coin Français (“the French Corner”), and later to Franschhoek (Dutch for “French Corner”), with many of the settlers naming their new farms after the areas in France from which they came. La Motte, Champagne, La Cotte, Cabrière, La Provence, Bourgogne, La Terra de Luc, and La Dauphine were among some of the first established farms — most of which still retain their original Cape Dutch farmhouses today. These farms have grown into renowned wineries. Many of the surnames in the area are of French origin, e.g. Du Toit, Marais, Du Plessis, Malan, Malherbe, and Joubert.
Our specific wine tour featured five vineyards, transported by bus and tram, depending on the wine farm’s location. We used the Franschhoek Wine Tram, a hop-on-hop-off tour. It is one of the best ways to discover the true essence of the Franschhoek Valley – picturesque vineyards, breath-taking scenery, warm hospitality, world-class cuisine, fine wines, and a 300-year history. Passengers experience a unique and leisurely way to see the Franschhoek Valley as they journey through rolling vineyards in a vintage style railway tram and open-air tram-bus stopping in at some of South Africa’s oldest and most distinguished wine estates. A combination of tram and tram-bus transports passengers around a loop of stops allowing them to hop-off at each stop and experience the activities on offer, be it wine tasting, a cellar tour, lunch or simply a stroll through the vineyards and when they are ready, hop-on to continue the tour.
Linda and I decided prior to visiting the first wine farm that we would not feel good at the end of the day tasting four wines from each of five farms for twenty samplings. We agreed that we would buy a single tasting to be shared at each farm. When there was coupling with biltong (jerky), a cheese board, chocolate, or any other treat, that too would be shared. The alternative was that we would gorge ourselves. As it was, we were meeting my cousin for dinner at the Tuk Tuk Microbrewery. Tuk Tuk, a craft beer microbrewery serving bespoke brews and Mexican-inspired food.
We visited Franschhoek for two nights in early March 2019 staying at the Riverside Cottages on the Le Bourgogne Farm in the loft, a very spacious accommodation. La Bourgogne is a subdivision of the farm Bourgogne that was among the first Huguenot farms proclaimed in 1694. Simon van der Stel granted the farm to Pierre de Villiers. However, 1800 saw the first involvement of the Le Roux family, a relationship that endures to this day, with neighbor Gappie Le Roux managing the farming operations.
On our wine farm tour, we elected to taste wines from La Bourgogne to learn more about their products. That morning we enjoyed breakfast in their restaurant.
When the late George Mayer bought the farm, it was his aim to make olive oil, notwithstanding the lack of olive trees on the farm. Today the farm has approximately 2500 olive trees, which were planted in May 2008, bar about 220 which went in May 2005. The majority of the trees planted are Frantoio, with liberal sprinklings of Corantino, Lecchino, and Mission. The oil produced to date has been of excellent quality. La Bourgogne started with their own olive pressing on the farm. The 2011 harvest won a Silver award with the South African Olive association.
The original grant of La Bri is one of the oldest Huguenot-allocated farms in the Franschhoek Valley. The farm is situated in the valley previously known as Olifantshoek (Elephants Corner). The name La Bri is probably derived from the outlying town of Brie, which was the stomping grounds of the de Villiers family in the early 13th century. L’ Abri is also French for “the refuge or Haven”, a perfect name for this property, as it is safely nestled in the imposing amphitheaters of the Franschhoek valley. La Bri featured Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Located in the top, southern-most corner of the Franschhoek Valley, in the embrace of its spectacular mountains, the 22 hectares Holden Manz Wine Estate is situated between the Franschhoek River and Stony Brook at 300 meters above sea level. An exclusive grower of red grapes, the Estate only cultivates its top 16 hectares under vineyards, notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Merlot. Long, cold and wet winters allow the vines to rest well, while hot dry summers and gentle autumn allows for slow ripening. Featuring a rich and diverse terroir influenced by its unique natural surroundings, with three different soil types and a marked seasonal climate, the estate’s vineyards are perfectly suited to its intention – the production of ultra-premium wines made for the discerning wine connoisseur.
GlenWood is a family owned boutique winery located in an area of outstanding natural beauty very close to Franschhoek. GlenWood has been developed from scratch over the last thirty-three years to become a leading South African wine producer and wine exporter to 12 countries. With only one exception, all wines are made from grapes produced on the farm, thereby reflecting the unique terroir of our small valley. The wines are uniformly and consistently highly rated by wine judges and have received numerous awards and prestigious listings. GlenWood features Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Noblesse.
Grande Provence Estate wears her 300-year history with dignity. Her lush vines spread across 47-acres with gentle vistas over the valley floor, with the rugged mountains beyond. This is heartland South African wine country at its very finest. Grande Provence features Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz.
As part of their social responsibility programs, Grande Provence supports a number of causes. We were impressed with the cheetah program. Cheetah Outreach has two facilities in the Western Cape, Somerset West, and Franschhoek. Here they offer cheetah encounters. The primary goal is to promote the survival of the free-ranging, South African, cheetah. From an estimated 100,000 cheetahs at the turn of the 20th century, the population is currently estimated to be 7,100. Shrinking habitat, dwindling of natural prey, and conflict with human activities are the primary causes of this critical situation. There are about 1,326 cheetahs in South Africa of which approximately 500 free-ranging cheetahs live on unprotected farmlands in the northern part of the country. This population is the focus of the work
The Gallery at Grande Provence is considered to be one of the most highly regarded galleries in the Cape, with a reputation for showcasing some of South Africa’s finest established and emerging artists. Regular exhibitions are held with the major disciplines being shown throughout the year. The Gallery exhibits a carefully selected group of artists from South Africa, Europe and America. The Sculpture Garden has a continually evolving collection of monumental works in a variety of media.
Driving to Franschhoek from Montagu was a treat. It is evident with my blogs and videos showing mountain passes, that I am enamored with the scenery as we crest the hills, and descend the dales. In Wisconsin, from where we live, we need to travel long distances to see similar beauty along the Mississippi River.
Franschhoek Pass is located in the Western Cape, Province of South Africa on the Regional road R45 between Franschhoek and Villiersdorp. The pass was formally constructed in 1822, by a group of soldiers under command of Major Holloway, under orders from Lord Charles Somerset. Jan Joubertsgat bridge was part of the construction. It is still in evidence today, as one of South Africa’s oldest bridges.
Franschhoek Pass also known as Lambrechts Road was called Olifantshoek 150 years ago.
Franschhoek Pass (R45) is also called Lambrechts Road, though – more poetically – a hundred and fifty years ago it was known as Olifantshoek (Elephants Corner) after the now mythical herds of elephant, which once roamed these valleys and mountains. This long, steep and dramatic pass with its variety of scenery was South Africa’s first properly engineered road. During weekends, city folk stream to the pass on bicycles, motorcycles, skateboards, and vehicles to enjoy its sheer magnificence. Sadly, fire devastated the pass two weeks prior to our visit—and this is evident along our journey. Where we stopped, we looked down on the town from on high. The town becomes visible as we descend on the winding road complete with hairpin bends. Our good fortune is that we did not have vehicles in front of us to impede the view.
We highly recommend Franschhoek as a great place to visit. We had dinner with a family who moved to Franschhoek two decades ago as their ideal retirement community.
PS. This was a cold day and a few days later I had a cold. My fault for not bringing anything warm on this trip.
On June 21, 2019, the Western Cape was hit with very strong storms. After rock falls, the Franschhoek Pass was closed. My sister sent me these photographs published in the media.
A motorist escaped serious injury on Saturday morning after a rockslide at Franschhoek Pass during rainy weather. Marc Thackwray, 28, suffered a few bumps and scratches but was otherwise uninjured after massive boulders rained down on his car. Western Cape traffic chief Kenny Africa said the pass was closed because rocks had fallen on to the road. Authorities had to turn motorists away from both sides of the pass.
An additional rockfall took place on July 3, 2019.