SA Itinerary 3: Update 2013/Franschoek, Robertson & Hermanus

Franschoek

Moving on from 'hedonistic' Hout Bay, we travelled via Elgin [the 'Home of Appletizer'] and the Franschoek Pass to Franschoek the 'food and wine heartland of the country' where we had a wonderful week visiting numerous restaurants and wineries throught the valley.

There is a Franschoek Saturday Morning Market: in the community hall and garden are vendors selling home made artifacts, bric-a-brac, prepared food and produce. But maybe because it's located next to the church it has a more restrained atmosphere than the markets at Hout Bay and Noordhoek on the Cape Peninsula.

Tourist information is available on-line at www.franschoek.org.za.

Franschoek Accommodation

Franschoek has bed and breakfast, full-service hotels and self-catering apartments and cottages, some in the town, others secreted in the wine farms that carpet the valley. Our accommodation was at Chestnut Cottage, the smaller of three self-catering properties on the La Chataigne wine estate. Chestnut Cottage is charming contemporary styled property with one covered terrace adjacent to the Franschoek River and the other with a view over the vines to the mountains on the opposite side of the valley. In a clearing surrounded by hundreds of pear trees was a simple lap pool with raised sunbathing terrace —  very popular with all guests for late afternoon sun-down drinks.

Franschoek Valley Wine & Food Route

Purely for research purposes, we visited wine and food venues of all types. Heading north to south along the valley: closer to the Stellenbosch side of the Simonsberg mountain is the Anura wine farm. Anura is owned by the Bouma family — Tymen, Jenny and Lance — who have created a friendly tasting room atmosphere where you can sample some excellent wines featuring unusual cultivars for South Africa: Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, Grenache, Sangiovese. Also available is a range of cheeses, pork charcuterie and locally sourced delicatessen products. Anura is also home to the Lillypad Restaurant offering breakfasts and lunches.

Nearby is Babylonstoren, a large farm with many original Cape Dutch style buildings, some converted to cater for visitors and featuring a wonderful 8 acre kitchen garden inspired by the orginal Company's Garden in Cape Town. Visitors are required to pay an entrance fee, but wine tastings are free in the building that also houses a cheese and charcuterie cold room, a bakery with wood-fired oven and a gift shop. Here you can buy produce from the garden and big straw sun hats to ward off the heat. The interior design contrasts with the traditional buildings and features white 'Metro' style tiles with huge enlargements of Victorian style engravings, a design theme extending to Babel, the farm restaurant. Open for lunch Wednesday-Sunday and dinner on Friday-Saturday, the menu 'leans towards simplicity – but with an edge' with a full range of produce from the garden on the menu. The garden itself is well-worth the entrance charge with numerous espaliered fruit trees and beds of herbs and vegetables, plus chickens and ducks, fish tanks and water features. Accommodation is available at the Farm Hotel in 'white-on-white' studio cottages and a spa offers treatments in soporific surroundings.

We missed attending a Solms Delta Summer Concert last year, so we booked well in advance this time and were not disappointed — an excellent buffet and a great evening of entertainment from singer/songwriter Robin Auld supported by the Delta Valley Entertainers marching band and the Delta Langbroek Band and Delta Eight — groups of young people supported by the Solms-Delta trust.

Down a lane called Happy Valley Road lies the laid-back Môreson winery and the Bread and Wine cafe/restauarant — open for lunch everyday. Môreson offer a range of classes including sausage making with chef/charcuterie guru Neil Jewell [originally from Southend on Sea], a bread making class and wine blending too. This winery is home to the Miss Molly range of wines named after their beloved Weimaraner, with a portion of the sales going to animal charities.

A major presence on the Franschoek Main Road is the La Motte Estate, owned by the classical singer Hanneli Rupert-Koegelenberg with Hein Koegelenberg her vintner husband who is COE of La Motte and the adjacent Leopard's Leap Wines estate. Both estates are lavishly appointed: La Motte with converted traditional Cape Dutch style buildings, contrasting with the starkly contemporary architecture of the Leopard's Leap tasting room and restaurant. The La Motte Museum houses an art gallery with a major presence of work by Jacob Hendrik Pierneef [1886-1957] with many charming lino prints of South African landscapes and rural scenes [we loved these!] in addition to large paintings. The winery restaurant: Pierneef á La Motte has 'much-talked-about chandeliers' made from painted ceramics [cups and saucers] by Ella-Lou O’Meara — who is also responsible for the design of the bowls and plates sold in the La Motte Farm Shop on the estate. We had a lovely afternoon tea — a glass of bubbly and patisserie in the garden.

The stark rectilinear exterior of Leopard's Leap is intially a bit daunting, but once across the threshold — a bridge over a water feature — the interior is very welcoming with curving bar-like tasting facilities, a lounge area with numerous cook books, a kitchen equipment shop [a bit pricy] and the restuarant featuring a rotisserie and salad buffet bar. In addition to the interior restaurant seating, an extensive covered terrace has tables and bench seating, plus deep sofas and armchairs overlook the lawns, water feature and vines towards La Motte. The terrace was wonderful for whiling away a very hot afternoon with a glass of wine. The open kitchen has extensive facilities for undertaking cooking demonstrations and classes — just like Masterchef! 

Nearer the centre of Franschoek is the Grand Provence winery. 'The Restaurant at Grand Provence' is a fine-dining option with a blue and white interior of high backed chairs and mirrored walls. Meals are also available in the charming garden dotted with contemporary sculptures. There are many more artworks in the gallery space above the wine cellars and a craft shop with books, ceramics, prints and textiles.

Off the main road is Mont Rochelle: comprising a wine farm, a very luxurious hotel, the Mange Tout fine-dining restuarant and a wine tasting room with the Country Kitchen restaurant. We had a very pleasant wine tasting and were impressed by the Country Kitchen menu — one to consider for next time in Franschoek!

Franschoek Main Road becomes Hugenot Street —the 'main drag' — with numerous cafes, restaurants and shops to attract the casual visitor. We dropped in to Takis's for a beer and to use the free wifi and on our last evening explored the Tasting Room and Common Room at Le Quartier Français a Relais & Chateau hotel with a range of luxury accommodation, some with private plunge pools. The staff were very approachable and happy for us to just have some drinks on the terrace overlooking the bijoux restaurant garden. The Common Room menu of small plate tapas-like food looked really intriguing — again, one for next time!

We had a tasting at the Haut Cabriere winery at the bottom of the Franschoek Pass Road. The tasting room and cellars are built into the mountain side with extensive views over the valley. While there we booked for a Summer Soiré — a weekly early evening meal on the terrace with live jazz accompanyment. This proved to be a charming way to see the sun go down and the cloud to swirl round the mountain tops over a glass of wine and the light Terrace Menu — a more extensive menu is available in the restaurant.

Also on the mountain is the Holden Manz wine farm with the Franschoek Kitchen restaurant; Boukenhoutskloof, a winery that is well known for producing The Chocoate Block red wine and the easy drinking Porcupine Ridge and Wolftrap ranges in addition to the premier Boukenhoutskloof range and Stony Brook, a boutique winery that offers friendly tastings under the gum trees.

Nearby, the original Burgogne farm purchased in 1735 by Pierre La Roux is now home, a bit confusingly, to Burgoyne Farm, a working fruit farm still owned by the La Roux family; La Burgogne Farm and Riverside Cottages, owned by Georges Mayer and Burgundy Burgogne Manor House and Cottages now owned by Trevor and Tracey Kirsten. La Burgogne offers a 'laid-back' tasting of the produce the farm has to offer: wines, olive oils, table olives and farm preserves — we particularly enjoyed the Progeny Semillon; the Riverside Cottages offer well priced accommodation with a communal swimming pool, loungers and parasols overhanging the river. The imposing gates at the entrance to Burgundy Burgogne are indicative what to expect of the Manor House and Cottages — luxury accommodation with no expense spared and prices to match. The 'meticulously restored' manor house has 3 double bedrooms and it's own pool; the cottages also each have their own private pool.

Robertson

Very different in character to Franschoek, this town on Route 62 between Worcester and Ashton in the Breede River Valley is equally devoted to wine production, but still retains it's essentially working atmosphere in the grid of streets off N60/Route 62, many with charming Victorian style houses. Robertson has a number of themed wine events throughout the year — the Hands on Harvest; Robertson Slow, Robertson Wine Valley Festival; Wine on the River and the Wacky Wine Weekend — but we always seem to just miss them. There is a Farmer's Market once a month on a Saturday.

Robertson Accommodation

We booked a week at the Mosesberg Cottage, on Orange Grove Farm about 15 minutes drive from Robertson town centre. Turn down a road adjacent to the Rooiberg Winery that the farm supplies with grapes and in the distance is a white walled cottage in an elevated position with a tall thatched roof. On entering, the open roof space dominates the main living and sleeping area with big french windows on both sides to allow access to the braai area at the rear and generous covered terrace with splash pool and views back down the valley. The surrounding mountains are within the the Rooiberg Conservation Area — the cottage garden blends into the surrounding natural fynbos vegetation — with sightings of baboons and lots of birds. Levels of presentation are high with monogrammed towels and a quick turnaround laundry service, bikes to borrow and a hiking route — popular with the baboons! 

Robertson Wine Valley Route

Robertson is surrounded by large wine farms, some with accommodation, cafes/restautants and all with tasting facilities. We visited a number of wineries on Route 62 — the impressive facilty housing the Graham Beck tasting rooms is great to check out their range of Cap Classique bubbles — and those on the road to Bonnievale, famously edged with mile upon mile of canna lilies and roses. We returned to the Springfield Estate, our reason for first visiting the Breede River valley some 10 years ago. The emphasis here is very much on the excellent wines produced by the brother and sister team of Abrie and Jeanette Bruwer. Using simple techniques like natural yeasts, night harvesting and a platoon of snail eating ducks patrolling the vineyard, their flagship Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are testimony to the skills of this established wine making team.

Further along the Bonnievale road is the Viljoensdrift winery approached on a gravel road — no it's apricot kernals used as a driveway material! Here you can select picnic items from the display, plus a bottle of wine of course, for a leisurely hour on their river cruise up and down the Breede River.

Nearby, the Van Loveren Family Winery has a very new tasting facility as part of their recently upgraded offer for visitors. Various wine and food pairings are available, delicatessen products are for sale, they have a hiking trail through the wine farm and surrounding fynbos and breakfasts and lunches at Christina's Restaurant — and you can buy their wine of course!

Other wineries on this route include the De Wetshof and Excelsior Estates, both owned by members of the De Wet families who can trace their history in South Africa to the seventeenth century. Excelsior was established in 1870 and had a brief but very successful period as an ostrich farm, but today is devoted to wine and horses. The Excelsior Manor House is now a luxurious nine bedroom guest house decorated in a traditional style, offering a variety of leisure activities. One family member breeds south american alpacas that she has clipped like poodles! The De Wetshof Estate has made a speciality of producing wines from Chardonnay grapes and introduced noble red cultivars to the Robertson area. The main estate buildings are modelled on historical buildings in Cape Town in a simplified classical style, providing a sophisticated environment for wine tasting and purchasing — although Wacky Wine Weekend looks great fun.

On hearing where we were staying, various friendly tasting room staff recommended the 'nearby' [15 minutes of dirt road] Saggy Stone Brewery and Restaurant. Only open at weekends, it is an excellent venue for a Friday evening run out for a tasting of their own beers or for a generous Sunday lunch.

Our gastronomic highlight while in Robertson was a wonderful dinner at Ruebens @ The Robertson Small Hotel. This is a charming Victorian mansion with additional buildings, some overlooking the swimming pool, beautifully converted into a hotel. The menu is designed by 'concept chef' Rueben Riffel — six starters and six mains — beautifully presented on double clothed tables and accompanied by some excellent Robertson wines.

Hermanus

The combination of charming seaside town, whale watching in Walker Bay [August-November] and the nearby Hemel-en -Arde Wine Route makes Hermanus a great place for sunseekers and food and wine afficionados alike. Hermanus town centre now has another new shopping complex containing a big Woolworths [like M&S/Waitrose in the UK] and a branch of pizza and pasta chain Col'Cacchio.

Hermanus Accommodation

Although there's lots of accommodation options in Hermanus: hotels, B&B's and self-catering of a very high standard, we returned to Seagulls apartment at Anchors Rest as the combination of location, facilities, style and price is matched by Guy, the helpful owner and his team. This large, light and airy room, above the garages and reached by stairs from the garden and pool, has an adjoining bathroom with full bath and a small kitchen at a lower level. Anchors Rest is close to the Cliff Path that extends from the New Harbour through coastal fynbos, past the centre of Hermanus and round to Grotto Beach.

Hemel-en-Arde Wine Route

The potential of this valley [heaven on earth in Afrikaans] overlooking Walker Bay as a source of high quality wine was first identified by Tim Hamilton Russell who purchased a 170 hectare property in 1975, in a search for the most southerly site for cool climate wines. The Atlantic Ocean and summer southwest winds are a significant factor in making Hemel-en-Arde a 'cool' wine growing area. There are now some 15? wine farms that reach right up towards Caledon and the valley is now divided into 3 distinct wine wards: the Valley, Upper Valley and Hemel-en-Arde Ridge. All the wineries offer tastings and there are some excellent restauarants on the farms too.

Please note that the road beyond the Newton Johnson farm is currently being upgraded to tarmac resulting in long delays and very rough conditions — tough going if you're not in a 4x4 vehicle.

Turn off the Hermanus-Cape Town Road at Hemel-en-Arde Village and take the first road left to Whalehaven and the Hermanuspietersfontein wineries. The latter is the original unshortened name of the town and it features in the graphic design of the bottle labels, packaging and promotional graphics. There is a wide range of wines to taste and buy in the contemporary style tasting room and with special offers too. Hermanuspietersfontein host a Saturday Morning Market in the winery courtyard offering substantial brunches and an excellent selection of local produce. All vendors wear clothing with the Hermanuspietersfontein logo so it looks a bit corporate initially, but as the morning progresses both visitors and vendors tend to loose their inhibitions, making for a very lively event.

Other wineries we have visited include Hamilton Russell, now owned and run by son Anthony [manager from 1991 and owner from 1994] who narrowed the range to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, now only grown on just 52 hectares of stony, clay-rich, shale-derived soil. The two wines produced are available for tasting in a small thatched tasting room overlooking the dam, surrounded by giant gum trees. Note the prices — even more expensive in the UK! Further along on the right, progress through the Iceberg roses at the end of each row of vines to the imposing cellars and tasting rooms at Bouchard Finlayson. The thatch roofed buildings feature on this winery's labels and promotional material. Tastings are friendly with knowledgable staff whoi guide you through the extensive range of wines on offer. Further and higher still, round sweeping bends in the road is the Newton Johnson farm and Heaven restaurant. Contemporary architecture houses stainless steel vats visible at the entrance to the tasting room and restuarant with fabulous views down the valley to the ocean in Walker Bay. Newton Johnson Vineyards is owned and managed by the family: Dave is ably assisted by his wife, Felicity (nee Newton); son Bevan is the managing director and in charge of the marketing, his wife Ezanne is a freelance graphic artist concerned with the promotional material; son Gordon is the winemaker assisted by wife, Nadia who also deals with the logistics for the company. Book a meal at Heaven and watch Patron Chef, Stefan Louw and his team cook your meal [breakfast or lunch]. At the top of the valley, as it plateaus out towards Caledon is the Ataraxia Estate. The dramatically situated tasting room, built to resemble a traditional chapel is reached via a circuititous dirt road, but the location — and the wines are really worth the effort. Founded by Kevin an Hanli Grant they too intend to specialise in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but currently produce three wines: an unwooded Sauvignon Blanc, a wooded Chardonnay and a red blend  called Serenity — they're all georgous. Pinot Noir will be added in the near future.  

The Hermanus Country Market has really expanded since our previous visit, with over 28 food traders offering intriguing breads, sausages, pancakes coffee and juices, pickled seafood, biodynamic vegetables, meat or vegetable filled pies, full breakfasts, hand-made biscuits, biltong and venison, dried nuts and fruits, wraps and milk tart spring rolls, Greek foods, preserves, condiments, jaffles and waffles, chilli sauces, chickens and eggs, cheese and wines, chimney cakes, curried foods. Additionally there are 40 craftspeople and traders selling plants and gardening materials, natural cosmetics and skin care products too. From 8-12 every Saturday morning at Hermanus Cricket Club serenaded by resident musician 'Piano Ben'.