A fascinating herb tour
Cape Town - Last week we did part one of an always too brief interlude in Franschhoek.
After a day at L’Ormarins and Antonij Rupert estates, drinking wine, eating food, and drooling over the cars at the Franschhoek Motor Museum, we spent the night at a local hotel.
The Protea is conveniently located right at the beginning of the village, so I dragged my unwilling partner along for a stroll along the main road. On the way we discovered the Medicinal Plants Demonstration Garden, which is a project sponsored by the winelands branch of the Botanical Society of SA with the aim of conserving indigenous medicinal plants, promoting the knowledge and use of them, and creating jobs through propagation and sales.
It’s a pretty little garden, decorated with wire sculptures, hearts of brick and stone set into the ground, and train tracks disappearing into nowhere.
We had a wonderful time and reluctantly checking out the next morning, we headed off to Allée Bleue. I’ve been there many times for food, wine and picnics, but I did not know it is one of the biggest commercial herb farms in the province, growing for several major retail outlets. It is also one of the biggest persimmon farms in the Western Cape, mainly for export.
I also did not know that every Friday you can take a guided tour of the farm’s 28 hydroponic tunnels spread across 2.4ha. Another 35 tunnels are on other farms in the district, from which up to a ton of herbs is harvested a week.
The tour begins with a welcome (very welcome) bubbly cocktail at the top tasting room, after which you are met by the herb production manager and student of agriculture Lario Moolman, who will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about herbs and more – how they grow, how they are fertilised, watered and harvested, what bugs like to eat them (and other bugs, nature is wild I tell you, especially innocent-looking little ladybirds).
It’s easy to get excited when she explains how fast chives grow.
After the tour you get to sit down to a herb-infused three course lunch, with wine. Our starter was herb-crusted chicken breast on lots of green leaves, which could easily have been a main course. It was followed by fish with baby potatoes and a tomato salsa, and finished with a yoghurt-filled crepe drizzled with lavender syrup.
The Allée Bleue herb range includes dill, fennel, sage, tatsoi, parsley (flat and curly), French and garlic chives, mint, oregano, watercress and tarragon.
l The herb tour, with lunch and the welcome drink, costs R185 a person. Booking is essential and can be made by calling 021 874 1021. For more information about the farm, see www.alleebleue.com. - Weekend Argus