A French quarter escape

By Kameni Chetty Time of article published Jun 23, 2014

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Cape Town - Just 75km outside Cape Town lies a quaint village tucked away among gentle mountains and infinite green vineyards.

Franschhoek, known as the French corner, has become the gateway to wine and food connoisseurs locally and internationally. With many of its French street names, it is clear that the spirit of the French Huguenots has not been forgotten. Like so many country villages the world over, Franschhoek has a church as the centre of the town. This one is a lovely old Dutch style building.

The annual Bastille Festival takes place on July 12 and 13 when visitors can look forward to streets dotted in red, white and blue to commemorate the French Huguenots.

Franschhoek’s bustling main street attracts a blend of locals and foreigners exploring a plethora of quaint little stores. If you’re a chocolate lover, you will immediately be drawn to the famous Belgian chocolate shop called Huguenot Fine Chocolates and the Bijoux Chocolate shop. Both are enchanting and a chocoholic’s dream come true.

For discerning shoppers, exquisite high-end fashion awaits you, along with a myriad of diamond and gem stores, such as Du Toit Classique and Tracy’s Diamonds.

You will also find a children’s clothing boutique called Beluga Bear, which specialises in hand-made clothing and toys. The clothing is very British with yolk-collar dresses and knitted jerseys.

Décor lovers are spoilt for choice at Masquerade, which offers a blend of beautiful old English and vintage French décor. The building itself is worth a look, structured like a neat doll’s house with its tiny windows.

From the overflowing antique stores, bookshops and boutiques, the main street is bound to keep you well occupied. After a day of shopping, you might find yourself seated at a main street bistro, enjoying a glass of wine or indulging in delicious pancakes at the Pancake Café.

It’s totally worth it with the green rolling hills of Franschhoek for company.

Off the main road, cobbled streets dish up more pleasant surprises, such as the Art in the Yard Gallery and the Salmon Bar. At Salmon Bar I relished the freshly prepared salmon sashimi and seared salmon slices. The ambience is warm and casual with tables in a garden courtyard.

On the Franschhoek Artisan Food Route, food and wine lovers can experience the joy of great breads, cheeses and signature pinotage and sauvignon. If you fancy olives, herbs and pestos, the Alle Bleue Estate, one of the oldest in South Africa, should be on your check-list. The winery produces award-winning wines.

Babylonstoren is also on the route. It is the oldest Dutch farm in the area and has been beautifully restored to its former grandeur. The garden alone is worth a visit, showcasing various herbs, vegetables, aloes and plants. You can meander to your heart’s content, stopping to take it all in at one of the beautiful “rest” areas, complete with reclining or hanging chairs.

The farm shop is worth a visit and if you’re into fine dining the Babel Restaurant is the ticket – but beware, you have to book way in advance. Otherwise the Green House, a conservatory set under oak trees, offers delicious sandwiches, cheeses, charcuterie and freshly-baked cakes.

The Vrede en Lust wine estate is breathtaking. Its Cotage Fromage restaurant is an ideal stop for breakfast or lunch, serving light, sophisticated cuisine that changes seasonally. The restaurant offers live music on Sunday afternoons.

The adjoining deli can carry up to 60 different cheeses in season, which are sourced locally, from the Franschhoek Valley; and a selection of cured meats, chutneys and olive oil. The deli also has a bakery with a variety of pastries and breads.

To bake some “real” bread you could attend a bread-making course at Moreson Estate. You could also taste their signature wine, a Miss Molly Petite Rose and Miss Molly Bubbly.

The artisan route is endless but unique. You could marvel at the vast vineyards and taste wine till the end of time.

The Cap Classique Route has over 18 wine producers. You can visit multiple wine estates such as Backsberg and Noble Hill, to name but two. I visited Rickety Bridge Wine Estate, which has spectacular views of the Wemmershoek mountain range. Rickety Bridge has its own wine-tasting centre and restaurant.

Paulina’s restaurant is named after Paulina De Viliers, who was given the land almost 217 years ago. Her pride and joy was working on the estate. An urban legend exists today that if you are very quiet, you can hear Paulina’s footsteps in the vineyards.

Paulina’s caters for all palates from a Franschhoek salmon fish cake to pork belly in a lemon chilly sauce to parmesan-crusted veal.

On the menu you will also find a wine suggestion from the cellar to complement your dish. If that’s not enough to persuade you to stay, the Rickety Bridge Country House, in typical Dutch-style architecture, will have you contemplating staying the night – or forever.

In 1687 the Huguenots brought a great legacy of farming and grape growing to the Cape. Today their heritage is honoured by the Huguenot Memorial Monument in the Franschhoek valley. - The Mercury

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