Franschhoek tops the list as one of South Africa’s most attractive holiday destinations. Situated amidst the Franschhoek mountains in an area of unparalleled natural wilderness, this spot is home to fifty-two of the finest wine farms in the Southern Hemisphere. The small area, some 7 km in radius, is blessed with a diverse climate and soil conditions, allowing a wide variety of grapes to grow.
First introduced to viniculture in the seventeenth-century when French religious refugees settled in the area, Franschhoek is today known for being the epicentre of scenic wine routes, world-class wineries and mouth-watering cuisine.
Here’s a taste of the best of Franschhoek wine farms and what to expect when visiting.
Black Elephant is an independent wine producer that offers a unique music and wine pairing experience, which is all about demystifying wine in a relaxed and casual atmosphere. The winery and its vintners aim to dispel of the intimidating fanfare and pretention usually associated with wine tasting. It’s a unique and fun experience, all about personal interaction and enjoyment.
- Opening hours: By appointment only, closed on Sundays.
- Tour duration: Around 2.5 hours
- Wine to taste: Two Dogs, a Peacock and a Horse 2017 sauvignon blanc is a popular wine, as is the Black Elephant MCC.
Come for the wine and stay for the ambiance! Franschhoek Pass produces 20,000 bottles of MCC Sparkling wine each year. This Franschhoek wine farm includes a self-contained, 2-bedroom villa which is fully serviced and self-catering. It also boasts a swimming pool with private sun-deck and outdoor shower. The villa makes for stunning private accommodation and is the perfect getaway for those in search of solitude and tranquillity.
Wine-tasting is presented personally by the owner/winemaker who provides an interesting explanation of the winemaking process as well as a tour of the cellar and the farm.
- Opening hours: All wine tastings are by appointment only and accommodation must be arranged in advance.
- Tour duration: 2 to 2.5 hours
- Wine to taste: The Morena is a brut rosé, a blend of 60% chardonnay and 40% pinot noir. It has a light salmon colour with a fresh lively finish.
GlenWood is situated on the outskirts of Franschhoek and can be reached by turning off the main road and travelling for 20km on a dirt road. GlenWood offers a regular wine tasting (a selection of five wines) as per most other wineries in the region, but they also offer a fine wine and food experience, which includes a tasting of 8 wines and 6 canapés on arrival, from which a main course is selected and paired with a complimentary glass of wine.
You can enjoy your meal at the restaurant or pack a picnic to take in the spectacular view of the mountains, while relaxing beneath the shade of one of the many magnificent old trees near the banks of the Roberts River. Note that GlenWood closes for a month during the South African winter (June/July).
- Opening hours: 11:00 – 16:00. Bookings are essential as the restaurant only caters to a maximum of 20 guests in a single sitting.
- Tour duration: Wine tasting can last from 2 to 2.5 hours and includes a cellar tour which must be booked in advance.
- Wine to taste: GlenWood is famous for their selection of chardonnay.
Lynx is the smallest wine farm in Franschhoek, producing 7000 cases of wine per year. They are nevertheless holders of many local and international awards for the exceptional quality of their wine, all of which are grown, produced and bottled on the farm. They produce premium reds, such as shiraz, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and xanache (a Bordeaux-style blend), as well as a second range which includes an award-winning blanc de noir.
The cellar tour is an intimate experience, which includes a tasting of five wines, and a discussion of the traditional wine making process employed at Lynx winery. Owner and cellar master, Dieter Sellmeyer, loves having guests and sharing his passion for wine and winemaking.
- Opening hours: Monday to Friday 10:00 – 17:00, Saturday 10:00 – 14:00, Sunday by appointment.
- Tour duration: The tour lasts anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour.
- Wine to taste: The blanc de noir is a fresh summertime pale rosé made from 100% merlot grapes.
At Haut Espoir they do things a little differently by employing biodynamic winemaking techniques. The focus is on creating self-sustainable eco-systems using what is available on the farm. All their wines are produced using a single vineyard variety fruit.
- Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 11:00 to 16:00
- Tour duration: 1 to 2 hours
- Wine to taste: The semillon is proudly in line with Franschhoek heritage using grapes sourced from one of the various old block vines planted as far back as 1902. Gentle Giant is a red wine named after the elephants who were to be found roaming the area before the French settlement and is also quite popular.
Autumn (March and April) is widely considered the loveliest time of the year for a visit to the Franschhoek wineries. While harvest time draws to a close, temperatures are mild and the views are rendered spectacular by falling leaves in warm tones of bronze and red.
However, every season offers something special in Franschhoek, from the greenery in spring to snuggling up with a glass of wine by the fireplace in winter.
For those with a flair for festivals, Franschhoek will not disappoint, as there are a number of fun festivals happening throughout the year. Some of the most notable are Franschhoek Summer Wines, Franschhoek Literary Festival, Franschhoek Open Gardens Festival, Franschhoek Bastille Festival, Franschhoek Uncorked Festival, and Franschhoek Cap Classique & Champagne Festival.
Franschhoek is situated only thirty minutes from Stellenbosch and an hour from Cape Town’s city centre. For a truly memorable Cape Winelands experience, you could hire a car and make Franschhoek your base for a few days. You could spend time exploring the valley and visiting some of the stunning wine estates in the area or venture further afield to places such as Paarl and Worcester.
Another good option would be to arrange a transfer from Cape Town, but that would leave you with limited options once you get to Franschhoek. There are trains running to nearby Paarl but they are not recommended unless you know the area very well and are able to make your way around using the local taxis.
The best way to experience wine tasting in Franschhoek valley is by using the hop-on-hop-off Franschhoek Tram. Consisting of six lines, the tram takes visitors through eight farms in the valley. While the journey itself is picturesque, the tram tour allows visitors to hop-off at various stops to experience the vineyards, the wineries, go for a wine tasting, have lunch, and more. No wonder the Franschhoek Tram is considered one of the top things to do in South Africa.
Also considered one of South Africa’s premier Méthode Cap Classique (MCC) regions, Franschhoek valley offers a specialized route dedicated to sampling the best MCC wines or sparkling wines in the world. There is also a food and wine route and as well as an artisan route, that you can take which focuses on artisanal products such as chocolates, cheese, bread, olives and olive oil.
If you have limited time and are looking to see as much as you can with minimal effort, there are several companies specializing in Franschhoek wine tours, each offering different tour packages. You can opt to do a one-day tour, a half-day tour or a tailor-made package which includes some of the lesser known boutique wineries.
For a customized Franschhoek wine-tasting experience, you could hire a chauffeur to drive you from winery to winery for your special sip, swirl and swallow experience whilst horseback and bike tours can be arranged for the seriously adventurous.
Accommodation in Franschhoek is plentiful with five-star hotels, private villas and guesthouses galore on offer. Irrespective of your budget and taste, you’ll be sure to find perfect digs to rest your weary traveler’s legs after a day spent relishing the fine foods and wines the region has to offer.
- Franschhoek is considered the gourmet capital of South Africa and there is a wonderful array of top-class restaurants in the village and surrounding wineries. While in Franschhoek, why not try some unique gamey meats such as kudu, ostrich and springbok?
- Outdoor enthusiasts will love the incredible hiking trails available in the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve, whilst sports lovers can play polo at Val de Vie and golf at Pearl Valley.
- The Huguenot monument is also a must see. It is situated at the top of the village and chronicles the history of the Huguenot settlers, whilst the main road in Franschhoek showcases some stunning boutiques and galleries for those who wish to take home trinkets and keepsakes.
Franschhoek includes some of the largest and most established wineries in South Africa as well as some the smallest. While the more established Franschhoek wine farms are included in most tours, the lesser known boutique establishments are often discovered on adventurous solo ventures. Regardless of which way you choose to go, your visit to the legendary village will leave you with memories of crisp mountain air, good food, great wine and warm hospitality.