Part 3: Franschoek & the Cape winelands

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You don’t have to be a wine-lover to enjoy the Cape wine lands – there’s plenty of gorgeous scenery, history, culture and other things of interest to appeal to every taste. Even so, exploring a few of the wine estates in the area is definitely the thing to do.  On one of our very first trips to the area back in the early 1980’s the owner himself came to the door at Rustenberg, to welcome us and assist us with an impromptu wine-tasting.  What a treat! Nowadays Rustenberg is a highly acclaimed winery and while we have not been back there lately, I wouldn’t expect that level of personal service anywhere, in this day and age.  Everything has grown in size, complexity and sophistication and while wine-tastings are as much fun as ever, they’re a bit more structured.

La Petite Ferme

Our most recent visit last November started with a drive from Cape Town via Stellenbosch, arriving in Franschoek just in time for a tasty lunch at La Petite Ferme, the well-known and highly regarded restaurant and guest house, overlooking the pretty Franschoek Valley. It was a little more expensive than I had anticipated, but our food was expertly prepared and presented, with some affordable and very tasty estate-grown wine available.

La Residence

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By early afternoon, we were being welcomed at the imposing La Residence, a deluxe 11-suite property a few kilometers out of Franschoek village.

La Residence is simply out of this world.  Does it get any better than this? Not really.  Eclectic, elegant, sophisticated, all the superlatives apply to this amazing place.  Add a fantastic view over the vineyards and mountains beyond, food to die for and attentive staff and it’s a winner all the way.

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Our room – #4 – looked out right over the vineyards, and it was quite spacious with a massive bathroom, really great tub, and french doors opening to the balcony. The main bedroom also had large doors opening to the outside.  Plush bedding, goose-down pillows, elegant china, a full selection of complimentary drinks, wines, beers, candies, salty snacks, chips and more.

We were welcomed with an estate-grown rose and complimentary bottle of of the estate’s rose wine as well.  Nice double!

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I spent about 40 minutes in the gym, which had a decent number of cardio equipment – and not a whole lot else.  After a luxurious bath – there is no other kind at La Res – we got ready for dinner.

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Dinner at La Residence is special.  It starts with the setting.  The beautifully lit main dining room with a simply massive chandelier sets the scene.  On this evening, we sat down for a 4-course tasting menu which included lightly smoked salmon, locally sourced trout, gorgonzola pear salad, broccoli cauliflower soup, beet medallions, panfried hake, and the vegetarian option being a pasta with mushroom sauce.  Dessert was a malva pudding – or flourless chocolate cake.

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We enjoyed the very interesting wine pairings and the sommelier had some insightful comments about the various wines and where they were grown and bottled (mostly from the Franschoek area).

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The next morning we did a full site inspection at La Residence, checking our 3 other rooms and all of the La Residence Villas, some with a private pools, some with 2 bedrooms and a child-friendly option as well.  All of the rooms are individually decorated, demonstrating an amazing range of finishings and interior decorating of the highest standard.

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Franschoek Country House and Villas

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From La Res as it is affectionately known, Kathy and I drove back to Franschoek town and checked in at Franschoek Country House and Villas.  The Guesthouse is on the outskirts of Franschoek town, in a garden setting with standard rooms and villas.  The villas are huge, with a lounge area with TV &, DVD player, a good-sized bedroom and comfortable bed, plus a large tub and separate shower.

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We drove the 3 kilometers or so into town to support the local economy by buying a couple of shirts and trying some local craft beer.  Then it was time for a 5-mile run along a quiet country road, passing a couple of interesting properties along the way, including Richard Branson’s newly opened Mont Rochelle hotel.

Monneaux Restaurant, Franschoek Country House

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This evening, we tried the new tasting menu at Monneaux Restaurant  and it turned out to be  one of the best meals of our entire trip, if not the single best one.  With some imaginative wine pairings, it was excellent value at about $50 per person.  Some of the menu items were butternut croquettes or tempura mussels (pierre jourdan tranquille), seared Franschoek salmon trout (mont andre chardonnay), lamb rack with pistachio parsley crust (mont andre shiraz), panko crumbed brie (rickety bridge chenin blanc), frozen dark chocolate mud pie with turkish delight jello (nederburg noble late harvest).  And good coffee.  One of the best meals we’ve  enjoyed in South Africa lately!

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Huguenot Museum, Franschoek

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It has been too many years since I last visited the impressive and very moving Huguenot Museum in Franschoek.  The distinctive triple arch design and Coert Steynberg’s beautiful sculpture of a young woman seemingly freed of the shackles of religious persecution dominate the top of Main Street, on the high side of the village of Franschoek.

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We paid the equivalent of US$1.00 entry fee for the monument, marvelled at some impressive Protea Cynaroides (King Protea) in full bloom, lots of other pretty and colorful flowers and roses and then spent a good 20 minutes or so immersing ourselves in the monument and its symbolism.

It cost the equivalent of another US Dollar to enter the nearly Franschoek Museum – run by a different entity.  Rather annoyingly, there was a blanket prohibition on the taking of photographs (with or without flash), ostensibly for ‘security purposes’.  Funny how this bogus catch-all phrase is used all over the world as an excuse when there is no real good reason to prohibit something.

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Even so it was worthwhile spending some time in the museum which has a few very interesting artifacts, maps and pieces of furniture such as desks, wardrobes and beds plus family histories of various prominent Huguenot families, tracing their arrival particularly from 1688 onwards.

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From there we drove back towards Stellenbosch for a delightful lunch and site inspection at Delaire Graf, a luxury lodge, winery and art repository with picturesque views over the Franschoek mountains.  We enjoyed our linefish and langoustines served on the best restaurant deck imaginable, eventually heading back to Franschoek.

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More food, wine & antique cars

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On our last day in Franschoek we were hosted by Patrick Siebel, MD of Luxury Afica, on a sight-seeing, wine-tasting and site inspection trip in the Cape winelands.

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We started off with a thorough site inspection at La Cle des Montagnes, a superb and clearly well-managed property consisting of four large and luxuriously appointed villas, ranging from two to four+ bedrooms.   An excellent choice for accommodation very close to Franschoek, equivalent to being a guest in a stylish farmhouse with private garden and pool.

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Then it was on to L’Ormarins, the famed Rupert-family property where classic cars, top quality wines and race horses combine to make it a ‘must see’ stop on the Cape winelands route.

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We spent probably too much time gawking at the stunning collection of antique, classic and recent vintage automobiles, followed by a fascinating drive along the farm’s private roads in a splendid vintage model Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.

Our L’Ormarins visit was capped off by a wine-tasting and we tried a little bit of L’Ormanris’ Optima as well a Syrah and a Cabernet Sauvignon – and some brut sparkling wine.  All were terrific.

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Lunch on the day was at the acclaimed Terroir Restaurant in Stellenbosch where both our Cepe and Pork Belly main courses were delicious.  Highly recommended.

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12 Apostles Hotel, Cape Town

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By late afternoon we were being welcomed at the 12 Apostles Hotel, located right off the rugged coastline a few kilometers from Camps Bay.  By far its best feature is the view over the ocean, so if you do stay at this hotel, be sure to get a deluxe room or suite on the ocean-facing side.  Our 1-BR suite (honeymoon suite) was perfectly nice but the design and interior decor was not overly exciting; we did however like the very comfortable bed & pillows & slept exceedingly well.

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We tried a local craft beer at the Leopard Bar and a light dinner at the casual restaurant, both receiving a big thumbs up.  The passageways and common areas are somewhat cramped and a bit dark; but overall we quite enjoyed our short stay.  Breakfast was one of the best of the trip with a huge array of items at the hot and cold buffet plus several a la carte choices.

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Mount Nelson Hotel

On the morning of 27 November we moved on to the venerable Mount Nelson Hotel which looked to be in splendid shape.  And so it was.  From the imposing arbor grove which makes for a very impressive arrival to the superb high tea, it lived up to our every expectation.

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Our junior suite in the annex was spacious, quiet and understated – just what one would expect from the Mt. Nelson.  The Nellie is a property where one could easily spend several days as the location is very convenient to downtown and just a short walk to the Company Gardens and Cape Town’s museum district.

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We did not have time for any meals at the Mt. Nelson – except for high tea – but will make a point of doing so on our next visit.  From what we saw and experienced at high tea, we won’t be disappointed.  The Mt. Nelson house blend and premium export quality Rooibos was just what the doctor ordered.  Plus a bewildering variety of sweets and a dozen or so types of sandwiches ranging from chili bites to more conventional cucumber sandwiches.  Even if you’re not staying at the ‘Pink Lady’ by all means go and enjoy the high tea – it is an experience!

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