19 June 2014 by Tara Turkington

12 things to do in Franschhoek

Here are a dozen things to do in the little Western Cape town of Franschhoek – a town that is often considered a good day visit from nearby Cape Town or Stellenbosch, but which is really a destination in itself. The town is full of stories of people who came to visit for a wine tasting or a meal in one of the many award-winning restaurants, only to come back as residents. Even business mogul Richard Branson recently bought a farm here ...

Huguenot Memorial, Franschhoek

Franschhoek (which means 'French corner' in Afrikaans) lies in a beautiful valley, surrounded by mountains and vineyards. It's known as the food and wine capital of South Africa, but there's so much more to do in and around this lovely little town.

1. Photograph the Huguenot Monument

The photogenic Huguenot Monument

You'll find the Huguenot Monument at the end of Franschhoek's main street, in a green park and set against a beautiful backdrop of mountains. The monument was designed by JC Jongens and completed in 1945, and commemorates the Huguenot immigrants who fled Catholic-ruled France in the late 1600s for South Africa. 'Franschhoek', incidentally, means 'French corner'.

The sculpture of the woman represents freedom of conscience

The focal point of the monument is a woman standing on a globe, sculpted by Coert Steynberg, who also sculpted a statue of Bartolomeu Dias at South Africa House in London and a large statue of Paul Kruger, former president of the then-South African Republic (Transvaal), at one of the entrances to the Kruger National Park, among many other works.

The woman is meant to represent religious freedom, which the Huguenots found in South Africa. She has a bible in one hand an a broken chain in the other. She is backed by an elegant three-arched structure that is supposed to symbolise the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is a 'sun of righteousness' above the arches, and above this, a Christian cross.

The signboard at the monument reads: 'Erected on this dedicated ground in 1943 by grateful South African people in honour of the Huguenots at the Cape (1688) and their invaluable contribution to our nationhood. The three arches symbolize the Holy Trinity: the Sun and the Cross form the emblem of the Huguenots. The central figure represents the freedom of conscience.
Design by: JC Jongens
Sculptor: Coert Steynberg'

The monument is very photogenic – it's almost impossible not to get great shots on a clear day. Walk all the way round for good opportunities for close-ups. Entrance to the monument is R10 per person.

The three arches of the Huguenot Memorial represent the Christian Holy Trinity

2. Go to an art gallery

The La Motte museum, which houses an excellent Pierneef collection
Pierneef's Premier Mine, 1932

Apart from its great reputation for food and wine, Franschhoek is a rising star in the art world. Drive down the main street and pick a commercial gallery to browse in, or visit the renowned farm of La Motte, where there is a beautiful modern art museum in which work of JH Pierneef (1886 to 1957), one of South Africa's most acclaimed artists, is housed. The Rupert family, who owns La Motte, acquired a large collection of Pierneef works, which span his life, from his daughter. The work is arranged chronologically, allowing you to trace his development as an artist, through early experimentations with Impressionism and Cubism to his more mature work, in which he loved to explore South African landscapes.

There is also a small area in the La Motte museum reserved for modern art. You'll want to keep an eye on the artists featured here – the owners of La Motte are known for their impeccable taste, not only in wine and food, but also in art.

Photo of a photographic portrait of famous South African painter, JH Pierneef

3. Visit a museum

The Huguenot Museum is located next to the Huguenot Monument

The picturesque Huguenot Memorial Museum, next to the Huguenot Monument at the end of Franschhoek's main street, commemorates the life and times of the early Huguenots who came to South Africa and settled in the Franschhoek Valley. 

4. Dine at a fine restaurant

The kitchen at Pierneef a la Motte restaurant

Franschhoek has earned its reputation as the gourmet capital of South Africa. There are many small and excellent restaurants, some of them world-class. Several celebrity chefs, including Reuben Riffel, have set up kitchen in Franschhoek.

Most of Franschhoek's wine farms also have excellent restaurants. Franschhoek's chefs make the most of the Franschhoek Valley's abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables, and its world-renowned wines are perfectly paired by its great chefs with each exquisite course.

Beware: in summer (November to March, but especially from December to February), Franschhoek's restaurants can be booked up weeks and even months in advance, so be sure to book early. Tables are easier to come by in the winter months, from May to October.

The food here is truly amazing. I had the best meal I've ever had anywhere in the world at Ryan's Kitchen in the main street.

The Pierneef a la Motte restaurant at the La Motte wine farm is a great choice for both lunch and dinner

5. Take a walk

Late afternoon, Franschhoek mountains

Franschhoek is set in beautiful surroundings. In winter, it often snows, making the surrounds even more picturesque. Take a walk down the main road, through the vineyards or gardens of a wine farm, or be more adventurous and hike in the Franschhoek mountains.

While out walking, you're likely to come across plenty of examples of classic Cape Dutch architecture
Water lilies at Babylonstoren wine farm, where visitors can walk through the gardens

6. Stay somewhere beautiful

Bedroom, L'Ermitage

It seems almost every second building in Franschhoek is a guest house or a hotel. You won't find big hotel groups here, but you will find some of the best accommodation anywhere in the world. Just have a look at the Franschhoek section on TripAdvisor and you'll see the great reviews falling off the page. In summer, be sure to book long in advance, as local establishments experience 100% occupancy. In winter, you might well find some great deals.

A few times a year in winter, the town organises a 'Mystery Weekend', in which visitors pay under R3000 per person and get two nights' accommodation with breakfast, two dinners and two experiences, including perhaps a walk through the vineyards or a ride on the old-time ' Wine Tram', which runs from town to a few vineyards. The trick is, you don't know which of these you're in for until you arrive in Franschhoek and pick your box with your unique selections inside.

Contact Franschhoek Tourism (tel +27 (0)21 876 2861, email info@franschhoek.org.za) for more information about these weekends. 

Babylonstoren's guest cottages are redeveloped workers' cottages

7. Wander into a 'pop-up' bar or shop

'Pop-up' restaurants are non-permanent eating establishments

'Pop-ups' are shops or restaurants that are non-permanent and may be opened in interim periods, for example when an adjacent restaurant or guest house is undergoing renovations, which they often do in Franschhoek in winter. Very little money is spent on décor, but if this year's Bacon pop-up Bar is anything to go by, you can enjoy superb food at reasonable prices. (Everything for sale in the Bacon pop-up Bar has something to do with bacon. They even sell delicious bacon brownies, with bacon bits in them.)

Pop-up bars are a good option for a light lunch, especially if you're going to be enjoying fine dining in the evening.

Flying pig at the Bacon pop-up Bar

8. Taste some of the world's best wines

Franschhoek is world-renowned for its excellent wines

Franschhoek is world-famous for its wines. Its vineyards were first planted more than 300 years ago by French Huguenot immigrants, so the culture and heritage of wine and the Franschhoek area are deeply intertwined. Franschhoek is also known for its friendliness and accessibility, with farms that are arguably smaller and more intimate than those of neighbouring Stellenbosch.

Excellent wine farms abound: BoschendalHaute CabrièreBellinghamLeopard's LeapGraham BeckBacksbergBabylonstoren and La Motte are just some of the names you might recognise. Most farms offer wine tasting and you can buy wine much cheaper than in a supermarket. Special wines not available elsewhere are also often on sale at the wine farms. And you can expect a personal experience – ask to meet the winemaker and you might find he or she to be the person serving you the wine!

Almost all Franschhoek's wine farms offer wine tasting and sales, and many have accommodation on offer too. Almost all are also wheelchair-accessible.

Read more about the Franschhoek Wine Route.

9. Buy organic produce

Marmalade for sale in a farm shop

Most of the wine farms have excellent shops, where fresh local produce is sold along with wine. You'll be able to find local cheeses, biltong (dried meat, a South African specialty), jams and marmalades, breads and other items like hats, body lotions and books.

You can often purchase fresh produce and organic items from country-style shops in the Franschhoek area. Almost every wine farm has a shop that sells items other than wine
Tending the fire at the shop in winter, Babylonstoren

10. Eat fresh fruit

Franschhoek lies in a fertile valley famous for producing grapes and great wines, but other fruits are grown here too, including melons, guavas and lemons. Buy fruit from a farm stall or wine farm. It will also almost certainly be on the menu in some form at any restaurant you go to.

11. Indulge in a spa experience

There are several places in and around Franschhoek where you can enjoy a luxury spa experience, including at Le Quartier Francais in town. The Babylonstoren Garden Spa offers a Turkish steam room and small indoor heated pool, which is especially appealing in winter.

12. Experience a farm

The Franschhoek Valley is home to dozens of farms, many of them wine farms. One of the nicest farm experiences you'll ever have is walking around Babylonstoren, the wine farm owned and restored by businessman Koos Bekker and his wife, ex-magazine editor Karen Roos. Wander through the gardens and you'll see prize free-range poultry, rhubarb grown on traditional wooden frames and water furrows channelling water the way they did centuries ago. Kids will love this farm, and adults will be able to enjoy a wine tasting or meal in the excellent restaurant (there's a more child-friendly restaurant in an old greenhouse if you have children with you).

Donkey, Babylonstoren
Rooster, Babylonstoren
Chickens in the gardens at Babylonstoren

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Category: Arts & Entertainment, Attractions, Culture & History, Food & Wine, Health & Wellness

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