Visiting Franschhoek - South Africa’s French Corner
Updated: Oct 26, 2021
We wrapped up our time in Stellenbosch and continued on to Franschhoek - another amazing South African wine region - for some more incredible views, delicious food, and awesome wine. With only two nights there, we focused on just relaxing - not hard to do on a visit to Franschhoek!
Franschhoek - South Africa’s French Corner
For most Americans, French Quarter - understandably - conjures up images of New Orleans and Bourbon Street debauchery. But, on the other side of the planet, a similarly named area exists in South Africa.
Franschhoek - Afrikaans for French Corner - was our next logical stop along South Africa’s wine route. Leaving Stellenbosch, you drive northeast for 30-ish minutes before hooking back southeast into a stunning mountain valley. Lined on both sides with towering peaks, the quaint town of Franschhoek sits tucked into the valley, and vineyards climb up from an alpine stream into the surrounding hills.
The name Franschhoek has its origins in the valley’s original European inhabitants - French Huguenots escaping persecution in France (more on that below). In 1688, the first of these settlers arrived, bringing their agricultural skills - and wine-making abilities - with them. Today, many Franschhoek residents still have French surnames dating back to these 17th century pioneers, and the valley has become another wine mecca in South Africa.
While our experiences here differed from those in the Big Easy, they shared three key similarities: French influence, delicious food, and copious drinking!
Fitness Level? Outstanding…
Doing some more in-depth research, Jenna found us a great wine farm for our two nights in Franschhoek. Le Petite Ferme - “the little farm” in French - sits high up in the hills, with a commanding view back down the valley. So, to get there, we enjoyed an Uber ride all the way through Franschhoek, past dozens of wine farms, and then part-way up the valley wall.
Met by warm and welcoming hosts, we enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine as we checked in and completed the requisite COVID-19 forms. If it hasn’t been clear in our posts to date, we haven’t logged too much time in the gym (or any). Sure, we’ve done plenty of walking and hiking, but pillars of the fitness world we are not.
Despite this reality, Chipp still has some misplaced pride in his athletic abilities (or lack thereof). More precisely, he sometimes fails to acknowledge that 24-year-old-Marine/rugby-playing Chipp was in far better shape than 34-year-old-traveling-and-drinking-around-the-world-accountant Chipp. This discrepancy led to an interesting period of reflection on the COVID-19 health screener. Asked to make a self-assessment of our overall fitness, with 5 being the best and 1 the worst, we had the following exchange:
Chipp: “Overall fitness level? 5 - pretty sure I qualify as ‘very fit.’”
Jenna, poking at Chipp’s belly hanging over his too-tight jeans: “Hmmm, maybe a 4’s more realistic…”
Touché - workout routine begins back in Richmond!
“We Have a Pool and a Pond”
Related to COVID-19, international travel restrictions meant far fewer people were traveling in South Africa. For us, this meant being able to A) reserve a room (normally booked months in advance), and B) actually afford a room (usually far more expensive than the deal we received).
Le Petite Ferme has nine private suites, each of which has gorgeous, panoramic views out into the Franschhoek Valley. Pretty sure we initially booked a garden shed in the back of the wine farm - not one of these beautiful suites. Or, in Caddyshack parlance, Le Petite Ferme has a pool and a pond, and the pond would be best for us!
Okay, so we didn’t actually book a shed. But, because there were so few travelers during our stay, we definitely received an upgraded suite. With farmhouse-style doors opening up to a private pool and sweeping views of the valley, we couldn’t help but feel like someone had made a mistake - just too nice a place.
In a romantic-but-unaffordable dream, Chipp saw our digs as the perfect place to replicate Colin Firth’s Love Actually time - month of writing, relaxing, and simply taking in the incredible surroundings. In principle, Jenna agreed. Her only caveat? No Portuguese housekeepers!
Exploring Franschhoek’s Huguenot Past
On our full day in Franschhoek, we decided to head down the hill to the town itself. Beautiful houses, well-manicured gardens, cute little shops, and art galleries - about what you’d expect in a wine town. Feel-wise, it has far more of a small-town vibe than Stellenbosch, the more well-known neighbor.
In a nod to its roots, Franschhoek also has a fascinating museum dedicated to A) the Huguenot refugees who arrived there, and B) refugees, in general. In that vein, the exhibits intertwine the Huguenot experience with themes faced by refugees throughout history (and up to the present). And, on a lighter note, the museum also highlights famous descendants of these original Huguenots (looking at you, Charlize Theron and Roger Federer!).
On the same grounds, the museum complex includes a building dedicated to the history of perfume, as well. Whether you wear stuff that smells or not, it’s worth ducking in to see how perfume bottles have evolved over the years.
After “checking the culture box,” we strolled from the museum to a slightly less high-brow culture center - the local brewery! Sure, we were in the heart of South Africa’s wine country. But, sometimes you need to change things up with a cold, local beer. Fortunately, Tuk Tuk Brewery didn’t disappoint. We split a massive portion of fish and chips, drank some beer, and chatted about the brewery’s history.
Relatively new, Tuk Tuk serves as the “test kitchen” for the far larger Cape Brewing Co. Looking for a place to experiment with some different recipes, the latter’s master brewer helped open Tuk Tuk. Now, he uses it to release limited edition beers, get some feedback, and - potentially - bring those new beers into Cape Brewing’s regular rotation. Cool model.
Le Petite Ferme’s Kitchen - Preparing Chefs for the Wild
Our stay included on-site dinners paired with Le Petite Ferme’s own wines - phenomenal. But, as delicious as the food and wine was, the real highlight included the people cooking these spectacular dishes.
Le Petite’s owner understands just how challenging it can be for new chefs to break into the food industry, especially in the hyper-competitive environment of South Africa’s top wine regions. To give up-and-coming ones a leg up, the Le Petite kitchen always has rotations of student chefs running the show. In the manager’s words, this experience gives new chefs a fighting chance when they’re “released into the wild.” Instead of only culinary school, these new chefs can list running a high-end kitchen on their resumes. Another outstanding model.
The food, views, wine, and overall experience all - as expected - blew us away. Without a doubt, we’ve added Franschhoek to our ever-growing list of places to visit again - hopefully with friends and family!