Picture-perfect Franschhoek, nestled amongst the winelands of South Africa, was the first stop on our tour of the Western Cape Province. This region is world famous for its excellent wine and pretty towns.
Flying into Cape Town from Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, we climbed aboard our rental car and headed north to the winelands. After about an hour and a half we arrived in Franschhoek and found our small hotel without difficulty. This was the gorgeous Plumwood Inn.
Our immaculate room overlooking the pool and our outdoor breakfasts, surrounded by mountains with trailing wisps of cloud in a sunny blue sky, set us up perfectly for our allotted two days.
The town of Franschhoek is one of the oldest towns in South Africa with a population of around 15,000. The name Franschhoek means ‘French Corner’ after the Huguenot people who arrived there in the 17th century. As a result, many of the vineyards and farms are named after towns in France.
The vineyards are centuries old and much of the original architecture is Cape Dutch in style. There is a Huguenot monument and museum at the end of town. These commemorate the French settlers who planted the first vines that have made this area so famous.
There are lots of excellent restaurants in the town and it was pretty difficult to choose which ones to visit. On our first night there we had dinner at a very nice restaurant called Café des Artes, where they serve up traditional South African fare. I ordered a delicious bowl of bobotie, spicy minced meat with a golden egg-based topping, hot and nourishing.
The Franschhoek Wine Tram is a popular way to visit many of the local vineyards. It is an old-fashioned, double decker tram which transports visitors between the vineyards and wine estates that dot the area around Franschhoek.
We, however, drove ourselves to Franschhoek Cellar where we had an appointment for a wine tasting and lunch.
Our lunch at Franschhoek Cellars was great. We sat in a restaurant called The Platform Bar & Bistro – modelled on an old-fashioned train carriage – with views of the mountains and vineyards.
I enjoyed an enormous platter of cheese, fruits, cold meats, breads and hummus; far too big for me!
After our final ‘al fresco’ breakfast at Plumwood Inn, we hit the road for our next port of call: the clifftop town of Hermanus. Once more, our accommodation was excellent. We stayed at a small boutique hotel called One Marine Drive overlooking the ocean.
The breakfasts were great and we loved Hermanus so much that we decided to stay a third night.
Our walks on the famous cliff path were just stunning.
We walked as far as the new harbour one afternoon. There wasn’t a lot there for tourists – just a little bar serving fresh fish – but it was quite interesting all the same.
Once more, in a town that boasts several excellent restaurants, we were well fed during our visit. On one evening there I sampled an excellent fish pie at The Fishermans Cottage, a well known seafood eatery in town.
Hermanus is, understandably, a popular retirement destination. It overlooks Walker Bay and is two hours south west of Cape Town. It also boasts one of the highest number of different plant species in the world and is a horticulturist’s delight. There is a whale festival every year at the end of September to celebrate the migration of the Southern Right whales.
During our wonderful visit to Hermanus, we took a highly worthwhile day to visit Cape Agulhas, the most southerly tip of the continent of Africa, just two hours drive away.
Cape Agulhas is a fairly barren headland with low trailing clouds hurrying by, adding to its feeling of remoteness.
On the approach road, I was surprised to see several holiday homes nestling among the rocks, though there were very few people out and about. The coastline there is pretty spectacular, with its essential lighthouse at the top of a rocky outcrop overlooking the ocean.
This is where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans collide. Marked by a giant relief map of Africa…..
….and a spot marking the dividing line between the two great oceans, Cape Agulhas has always been a hazardous landmark for sailors.
It is where the warm Mozambican – or Agulhas – current, having passed down the eastern coast of Africa, meets the icy Benguela current, fresh from Antarctica. This collision of warm and cold currents, combined with shallow waters, causes some very wild weather at sea and the winter storms and massive waves have sunk more than their fair share of ships over the years. It is said that more than 150 ships have sunk there due to the “roaring forties” which blow furiously from west to east.
We spent the following day walking on the cliff path at Hermanus and drove over to see the penguin colony at Betty’s Bay.
Our visit to Betty’s Bay was great fun. A multitude of happy penguins perched on the rocks and bobbed in and out of the waves as we walked through their midst atop a boardwalk. There were also plenty of cormorants and other seabirds zipping in and out of the beach.
Having greatly enjoyed our five wonderful days in Franschhoek, Hermanus and its environs, we headed for Cape Town for the final stage of our African Adventure. Meet me there next time.