Corked and Framed

Posted: August 9, 2012 in Travel and Adventure writing

Franschhoek is snugly nestled between the Groot Drakenstein, Wemmershoek and Franschhoek mountain ranges.

Here you will find undulating hills covered in vineyards laden with fat grapes. The orange groves are plentiful and bursting with juicy fruit.

Pic by Astrid Stark

Less than an hour’s drive from Cape Town, this village is fondly referred to as the gourmet capital of South Africa. Celebrity chefs such as Reuben Riffel and Margot Janse draw diners from across the country with their delicious food. Numerous restaurants line the streets. More than 50 wine farms, some dating back to the 16th century, are scattered along the green lung of the valley. It’s also an art lover’s paradise. Huguenot, the main road, has more than 20 galleries and a string of international and local clothing and specialty shops.

I find myself at one of the many cosy sidewalk cafés with the smell of freshly baked baguettes and roasted coffee drifting out onto the cobblestone courtyards. I have already stopped at my favourite shop, Huguenot Fine Chocolates, and spent way too much money, as always, on myself and gifts for the people in my life. Here you will find decadent Belgian chocolate blended with South African audacity and homegrown ingredients.

On my lap is a map of the local vineyards and galleries that I received from the helpful lady at the tourist information kiosk.  I have one day to quench my thirst for provocative art and world-class wines.  Of course it is impossible to visit all the galleries and vineyards in a day. Don’t despair. Many vineyards have added visual art to their beautiful assault on our sense of taste and smell.  What’s better than sipping on a luscious wine whilst discussing art in a breathtakingly beautiful setting?

Franschhoek’s art offering is an eclectic mix of heritage meets modern drama.  Founded in 1688 by the French Huguenots, the village has roots crawling under the ocean from Europe to Africa. Modern galleries such as JustRock and African Art Gallery feature exquisitely crafted, abstract, rock art from Zimbabwean and South African artists.

Close by you will find Artefact which houses a contemporary collection of art created by a variety of artists from Franschhoek. Many of the artists on display deliver hilarious, and often scathing, social and political commentary.

After the morning’s fix of main street art, I amble to the edge of the village to sample Haute Cabrière’s Methode Cap Classique. The winery is situated on a hill just to the side of the Huguenot monument and it has spectacular views of the valley below. It is a gorgeous sunny day and under ancient trees lining an extensive terrace, I enjoy oysters, delicious tapas, and freshly baked ciabatta.

Haute Cabrière Restaurant has recently undergone a makeover, including an interior redesign, and a menu update. Dressed in crisp white linens and featuring a series of colourful artworks, many of them by cellar master and Haute Cabrière founder, Achim von Arnim, the restaurant is a stylish version of its former self.

After lunch it is time to browse through the bookshops before more wine tasting and art.  Treasure House Books has thousands of new, second hand, rare and collectable books. They also stock a selection of original art and vinyl LP’s. 

The Franschhoek food, wine and gallery route map comes in handy.  The map indicates whether there is an art gallery connected to a wine farm, and of course, where you can find it. From there I plan the rest of my afternoon.  I slowly meander through the galleries tasting the lovely local wines, chatting to winemakers, gallery owners, and even designers. One very interesting couple is designer Mark Bain and his wife Mary-Anne. They own the Sofa Studio. Mary Anne shows me the old school drafting table that her husband uses to design the most provocative and unusual sofas and chairs.  After they have planned out the design, she selects richly coloured and decadent fabrics, that make you want to sink into the nearest sofa.

More than 15 wine farms have galleries on the premises and La Motte has to be one of the finest examples of what happens when good wine and great art meet in a picturesque setting. Here you will find the La Motte museum that features a history of the wine farm and Cape Dutch architecture. A large room is dedicated to one of South Africa’s giants of art, Jacob Hendrik Pierneef, and a selection of work by contemporary artists.

The sun starts to sink behind the mountains, bathing the valley in a golden glow. My final stop is Rupert and Rothschild. This is where the vigneron creates my favourite wine. The breathtaking location of the farm, the small selection of superior wine, and the excellent service make this one of the classiest experiences in Franschhoek.  I usually stock up on my own wine collection and select a few good bottles for friends and family. They’re not cheap, but they have incredible style and good taste. Too soon it is time to go back to Cape Town.  There are still many circles on my map marking galleries and wine farms to be visited, next time.

By Astrid Stark

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