Exploring the Franschhoek Wine Valley

When leaving Cape Town it was pouring with rain, however as we entered the beautiful Franschhoek Wine Valley the sun came out to greet us! Our day started at Le Franschhoek Hotel & Spa deep in the mountain valley, it has a charming French mountain lodge feel as if you are entering another world. After being welcomed with a fresh cup of coffee in the lobby we went through to the stylish lounge to relax before starting our exploring for the day.

Our next stop was the GlenWood classic boutique winery and Okamai restaurant, a cottage surrounded by old oak trees. The introductions were made by the Winery owner himself, who expressed his passion for wine and the importance of personal service. He said to us that GlenWood is well known for their award winning Chardonnay. After introductions, we were given a personal tour of the wine cellar by the winemaker himself, who then did a wine tasting with us. The wine tasting was unusual in that it included pairing each wine selection with sushi tastings carefully prepared in the restaurant by their ‘full of energy’ Sensei Japanese Sushi Chef. It was the best sushi I have tasted in a long time and the wine was paired with it perfectly. GlenWood is a hidden gem in the stunning Robertsvlei valley and well worth the drive for the fantastic wine and sushi and of course the scenery too. They take 20 person tours which are highly informative and refreshing. This winery had a wonderful homely personal feel to it, and I will definitely be back for a visit.

Our tour then moved onto Leopard’s Leap winery which was a complete contrast to Glenwood winery’s warm country feel. When entering the chic modern Leopard’s Leap wine tasting bar and restaurant you cross a bridge over a moat which runs around the building making it look like it’s floating on water. This building is an artwork in itself to marvel at with a beautiful bronze sculpture of a Leopard looking out across the valley in the garden next to the entrance. In the lobby area there is an interactive tip screen, which is a guide with the details of the winery and their wine. Their new restaurant opened officially in February 2012, The Liam Tomlin Food Culinary Studio. This restaurant is a food experience where we were shown how to make potato gnocchi with asparagus and cream sauce and had the privilege of eating the divine food he had prepared. To top the experience off, our freshly made food was then paired with Leopard’s Leap wines.

It was great to see how to make a professionally cooked meal on big screens above the modern stainless steel kitchen, being demonstrated by Chef Liam Tomlin. We got to take the recipe home with us so we could try it out later. He describes to you what he is preparing while he is cooking each section of the meal, giving you visual aids as well as verbal instruction. Every week they demo different cooking styles such as Italian, French, Asian and even pastry, to name just a few. You can usually expect a 3 course cooking demonstration for lunch which usually costs around R250. I would call and book before you go to check when there is availability and to ask what you will be cooking that day. However they will also tailor make programmes for functions, events or big groups. If you are looking for a professional and creative cooking experience this is perfect. The restaurant and wine bar has a modern fresh clean look with splashes of colour. There is also a well kitted out culinary shop, and in the future they plan on using the garden area for picnics.

After finishing our lunch at Leopard’s Leap we drove into the town centre to the cosy Screening Room at Le Quatier Francais. This is the private local movie theatre, where you can enjoy a glass of wine and their famous cheese balls with your movie. We were there for the presentations by all the hotels, B&B’s and guest houses in and around Franschhoek. Nearing the end of our tour we returned to Le Franschhoek for the Explore Franschhoek exhibition in the Glass Conservatory, which was full of atmosphere, music and friendly faces, complete with a band playing in the background with a choir. There is so much to see and do in Franschhoek Wine Valley; whether it’s hiking, biking, horse-riding, trout fishing or shopping, to mention only a few. There were stalls and stands everywhere, all handing out yummy goodies and information on how to explore Franschhoek. Reuben Riffel, one of the top chef’s in South Africa, was there handing out copies of his signed recipe books and promoting his restaurant: Reuben’s. To finish the brilliant day off with a big bang we were treated to a demonstration of Champagne sabrage, ‘wowing’ us with a French tradition of cracking a bottle of champagne open with one swift swipe of a sabre across the bottle neck.

Exploring Franschhoek is definitely worth making the trip, we got to see a few new places in the Franschhoek Wine Valley and spoilt our taste buds with delicious and decadent food and wine. There is so much to do and see in the area. How can you go wrong with good wine, food, accommodation and plenty of activities?

If this wasn’t enough for you, there are also plenty of festivals to go to in the valley like Franschhoek Uncorked, Literary Festival, Cook Franschhoek, Bastille Festival and the Cheese & Wine Festival.

Cara Wares

Travelstart Designer

All images courtesy of author.

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