Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa. Together with history and select wine farm details


Linda and I married in February 1971.  For our honeymoon, we elected to stay in Franschhoek.  Linda and I recall the honeymoon suite at our hotel differently.  I remember that they only provided a single bed; Linda says there were two single beds.  No matter, a honeymoon suite with only single beds is a travesty.  We have no idea where we stayed, so 48 years later, we could not re-visit the old haunt.  Franschhoek has blossomed as a tourist destination, especially with the wine farm tours and tastings.  Art, crafts, and bead shops are trendy.  I have another family tie to Franschhoek.  My mother’s maiden name is Maris, and she traces her arrival in South Africa to the French Huguenots.

The first Huguenots arrived as early as 1671, when the first Huguenot refugee, Francois Villion (later Viljoen), arrived at the Cape.  By 1692, a total of 201 French Huguenots had settled at the Cape of Good Hope.

The Huguenots were French Protestants who were members of the Calvinist Reformed Church established in 1550.  From the mid-1500s through the mid-1600s, Huguenots got persecuted in France for their religious beliefs.  Therefore, thousands of Huguenots fled to other countries to enjoy religious freedom, including South Africa.  Simon van der Stel (Governor of the Cape) set aside land for Huguenot settlement in Franschhoek (French Corner) and Drakenstein (present-day Paarl) and gave orders for the French to be interspersed with the other burghers (Afrikaans citizens).  His reasoning for this integration was “that they could learn our language and morals and be integrated with the Dutch nation.”  Today, many farms in these areas retain their French names.

In 1688 French Huguenot refugees began populating the valley establishing farms and businesses, bringing their agricultural experiences with them. The area’s name soon changed to le Coin Français (the French Corner) and later to Franschhoek (Dutch for French Corner), with many of the settlers naming their new farms after the areas in France from which they came.  La Motte, Champagne, La Cotte, Cabrière, La Provence, Bourgogne, La Terra de Luc, and La Dauphine were among the first established farms — most of which still exist and retain their original Cape Dutch farmhouses today. These farms have grown into renowned wineries. Many of the surnames in the area are of French origin, e.g., Du Toit, Marais, Du Plessis, Malan, Malherbe, and Joubert.

Not your grandfather’s tractor ride. It, fortunately, was only a short transfer ride. Enjoy the noise and shakes.

Our specific wine tour featured five vineyards, transported by bus and tram, depending on the farm’s location.  We used the Franschhoek Wine Tram, a hop-on-hop-off tour. It is one of the best ways to discover the true essence of the Franschhoek Valley – picturesque vineyards, breathtaking scenery, warm hospitality, world-class cuisine, fine wines, and a 300-year history. 

Passengers experience a unique and leisurely way to see the Franschhoek Valley as they journey through rolling vineyards in a vintage-style railway tram and open-air tram bus stopping at some of South Africa’s oldest and most distinguished wine estates.  A combination of tram and tram bus transports passengers around a loop of stops allowing them to hop off at each visit. Then to experience the activities on offer, be it wine tasting, a cellar tour, lunch, or simply a stroll through the vineyards, and when they are ready, hop on to continue the tour.

Before visiting the first wine farm, Linda and I decided that we would not feel good at the end of the day tasting four wines from each of the five farms for twenty samplings.  We agreed that we would buy a single tasting to be shared at each farm.  When there was coupling with biltong (jerky), a cheese board, chocolate, or any other treat, that too would be shared.  The alternative was that we would gorge ourselves.  As it was, we were meeting my cousin for dinner at the Tuk Tuk Microbrewery. Tuk Tuk, a craft beer microbrewery was serving bespoke brews and Mexican-inspired food.

La Bourgogne

We visited Franschhoek for two nights in early March 2019, staying at the Riverside Cottages on the Le Bourgogne Farm in the loft, a very spacious accommodation.  La Bourgogne is a subdivision of the farm Bourgogne among the first Huguenot farms proclaimed in 1694.  Simon van der Stel granted the farm to Pierre de Villiers.  However, 1800 saw the first involvement of the Le Roux family, a relationship that endures to this day, with neighbor Gappie Le Roux managing the farming operations.

We elected to taste wines from La Bourgogne to learn more about their products on our wine farm tour.  That morning we enjoyed breakfast in their restaurant.

When the late George Mayer bought the farm, he aimed to make olive oil, notwithstanding the lack of olive trees on the farm. Today the farm has approximately 2500 olive trees, planted in May 2008, bar about 220, which went in May 2005. Most of the trees planted are Frantoio, with liberal sprinklings of Corantino, Lecchino, and Mission. The oil produced to date has been of excellent quality. La Bourgogne started with their olive pressing on the farm. The 2011 harvest won a silver award from the South African Olive Association.

La Bri

The original grant of La Bri is one of the oldest Huguenot-allocated farms in the Franschhoek Valley.  The farm is situated in the valley previously known as Olifantshoek (Elephants Corner).  The name La Bri is derived from the outlying town of Brie, which was the stomping grounds of the de Villiers family in the early 13th century.  L’ Abri is also French for “the refuge or Haven,” a perfect name for this property, as it is safely nestled in the imposing amphitheaters of the Franschhoek valley.  La Bri featured Chardonnay, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Holden Manz

Located in the top, southern-most Corner of the Franschhoek Valley, in the embrace of its spectacular mountains, the 22 hectares Holden Manz Wine Estate is situated between the Franschhoek River and Stony Brook at three hundred meters above sea level.  The Estate cultivates its top sixteen hectares under vineyards, notably Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Merlot.  Long, cold, and wet winters allow the vines to rest well, while hot, dry summers and gentle autumns allow slow ripening.  Featuring a rich and diverse terroir influenced by its unique natural surroundings, with three different soil types and a marked seasonal climate, the Estate’s vineyards are ideally suited to its intention – the production of ultra-premium wines made for the discerning wine connoisseur.


GlenWood is a family-owned boutique winery located in an area of outstanding natural beauty close to Franschhoek.  GlenWood has been developed from scratch over the last thirty-three years to become a leading South African wine producer and wine exporter to 12 countries.  With only one exception, all wines are made from grapes produced on the farm, thereby reflecting the unique terroir of our small valley.  The wines are uniformly and consistently highly rated by wine judges and have received numerous awards and prestigious listings.  GlenWood features Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Noblesse.

Grande Provence

Grande Provence Estate wears her 300-year history with dignity.  Her lush vines spread across 47 acres with gentle vistas over the valley floor, with the rugged mountains beyond. It is heartland South African wine country at its very finest.  Grande Provence features Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Shiraz.

As part of its social responsibility programs, Grande Provence supports several causes. We were impressed with the cheetah program. Cheetah Outreach has two facilities in the Western Cape, Somerset West, and Franschhoek. Here they offer cheetah encounters. The primary goal is to promote the survival of the free-ranging, South African cheetah. From an estimated 100,000 cheetahs at the turn of the 20th century, the population is currently estimated to be 7,100. Shrinking habitat, dwindling of natural prey, and conflict with human activities are the primary causes of this critical situation. There are about 1,326 cheetahs in South Africa, of which approximately 500 free-ranging cheetahs live on unprotected farmlands in the northern part of the country. 

The Gallery at Grande Provence is considered one of the most highly regarded galleries in the Cape, with a reputation for highlighting some of South Africa’s finest established and emerging Africa’s regular exhibitions are held with the major disciplines being shown throughout the year. The Gallery exhibits a carefully selected group of artists from South Africa, Europe, and America. The Sculpture Garden has a continually evolving collection of monumental works in a variety of media.

Driving to Franschhoek from Montagu was a treat.  It is evident from my blogs and videos showing mountain passes that I am enamored with the scenery as we crest the hills and descend the dales.  In Wisconsin, where we live, we need to travel long distances to see similar beauty along the Mississippi River. 

Franschhoek Pass is in the Western Cape, Province of South Africa, on the regional road R45 between Franschhoek and Villiersdorp.  The pass was formally constructed in 1822 by a group of soldiers under the command of Major Holloway, under orders from Lord Charles Somerset.  Jan Joubertsgat bridge was part of the construction.  It is still in evidence today as one of South Africa’s oldest bridges.

Franschhoek Pass: View a drive along Franschhoek’s Pass: 18 minutes

Franschhoek Pass (R45) is also called Lambrechts Road. However – more poetically – a hundred and fifty years ago it was known as Olifantshoek (Elephants Corner) after the now mythical herds of elephants that once roamed these valleys and mountains. This long, steep, and dramatic pass with its variety of scenery was South Africa’s first properly engineered road. During weekends, city folk stream to the pass on bicycles, motorcycles, skates, and vehicles to enjoy its sheer magnificence.  Sadly, a fire devastated the pass two weeks before our visit—and this is evident along our journey.  When we stopped, we looked down on the town from high.  The city becomes visible as we descend on the winding road complete with hairpin bends.  Our good fortune is that we did not have vehicles in front of us to impede the view. 

History of the Franschhoek Pass. It was initially a little track made by elephants and was used by the town residents as a footpath. In 1807 the Stellenbosch Magistrate ordered a road so that Villiersdorp farmers could get their goods to market easier, but it proved too costly, and the plan was scrapped. In 1819, a farmer, S J Cats, with the help of a surveyor, WF Hertzog, constructed the first road. A toll fee was charged (even in those days), and Cornelis de Waal was the caretaker. Once, in 1822, he was on his way to hand over five months’ worth of tolls when his wagon was washed into the Berg River after heavy rains, and all was lost.

The road was steep and only eight bags of wheat could be transported by ox wagon at a time and was only in use until 1824. It stayed open as a footpath, and in 1952, a group of school children from Franschhoek and Villiersdorp laid cairns of stones along the road, which were whitewashed. In 1978 this path became the new water pipeline for the village’s drinking water.

In 1824, Lord Charles Somerset ordered a new road to be built at the cost of 8,735 pounds by the village’s African Corps. These soldiers were waiting in the Cape for a sea passage to England and were used to keeping them busy while permission for the trip was sought.

Mr. Daniel Hugo of the farm Cabriere was given the contract to feed the soldiers. He utilized a Goat-wagon pulled by six goats.

With the arrival of the Post Wagon in 1952, a beacon was erected at the top of the pass where the “Cats se Pad” (cats’ path) and the newer road met, and one wagon rode over a piece of wet cement to leave a track for future generations. I wonder if it is still there.

A third new road was built in 1933 and is still in use today.

We highly recommend Franschhoek as a wonderful place to visit.  We had dinner with a family who moved to Franschhoek two decades ago as their ideal retirement community.

PS. It was a chilly day, and a few days later, I had a cold—my fault for not bringing anything warm on this trip.

On June 21, 2019, the Western Cape was hit with powerful storms. After rock falls, the Franschhoek Pass was closed. My sister sent me these photographs published in the media.

A motorist escaped a serious injury on Saturday morning after a rockslide at Franschhoek Pass during rainy weather. Marc Thackwray, 28, suffered a few bumps and scratches but was otherwise uninjured after massive boulders rained down on his car.  Western Cape traffic chief Kenny Africa said the pass was closed because rocks had fallen onto the road. Authorities had to turn motorists away from both sides of the pass.

An additional rockfall took place on July 3, 2019.