Wine and Flights

Monday was our last full day in Franschhoek and we had already booked our driver from Thursday and Friday night (Hannes) to take us on a tour of wineries for the day, finishing with a late lunch at Roca, the restaurant in the Dieu Donne vineyard. I’m not sure how your Monday mornings are shaping up these days, but if it’s better than this one, I’d be surprised.

We set off at 10:30 and headed out of town on the road towards Stellenbosch and Paarl to visit Vrede en Lust vineyard. The tasting they offered us was a remarkable 6 wines for ZAR 50 per head. One thing that comes as a constant surprise is the opportunity to sit outside, drinking wine in the warm summer sunshine, and admiring the Christmas decorations. Jarring. But pleasant.


We took our time enjoying the three whites and three reds they provided then headed back to the car. When I say we took our time, I was surprised to find that we had been there for an hour and a half.

Next stop was intended to be Rupert and Rothschild, but it was closed. Hannes knew I was fond of the occasional beer, so he offered to take us to a winery that had both wine and beer. And chocolate. The Spice Route farm near Paarl has a number of different tasting experiences available but, in the end, we plumped for a dozen different amazing chocolates for ZAR 20 per head, and went straight on to the five wines for ZAR 40 per head. We burned up another hour here, so we were running out of time to do anything else. Nevertheless, we squeezed in a quick visit to Fairview. We felt we had already managed a lot of wine at our stops so far, but we hadn’t had any cheese! Fairview is a renowned South African cheese maker and, despite the splendid wines on offer elsewhere, this was by far the busiest venue we visited today.


We paid ZAR 20 to enjoy 6 cheeses, each of which was excellent but the standout was the garlic goats cheese. We bought a small amount of that in case we decided on a late supper that evening after our lunch.

On to Roca, where we enjoyed an excellent lunch and where, I think, we redeemed ourselves for the instagram generation. I had free range, deboned, Mozambican chicken with roasted vegetables, peri-peri sauce, and hand-cut chips.

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Ishbel went adventurous and had a medium ostrich fillet with pommes puree, young vegetables and a creamy peppercorn sauce.


To follow, Ishbel had the vanilla creme brulee with wild berry puree and strawberry sorbet and I went for the cheese board.

Also, if you remember how I raved about the Chocolate Block wine when we arrived in Franschhoek last Thursday, I’m delighted to have ticked that particular box at Monday’s lunch.


I was so delighted, I even sent a gloating Whatsapp to friends back home, which was unworthy of me. Sorry Dims.

After lunch, we drifted back to the hotel in a stupor and made a half-hearted attempt at packing for the following day’s flight. Our Johannesburg flight was leaving Cape Town at 12:20, so we needed to get a reasonably early start on the one hour drive, but it wasn’t a desperate rush. What we did find was that, once again, BA decided we had too many flights on our booking to allow us to check in online. This feels like a fundamental flaw in how they market and sell round-the-world tickets. But I’m still not paying an extra 70 quid a head to book a seat.

Anyway, as Tuesday dawned, we had an early breakfast and headed to the airport to return our Toyota Corolla, which had served us well, and check in for the flight. It all turned out well enough and we were in 2E and 2F. Not what I’d have chosen if I’d had access to the seat selections earlier, but at least we were next to each other.

The flight was uneventful, and we arrived in Johannesburg on time. We made our way over to Avis, which is much closer than at Cape Town, but really badly signposted. They try to make you go down and up in an escalator to bypass the airport road, but since we had trolleys, this was impossible. Eventually, we just went straight out the front door and across the road, which was nice and easy.

As with Cape Town, we had booked a small car and, as with Cape Town, they upgraded us. This time to a Nissan Almera. If you intend travelling like this, it is definitely worthwhile joining the Avis Preferred, or whatever loyalty program is offered by your preferred renter. It definitely makes a difference, both in length of queue and type of car.

Anyway, we picked up the car very easily. I had also rented a mobile hotspot from them, We don’t have free data access here, so this is a cost efficient way of accessing the net and using phones as SatNav solutions. This got us to our AirBnB in Melville, Johannesburg in a fairly straightforward fashion. We settled in and did a quick grocery shopping. Thanks to the business class on the plane, we had enjoyed a substantial lunch so we got some cold meats for a light supper plus, of course, the wherewithal for a pot of tea.

We’re two flights in to the journey and now the Johannesburg adventure starts. Keep checking in for the updates.



A hike and a beer

Sunday dawned brighter and warmer than the previous couple of days. Importantly, we could see the peaks surrounding the valley unshrouded by cloud. This meant our plan to postpone our hike at Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve from Friday until today was a good one. Temperature at the valley floor after breakfast was around 23°C but it had dropped at least 5° by the time we reached the top of our hike. We walked the Vista trail which is only about 2.5km, but has an elevation change of 275m, so it’s a brisk climb but worth it for the views, illustrated in the picture above.

After the walk, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up before a late lunch. We found the previous day that, between the substantial breakfast omelettes and the late lunch, we weren’t in any mood for dinner. We’ve been having only two meals a day most of the time we’ve been on the road, but usually breakfast and dinner. Breakfast and lunch seems to be equally adequate.

As we turned up the farm road that leads to our hotel, I noticed something in the road that, ridiculous as it seems, looked like a cooked prawn. Until it scampered across the road a little. Then it looked like a scampering cooked prawn. Until it took to the air, and became a flying cooked prawn. Ishbel managed a close up photo of it so it looked less prawn-like in HD.

DSC_0129 Despite its obvious red colour, this beast is called the Green Milkwood Locust.

After a much needed shower, we headed back into town for lunch at the Tuk Tuk Microbrewery. We had stopped in here on Thursday night for a beer and I had enjoyed their Pale Ale so much that we decided to head back there for a refreshing pint and some lunch.


Lunch was simple but pleasant enough fare: burrito for Ishbel and quesadilla for me. One thing we noticed as we sat on the terrace was the vast number of motor bikes that came through town in the afternoon and early evening. The road over the pass is hugely popular with recreational bikers and the town is filled with them every weekend.

Cycling and cheetahs and wine, oh my

It would be easy to laze around on a trip like this and become increasingly indolent. If you weren’t travelling with Ishbel, that is. So it was that, for Saturday we agreed that we would do a tour of some of the wineries for which Franschhoek is justifiably famous. To get round those wineries closest to town, we decided to rent a couple of bicycles. After picking up our laundry at the appointed time, we made our way along to Franschhoek Cycles, where we had arranged our rentals the previous day. We were supplied with a carefully annotated map, a couple of helmets and, of course, a bike each.

Off we set along the mostly flat main road to our first target: Grande Provence. The driveway up to the main estate buildings is picturesque, rolling through the vineyards that provide the harvest for their wines. Their buildings include a large art gallery but also something of a surprise: a cheetah sanctuary. As we arrived and saw the signs, it was obvious that we would be seeing the cheetahs before anything else.

At the Cheetah Outreach Centre, they also offer what they call ”encounters” where you can enter the enclosure and get up close to an animal. This held no attraction for me but Ishbel liked the sound of it. 


The outreach centre takes in animals from captive breeding programs and supports the maintenance of a DNA database that identifies breeding opportunities to maintain a diverse gene pool.

After that, we deserved a wine tasting and duly partook of three of the vineyard’s finest tipples.  Once that was done, it was back on the bikes and a quick 5km back through town and out the other side to La Bri estate. La Bri offers some interesting pairings, so we each tried a different one. Ishbel had three wines paired with Turkish Delight and I had three paired with chocolate. Very nice.

Just a short ride back towards town and we stopped at La Couronne. We only had a two wine tasting here as we still had to get all the way back through town again as we had decided that we liked the look of Mont Rochelle for lunch. Mont Rochelle is a vineyard and hotel owned by Richard Branson. How do I know this? He doesn’t exactly make a secret of it…


We decided we were somewhat underdressed for the gourmet restaurant on the estate but had a very nice lunch on the terrace of Country Kitchen, their more casual option. Interestingly, this is the first place in South Africa where we had access to free wi-fi without actually being a paying guest. It’s odd when something that you now take for granted at home becomes a bit of a luxury.

After lunch, we decided we should hand back the bikes while we were still sober, and headed back to relax at the hotel.

A stroll through Franschhoek’s history

I had awoken during the night to the sound of heavy rainfall outside so it was no surprise to find that Friday morning was overcast and drizzly as we made our way to the breakfast room at our hotel. While the temperature may have been a little cool, I’m not convinced it justified the roaring log fire at breakfast. We took a table as far away from it as possible and enjoyed our omelettes and multiple pots of tea.

We had intended driving back up Franschhoek pass to Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve to hike one of their trails, but looking up from the floor of the valley, we could see the surrounding peaks swathed in cloud. Weather is due to improve steadily, so we decided to postpone that activity till Sunday, leaving us at a loose end for the day.

It’s important to be pragmatic when travelling for eight months with a single suitcase. Any opportunity for laundry should be leapt upon, and Franschhoek has La Laundry which offers service washes, so we decided to try to locate that. We ended up parking at the wrong end of town, so had to walk all the way through to find it. Then all the way back to the car. Once we got there, we decided we should visit the local museum, which includes the Huguenot monument (pictured above) and where we became considerably better educated on the history of this area.

Franschhoek used to be called Olifants Hoek, or Elephant’s Corner, because cow elephants used to make their way over the surrounding mountains to calf in the protected valley. Early white settlers arrived here in the 17th century and recognised the agriculture opportunities afforded by the fertile valley floor.

In France, at the same time, protestants were being persecuted and denied their right to worship. These French protestants were known as Huguenots. As a result of continuous persecution, many fled France forefeiting all property and possessions. A number of those refugees arrived in the Netherlands, where their faith was supported but where they encountered severe economic hardship. Much like religious and economic refugees of today, really. So it was that, when the representative of the Dutch East India Company here in South Africa pleaded for more settlers to farm these lands and deliver provisions to the Company’s ships, the settlers that were delivered were, ultimately, around 300 Huguenots. Those Huguenots who settled in Elephant’s Corner and began farming here retained their native language for a considerable period of time. Thus the area came to be known as French Corner, or Franschhoek. And, of course, the French included vines in their planting so the Franschhoek wine industry was born.

That was quite enough history for one day, so we made our way off to one of the places recommended by our hotel, Babylonstoren, a vineyard with a lovely garden. We had a stroll through the garden and Ishbel encountered the wild animal she’d been itching to see since we got here: a tortoise.


After that success, we headed back to the hotel to play our instruments and get ready for dinner. Despite our friend (you know who you are, Jeannine) recommending a non-existent restaurant the previous day, we gave her one more chance and booked what she describes as her favourite place in the whole world, La Petite Ferme. She has travelled extensively so this was high praise. And the restaurant lived up to the hype. It is in a beautiful situation, partway up the Franschhoek Pass road with a broad, open outlook across the valley. Time for another of Ishbel’s panoramic shots…


The food was amazing. I had the Slow Roasted Pulled Lamb, with all kinds of funky accompaniments and Ishbel had the Southern Chicken Drums with equally interesting accoutrements. Every time I describe a meal, I realise how unworthy I am of the Instagram generation as I keep forgetting to take pictures of the food in its pristine condition on arrival. I will try to do better in future.

I can’t let the day pass without mentioning the passing of Pete Shelley of the Buzzcocks. The band produced immaculate pop songs during the punk revolution of the seventies. Ishbel went with her sister Marjory to see the re-formed group in Brighton 2 years ago. I couldn’t go as I was off watching football somewhere so the last time I saw them live was 40 years ago at the Loch Lomond Festival, where they were third on the bill of the second day, behind the Average White Band and the Boomtown Rats.

Watch the pop genius at work here. 


One week over, thirty-five to go

As Thursday dawns in Hermanus, we realise that we have completed our first full week on the road. We will be travelling for 36 weeks in total, returning to the UK on 8th August next year, so we’ve used a mere 2.77777% of our journey time.

Sadly, our hotel breakfast this morning did not include whales. We re-packed and loaded the car. All of our luggage fits just about perfectly in the boot of the Toyota Corolla that Avis provided at Cape Town airport. We re-fuelled the car for the drive, at a cost of 83p per litre, and set out for our next stop in Franschhoek.

We took the scenic route to get here, passing through the town of Caledon, which, despite its Wikipedia page,  is not at all scenic. It has a lot of heavy industry and a fringe of shanty towns which, presumably, supply much of the labour. Otherwise the route itself was very pretty. The drive across the Franschhoek pass (Ishbel’s panoramic shot above) and down into the town was amazing, with lots of hairpin bends and outlook points over the valley below.

We came in to the town past the Huguenot Monument, which dominates one end of the Main St, and parked in the centre. Almost the first thing that greeted us was a wine display.

IMG_2896The Chocolate Block is a magnificent wine and an excellent accompaniment to the food in Waitrose’s Steak and Oyster bar in Canary Wharf. Don’t ask how I know this. I just do. I was disappointed to learn that the winery that produces this little stunner, Boekenhoutskloof, is only open for tastings twice a week, at 11am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We arrived too late on the Thursday to visit, and leave too early on Tuesday. We’ll just have to make do with one or two of the other 45 wineries around town.

To get to our hotel here, Val d’Or Estate, we had to drive all the way through town and a couple of kilometres further on. Franschhoek is very much geared towards tourism and all of the hotels and guest houses are very well signposted so we had no trouble finding the turn off. We unpacked, settled in to our enormous room, and enjoyed a glass or two from the complimentary bottle of wine provided to us on arrival. There’s no restaurant here, so reception made a booking for us at a restaurant recommended by a friend who has visited the area regularly. They also arranged a driver to take us there and back.

The driver arrived promptly at 6:45 to get us into town for our 7:00 reservation. We told him the name of the restaurant, Dutch East. “It’s gone”, he said. I was surprised that it should have disappeared in the three hours since our booking had been made, but it transpires that a new restaurant has opened up in the same space, and with the same phone number. It’s called Bovine, and obviously specialises in beef.  He gave us a brief tour of other restaurant possibilities but we decided to honour our reservation and eat there. It was very good, with Ishbel having the lamb belly, and me, the fillet steak. They also offered a wine flight which we both had.


This was the premium flight, since the standard selection had no reds.

As we ordered dessert, the restaurant started preparing for load shedding as another power cut was imminent. I wanted to use my Revolut card to pay so I asked for the bill immediately before the power went off. During power cuts, shops and services take payment in the charming old school way by swiping your card in a machine with carbonless copy paper to take an impression of the raised numbers on its face or, of course, cash. Interestingly, the Revolut doesn’t have embossed numbers so that method doesn’t work for it. By the time dessert arrived, we were fully candlelit in the restaurant and the lights were off all across town.

After dinner, we took a little stroll along the main street and noticed that there were some places still lit. We were tempted in to the Tuk Tuk Microbrewery, who obviously had a generator to ensure conditions could be maintained in their brewing room. I had a really good pale ale in there before we asked them to contact our driver who arrived promptly to pick us up and return us to Val d’Or. On the way home, we negotiated an inclusive deal for him to take us to our restaurant for the next night, and to give us a five hour winery tour on Monday. All that to look forward to in the coming days.