When it comes to great wine, delicious food and jaw-dropping views, Franschhoek must be in like, the top 5 regions of the world. Even the drive out that way from Cape Town is beautiful. It’s just a great place to be if you’d like to spend the weekend eating, drinking and being surrounded by beautiful mountains and vineyards. Which, obviously, is exactly how I’d like to spend every weekend.
We were recently invited out to Franschhoek to visit The Kitchen at Maison, for one of their First Friday dinners, and decided to make a weekend of it. I’d never eaten at Maison before, but knew the farm had some epic views and rave reviews. The three course dinner, paired with a bottle of Maison Chardonnay (yum), absolutely blew me away.
The restaurant has a big patio and a view out onto the vines. A day bed inside a giant nest hangs from the branch of an enormous old Oak tree. We arrived just in time to catch the summer sunset and the sky shone gold, just a hint of purple, as the sun set behind the mountains. A trio of jazz musicians was playing on the lawn. It’s go to be one of the best back drops I’ve ever had for dinner.
The food was so flavourful, and very different from what I’ve been seeing on menus recently (the same French food over and over). I’m of the opinion that most restaurants are serving portions that are too big and sometimes too heavy, but Maison gets their dishes just right. Every mouthful is perfectly balanced and flavoured and there’s just enough to satisfy you, without making you feel like you couldn’t possibly stomach another bite. It was one of the best meals I’ve had in absolute ages and at R400 per person for three wonderful courses, it’s well worth the drive.
We spent the weekend at the new cottages at The Franschhoek Cellar, which is a great place to base yourself if you want to explore. The cottages, which are adjacent to the working cellar, are close to the centre of town and they have a stunning view of the surrounding mountains. The cellar also has a great tasting room and a laid-back restaurant with a huge kiddies area, if you have friends with little people.
Our cottage could sleep four people in two bedrooms, and had two en suite bathrooms, a comfortable living area (with a TV and DSTV), a self-catering kitchen and safe parking. I always need to know where Keenan is going to be able to watch the soccer when planning a weekend away, so it was a great relief to have a TV at the cottage. I had a long bubble bath while he watched Arsenal lose on Saturday afternoon (sorry to bring that up, Keenan).
Saturday morning was my first time on the Franschhoek Wine Tram. We took the 10:15am bus (the Blue Line) on Saturday morning and headed out to spend the day hop-on-hop-off wine tasting at Le Lude, La Petite Dauphine, Holden Manz, La Bourgogne, La Couronne, Mont Rochelle, Rickety Bridge and Grande Provence.
The whole experience was really great. The staff are super friendly and knowledgeable, the busses and trams are very cute, the farms are excellent and the entire experience is just really well run. I can’t recommend this highly enough if you want to spend the day in the winelands but don’t have a designated driver. Tickets are R200 per adult, starting in Franschhoek, or R550 per adult if you need a transfer from Cape Town. Tastings cost between R10 and R70 at the farms (with a few farms offering complementary tastings) and you need to book lunch in advance.
The train departs from every spot every hour, but you’re free to hang out at whichever farm you like most for as many hours as you like. And if you miss the bus, the next one is always only an hour away. If you really get caught up or lost, there’s a back-up bus to take care of you.
Our friendly tour operator, JJ at the Wine Tram ticket office took the liberty of calling around to wine farms and booking a table for us at La Petite Dauphine. This is the level of service that I hardly ever see, and was really appreciated. While we were out wine tasting, JJ was calling farms on our behalf, and he called me while I was enjoying a taste of Rickety Bridge’s Chenin to inform me that it had all been taken care of. This makes a huge difference when you really just want to relax and enjoy the day without calling a hundred restaurants.
After Friday night’s delicious feast at Maison, we decided to go back again on Saturday night. That’s how good the food was. We were not disappointed, and once again, the food was spectacular. Ordering à la carte, our bill was much higher than the First Friday rate of R400 per person for 3 courses, so if you’d like to experience the magic of Maison without setting your budget on fire, I’d recommend booking a seat on the 1st of April.
*Friday night’s dinner at Maison was upon invitation. We were hosted for the weekend by theFranschhoek Wine Valley and Tourist Association. There’s lots of information about what to do in Franschhoek on their blog.
**Thank you Keenan for taking nice pictures of me.