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Great Cape Escapes: The Culinary Charms of Franschhoek, South Africa

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Franschhoek - photo from Franschhoek Wine Valley & Tourist AssociationIn part one of the Great Cape Escapes, Lynn Langway shared tips on driving through South Africa’s countryside, and her whale of an experience in the seaport of Hermanus.

Read on for her adventures in the charming culinary destination of Franschhoek.

Lunching on the veranda of a stellar restaurant called La Petite Ferme, you’d swear by the mountains brooding over the vineyards and the lavender perfuming the air that you’d been transported to Provence.

But there’s springbok (a type of gazelle) on the menu, and Afrikaans spoken here.

You’re not in France; you’re in Franschhoek, South Africa, 49 miles east of Cape Town, in the heart of the Western Cape winelands.

The French connection is no accident; Franschhoek means “French corner” in Afrikaans, and the town was founded in the late 1600s by French Huguenot Protestants fleeing persecution. Nestled in a green valley overlooked by its namesake mountains, Franschhoek is smaller (pop. 15,000), less crowded by tour buses, and even more scenic than its neighbors, Stellenbosch and Paarl, which lie closer to Cape Town.

For more on Cape Town proper, don’t miss our Off the Brochure Travel Guide: Cape Town, South Africa.

Franschhoek - photo from Franschhoek Wine Valley & Tourist AssociationAcclaimed as the culinary capital of the Western Cape, Franschhoek packs more than 40 wineries and a dozen top-notch restaurants into a compact area. Prices are affordable, too—a memorable meal for two might cost $100, including wine. For foodie-winos like my husband and me, the combination of beauty and convenience made this the perfect place to get a taste of the winelands.

Franschhoek village is a lovely cluster of whitewashed houses, churches and rose gardens. Huguenot Street, the well-manicured main drag, is lined with art galleries and boutique shops, selling everything from mohair scarves at Karoo Classics to chili-infused truffles at Huguenot Fine Chocolates.

Stop in at the well-run office of the Franschhoek Wine Valley & Tourist Association, to find out about everything from hiking to fly-fishing options.

But wineries are the main event. Like so much in South Africa, the wine industry has flourished since the end of apartheid and trade sanctions in 1994. New wineries have blossomed, and they’re turning out exciting new blends, sparklers and varietals as well as the traditional red Pinotage and white Chenin Blancs.

Don’t miss more Great Cape Escapes: The Seaport & Whales of Hermanus, South Africa as well as Lynn Langway’s Driving Tips for Visitors to South Africa.

You’ll find them all at the tasting rooms arrayed along Route 45 west of the village and just east of the village on Excelsior Road. Most are open weekdays from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; many also open on Saturdays.

If you’re steady in the saddle, take a bicycle tasting tour—Manic Cycling offers bike tours from R385 (about $47); or go on horseback—Paradise Stables’ wine tours start from R500 (about $67).

Le Cafe at BoschendalOur three favorite stops offered a fine sampler of Cape wines old and new. Boschendal, founded in 1685, looks calendar-perfect, its aged whitewashed buildings bearing the curved cables and thatched roofs that characterize Cape Dutch architecture. Sit at a café table under the ancient oak tree and sip the Boschendal Brut sparkler or sauvignon blanc.

Cabriere bunkers into a hillside, with a pub-like tasting room. Come on Saturday morning when the swashbuckling proprietor slashes the corks from his bottles of bubbly with a saber; try the sparkling blanc de blancs or the delicious chardonnay-pinot noir blend.

Everything is stylish in the airy tasting room at Boekenhoutskloof (pronounced “book-n-howeds-kloof”), even the sleek spittoons. Use them—if you can bear to do so—while sipping your way through these prizewinning Cabernet Sauvignons and Syrahs.

Get more travel help in our Africa Travel section

Reubens bistro in downtown FranschhoekOur best dinner was served at Reuben’s, an innovative downtown bistro that regularly lands on “Top Ten” lists. Try the flavorful lamb spring rolls and chili-salt squid and the peppered loin of Springbok antelope with roasted apple and butternut-date puree.

But our most memorable meal was lunch at La Petite Ferme, where the food lives up to the scenery. The estate produces a small amount of excellent wine—its name means “little farm”—and gives helpful tasting suggestions for every dish on the menu (try the pride of the house, the barrel-fermented Chardonnay).

We loved the springbok bobotie—tiny moussaka-like pies made from ground springbok with an ethereal custard topping—and the seafood risotto, studded with baby mussels and squid. We didn’t even try to resist dessert: double-baked cherry and green fig soufflé with parmesan ice cream, and rooibos tea crème brulee.

After such indulgence, we were happy to beat a retreat to the comforting cocoon of Klein Genot Wine & Country Estate. Reclaimed from a rundown farm in 1999, Klein Genot (the Afrikaans name means “little pleasure”) has been transformed into a six-room gem with splendid service.  We strolled around the vineyards and along the trout stream, before settling for a light supper of salad and fruit—hold the wine.

By Lynn Langway for PeterGreenberg.com. Lynn Langway is an award-winning editor, writer and journalism teacher. Her articles about travel, business and lifestyle topics have appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, Money, The Nation and other publications. Visit Lynn on the Web at www.lynnlangway.com.

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