Two towns that any visitor to the Mother City must put at the top of their itinerary are Franschhoek and Stellenbosch. Both of these historic towns are a short drive from the centre of Cape Town and offer visitors a plethora of restaurants, cafés, bars, boutiques, art galleries and local crafts. Both towns are also located in the heart of the Cape Winelands, one of South Africa’s primary and most prestigious wine producing regions, where visitors will enjoy some of the country’s finest wines on the surrounding picturesque farms.
The town was originally established as a French settlement by the Huguenots, who fled France in the late 1600s and were given land in what was then the Dutch colony of the Cape. Completed in 1945, the impressive Huguenot Monument was erected to honour these early settlers. The female figure at the centre of the monument represents religious freedom, which the Huguenots enjoyed in their new home in South Africa, while the three arches behind her symbolise the Holy Trinity. The Monument is located in a beautiful garden, filled with fragrant roses, and extensive lawns, and the adjacent museum chronicles the stories and struggles of the Huguenots. It is interesting to note that many of the farms in the area have retained their French names, and a distinct French influence is still evident in Franschhoek itself.
Franschhoek’s main street is a juxtaposition of old and new. The historic charm of the town has been preserved in its colonial architecture, but the vibrancy of the modern Rainbow Nation is also evident in the array of proudly-made, South African crafts available in upmarket boutiques or at informal street markets.
As the food and wine capital of South Africa, visitors are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding mouth-watering meals, be it a light brunch or a three course gourmet dinner (an interesting fact: the concentration of award-winning restaurants in Franschhoek is greater than anywhere else in South Africa). The town is also known for its speciality shops, including fromageries and chocolatiers.
Home to one of South Africa’s top universities, the University of Stellenbosch, this town is the oldest settlement in South Africa, after Cape Town, and is sometimes referred to as Eikestad (the City of Oaks) after the rows of oak trees that line the streets. Many of the original Cape Dutch buildings have been preserved and now house art galleries, restaurants or shops. A visit to Stellenbosch is not complete without some shopping at Oom Samie se Winkel (Uncle Samie’s Shop). This landmark store transports customers back in time, offering an array of antiques, sweets, spices, preserves, and South African curios from the past and the present.
One of the most impressive buildings in Stellenbosch is the Dutch Reformed Church or “Moederkerk” (Mother Church), which stands proudly (and appropriately) at the top of Church Street. The church building, which dates to the town’s origins in 1679, has a Neo-Gothic tower and beautiful stained glass windows. Church Street is also where one will find many of the town’s art galleries and busy coffee shops. From Church Street it is a brief walk to the Botanical Gardens, established and maintained by the University of Stellenbosch. This is the perfect place to recharge one’s batteries after exploring the town or perhaps have a bite to eat at the café located in the heart of the gardens. Best of all, the admission is free.
Top Local Festival
There are also several annual festivals to enjoy in each of the towns. The Franschhoek Literary Festival usually takes place in May and showcases the work of local and international authors. The town celebrates its French origins and culture on the weekend closest to 14 July, Bastille Day, with a wine and gourmet food festival. The Franschhoek Uncorked Festival, offering visitors fine wine, food and live entertainment, takes place in September.
Similarly, Stellenbosch hosts a Wine Festival at the start of each year. The festival includes craft markets, street parades and ends with local wine farms offering festival-goers free samples of their wines. In March, the town celebrates the Afrikaans language with Woordfees (Word Festival) in the form of poetry, art and music. At the end of the year, there is a Slowfood Christmas Candlelight Market where shoppers can find the perfect Christmas gift or enjoy festive food and treats, culminating in carols by candlelight.
Visitors may contact the tourist information centres in both towns for additional information and advice regarding the abundance of wine tasting options in the region. Franschhoek offers a unique wine tasting experience with a hop-on-hop-off Wine Tram, which transports visitors through the main wine farms of the area. The tram departs from the town centre at regular intervals.