Franschhoek serves delicious food and fine wines with the French flair of its first settlers, writes Tracey Bond.
Just a few hours' drive from Cape Town is the municipality of Stellenbosch, known as the Western Cape Winelands. Nestled in a valley carpeted with wild flowers and rows of vines lies the picturesque town of Franschhoek.
Originally settled in the late 1600s by French refugees, who were given the land by the Dutch Government, the town gets its name from the Dutch word for French Corner.
It's not hard to see why many of the original settlers felt so at home here. The area retains that French country flavour and many of the vineyards are still named after the French families who founded the farmsteads.
The pretty little town is lined with galleries, shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. A market by the church has stalls with local arts and crafts and snacks. At the far end of the main street is the Huguenot Monument, dedicated to the early settlers and the culture they brought to the region.
The wine tram, which runs from the centre of town, is one of the best ways to visit the vineyards — booking is recommended and there are five different routes to take.
The emphasis at the wineries is on good food and drink and there are plenty of opportunities for long leisurely lunches and decadent dinners made from delicious, local ingredients.
Some of the more popular vineyards can get busy, so it's advisable to make a reservation, particularly at the weekends and during peak season.
At Grande Provence, we spent a pleasant few hours dining under the shade of majestic trees as the sun streamed through the branches. An on-site gallery features local artists and the garden showcases a range of sculptures. It's an amazing setting to taste wines and enjoy a sumptuous meal prepared by the chef.
Lunch was as beautifully presented as it was delicious. To begin, there was a cold-smoked trout dish served with harissa, yuzu pearls, dill cucumber texture and candied lemon korokke, followed by raclette and baby leek arancini in a truffled vichyssoise veloute paired with a glass of the vineyard's cool, creamy chenin blanc.
The berry parfait with meringue dessert was so exquisitely arranged on the plate that everybody at the table brought their cameras out.
Here you will find an excellent array of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and full-bodied cabernet sauvignon.
Our next vineyard stop was Mont Rochelle, which is owned by Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group. The property is on the site of a former fruit farm and today sits on beautifully manicured gardens reminiscent of an English country garden.
Mont Rochelle is a boutique hotel owned by Branson with views across the valley. The hotel and separate manor house (where Branson stays) feature a spa, heated swimming pool and games lawn. You don't have to stay here to enjoy the food at Miko restaurant.
If wine isn't your thing, there are plenty of local craft brews on offer at Tuk Tuk Microbrewery in the centre of Franschhoek and the region boasts outstanding restaurants.
Foliage often finds itself on top-restaurant lists and prides itself on menus based around field-to-fork philosophy. Owned by Chris Erasmus, who forages many of the ingredients on a daily basis, it's a bustling place decorated in warm tones in the heart of the town.
The delicious mushroom risotto was a revelation: fresh and bursting with the flavour of wild mushrooms harvested from the surrounding valley.
Qatar Airways flies Auckland to Cape Town, via Doha, with return Economy fares from $1526.
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