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Beyond Wine: The Essential 5 Things to Do in Franschhoek

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2 weeks ago

Franschhoek has grown beyond being a place of refuge for persecuted French Protestants into a region boasting some of the best wine in the country. The region has also become South Africa’s unofficial culinary capital with some of the best restaurants in the country, so it’ll come as no surprise that there are amazing things to do in Franschhoek. The area’s long and interesting history gives this part of the world a particular flavor which is really quite unique for Cape Town and South Africa more broadly.

The town of Franschhoek is quaint and delightfully idyllic. It has that French wine country vibe that only the French can create. It’s filled with galleries, boutique shopping and local produce, so there is definitely enough to keep you entertained for a few hours.

Visit the Huguenot Museum

Franschhoek was settled by the Huguenots, the same people who turned Spitalfields in London into the charming place that it is today. The Huguenots were French Protestants who fled France beginning in the 16th century during the European Wars of Religion. Several Huguenot families settled in Franschhoek, which is the reason for its name, meaning ‘French Corner’.

A number of the original 350 Huguenots were allotted farms in what is now called Franschhoek. One of these is the famous Cabrière farm which was allotted to Pierre Jourdan and is still one of the best wine estates in the area three centuries on. In many ways, a visit to the Huguenot Museum sets the scene for understanding the architecture, types of wine and local culture of Franschhoek, so spending an hour here would not go amiss.

While you’re at the Museum, you absolutely should pass by the Huguenot Monument which is characterized by a woman standing on top of a globe. The symbolism pervades the sculpture, with a Fleur de Lis to symbolize the French origin of the Huguenots, images of the ships that brought the Huguenots to South Africa and many others.

Take a (Self-Guided) Tour of the Sculptures at Leeu Estates

Art is part of the fabric of Franschhoek. Aside from the art galleries in the town of Franschhoek itself, one of the best things to do in Franschhoek is to drive through Leeu Estates and appreciate not only the natural beauty but also the sculpted beauty in the form of the incredible sculpture displays dotted throughout the estates.

If you manage to get a reservation at La Petite Colombe for lunch, you would be remiss to leave without visiting the art gallery (which is connected to the restaurant) and strolling through the sculpture garden. There is nothing quite like viewing the sculptures with the mountains of Franschhoek in the valley in the background. You’ll want to pause and take in the beauty of the world.

Aside from the sculpture garden near La Petite Colombe, there are beautiful pieces throughout Leeu Estates.

Picnic at Grande Provence or Boschendal

Grande Provence has incredible wine, as you’d expect, but one of the best things to do in Franschhoek is to buy a picnic basket and enjoy a picnic in the sculpture garden at Grande Provence. In fact, picnicking on a wine estate is a favorite pastime of locals, and many would go so far as to say that a trip to Stellenbosch or Franschhoek wouldn’t be complete without a lazy picnic day.

And if you’d rather another wine farm, sitting underneath the oak trees at Boschendal’s Werf lawns or food gardens and picnicking there is another beautiful way to pass the time in Franschhoek. You can borrow picnic blankets and chairs which works just as well if you miss the picnic hampers. Boschendal’s picnic area is reserved for picnic booking guests only, and picnics are only during the summer season.

Meander through the Art Galleries

The village of Franschhoek is filled with art galleries which you can easily spend half a day meandering through. It really feels like every building on and off Huguenot Street, the main drag, displays art or sells art. And that’s not really an exaggeration given that there’s at least 15 art galleries in a 100-metre stretch.

Aside from unique art pieces (which oftentimes are very expensive), there is also a great array of homeware shops in Franschhoek. You’ll find great pieces that you can take back with you to remember your time in the region.

Eat Chocolate

You simply should not miss Huguenot Chocolates which sells probably the most reasonably priced truffles in the world. You can also ask the staff for a chocolate presentation which is one of the best things to do in Franschhoek beyond wine. If you don’t do the presentation, at the very least ask the staff about the local chocolate-making history (which is longer and more complex than you might think).

Make sure to try their amazing Amarula bar. For the uninitiated, Amarla is a South Africa cream liqueur made with the fruit of the local marula tree. The flavor of the marula fruit is itself interesting, but it’s a totally unique flavor when mixed with chocolate.

You’ll need something a little bitter to wash down the sweetness of the copious amount of chocolate that you’re going to consume. Luckily, just across the road is the local favorite The Hoek Espresso Bar which makes great coffee in a spot that is hidden away.

Visit the Franschhoek Village Market

We think a food market is one of the best ways to understand and appreciate local custom, food and way of life. Franschhoek Village Market is a microcosm of some of the best things about Franschhoek, from the wine to the high-quality produce to the stunning artistic styles. It’s also one of the best places to try foods from South Africa.

Travel tip: Franschhoek Village Market isn’t just during summer. It’s open all year on Saturdays, but is dependent on the weather so check before you go.

You’ll also see groups of locals in small, open areas playing a game of Pétanque which is sometimes referred to locally as boules. The aim of the game is to roll your boule toward a target. There is no harm in asking to get involved – and provided you’ve got a glass of wine in hand like the locals, they’ll be happy to have you join in.

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