It was towards the end of my wonderful trip home to Cape Town that I was booked for a special day of activity. Dear friends from London had made the great trek south too and since our visits overlapped briefly it seemed rude not to be tourists together. We decided to travel out of the city for some wine tasting, but not just any sort of wine tasting, the Franschhoek Wine Tram.
About an hour’s drive from Cape Town, Franschhoek (translation: French Corner) was originally the domain of the indigenous Khoisan before being populated by French Huguenots in the late 1600s, bringing their wine making tradition with them. The town is now a popular tourist destination due its beautiful natural surroundings, boutique accommodation, top class restaurants and of course the huge variety of wines.
I felt like a real ‘Brit Abroad’ arriving in the centre of town and waiting by a kiosk with a specifically coloured sticker placed on my chest. The official wine tram tour is a genius idea and is essentially a shuttle where one can hop on and off at various wine estates in the area. There are a variety of routes, differentiated by colour with hourly departure times. We had signed up to the blue route, hence the sticker identifying our group. From the kiosk, we were escorted to a parking lot where our shuttle awaited us.
As our wonderful guide welcomed us on board and the shuttle pootled toward the road I couldn’t help notice a sign above the driver’s head offering passengers help with their items at the end of the tour. I felt this alluded to our likely state by the end of the day and I was glad we fuelled up on snacks before we started. This was going to be a different kind of safari.
The mountainous view took a dramatic turn as the clouds thickened making rain feel imminent. Some of the land had been scarred by recent wildfires aggravated by the ongoing drought in the province so precipitation would be most definitely welcomed by the landscape; not by my optimistically sandaled feet as we arrived at our first stop: La Bri.
It felt like we were stepping back in time, crossing a dusty footbridge over a rivulet and ascending stairs into what seemed like history. The tasting room inside however was fresh and modern and we bravely opted to attempt an al fresco experience on a small balcony since the rain had yet to start falling. Their wines were actually fantastic and their menu offered a novel range of wine parings with chocolate and biltong. The drizzle began and we toughed it out, but the heavens opened as our tasting drew to a close, resulting in us huddling under an umbrella making sure we finished our glasses and comparing favourites.
We had to give up eventually, which gave me ample time to enjoy the gift items available and convince myself I didn’t need any of it despite the temptation. It was easier to wait for the next shuttle under a tree, watch the clouds roll over the vines and enjoy the breath taking scenery I had taken for granted in my youth. Damper than desired, we boarded our shuttle and headed to Holden Manz.
It was still chucking it down when we arrived which meant their ample lawn tasting area was unusable, leaving us a little crowded in a sheltered section, but at least still with a wonderful view. This and the gorgeous dining room upstairs were my favourite elements of this estate. The wine was alright, but not to my taste which began to dampen my enthusiasm a little coupled with the weather. It was chilly but at least marginally drier en route to our next stop: La Bourgogne.
By now we had to become a bit tactical in our approach to the day. There were seven farms on the route and taking time, hunger and sobriety factors into account we thought it best to pick among them instead of trying to include all. La Bourgogne had fantastic reds though; as well as adorable dogs wandering around in search of affection, morsels lost off tables and for one particular dog, anyone willing to throw a stick he was carrying.
We decided to skip the next two estates, Glenwood and La Couronne, but not before my friend’s peckish state influenced him to ‘borrow’ some pears off a tree growing near the entrance to one of these farms, I don’t recall which. He kindly offered me one, but when I felt how rock hard it was, decided to just take it home instead. I was beginning to feel a bit tired, but my energy returned during the next leg of the journey.
Our transport for the final two estates took a novel twist when we left our shuttle bus and boarded a newly refurbished, double decker tram. Greeted by a new guide and another glass of wine I braved the fresh wind to sit in the open front section of the tram as it rolled along to try absorb the stunning view. Stopping at the next estate, Grande Provence, we couldn’t see buildings from where we disembarked. What did come chugging up the dirt lane alongside the vines was a tractor which we climbed in with much hilarity. The ride along the rough terrain was more than a little bumpy to say the least, but had us in fits of laughter.
The surroundings of Grande Provence were stunning, including a swing which we may have spent too much time larking about on seeing the abundance of videos I have on my phone, the wine unfortunately left a bit to be desired. The tasting room itself felt like it had been decorated recently, was comfortable, welcoming and opened up to the vines with a mountain backdrop that seemed unreal.
The tractor returned to take us back to the tram where we resumed our journey to the last stop: Rickety Bridge. Another tractor style vehicle awaited us there, and the sense of vine safari was sealed. I was starving by then and honestly paid far more attention to the cheese and crackers on the platter we ordered than the sommelier. It took the jostling of the tractor back to the tram to keep my eyes open by the time we were done.
The return tram journey was contemplative for me. The clouds remained dramatic and the flora had come to life following the day’s rain giving the terrain an energetic quality I was hoping to absorb. Meeting our shuttle, we were driven back into the centre of town and immediately sought out a restaurant (with a decent vegetarian option).
This day was a highlight of my visit home and I’m so happy I could join my friends. I may have gone into ‘peak tourist’ mode but this tour is a really great way to sample what the area has to offer and enjoy some wonderful wines, meet some fabulous locals. and generally have a time as raucous as your mood wishes.
Our route is detailed on the Franschhoek Wine Tram site where you can find links to all the estates we visited too.