An article by Alfred Thorpe
Nothing slows down and as we enter 2020 life just gets busier. A weekend away is a luxury and finding a suitable time in busy schedules can be difficult. My wife and I decided that one night away is better than nothing. Twenty-fours hours might not sound like a lot but you can squeeze in lots of adventure, food and wine when you plan ahead. A day in Franschhoek is never enough, so we decided to head out there.
If you head to Franschhoek, try and access it via one of the passes. The Franschhoek pass might be a bit of a drive but views from Helshoogte pass is just as rewarding, as you drop down into the valley with the sun rising over the mountains. The valley welcomed us with cooler, windy weather as we arrived on the Saturday morning. La Motte was our first stop and needs no introduction as winery but what you may not know is that there is a beautiful 5km hiking route that you can do.
As the gates opened at 9am we grabbed our maps and headed up the mountain. This is not an easy stroll so take water and closed shoes with you. Some sections of the trail are technical and you would not enjoy it in a pair of flip flops. After 1.5km of walking you will be surrounded by a wide variety of indigenous fynbos.
The route follows the contour for about 2km as the Franschhoek valley reveals itself from this unique view, as sunlight rolls down the hills and chases shadows into the Elephant’s Corner*.
This hike will take you two to three hours to complete but don’t rush back as soon as you are down in the vineyards. If you know where you are on the map, you will be able to locate the buchu plantation. Stop and smell the leaves of this medicinal plant before you head back to the restaurant for a light lunch and a chilled glass of La Motte wine.
The Franschhoek Wine Tram needs no introduction but you might not be familiar with their guided walking tours. The main road is not long but I think we are all guilty of looking for a parking spot and heading to the closest shop or restaurant, without paying attention to the detail. On foot you will be able to explore the finer detail of the architecture and learn more about the rich history of Elephant’s Corner when doing it with a knowledgeable and qualified guide.
Not only did our guide (Sikanyiso Tshaya) share his knowledge about every unique building we passed. He also treated us to a chocolate tasting at Huguenot Fine Chocolates and we saw how truffles were made.
This experience is not just for the sweet tooth, as their dark chocolates are really good. And while you are there, you have to try the latest trend, called ruby chocolate.
After an early start and being active all day, we headed to our hotel for the evening. We were welcomed by horses in a picture perfect setting, with white picket fences and lush green fields. The Mont Rochelle Hotel surpassed every expectation I had of it. Our spacious suite with a private pool overlooking the Franschhoek valley was phenomenal. There were a significant amount of small details that made us feel special. We were tempted to lock ourselves in our suite, drink champagne and drink the views over the valley. But we only had 24 hours and so much more to explore.
Each lounge in the hotel is uniquely decorated, with a different feel to it. I could see how you could spend hours on end at the hotel, just reading a book and enjoying a glass of wine. But those who know me probably know that sitting still is not a strength of mine. I do however sit still for a while when food is getting served. The Miko restaurant overlooks the valley and you could just stare out of the window for hours, as the sun was setting, with clouds rolling in over the mountains.
Service was swift and we tried slowing them down, as we wanted to savour every taste. We enjoyed a bottle of Mont Rochelle wine with our meal and continued drinking their wine the next day, as we just could not miss out on this tasting experience.
For me personally the highlight of our stay was the staff at Mont Rochelle. I believe that people, not things, is what sets one hotel apart from the rest. It was not just the friendly and helpful manner that they engaged with us but an authentic and honest way of connecting and caring.
Running with a buddy on Sunday morning meant an early start. Tagging a peak at the Mont Rochelle Nature Reserve was voted out, as the mountain peaks were completely overcast and extra windy. Instead we stopped at Hey Joe Brewing Company and headed out with my two golden running buddies and a friend.
The Matoppie peak next to the Berg river dam is an accessible and fun playground for trail runners and mountain bikers. There is a great variety of jeep track and single track and you can choose to stick to the lower contours along the dam or get your heartrate up, crossing contours to the top. Be sure to take water with you, as there’s not a lot of flowing water on this “koppie”.
After a post run breakfast and an ample amount of coffee back at the restaurant, we went to Hey Joe Brewing Company for a tour of this interesting new brewery. The main feature is a copper kettle that was built in 1961 in Belguim. The whole building is a beautiful blend between old and new. In contrast with their old and shiny copper kettle, the rest of their brewing operations get managed with state of the art computers with touch screens. An old cement mixer, that was used during the building process, was converted to the fireplace. Stained glass windows add to that old feeling in a new building. The whole process was really well thought through. We spent the day inside, drinking lager and eating bitterballen but the lawns outside is perfect for families. This venue is going to be the place to be this year.
We ran out of time quicker than expected. There is just so much to do and twenty four hours in Franschhoek will fly by when you visit. I will be back for more adventures soon, as there are still a few peaks to tag in the area. I might even get back on my mountain bike, as there is as much to explore on bike. Cheers to cold beers and more adventures in 2020.