With a wine region that’s a mere 40 minute drive from Cape Town, we made sure a day trip out there made the itinerary. Can you believe we didn’t even stop into one of the wineries?
Doing the vineyard trail can be a time consuming exercise – I believe there are around 120 wineries around Stellenbosch alone – so my excuse is that we’d already been sampling a variety of local vino in bars and restaurants, and this visitation was merely an exploratory one.
Timing the visit with a Saturday meant another thing – it was market day – so first things first.
The Stellenbosche Slow Market at Oude Libertas Estate.
The setting couldn’t be more beautiful – surrounded by vineyards, oak trees and views to the mountains. With the assurance of vendors selling pesticide, hormone and chemical-free produce, you know you’re getting clean food without the enhancements or pollutants.
Fresh produce like fruit and veg was a little minimal on our visitation, but ready-to-eat and take away food was beyond abundant.
Meats from the barbecue, savoury pastries fresh from the fryer, smoked smallgoods, sugary treats – it’s all there.
Those that like their handicrafts, jewellery and clothing are even catered for.
A little post-breakfast snackage was in order, and with such a tempting array of edibles it’s difficult to pick. An ostrich pie and Portuguese custard tart, it was. Great stuff.
Stellenbosch itself is just as I’d expected. A tight village centre, gorgeous old buildings, art galleries and shops well-geared for the tourist trade. I couldn’t help but compare it to Healdsburg in northern California, melding a touch of style with rustic charm in its historic central business district.
Lunch could easily have been had at this place – Schoon De Companje – but we had another town in mind. Nothing to stop us from exploring this labyrinthine food temple that’s a collaboration of artisans offering the likes of vino, local brews, breads, pastries and coffee roasted onsite.
Further into the heart of the Cape Winelands is the town of Franschhoek, located in a stunning valley that’s dotted with gabled Cape Dutch farm houses; many of which are wineries. There may be a Dutch influence, but French heritage can be seen throughout the valley thanks to the Huguenots that brought with them their knowledge of wine making; thanks to the Dutch for granting them their land.
The village centre is easy to navigate and is very walkable, filled with boutique shops selling local foods, designer clothing and art. Not to mention some of the best restaurants in the country, or so we hear.
First stop for us was the Franschhoek Village Market, of course. Not a huge turnout on that particular Saturday morning, but vendors peddling sufficient wares to locals and visitors.
Fresh local fruits, vegetables, eggs and breads. Crispy golden samosas, juices, smoked and cured meats, vintage homewares and a variety of handicrafts.
A lunch at French Connection seemed like the natural choice in a town that was settled by French emigrants. Chequered floor, woven bistro chairs, white tables cloths and an enlarged photo of tour Eiffel sets the mood as soon as you sit down. It’s casual, unpretentious and pretty comfortable.
It was a head-over-heels moment with the trout tartare (85), a rather substantial disc of local trout flecked through chive yoghurt. The crown of confit fennel was a perfect fit, and those golden orbs of trout caviar elevated it even more.
Any ideas on dessert were immediately quashed when the main dishes arrived. They sure like to keep you well fed in this little corner of France.
Just look at that slow-roasted duck (145). The tender joints wade in a shallow puddle of raspberry vinegar jus, and a tumble of strawberries and cape gooseberries colour it all up.
I was completely defeated by the cassoulet (195), one of my all-time French favourites. Haricot beans, Toulouse sausage and confit duck leg made for a supremely hearty lunch. Pity I couldn’t finish!
Some vegetables and French fries came with the meals, so as I mentioned earlier, no dessert for this pair. All we could do was walk it off and bit farewell to this gorgeous little village.