Tucked away at the far end of the Stellenbosch Valley is the quaint village of Franschhoek, founded as a refuge for the French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in the 17th century. With the area characterised by the iconic Dutch-style buildings, it is a surprise to discover the huge part these refugees played in the history of this famous wine region. The first Dutch settlers had arrived as farmers in 1685. Three years later after hearing of the plight of the Huguenots, authorities in the Cape offered them sanctuary in Franschhoek which means “French Corner” and it was they who started the wine industry.
Our first tasting is at 10.00am at the Spiers winery where we taste 5 different wines from their everyday to top shelf. The winery also has a Cheetah Outreach Centre which rehabilitates injured cheetahs or abandoned babies. We take the chance to have a “cheetah encounter”. This involves going into an enclosure with a cheetah to pat it! After a pep talk on the do’s and don’ts, we sanitise our hands, wash the soles of our shoes, are told “you do this at your own risk”, in we go with a ranger. The cheetah is 9 year old Joseph who was born in Pretoria and abandoned by his mother. He is lying seemingly dozing on a platform with an attendant. After stroking his back with the flat of the hand (no fingers) and a few photos that is it! When we leave I say “goodbye Joseph” and he lifts his head so I’m sure he knows his name!
On to the next winery, Tokara, which is built on the Helshoogte Pass with great views over the valley. We taste only 3 wines here as the palate is getting a bit jaded and the wines starting to taste the same! Also sample olives from their grove. Driving to Franschhoek we notice the French tricolour decorating wineries and restaurants and realise that Bastille Day is next week.
Due to the unseasonable weather – it was around 25 degrees C – half of Cape Town is out for the day and it is difficult to find a restaurant for lunch. Eventually manage to get a table at a winery where they also make cheeses using goat and cow milk. Apart from wine tasting they offer cheese tasting which we do – some very nice cheeses. After a long lunch it is a drive down the N1 to Cape Town.