Hermanus to Franschhoek, South Africa


Breakfast at 138 Marine Beachfront Guesthouse was served in the downstairs open plan living area with fabulous views of the rugged shore. A more formal affair, Jena our hostess is dressed in crisp white matching the bright airy white room and in stark contrast to the formal black uniform of the black cook.

On the counter lay the usual selection of cereal, yogurt and fruit – one of the better fruit trays with all the tropical choices well ripened. Jena served coffee or tea to the guests while doling out helpful information for their chosen activity. When it was our turn, she gave us detailed information and a color copy of a map with our route highlighted, including where to stop for lunch. All of which turned out to be spot on.

The cooked breakfast for the day was scrambled eggs served with bacon, tomato and mushrooms on buttered sourdough toast. Beautiful on the plate but only average in terms of creativity and execution.

Drive to Franshhoek

The morning was warm with a general haze filtering over the sea and towards the mountains. Based on Jena’s suggestion our plan was to drive around the coast to Gordon’s Bay and then inland on N2 and up R321 and R45 through the mountain passes to Franschhoek. The best of both as Jena described the route.

Stony Point Penguin Colony

Our first stop was the penguin colony at Stony Point in Betty’s Bay. One of two remaining permanent colonies in South Africa. Penguin signs off of R43 lead to a small gravel parking lot and the ticket window where they collect 10 Rand per person to walk down a boardwalk and view the colony.

A small yet important operation; the placard at the entrance explains the arduous project of cleaning up and saving the penguins after several oil spills had decimated their numbers.

In early October, numerous penguins and other birds were hanging out on the rocky shore enjoying the warm weather, a few playing in the surf. On the other side of the boardwalk were the nesting holes which were not very active this time of year. If you want to see penguins, it’s an easy worthwhile stop.

Coastal Road

At Pringle Bay the coastal road actually meets the coast. The first time since we’ve been driving in SA that you can actually see long stretches of coastline from the road. Jena had told us that this stretch rivaled that of California and she’s right. Very similar in nature to Big Sur, maybe not quite as high or dramatic, but still impressive.

Unfortunately the day was not quite as clear as the last two with a light haze marring the views. But an otherwise fabulous warm sunny day, so who’s complaining?

Just before Gordon’s Bay we took the short cut off the R43 to the N2 (at the first fork stay to the right toward Strand and then at the second junction head towards the N2). Once on the N2 the road climbs the first of three mountain passes to Franschhoek. An imposing steep road cantilevered off the side of the mountain, not carved into the cliff as most roads are.

Lunch at the Orchard in Grabouw

At Grabouw, the turn off for the R321, we stopped for lunch at The Orchard. A large yet quaint roadside restaurant and shop with casual outside dining in warm weather. The menu included a good selection of lighter lunch fare and heavier mains. On a Sunday afternoon, many folks had come here for a pleasant Sunday lunch including bottle of wine, presumably local.

Franschhoek Valley

The region’s rugged rocky mountains and shrubby fynbos plants are similar in appearance to the area north of Swellendam. The route took us up and down one pass through a large flat valley with a lake and up and down a second pass into the Franschhoek valley.

Truly one of the prettiest wine valleys in SA, if not the world, with vineyards and orchards crisscrossing through the valley floor surrounded by majestic peaks. The town, not much more than one main street with numerous, restaurants, guest houses, galleries and other shops, is quite gentrified, almost too clean and neat to feel natural. Who really lives here?

Dinner at Bon Vivant

Dinner at Bon Vivant, #1 on Trip Advisor and located on the corner of Dirkie Uys and La Rochelle, a block off the main drag Huguenot Road, and just around the corner from Le Ballon Rouge B&B.

We arrived on a Sunday evening without reservations. Only one other couple was seated on the terrace at a candle lit table with a white table cloth and soft chairs, yet without reservations, we were offered a choice of siting inside or at a hard cement table with straw place mats in the garden. A lovely warm evening we chose the garden.

Dinner started with a tiny burger consisting of a raw beef patty on a soft bun half topped with a tomato mousse. Just big enough for one large bite, it tasted like the most perfectly cooked burger. After we ordered the wine we were brought a basket of their homemade bread and specialty condiments – an anchovy and yogurt sauce and crispy duck in duck fat. The intense anchovy flavor would wow only those who love anchovy. The duck cracklings were about as decadent as it gets – crunchy, salty and super rich.

Don’s starter, the seafood chowder, was the culinary highlight of the trip. Three pieces of barely cooked fish – salmon, tuna and kingklip in a flavorful fish stock reduction, superb.

The second starter was a stunning plating of sweetbreads skewered with squash and mushrooms accompanied by tender boned quail on a bed of shredded cabbage garnished with crispy vegetable strings and a flash fried basil leaf.

Although both mains were excellent, Don again won out with springbok prepared two ways – a loin cooked medium rare and luscious fall off the bone tender morsels, both served in a bowl with a mushroom jus poured table side.

Mine again was the more creative presentation – crawfish tail served over a layer of shredded osso buco on a bed of spinach. Dollops of stock flavored ravioli and lentils garnished the plate.

For dessert we chose pineapple and oil.  In yellows and creams, more art than dessert, the plate included beignets, the only thing that didn’t quite work; a heavenly macaroon, crunchy outside, light creamy inside; and a pineapple olive oil cake served with a dot of ice cream.

October 9, 2011

For links to all the posts in this series see the South Africa page.

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