SA Trip Report Part II: Franschhoek and Oudtshoorn

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Jan 27th, 2006, 05:13 AM
  #1
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SA Trip Report Part II: Franschhoek and Oudtshoorn

Part II
Franschhoek and Oudtshoorn 6th- 10th Jan 06

Our nationwide flight to Cape Town went off without a hitch, unfortunately the city was under cloud so we didn’t get an early preview of Table Mountain as we flew over but none the less we were excited to be moving on to another stage of our honeymoon.

Mrs M was starving when we arrived so we bought a burger in the terminal building before going out to pick up our car. Having picked up the car we sat in the car park and wolfed down the food as we were about to set off for Franschhoek intending to get there before sundown. As it turns out neither of us finished our burgers so I made my way to a nearby bin to dispose of them. As I approached two young men who were just sitting by the side of the road about 30 meters away immediately got up and started walking towards me. “Oh oh”, I thought, five minutes in Cape Town and here comes trouble already!
The guys were walking straight for me and there was no one else around so I dumped the food bags in the bin and turned around to head back for the car. By the time I got there the guys had reached the bin but instead of coming towards us as I had expected they were taking the food out of the bags. To watch these guys finish our chips and burgers having fished them out of the bin was a stark reminder of the divisions between rich and poor in the country. (and I guess of my own prejudices and paranoia)

Once we set off we found our way to Franschhoek without difficulty (thanks for your directions Selwyn – I had ‘em printed out), with the latter part of the drive from Stellenbosch being very picturesque. Like the nerd that I am I pointed with glee everytime we passed a vineyard I recognised the name of…mmmhh Thelema.

After driving through town we easily found our way to our accommodation for the next 3 nights, La Cabriere Country house. Once we were let in through the gate the owner came out to greet us, or so we thought. The first thing she said when we got out of the car was “we’ve been worried sick about you”. No smile, no hello, no welcome, just that. She said that they had been expecting us at two pm. This had been our original arrangement, however a few weeks before arriving we had changed our reservation to stay an extra night and explained that we would be arriving in Cape Town at 1800 hrs and thus would expect to be in Franschhoek about 1930. Obviously there had been some misunderstanding but surely the fundamentals of guest relations suggest saying hello before giving out to someone, and maybe even reading ones emails and updating when you expect people to arrive. Talk about a bad first impression, not to mention the fact that they had both of our mobile numbers so they obviously weren’t that concerned or they could have called us. I was furious about the reception.

Anyway, the room was really lovely and had fantastic views of the hills surrounding the valley, and the clouds that were tumbling down their sides. We had booked dinner at Le Bon Vivant at 2030 so we freshened up and headed into town for our meal. I think we were just too tired to enjoy our meal at Le Bon Vivant. The service was great but Mrs M could hardly stay awake after the long day on the road and I found my steak to be very bland. I expect that with more energy we would have enjoyed ourselves more.

Next morning we awoke to grey skies and howling winds so breakfast was served inside the guest house. The breakkie was delicious with all the guests comparing notes on who had eaten where the night before. We had a picnic booked in Dieu Donne at lunch time so we went for a walk around Franschhoek beforehand. It is a pleasant town with countless restaurants and café’s to eat in and plenty of stores to browse. Given the weather we considered cancelling our picnic but having looked forward to it for so long we decided to go and take a look before doing so.

The views from the Dieu Donne over the Franschhoek valley are panoramic so we picked up our picnic and a couple of glasses of wine from the tasting menu and sat out to enjoy our lunch. The picnic contained several tasty items such as pate, pasta and chicken drumsticks but the wind and lack of warm sunshine took away slightly from the occasion, but not to worry, we had Rueben’s to look forward to that evening.

We had in mind to visit a smaller family type vineyard as well as a bigger establishment as we have found in previous visits to vineyards in France that the smaller operators often give a more personal experience than the more commercial operators. So we picked out 'Stony Brook' to visit, but unfortunately it was Saturday afternoon and by the time we finished our lunch they were closed for the weekend, so instead we went to Boschendal and Grand Provence. Wine tasting in Boschendal was lovely as it is done sitting under the trees in the courtyard surrounded by old cape buildings (the wine is nice too!) Grand Provence was also very nice with the buildings combining the Cape Dutch architecture and ultra modern design with great style. The Angels Tears range of wines we tasted here were delicious and the restaurant looked like it would be a great place to eat with its appealing dining room and open fires outdoors for when the weather is good.

One tip for wine tasting is to maybe do a little planning in advance to make sure any particular places you might like to visit will be open. E.g. several places don’t do tasting on Sundays or after 3pm. (all the more reason for us to go back to Franschhoek again!)

Our meal in Reuben’s did not disappoint – and I suppose it easily could have given the high expectations one has when a restaurant is so widely praised - Mrs M had some ridiculously good prawns to start and I had a smoked duck salad with was fantastic. Our mains were equally well executed, with the whole lot washed down with a nice bottle of local wine. The menu was full of appealing dishes, which suggest that one could eat in Reuben’s for two or three nights trying different things each time. We finished our meal with a glass of Methode Cap Classique (champagne) by the wing in the bar and headed off happily to bed.

Next morning we had breakfast and another walk around town before our lunch at La Petite Ferme. We had booked this lunch way in advance so were looking forward to what everyone in our guesthouse had reported as a great dining experience. The restaurant is located high above the town with views along the whole length of the valley, and given our advanced reservation we were given a great table right by the windows. Mrs M had the asparagus and I had the Asian fish cakes to start followed by grilled calamari and a fish special (cob) for main courses. These were all perfectly done and followed by a superb crème brulee. As the weather was improving we chose to digest our meal by lying out on the grass lawn overlooking the village. Half the restaurant were out there similarly sprawled which made the whole affair pleasantly decadent.

After the past few days of eating rich food we opted not to take up our reservation in The French Connection for dinner so instead we went to Col'Cacchio Pizzeria – not a ‘reduction of this’ or ‘jus of that’ in sight. This turned out to be a great decision as the pizzas were just right and the salads were super fresh. If you feel like a break from fine dining fare while you are in Franschhoek you could do a lot worse than this place. Apparently the staff get trained for a year on how to make and bake the perfect pizza!

So that was our Franschhoek experience. We found the town to be a great place to go and eat and drink and would like to revisit with friends and try a few new restaurants. With more time I’d also like to get out for some walks on the hills surrounding the town. From what we saw of Stellenbosch we were glad to have chosen Franschhoek as the former seemed very quiet whenever we passed through, though we are aware that with the students on their summer break the town was much less busy than it would normally be. Franschhoek also seems to be a little more contained with most of the restaurants along the main street.

We left La Cabriere after breakfast and set off for Oudtshoorn. The drive features spectacular scenery pretty much from the first minute as one climbs directly out of Franschhoek past La petite Ferme and over the Franschhoek Pass with great views back down into the valley and over the steep gorges of the mountains. Continuing on at leisure we stopped briefly in Montagu to have a look around. From there we carried on, by chance finding a gem of a place for lunch in Barrydale – Clarke of the Karoo – this place does great dishes and has a shop with interesting Karoo-sourced foods, well worth a lunch stop if you are passing through. Towards 4pm we rolled into Oudtshoorn and found our way to Hlangana Lodge.

Our room here was not quiet as nice as those we had previously had, but then again the rates were not as expensive and the room was perfectly acceptable with a nice porch area overlooking the grass and the pool. Security was also noticeably more relaxed here than it had been elsewhere e.g. no guards or electric gates on the car park. We had nowhere reserved for dinner on this night so we chose to eat in Café Kalinka? Which is situated near Jemimas. Our meal here was pretty nice, it was served in a pleasant garden. Being in Oudtshoorn I felt it would be rude not to choose Ostrich…it turned out to be very tasty.

After breakfast the next morning (which was well below the standard of breakfasts we had had to date- what's the story with the really poor orange juice we seemed to get everywhere...in a country that grows such lovely oranges!) we headed out for a drive up the Swarthberg pass to Prince Albert. What a drive! My lovely wife was a little nervous as we headed off the sealed road to start climbing the pass as at times the track really is very steep with serious drops to the side, but with due caution it’s a fun drive. Towards the top there are some great viewpoints while once over the summit the track and the scenery gets more dramatic as one heads down towards Prince Albert. We had a quick stop in PA and then continued on to De Rust and back to Oudtshoorn via the Meirings Poort pass – another great road (sealed) through a steep pass.

We had lunch AND dinner in Jemimas that day. Both were great meals with a good lunch inspiring us to return for dinner! The staff and manager here were very friendly, also note that there is an outdoor dining area out the back of the restaurant, which has a nice atmosphere. The whole building in fact feels like you are eating in a home rather than a resto.

Adios Oudtshoorn! We didn’t visit an ostrich farm – saw plenty by the road and don’t quiet agree with people riding around on them - nor did we go to Kango caves, next time around or if we find ourselves in a 'Back To The Future scenario' we might spend just one night in town and get an early start to take in the Swarthberg pass before continuing on to the coast, especially since we now know how special a place Storms River Mouth is! More on that location to follow…
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Jan 27th, 2006, 06:16 AM
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May I suggest posting the various parts to the report as replies to your original post so that they don't become separated over time?
Either that or put links to each thread into the first thread and links to the first thread into the others!
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Jan 27th, 2006, 06:25 AM
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Sure, thanks Kavey.
The first part of this report can be found here:
http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...4&tid=34743865

or under title:
SA Trip Report Part I: Kruger & Chitwa Chitwa
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Jan 29th, 2006, 06:41 AM
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Muz,

I really enjoy your reports. I am following (almost exactly) in your foot steps in 3 weeks.

If you have some pointers on ho to get to Chitwa from Orpen gate, I'd appreciate it. It looks easy on the map they sent, but your earlier post indicates that reality is a little different.
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Jan 30th, 2006, 01:09 AM
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Hi LessThanZero,

The drive from Orphen to Chitwa is just a bit involved, and given that it was our first time in SA we were a little daunted by driving so far along dirt roads.

The directions on the map supplied by Chitwa Chitwa ARE correct but there are so many other roads and tracks along the route that your confidence that you are going the right way can be shaken, and the sign posts for Sabi Sands do not appear often enough to be reliable (IMHO).

If I was doing it again I'd just stop the car for a few minutes outside Kruger or in Orphen and get it clear in my head what sequence of turns I was going to be going through and about how long each segment would take.

Depending on the condition of the road and how much you value the paintwork on your car you will probably average between 40 and 60 km an hour.

By the way, the drive out is more straightforward and shorter as you can get on the sealed road for Acornhoek instead of continuing on dirt tracks towards Orphen.

Hope this helps and that you have a great time, would love to hear what you think of Chitwa.

Muz
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Jan 31st, 2006, 05:20 AM
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Will post once I've been there.

How long was the drive from Chitwa to Nelspruit on your way back?
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Jan 31st, 2006, 06:54 AM
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The drive took us 3.5 hours of fast driving with no stops.

(we ended up feeling a bit pressed for time as we had a flight to catch)

For a more relaxed pace I'd allow 4+ hours.
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Jan 31st, 2006, 08:05 AM
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p.s.
For route planning
http://www.shellgeostar.co.za/

can be handy...click on 'Plan your Route' on the left hand side.

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Jan 31st, 2006, 05:48 PM
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Muz,

Couldn't agree more, and I am a loyal user. However, the closest I could do was Acornshoek to Nelspruit, which it tagged as 1 hr 24 minutes. Obviously a bit of a delta to 3.5 hrs.
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Jan 31st, 2006, 05:55 PM
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Oh and, while I'm on that line of questioning. How far was it from Orpen to Chitwa, and how bad were the roads (what speeds were you keeping)?
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Feb 1st, 2006, 12:27 AM
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It's about 40ish KM from the Orphen gate to Chitwa Chitwa.

It's almost all dirt roads and took us about an hour.

btw, is 'LessThanZero' Brett Easton Ellis inspired?
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Feb 1st, 2006, 02:48 AM
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Muz,

It is indeed. I originally used it for a discussion of discounts, which gave it a little different meaning. Skilled author though.
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