Franschoek on a Budget

The little French town nestled between the mountains, only 45 minutes away from Cape Town, was once inhabited by elephants and called Oliphantshoek (Elephant’s corner). In 1598, fearing death and persecution from King Henry IV of France,200 Huguenots fled to the Cape amongst other places and began to assist the Dutch in developing the infant wine industry. Aside from hosting regular food and wine festivals throughout the year, Franschoek is home to some of South Africa’s finest gourmet restaurants, wine farms and fruit plantations. Whilst it would be lovely to relax at one of the many five star boutique hotels and savour 7 course meals, but for many, this does not bode well with our budgets. Here are some things you can enjoy for very little…

1. Backpackers on the riverside

Firstly you will need a place to lay your head down and get a good night’s sleep. Luckily I discovered Otter’s Bend Lodge on Dassenberg Road beside the river. Budget accommodation doesn’t get much better than this. From your wooden A-Frame cabin in the forest, you will be lulled into relaxation by the flowing river and enjoy chilly nights beside the fire. There is a communal kitchen and dining area overlooking a splash pool and deck with all the utensils you need to prepare food for the weekend. The white blossoms of the plum trees, easy-going nature of the owner and seclusion of this lodge make it perfect for a weekend getaway.

2. Huguenot Memorial Museum

To get some insight into the life of the early Huguenot settlers and native Khoi San people, you can visit this museum for R10 and explore the old world. It commemorates the arrival of the Huguenots in the Cape of Good Hope, a place where they found refuge. It is on the same site as the Huguenot monument in the form of a central female figure that embodies freedom of religion with a bible and broken chain in each hand. The three arches represent the holy trinity of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You can see (but not touch or photograph) original utensils from their kitchens such as tart pans, waffle makers and butter moulds. There are wagons, courtly shoes, postbags, hand-organs and giant grandfather clocks made with exquisite detail. The museum annex with more exhibitions and a souvenir shops is across the road and is free of charge.

3. Hiking trails and river walks

None of these activities require any money at all. All you need is a pair of walking shoes and off you go. Due to the cold weather and low-lying clouds, we couldn’t quite embark hiking high up along one of the trails leading off the Franschoek Pass ( even though there are so many and some which feature mountain pools to enjoy in summer) so we walked up the mountain right behind Otter’s Bend, off Dassenberg Road, which was less than an hour, but had scenic views over all the plantations, vineyards and estates in the valley. You can drive down Roberstvlei road until your get to gate and walk all along the Berg River. There was no one else around and despite the chilly wind; it was a beautiful 5km walk.

4. Sight see along the Main Road

This main street has managed to remain true to its old charm with Dutch reformed church, old post office, art galleries and antique shops with pretty porches. Side-walk cafes are in abundance and in the square outside Col’caccios, a live band entertained guests beneath the oak trees. There are plazas with colourful flowers, home ware shops to add a sophisticated country feel to your home, book stores, clothing and jewellery stores to keep you occupied.

5. Eat without bankrupting yourself

Whilst it would be great to sample the 7 course meals at the top restaurants of SA, this may not be the weekend for you to do so, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to eat. Col’caccios has mouth-watering pizza combinations that will be good enough to keep for tomorrow’s lunch too. It’s buzzing on a Sunday with families, couples and friends dancing to the live music outside and quite cosy inside when the wind becomes too much. The Pancake Cafe serves delicious pancakes such as one with nutella and spicy apple cinnamon for about R50 each and served with ice-cream. It is directly opposite the church and also serves as an exhibition for jewellery and artwork made from women in Swaziland.