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A motorbike run through Franschhoek
Petrol heads enjoy carving through this quintessential winelands town
The Western Cape is a paradise for bikers; with lush valleys, sweeping mountain passes and interesting stops along the way. A run to Franschhoek is a good start as it ticks all the right boxes in a nice, leisurely, laid-back way.
Lanner’s Landing, (+27 082 801 6226) just off the N1 at the Klapmuts turn-off (exit 47), is a good place to meet. This popular bush pub with its requisite collection of peaked caps over the bar and spacious wooden deck is so centrally situated that your buddies can all get together there, and wait for the inevitable late-comer who is still hungover or just got lost. Next door is Butterfly World with its huge variety of butterflies, insects, spiders, scorpions, reptiles and more – enough to give anyone nightmares. But, if you are carrying any kids on your pillion, take them in at your peril. They may never want to come out.
Heading away from the N1, crossover the four-way stop in the direction of Stellenbosch, there’s a BP garage and Express shop here if you need fuel for your bike or smokes for the girlfriend. Cross the bridge over the railway line and turn left towards Franschhoek – you can now relax and start enjoying the scenery.
We drag ourselves past wine estates like Anura, Glen Carlou and Backsberg, as it is still too early to drink wine, and if you’re riding sedately, you’ll catch a glimpse of the beautiful whitewashed opstal of Babylonstoren on your right. We are now entering the valley that runs all the way up to Franschhoek and the stunning peaks of Kanonkop and Simonsberg loom up over the road.
The gabled Ebenaeser church signals our arrival at Simondium. Next door Cotage Fromage (+27 (0)21 874 3991) restaurant of Vrede en Lust wine estate where they offer elegant light meals and wine-tasting in manicured garden splendour (no scruffy bikes here, only polished chrome please). We cross the disused railway line and turn right to continue our run.
This section of road can get very busy, so let’s turn in for a while at Kooperasie Stories. You can’t miss this quaint shop for its colourful collection of old enamel signs against the walls and selection of antiques on the pavement, but you’ll need a side-car to carry away some of the large pieces on sale inside. Next up is the comfortable Simondium Country Lodge (+27 (0) 21 874 1046), much classier than its surroundings suggest and popular for weddings and conferences. They also house the Enamel Shop which contains more unique bric-a-brac than some museums and a real pub with atmosphere – both places could hold you hostage for quite a while.
The route continues to Groot Drakenstein past fertile fruit farms, developed by the over-energetic Cecil John Rhodes, and all very gentrified now. A road turns off right here to sweep past the beautiful Boschendal Estate, through the little village of Pniel and over the Heshoogte Pass into Stellenbosch – a lovely route for another day. Continuing towards Franschhoek we reach Solms Delta (+ 27 (0)21 874 3937), who rightfully claim to be more than a wine estate. Concentrating on the real history of the Cape Winelands, from pre-colonial times via slavery and apartheid to the present, their Museum van de Caab showcases archaeological excavations done on the farm. They also run a traditional restaurant, offer special-interest guided farm tours and, of course, wine tasting.
The Franschhoek Motor Museum on L’Ormarins is a must for all petrol heads. Established originally in Heidelberg, Gauteng out of Dr. Anton Rupert’s passion for the automobile, it was moved by his eldest son, Johann to its present home in the vineyards of the Cape. With an encyclopaedic knowledge of bikes and cars, Wayne Harley is the friendly curator. The museum, housing old and new, concentrates mainly on vehicles with a South African connection and has room for about 80 cars and 15 bikes in 4 de-humidified halls. But, with around 300 vehicles in the entire collection it means that the display is always changing. This allows the museum to show off their collections-within-collections such as “Single Seaters that raced in SA”, “Ferraris down the ages”, “American muscle cars” and “Monster Mercs”. Their bikes range from a Mars Carette three-wheeler with wicker seats, to a ’66 500cc Norton racer, and a completely original unrestored 50cc Vespa scooter.
We now enter Franschhoek, the domain of the rich and famous, with the occasional intrusion by a mafia don, or kleptomaniac African dictator.
What to do once you’re in Franschhoek
But it is breathtakingly scenic, with beautiful Cape Dutch estates such as La Motte and Provence. Agriculturally this is vine country and wine tasting and restaurant notice-boards grab your attention. Popular Môreson estate offers award-winning wines and the delightful alfresco Bread and Wine restaurant is perfect for a quality break in this bike run. Entering Franschhoek past the big modern BP garage (for fuel, smokes and maybe a Kit Kat?), you’re spoilt for choice, for here are shops, restaurants and accommodation to suit all palates and purses.
First up is the Station Pub and Grill, a favourite amongst bikers for its prominent parking (“Hey, check those bikes!”), good food and casual atmosphere. The Sir Herbert Baker designed building has been carefully restored to retain its original pressed steel ceilings and ticket window. You can eat and party in the old waiting room or on the covered platform. Kids are catered for with a playground and jumping castle - and don’t worry about trains, the last one departed in 1992 (+27 (0)21 876 3938).
If it’s pizza you crave, head on up the street to Col ‘Cocchio for Italian cuisine (+27 (0)21 876 4222). Choose to be cosy indoors or chill outside on benches under the oaks, and if you’re lucky there’ll be a jazz band playing on the bandstand, for a more elegant experience book at The French Connection (+27 (21) 876 4056) in the centre of town. Behind them, in the protected courtyard, is another pub and grill, The Elephant and Barrel (+27 (21) 876 4127). A wide selection of draught beer, tasty pub food, a fire in winter and the courtyard in summer – what more could you want?
Nearby, at 62 Huguenot Rd., is the seriously addictive Huguenot Fine Chocolates for handmade chocolates. They also offer tastings (11am and 3pm) and a short tour of the kitchens for chocoholics to learn more of the art and history of this ancient food of the gods (+27 (0)21 876 4096). Further up, on the left-hand side, is the friendly Kalfis restaurant, which benefits from having a large loading zone outside in the main street – perfect for parking your pride-and-joy bike in on a Sunday. Sit out at a table on the front stoep; you just might be serenaded by a strolling minstrel band (+27 (0)21 876 2520).
But we haven’t just come to ride, eat and drink, we’ve come to soak up some culture, and it’s here by the barrels-full. At the far end of Huguenot Rd. we run straight into the imposing Huguenot Monument and museum. Open 9am to 3pm on weekdays and 2pm to 5pm on Sundays, the history and contribution of the French Huguenots in South Africa is celebrated. If your surname is Le Roux, De Villiers or sounds even remotely French, go and check out your ancestry. Across the road, at the start of Excelsior Road, is a large shaded picnic area – ideal for large groups, but no fires allowed.
For the guys and girls with dual-purpose bikes, there is an interesting alternative to heading back home down the main road. Off Excelsior, take the signs to Robertsvlei and then Glenwood. There is some slippery gravel through the forests before reaching the La Motte forestry station and rejoining the R45 highway. But, probably the best way home from Franschhoek (after not too much wine-tasting) is to just keep going – up the pass and over to Villiersdorp and on to Worcester, or to Grabouw and back via Sir Lowry’s Pass. Authorised by Lord Charles Somerset, the first Franschhoek Pass was built in 1825 by 150 soldiers of the Royal Africa Corp under the command of Major WC Holloway - the little bridge over Jan Joubert’s Gat, halfway down the other side, is the first stone bridge ever built in the country. The pass served well for over a century until it was improved in 1930 and then tarred in the 1960s. It’s a great test of bike and rider with long, sweeping bends and tight hairpins, but watch out for the heavy trucks that seem to be using this route more and more.
One last thing – if you don’t make it out to Franschhoek sometime soon, consider timing your visit to coincide with the annual Bastille Day Festival happening in mid-July each year. Wear your beret and come along to enjoy the music and processions, and participate in the barrel-rolling or boule competitions. Franschhoek knows how to party!
By Mike Copeland
Not keen on motorbikes? Then see the sights of Cape Town on a cycle tour with AWOL Tours.