TThe Cape Winelands are an absolute must for anyone traveling thereCape Townand its surroundings. There you'll find sweeping mountainous landscapes lined with pristine vineyards, views as far as the eye can see, and most importantly, incredibly affordable world-class wines. It can be a bit intimidating for those unfamiliar with the region. With so many wineries to choose from, where do you start? How do you get from one to the next?
The ultimate way to cruise the spectacular Cape Winelands in style is aboard theFranschhoek Wine Tram. This vintage-style railway tram takes you on a journey through 300 years of wine-making history in the Franschhoek Valley while tasting some of itof South Africaaward-winning wines. Along the way, hop on and off to visit some of South Africa's oldest and most renowned wineries, enjoy world-class cuisine, and partake in a range of activities while enjoying incredible views of this beautiful wine region.
A historic town in the Cape Winelands with a rich history
Franschhoek, where you can catch the train, is an old town with a wine-growing history dating back to the 17th century. It began with the French Huguenots settling in the valley and establishing farms, many named after French territories. Some of the early farms, such as La Motte, La Provence and Cabrière, are still standing and have thriving wineries. There are even some original Cape Dutch farmhouses.
Franschhoek is considered by some to be the country's gourmet capital. The Franschhoek Valley is home to many vineyards and wineries ranging from boutiques to much larger wineries. Combine that with some of the best restaurants in the country – and even the world – and you have a foodie's dream.
The Franschhoek Wine Tram
Photo:Franschhoek Wine Tram
In 1904 tram tracks were built as an alternative means of transport for farmers who used ox carts to market their produce. The steam locomotives switched to diesel in the 1970s, and the trams ran until the 1990s. After that, rail transport was less in demand. The tracks were inactive for more than a decade, but in 2012 the line was revived in the Franschhoek Wine Tram.
In 2017, Franschhoek Wine Tram introduced their new double-decker trams, modeled after the 1920s Blackpool Corporation Tramways Double Deck Balcony Tramcar.
These trams were developed in South Africa and travel at a maximum of 32 km/h (approx. 20 mph). This leisurely pace allows you to relax and take in your surroundings. Up to 78 passengers can enjoy the scenic ride aboard the tram at one time, and there is 360-degree visibility.
Vineyards to stop at along your route
Photo:Franschhoek Wine Tram/Facebook
With its Mediterranean climate and beautiful mountain slopes and valleys, the Cape region is ideal for viticulture. South African winemaking often combines tradition and modernity with a backbone of established old world techniques and an openness to new innovations.
The wineries in the region are diverse. From small, independent wineries to massive, internationally acclaimed wine cellars, there is sure to be something for everyone. All of the wineries in Franschhoek are worth a visit, but a few notable wineries stand out.
Franschhoek is home to some of the oldest wineries in the Cape Winelands. There areBoschental, which began in 1685 and is the second oldest winery in South Africa, as well asthe Bri, one of the first of nine farms granted to the Huguenots in 1688. One of the most popular vineyards isTowers of Babylon, known for its stunning garden full of native plants, fruits and vegetables.
Leopards Sprungis an excellent place for families, thanks to its child-friendly outdoor area and its extensive gastronomic offer.Tolle Provenceis another historic place with beautiful natural surroundings where you can have a picnic or stroll in the sculpture garden. Grande Provence even organizes a grape juice tasting for the little ones while the adults enjoy some of the winery's award-winning wines.
AtWeingut Pigcasso, you can see abstract artworks by the painting duo Jo Lefson and Pigcasso (a real pig). All proceeds from artworks sold benefit an animal shelter in the Franschhoek Valley called Farm Sanctuary SA.
Photo:Grande Provence Heritage Winery/Facebook
Many wineries offer pairing options, such as Grand Provence and Method Cap Classique wine and hummus and oyster pairings. Those with a sweet tooth will love La Bri's Plaisir de Merle fudge pairing, Vrede en Lust's Lindt chocolate pairing, or the Turkish Delight pairing.
Those looking for a full meal can't go wrong with the seasonal casual fine dining menucooks campat the Maison Estate – one of South Africa's most famous restaurants.Arkesteat Chamonix Estate serves a fabulous à la carte selection of dishes that combine molecular gastronomy and Pan-Asian fusion with classic French techniques. Simultaneously,cribat Dieu Donne Vineyards offers sweeping views and Mediterranean-style dining made with fresh, locally sourced ingredients. Be sure to book these restaurants before you arrive as they get very busy in high season.
Route options with the Franschhoek Wine Tram
Many wineries offer accommodation and you should spend a few days in Franschhoek to fully explore the region. It takes around an hour and a half by car to get to Franschhoek from Cape Town and the Franschhoek Wine Tram offers transfers from Cape Town, Stellenbosch, Paarl and Strand from around $36 per person. Taking public transportation isn't recommended, but some tour operators, like City Sightseeing, offer packages that include transportation from the city and a hop-on hop-off tour.
There are two tram terminals, the Franschhoek and Groot Drakenstein terminals. Your departure terminal depends on which line you choose, but both serve coffee and beignets as a great way to start your wine journey.
With so many things to see along the tram tracks, you'll have a hard time deciding on an 'experience' package. Here's a breakdown of the options you can choose from:
Hop on hop off experience
Photo:Franschhoek Wine Tram
The hop-on hop-off experience is the most popular and flexible option. This trip can last anywhere from two to seven hours and costs just over $18 per adult, plus wine tasting fees. Depending on the winery, wine tastings can cost you from around $2 to $10, making it an affordable way to while your day.
TheHop-On-Hop-Off-Paketyou can choose one of eight tram lines: Purple, Orange, Blue, Pink, Green, Yellow, Gray, or Red. These lines let you explore up to six wineries in a day. You can choose where to go, what to eat and how long to spend at each location. The blue and green lines focus on boutique properties set against a mountainous backdrop, while the red and yellow lines focus more on internationally renowned valley properties. If you are short on time or want to visit as many properties as possible, the Purple, Orange, Pink and Gray lines offer shorter intervals of around 30 minutes per property. Kids can come along for about $7, kids under 3 are free.
Exclusive wine and kitchen experience
For an experience you can share with up to 25 of your closest friends, this offersExclusive wine and kitchen experienceis an indulgent journey exploring the best the valley has to offer. Your day begins with breakfast and wine pairing (because wine is definitely the new coffee).MIKO, the flagship restaurantMont Rochelle hotel and vineyardcomplete with 180 degree views of the valley. From there, partake in a Méthode Cap Classique (South Africa's sparkling wine, made the same way champagne is made) and a pair of macaroons aboard the old Brill tram. The next stop is a decadent lunch of modern comfort foodPierneef in La Motte. Of course, lunch includes a tasting of La Motte's acclaimed wines before touring the impressive art gallery. Since there's always room for dessert, your day ends with a dessert and wine pairing atHaute Cabriereand a sabrage - a ceremonial opening of a champagne bottle with a saber. All of this, plus a coffee upon arrival at the terminal, is included in the ticket price of around US$180.
Curated Wine Experience
Photo:Franschhoek Wine Tram/Facebook
TheCurated Wine Experienceis intended for those who are serious about food and wine. Here you can learn about the winemaking process from a lecture by a knowledgeable wine guide and take a tour of one of the cellars.
The package also includes premium wine tasting and a three-course lunch at one of the winery's famous restaurants. This adults-only option costs approximately $83 per person and begins at 10:30 AM and ends around 5:00 PM.
The last tour offered combines the privacy of a group tour and the freedom (and great value) of the hop-on hop-off tour. Thegroup experience, like the hop-on hop-off package, costs about $18 per person and doesn't include wine tasting or food. However, it can include a wine lecture or lunch/picnic upon request for an additional fee. Two group experiences are available: the Valley Experience and the Village Experience. The Valley Experience takes you through the stunning Groot Drakenstein Valley, while the Village option explores the delightful Franschhoek Village. Both options visit three wineries and last four to five hours. Children can join this package for as little as $6, or free for children under three.
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