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Winter wine weekend: South Africa

As wine country goes, it doesn’t get much more beautiful than this. Get past The Cape’s jagged, mauve, mountain-fringed coastline and you’ve got verdant valleys galore. Add to that, graceful Cape Dutch gables, some serious cooking and even classier wines, and you have the essential ingredients for the perfect winter sun wine holiday.

The 45-minute drive from Cape Town to Franschhoek is worth the long flight alone. The valley is jaw-droppingly beautiful and the town is impossibly pretty, with its well-kept veranda-wrapped homes, pastel-painted boutiques and chic restaurants and cafes.

At its well-coiffured epicentre is Le Quartier Français, with its Provencal-style façade, lavender and rose-fringed borders, and four smart new suites. But the main reason to stay here is that it boasts one of South Africa’s best-known chefs, Margot Janse, who wows diners with her innovative techniques and punchy flavours in her restaurant, The Tasting Room.

Starters included a salty sweet pairing of peppered pear, prosciutto gel and puffed pork crackling, while a main course of Klein Karoo lamb was lifted with chakalaka marmalade, lemon basil, salted grapes and roasted garlic. To finish – a clever orange and buttermilk cannelloni.

There’s no sommelier – that’s far too stuffy, reasons the charismatic owner, Susan Huxter. But the waiting staff can hold their own on Franschhoek’s (and beyond) best wine producers.

Janse loves working with local ingredients – women from the village turn up at her doorstep with colanders full of black figs, berries and nettles. “It’s South African cuisine – not Dutch, or French. And we focus on South African ingredients – there’s a lot of creativity here,” she tells us, tableside.

Too right. And you can’t eat in The Tasting Room every night (though Janse does oversee the hotel’s other restaurant, Ici, with its more casual approach, and dishes such as impala shank risotto). So there’s plenty to choose from just a short walk up the street – in fact, eight of South Africa’s Top 100 Restaurants are in Franschhoek.

A favourite is Reuben’s, opposite. Reuben Riffel is a Franschhoek boy born and bred and since teaming up with local winemaker, Boekenhoutskloof’s Marc Kent, he has secured a place for their restaurant in South Africa’s Top 10, as well as opening outposts in Robertson and most recently Cape Town, where he is overseeing the kitchen at the One & Only – don’t miss the springbok fillet saltimbocca.

And then there’s the wine, of course – the other reason to come. Vineyards are creeping up every slope in the valley, which was settled more than 300 years ago by the Huguenots who brought their French ways. Often declared the world’s most beautiful wine valley, some of South Africa’s top winemakers are here. From Marc Kent and his stonking Syrahs at Boekenhoutskloof, to Gottfried Mocke’s world class Chardonnay at Chamonix, plus impressive La Motte, historic Boschendal and funky Môreson. Plan your wine route at www.franschhoek.org.za

Le Quartier Français, 16 Huguenot Road, +27 21 876 2151, www.lqf.co.za
A double room starts at £330 per night, including breakfast.

Reuben’s, 19 Huguenot Road, +27 21 876 3772 www.reubens.co.za

Written by Fiona Sims

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