The skies darkened and the rain started. Soon, it was coming down so hard that it sounded like a jet engine roar on the roof. Then came some cracks of lightening, which sounded at increasing frequency until it felt almost continuous. Fortunately, while the 30-year storm raged outside, my wife Sylvia and I were comfortably relaxing in our spacious and well-decorated villa at La Petit Dauphine Guest Farm, a luxury boutique property in the Franschhoek (“French Corner”) wine region of South Africa about 75 minutes north of Cape Town.
Our travels around the Western Cape of South Africa started with a drive from Cape Town’s airport northeast toward the wine country. Passing through Stellenbosch, perhaps the most famous of the country’s viticultural regions, the scenery quickly became spectacular, with jagged mountains rising above rolling hills of vineyards on wine estates — a more visually stunning landscape than the wine country of our home in Northern California. As we created the pass between Stellenbosch and the valley connecting Paarl and Franschhoek, we were treated to a truly panoramic view of the broader region. Heading up-valley past a series of wine estates and through tunnels of eucalyptus, we soon reached the town of Franschhoek itself.
Like classic walkable wine country towns the world over that are variously described as “cute”, “charming” or “quaint”, Franschhoek fits into that experience in some ways. However, it adds a uniquely South African twist with a French overlay, as it was established by French Huguenots in the 17th and 18th centuries, escaping from the motherland to find religious freedom. We found locally-inspired dishes like ostrich with sumac, Cape Malay trout, or beef bobotie pancackes at places like Ryan’s Kitchen, while also sampling classics like springbok loin and amarula chocolate mousse at La Petit Ferme, an inn and restaurant with spectacular views overlooking the valley.
The approach to La Petit Dauphine after passing through the entrance gate was classically scenic, with a lane lined with white roses cutting through a vineyard, and with rugged peaks rising straight ahead at the head of the valley. We were greeted by Stefan, the accommodating GM of the property, who gave the basic lay of the land. Given his knowledge of the surrounding region, he effectively served as our concierge as well, providing maps and tips about the best wineries to visit, the best trails to hike, and walking us through a variety of dining options in and around town. While waiting for our villa, we enjoyed a great lunch on the patio at Cafe Bon Bon, the property’s on-premise restaurant.