Friday, November 10, 2006

Home again, home again…

The lavender farm in Franschhoek
Wednesday was our third wedding anniversary and to celebrate the occasion (as well as Hubby’s new job, which starts on Monday next), we took a few day's sojourn to the local wine country.

The village of Franschhoek is less than a two hour drive from Cape Town, but a world away. Joburgers, who think Cape Town is a laid-back, “hang loose” kind of place, must find Franschhoek to be standing still. But Franschhoek isn’t the quaint little village it likes to think of itself as being…oh no. It’s appeal is as studied and contrived as Disneyland’s Main Street, USA, for all that many buildings on the main road through town are truly masterpieces of the art of building preservation.

Franschhoek Village
This place is a village only in the sense that it is fairly small in size…but don’t look for the support services you would expect of your average farm village. I didn’t see a musty old hardware store or a farm equipment dealer or repair shop, no forge for mending unhappy implements, no drilling company or pump and irrigation sales…a village for the support of the neighbouring farms, Franschhoek definitely is not.

An old house in the village

So what is it? The main street is lined with one well-preserved ancient Cape Dutch building after another, In most cases only the façade is fully intact, the rest of the building having been gutted to serve as home to a long queue of trendy restaurants that range from “just ordinary” to “truly superb” in quality. I’d like to say “with prices to match,” but our seven meals, unfortunately, lead me to believe that restaurants in Franschhoek range from eyebrow- raising to “quick, call the paramedics!” in price.

Hubby is a man who enjoys his creature comforts and when we take these little holidays they are usually short enough to allow us to afford four-and five-star eateries and accommodations. But sometimes you wonder why the stars were granted. The eponymous Reuben’s, known as not only the best restaurant in town, but the best in South Africa, deserves every one of the five stars in its crown. But don’t expect cuisine…fine or otherwise…from The French Connection, despite the recommendations and stars. Any restaurant that feels it must notify its patrons that it is a “bistro” and to therefore not expect greatness in the fare, should be approached with caution. We found the food…particularly the lamb and the French fries…overdone and the portions rather skimpy (a ham sandwich with one layer of nearly transparent ham?), and the woman at the table next to us sent her entrée back to the kitchen because her roasted kudu was refrigerator-cold. How many stars is that kind of gastronomic offering worth?
Pond at Bread & Wine Restaurant

Accommodations are likewise “luck of the draw,” the stars meaning considerably less than one might ordinarily expect. I expect a certain level of luxury and upmarket appointments in a four star accommodation…certainly a queen-sized (if not a king) bed, and definitely a real shower, certainly not a hand shower in the tub (and no shower curtain). I have long come to expect mosquitoes every place I go in South Africa…we don’t seem to have gotten the word about window screens yet…so checking the ceiling corners for mossies before turning in is a nightly ritual nowadays. But we didn’t sign up for an army of creepy little roommates! On our second night I was jolted awake by an overly friendly spider which Hubby then had to hunt down and slaughter, the third night I found a little slug merrily running laps around the inside of the bathtub rim, and every night a battalion of two-inch long centipedes marched across the bedroom carpet, defying both squishing with shoes and picking up with tissue…and refusing to die even after being heavily dosed with Doom. Ya know, to my mind, the fact that the proprietors of this establishment thought it prudent to supply our suite with a can of Doom says volumes all by itself.

View of Franschhoek Mountains from Lavande

All negatives aside, though, the Franschhoek Valley is as beautiful a place you could ever hope to see. The craggy, majestic mountains encircling the fertile river valley, kilometre after kilometre of lush green vineyards and silvery-sprigged lavender fields, rustic thatched-and-whitewashed homes…it’s as delightful to the eye as the wines are to the palate.

Boekenhoutskloof Winery

Lavender fields at Grande Provence Winery

It was an enjoyable few days and aside from my sore foot and ankle rather slowing me down (adventurous pursuit of photographic ends is a bit difficult to do on crutches!) we had a lovely time. Lovely enough, in fact, that we plan to return to Reuben’s (even if one meal there did cost more than my maid’s monthly wages!)…but first we need to find a nice guest house with showers. And big beds. And no free-loading, uninvited roomies!

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