Franschhoek is internationally known and loved as a food and wine destination. It’s to this historic valley, with her lush carpeting of vineyards and indigenous Fynbos flora, that people from all corners of the country and, actually, the world travel to experience fine food and wines to rival the best. “Foodie destination” is one sobriquet for Franschhoek; “wine heaven” is another and a personal favourite of mine.
Once every year, the Cape Winelands District Municipality stages an educational trip for the media in an effort to highlight an aspect of the Franschhoek Wine Valley that makes it so damned attractive. This year, the theme was health and wellness. You see, Franschhoek offers pampering for so much more than just the stomach. From the indigenous medicinal herb garden to the Santé Wellness Retreat and Spa, there is much tranquillity and serenity to be found within the valley’s secret, tucked-away places and we spent a blissful day exploring them all!
Franschhoek’s Medicinal Herb Garden
Secreted away in plain sight on Franschhoek’s main road is this serene oasis where everything grown has medicinal and/or therapeutic applications. More than 47 different species of mostly indigenous medicinal herbs and plants grow here and, aside from just being incredibly interesting to meander through, importantly preserves indigenous medicinal lore and culture.
Yuda James, a shy man with a deep connection to nature, showed us around the lightly fragrant garden, introducing us to its inhabitants, from the pom pom tree, which is used to treat colic in infants, as well as coughs, colds, and fever to the cannabis plant, which, while maligned for its intoxicating effects, proffers a vast medicine cabinet of applications, including potential treatment for cancer.
We even had a nip of freshly brewed buchu water, which was bitter but brightly floral and herbaceous and so, I imagine, quite lovely with a little juice (or G&T, if I’m honest).
Tea Tasting at Anthonij Rupert Wyne
The next stop on the itinerary was Anthonij Rupert Wyne, a vast wine estate of heart-breaking beauty and the Cape of Good Hope wine range (made exclusively from grapes from vines older than 40 years) that holds a permanent place in my heart. Of course, the day’s activities pivoted on health and wellness and so our agenda was to experience an offering outside of the usual wine tasting: a rooibos tea tasting hosted in the dining room of the beautifully preserved manor house.
Dressed in antique furniture and unique artworks that depict everyday life of a bygone era in the winelands, Anthonij Rupert’s manor house gives visitors a real feel for what life must have been like here 200 years ago. Stepping into the cool embrace of this historic home is like stepping into another dimension and we could all but feel the ebb and pulse of the lives that have been lived within its walls. But by far the “trippiest” of all its attractions is a note scrawled into the window glass by previous owner Mrs Ede de Villiers (dated 1833), using the diamond on her ring. Apparently, vandalism is a long-standing tradition of even the most civilised of society’s factions.
Feeling sufficiently time-travelled, we sat down to a tasting of four rooibos teas and a taste test of their high tea experience, which goes for R195 per person and includes tea, bubbly, or coffee. Anthonij Rupert, while known for its wine, is attempting (and succeeding) to cater to a broader audience of families with children and even expecting mothers, who can’t very well participate in the wine tasting. And so, a rooibos tea tasting is a lovely activity for those who can’t or don’t want to drink wine but who would also like to participate in some way. It’s also very delicious, with the tangerine and ginger infused rooibos being the clear winner of the day.
We then took a slow stroll through the impressive herb garden with its 36 different medicinal and culinary herbs. Unfortunately for me, the gardeners were in attendance; otherwise I might have pilfered a few sprigs of rosemary, basil, and oregano.
Terbodore Coffee Roastery
Feeling miraculously healthy and well – and, as one of our party exclaimed, the most sober I’d ever felt after being in the Franschhoek Wine Valley for this long – we headed for Terbodore Coffee Roastery for a well-deserved cuppa joe.
Terbodore is a boutique roastery that has, since 2004, been making Franschhoek smell even better than it already does. And it’s in this single roasting room on the R45 that Terbodore’s colourful range of quality coffee blends and single origin products are crafted, catering to a mammoth nationwide demand. Every week, 1.5 tonnes of coffee beans from 11 different coffee-growing regions all over the world are roasted here. A portion of this tall order ends up in the adjacent Big Dog Café, where it is deliciously brewed and enjoyed with breakfast, lunch, or a snack.
After an energetic and charismatic tour of the roastery, we sat down to a coffee tasting of Terbodore’s single origin (Honduras) coffee paired with a naartjie infused chocolate. The barista performed the brewing at our table using a collection of specialist equipment with that additional ingredient that we all too often neglect to add to our coffee: time. Giving the grounds time to percolate through the slow addition of hot water allows for the extraction of more fruit flavours and greater complexity.
What I love about this place – another of Franschhoek’s unsung heroes – is that they offer a deeper appreciation and understanding of the art of coffee roasting and brewing, for which I’m always appreciative. And even if you aren’t a coffee lover, it’s worth visiting for the views, the food, and the velvety soft great Dane puppy that blusters around, greeting every guest with a sloppy kiss and a love bite.
Santé Wellness Retreat and Spa
The final leg of the tour was the Santé Wellness Retreat and Spa (technically in Paarl but close enough to Franschhoek), which provided the most direct interpretation of this year’s “health and wellness” theme, although, by this stage, I was feeling remarkably serene, yet alert (thanks, caffeine).
After a tour of this establishment’s extensive offering (conferencing centres, hotel rooms, lounges, and multitudinous treatment facilities), we sat down to a light lunch of fresh, crunchy salad, spicy Vietnamese tomato soup, butternut bread with olive tapenade, grilled salmon with crunchy veggies, and a sour fig coconut ice-cream. One of Santé’s core philosophies is that “you are what you eat” and so everything placed before us was 100% organic and had zero dairy, gluten, preservatives, or additives, etc. A guilt-free lunch if ever there were one.
Feeling pleasantly full, I took the opportunity to sprawl out on one of their garden chaise lounges with a glass of Avondale’s exquisite Armilla Méthode Cap Classique 2011. Staring up at the cerulean ceiling, a feeling of health and wellness percolated throughout my body. This was before I even went for my half-hour head and scalp massage so you can imagine just how floppy and useless I was afterwards.
Well done, Franschhoek Wine Valley. You did it.
Holistic pampering of mind, body, heart, and soul
Health and wellness isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be about denial. Rather, it’s about indulging the parts of your body, mind, and soul that are all-too-often neglected…
It’s a meander through a fragrant herb garden and a reminder that an alleviative to any ailment can be found in nature. It’s a cup of tea overlooking a magnificent emerald lawn and the enchantment of reading a hand-written message left in glass over 200 years ago. It’s cuddling a clumsy puppy and breathing in the aroma of freshly ground coffee. It’s an indulgent meal made with fresh, organic ingredients and a glass of bubbly under the blue, blue sky. It’s sharing in all of these things with other people, and it culminates in the caress of human hands.
So, while the Franschhoek Wine Valley excels at fine dining and beautiful wine, there is a holistic approach to health and wellness to be found here, and a pampering that extends beyond the stomach to the mind, heart, and soul.