48 Hours in Franschhoek
There is no bigger slap in the face than returning to a New York that's actually colder and snowier than you left it. I'm not kidding, this weather is fucking awful. Especially compared to sunny South Africa, where we just spend a little over a week for our honeymoon.
It's no exaggeration that South Africa is the most beautiful country we've ever been to; the mountains, the sea, the light, the flora and fauna all combine to make it no-filter-needed-gorgeous. We were awed by so much of what we saw, from Cape Town to the deserts in the hinterlands, but our time in the Cape Winelands, a place a lot of visitors relegate to a quick day trip, was most memorable.
Now I know a lot of wine countries are naturally scenic; but the Cape Winelands, especially the Franschhoek (pronounced fran-sh-hook, I think) Valley, with dramatic mountains in every direction, stark and elegant architecture, and ample greenery arguably give every other wine region a run for its money in the natural beauty department. We spent two days here and by the end of our time we were *this* close to booking a third day, and only slightly less close to saying "fuck everything let's just move here".
There are no big hotels, really, just a bunch of guesthouses and intimate boutique hotels. We opted for the Akademie Street Boutique Hotel and Guesthouse, a small complex of buildings with roomy and stylish suites that look a bit like Mary McDonald traveled back in time to the British Empire. Our bathroom was easily the size of our NYC living room and it came with a large copper tub that we never used but photographed extensively. But that wasn't even the best part of Akademie Street- that's a three-way competition between the delicious breakfast spread made from local produce, the homemade pre-dinner cocktails, or the private pool.
As far as things to do are concerned, everything in Franschhoek revolves around eating and (obviously) drinking wine. We took the Franschhoek Wine Tram, a light rail and bus service that is a cheap and cute way to get around the wineries without getting behind the wheel. They encourage you to visit as many estates as you can like it's some fancy bar crawl but we say resist the pressure to act like it's Santacon-in-the-sun and focus on a couple places to visit. Our favorite was Babylonstoren, a working farm, hotel, and garden complex that's both stylish in a very modern way and historic (like most of the estates, it dates from the Dutch and French settlers of the late 1600s). The place is stunning to the point where it feels unreal (I know that sounds incredibly dramatic but I mean every word of this). We could have spent hours eating their homemade popsicles and wandering in the gardens, getting lost in the cactus maze, and taking in the views from the ultramodern, steel-and-glass wine bar.
As for eating, the area is dotted with great restaurants working off of the bountiful local produce of the area. Our favorite was Ryan's Kitchen at the end of the village, which had a cool South African take on a menu you'd find in New York. This being a developing country, the dollar gets you pretty far - a three course meal for two with a bottle of wine will probably set you back around $60. Some of the cuisine is a little too precious in an early 2000s way - think gels and foams and funky flavor combinations - but it's very, very good when it's focused on cooking local ingredients in a simple way. David probably ate a herd full of springbok during our time here (it's a cute little antelope that looks like our dog Levi and tastes like beef).
If you're more outdoorsy than we are (read: literally everyone), you can also go hiking or bike-riding. But if you have 2 days in this little Europe-meets-Africa paradise, we say to stick to the easy stuff - eating and drinking your heart out.