A vintage day out on the Franschhoek Wine Tram

Franschhoek wine estate corks
Franschhoek wine estate corks

I’m getting ripened berries. I’m getting tones of dark chocolate. I’m getting flavours of mature oak. Actually I wasn’t getting anything as I had a cold, but one thing was certain. I was getting drunker by the minute, and thankfully I didn’t have to drive!

The Franschhoek Wine Tram has to be the best invention. EVER! The scenic hop-on hop-off tour takes visitors to estates all over the picturesque Franschhoek valley, enabling wannabe wine buffs to really experience what they can do with grapes around here, without having to worry about transport.

All aboard the Franschhoek wine tram

All aboard the Franschhoek wine tram

Franschhoek

We’ve had fun wine tasting in Stellenbosch and Paarl but Franschhoek is leagues ahead when it comes to variety and accessibility of estates. It’s a delightful little valley, guarded on all sides by imposing mountains and is very simple to navigate around. The town is a culinary heaven with enough restaurants, wine estates and delis to last a dedicated researcher several weeks, if not months! Alas we had just a few days so what better way to experience the landscape and it’s fruits than a day on the Franschhoek Wine Tram.

Franschhoek Wine Tram, View of Franschhoek from Mont Rochelle, South Africa

The Mont Rochelle vineyards, overlooking Franschhoek, the best view in town!

The Franschhoek Wine Tram transport

Wine ‘Tram’ is a bit misleading. There are actually only 2 estates serviced by the Franschhoek Wine Tram (Rickety Bridge and Grand Provence). The rest are by trolley busses, which are still fun but they most definitely run on wheels rather than tracks!

Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa

Our vintage transport included a trolley bus

The tram lines don’t run right to the estate front doors so rather delightfully you get picked up by a vintage tractor for a short trundle through the vineyards between Rickety Bridge and Grand Provence. Probably my favourite mode of transport!

Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa

Another vintage mode of transport – tractor trailer

The Tours

There are two routes to choose from on the Franschhoek Wine Tram – the blue or the red, each exploring different sides of the valley. Both start at the ticket office in town (you can’t miss it, being shaped like a tram!) and both visit Rickety Bridge and Grand Provence by tram. You need to decide whether you want to do the tram bit first or last…we opted for first since the sun was shining and it was the one bit we didn’t want to miss!

We chose the Blue Route, for no reason other than it’s my favourite colour, and because we really wanted to check out the newly opened Mont Rochelle, now under new ownership of Virgin, one of our favourite brands.

There are several departure times and the earlier you go the more estates you’ll visit. We were feeling a bit delicate, with hubbie still recovering from an impressive tropical fever picked up in Mauritius, and me trying to shake off a bout of flu, so decided on the second departure of the day at a leisurely 11.15 am.

The Blue Route Wine Estates

Rickety Bridge

Our first stop on the Franschhoek Wine Tram blue route was Rickety Bridge, and I do declare they had the best wine of the entire trip! Sitting outside on the sunny terrace we were each presented with an option tick sheet. As usual hubbie chose the ones which retailed at the most expensive prices, whilst I actually read the descriptions. The sommelier struck just the right balance between professional knowledge and friendly banter, and politely turned a blind eye and when she noticed the spittoon remained empty after we’d finished. A great start to the day.

Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa

The scrummy wine selection at Rickety Bridge

Nestled down in the valley the view wasn’t sweeping like at some other estates, being partially obscured by trees, but the whole place felt very relaxed and not overly pretentious so we really enjoyed our stop here, despite not really having a clue about what we were doing.

Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa

Rickety Bridge’s wine was some of the tastiest

Wine Tasting: R20 for 5 wines

Grand Provence

I know, the clue is in the name, but to be honest we found this all a bit too ‘grand’. The Grand Provence ambience was a little too polished, it didn’t feel as friendly as Rickety Bridge and guests with more sparkly bling than us seemed to receive more attention. Note to self, next time don’t leave the diamonds at home! To be fair, moments later a cavalcade of expensive and shiny vintage cars came purring rather gloriously down the imposing drive, and at least 50 occupants descended on the terrace restaurant for a pre-arranged luncheon, so we certainly weren’t the only guests they needed to look after.

Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa

The vintage car rally at Grand Provence

We were disappointed by the wine choice for the tasting, each set option involving both white and red, rather than being able to just choose our own. Neither of us drink white so rather than shelling out for wine we didn’t want (it was more expensive than Rickety Bridge) we took a stroll around the immaculately manicured gardens, stumbling on several bizarre scenes that I suppose are called art.

Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa

After far too much wine I began seeing naked ladies on horseback – at Grand Provence

I think that each estate has it’s own personality and thus they can’t all appeal to everyone. I think we simply didn’t feel posh enough for this one, but I’m sure other people have Grand Provence down as their favourite!

Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa

The immaculately manicured Grand Provence Heritage Wine Estate

Wine Tasting: R40 for 4 wines

Mont Rochelle

This was definitely our favourite stop on the Franschhoek Wine Tram, not least because reality matched expectation. The situation of Mont Rochelle is perfect, with several dining terraces making the most of far reaching valley views. It of course helped that the sun was shining.

Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa

I could have spent all afternoon soaking up the sun on Mont Rochelle’s panoramic tasting terrace

I anticipated the experience might not yet be as slick as we have enjoyed during stays at other Virgin properties – Kasbah Tamadot and Ulusaba – since Mont Rochelle had literally re-opened just weeks before. Yet I was pleasantly surprised to find they were already running a tight ship. One thing we love about Virgin is their luxury without pretension, and this was evident here at Mont Rochelle too.

Mont Rochelle, Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa

Researching cheese and wine at Mont Rochelle, Franschhoek, South Africa

I could have spent all afternoon lazing away on the terrace, sipping the most excellent wine and tucking into the perfect meat and cheese platter accompaniment, and it was the only place (probably because we had lunch) that I felt an hour not quite long enough.

Wine Tasting: R20 for 3 wines

La Couronne

As I mentioned earlier, each estate is different and consequently we can’t expect to fall in love with all of them. However we weren’t impressed with La Couronne in the slightest, and not just because it wasn’t our style. Sure, it was all a bit too modern for our tastes, with transparent plastic chairs and strange art installations, yet I could have looked past this had the experience been up to much.

It wasn’t.

Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa

The contemporary interior at La Couronne

There were only 3 other guests visiting at the same time, yet it took the single member of staff some time to appear and show us to a table. Then before we’d even made our wine choices, let alone tasted them, a mail order form was being thrust in our faces. Making sales was clearly more important than visitor experience.

Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa

La Couronne was a distinctly modern wine estate

When our wine eventually arrived there was no explanation whatsoever, and we weren’t even told which one we were tasting each time. The poor service certainly left a sour taste in our mouths, and unfortunately so did the wine. Perhaps we weren’t in the right frame of mind to enjoy it by that stage, but we ended up pouring away each of the 3 wines we’d been given (the only time that day we’d used the spittoon). Not that anyone noticed. The sommelier had actually put on her jacket and left the building, and presumably there were still staff around but certainly nowhere we could see.

Certainly one of the longest hours of our lives and a disappointing end to an otherwise enjoyable Franschhoek Wine Tram Tour.

Wine Tasting: included in the tram ticket

The Ticket

Price: R200 per adult, R85 per child under 18

It is worth noting that tastings at some estates are included in the Franschhoek Wine Tram ticket price:

Blue Line Inclusions:

Complimentary wine tasting at La Couronne, Holden Manz, and La Bourgogne.
10% discount on wine purchases at La Bri.
Half of wine tasting fee credited against any wine, cheese platter or meal purchase at Rickety Bridge.
5% discount on wine sales at Grand Provence.

Red Line Inclusions:

Complimentary Wine Tasting at Maison and Dieu Donne.
A ‘welcome taste’ at Eikehof.
Half of wine tasting fee credited against any wine, cheese platter or meal purchase at Rickety Bridge.
5% discount on wine sales at Grand Provence.

Franschhoek Wine Tram, South Africa

The Franschhoek Wine Tram

The Timetable

Now we did find this rather confusing, and were a bit disappointed to learn the hard way that even on the earliest departure there would not have been time to visit every estate on the Franschhoek Wine Tram route. There are 7 estates on each tour, and although the timetable says you make 6 stops, the transfer back to Franschhoek Village to change between tram and bus is included in this, so really you can only visit a maximum of 5 estates.

Leaving on the second departure of the day we only had time for 4, even though it said 5 on the timetable. Had this been made clear we would certainly have skipped La Couronne and instead opted for Holden Manz.

So make sure you plan your day before you go. As an example, this is what you get on the Blue Line Tram First route:

First departure – 5 estates

Second departure – 4 estates

Third departure – 3 estates

The trams/buses aren’t as regular as we’d expected. Perhaps naively we thought we’d be able to wait at the stop after our tasting and just jump on the next one that came along. In fact we were given an allotted time to return to the stop, which meant we spent the whole day with the same people (not a problem, but it felt less of a ‘hop-on hop-off’ experience than an actual ‘tour’).

We also found an hour at each stop was far too long unless we were stopping for lunch. After tasting and wandering the grounds there was often a lot of finger twiddling before getting picked up again at the allotted time.

The Franschhoek Wine Tram verdict?

Despite the itinerary not ending up quite as we expected, and our disappointing experience at La Couronne, the Franschhoek Wine Tram was still a fun and relaxing way to spend the day and with a better plan of attack for next time I’d definitely do it again! Just take the first departure of the day if you want to make the most of it!

20 Comments

  • Deidre Shannon says:

    Hi – looking forward to our experience. A quick question – is it ok NOT to get off at a stop (such as pretentious ones) and spend longer at others (Rickity Bridge comes to mind).

    Also – how do you know which estates have their wine tasting included in the transport price and how do you purchase the other tastings – do advance reservations need to be made?

    Many thanks for a great article.

    Deidre & Brian

    • Heather Cole says:

      Hi Deidre, yes, it’s fine to miss a stop or two…just make sure you have a plan to start with, know how many stops you’ll have time for (depending on your departure time), so you don’t miss out too many and end up back in town having lost out on a stop or two. You can’t spend longer than the allocated time (when the driver tells you he’ll be back), which is a bit confusing…we thought we’d be able to do this and just ‘hop on’ the next tram, but it doesn’t work like that unfortunately.
      Looks like they’ve changed their website recently, they used to list which tastings were included but I can’t see that now, so probably just best to ask. You just purchase the other tastings when you get there, dead easy. And you don’t have to do a tasting if you don’t want (some places do lunch too – though if you want more than just a platter it’s best to make lunch reservations in advance). You don’t need to book any other tastings!
      Have a great trip, and have a drink for me!

  • Shannon says:

    I just returned from South Africa last month and totally agree – BEST INVENTION EVER! We had such a blast on the Wine Tram and it was the perfect way for tasting our way through Franschhoek. Would absolutely do it again next time using a different line!

  • Nadia Nilsen says:

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Michelle Edwards says:

    Thanks Heather, a great description and most helpful!
    I have just set aside the afternoon to do some more research on SA and sat down to read all about the wine tram tour as I am arranging a trip through SA for 4 of us in Nov/Dec. Last time we were in SA this wasn’t around so thought we would give it a try.
    I Have been reading about it but couldn’t really get to grips with exactly how it works but you have explained perfectly-well done you!
    We travel as much as possible ,and even more now that hubby has retired and I always give as much info as possible to others afterwards to help them enjoy what we have been fortunate to experience.
    I wish you many more exciting holidays in the future!

    • Heather Cole says:

      Hi Michelle, so glad you found it useful! We found out the hard way that it isn’t actually as straight forward as it sounds, and really wish we’d known we wouldn’t get as many stops as expected. If you make it to Holden Manz you’ll have to let me know what I missed! I hope you have a fabulous trip in SA, do let us know what you think of the train when you’re back!

  • Thanks so much for sharing! We’re heading to Franschhoek this fall and planning on using the wine tram but have had the hardest time trying to figure out which line to go with. All look great for their own reasons but with limited time it’s so hard to choose! 🙂

  • Aruna says:

    Thanks alot Heather for taking the time to post your experience on the website. Really helpful. We are planning to visit this Sep 2016, just deciding on which line to take.

  • Frank says:

    Thanks for the post, we’ll be heading up there in a few weeks. Ugg, I hate pretentiousness and that piece of art with the woman on the horse thing looks like pretentious poop. I think we’d just stick to Rickerty Bridge.
    Did you go to Stellenbosch? Recommendations I’ve received is that Stellenbosch makes the better and more affordable base for a night but that Franschhoek should be visited, at least for it’s beautiful valley. Also, did you go to Groot Constantia and how does it compare? We went there and had a fabulous time (maybe drinking too much….)
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • Heather Cole says:

      Yeah, there’s a place for pretension, and it isn’t in my world either!
      We’ve been to Stellenbosch and although it’s true the town is an easy and more affordable base, I have to say I MUCH preferred Franschhoek as the latter is in such a beautiful setting and far more charming. In my mind it doesn’t even compare. If you only have a night or 2, I’d definitely say go for Franschhoek, it’s also small enough to walk around and with the wine tram you don’t even need to use the car whilst you’re there. Driving back through Stellenbosch on our 2nd visit it felt almost industrial in comparison.
      We did love Delheim in Stellenbosch and Fairview in Paarl (great cheese and meat platters, and they have goats, far less wiley than baboons!), but didn’t go to Groot Constantia, next time!! Hope you enjoy!

  • Megsy says:

    OMG some of those places look absolutely adorable – sadly I guess things can’t always be completely perfect but glad you had a good time still.

  • Sophie Williams says:

    Great photos! A tram is a fantastic idea but also a little dangerous I think!! 😉

  • Clare says:

    What a fab day out! I long for a day wine tasting – probably won’t get a chance for a while with a new baby, so reading about it will have to do!

  • Tim says:

    I loved Franschoek when I was there. So gorgeous with the mountains wrapped around. A really great experience and glad you wrote this post as it brought back a lot of very cool memories.

  • Brianna says:

    Now that looks like a perfect way to spend a day!

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