Clint Eastwood and maps. Two of my most favourite things and both of them right here at the Map Room in Franschhoek. Had the owners been tapping into my dreams to come up with such a perfect idea? It was of course the name of the place that first caught my eye. One of several self catering properties under the intriguing banner of the Explorers Club, the Map Room in Franschhoek is, in the words of owners Jo and Tom:
A romantic bolt-hole for two intrepid travellers or 4 roving adventurers
Inspired by their many global adventures, the properties are a real haven for explorers who appreciate a bit of character and personality with their accommodation. Needless to say I was hooked before we even arrived. Plus there was a washing machine so for once we didn’t have to battle with socks in the sink. Must be getting old if I’m becoming excited by kitchen appliances!
Tucked away on an unpaved section of Cabriere Street, one of the oldest roads in town, the Map Room is close enough to the action, but far enough away for some peace and quiet when needed. Not that refined and laid back Franschhoek is exactly rowdy. The height of activity involves working your way through the wine estates, before poking around all the tasty looking cafes and shops, and perhaps stopping for a drink at one of the many bars afterwards. If you’ve got room that is!
The Map Room is one of those cool upside down places that make the most of the views. A fun ascent (unless you’ve eaten too much that day, a definite hazard in Franschhoek!) up a spiral staircase takes you into the vast open-plan living space. Or as Jo and Tom affectionately call it…the watering hole and grazing area.
The ceiling is lofty, the couches comfy and the kitchen sociable. The quirkiest aspect of the latter was the shelf displaying several jars of earth collected from numerous African expeditions. Far more impressive than the pathetic little pile of Saharan sand which we’d shaken out of our boots after forgetting to collect some on our latest Moroccan adventure.
As the name suggests, there were of course several maps and various bits of travel paraphernalia proudly displayed all over the property. For me however the piece de resistance was the gigantic Outlaw Josey Wales poster (one of my favourite Clint films) watching over the equally massive expedition planning table. Hubbie wasn’t too impressed at having to compete with a cowboy for my affection and promptly banned any viewing of the corresponding DVD which was part of the thoughtfully provided film collection. We’d have to settle for Out of Africa instead! What hubbie didn’t know is that I love Robert Redford almost as much…
The folding glass doors opened onto a balcony which wrapped around the building, great for catching some rays whilst curled up on the biggest beanbag I’ve ever seen! There was a BBQ too but it was a little windy whilst we were there, perfect for drying washing but not grilling sausages. The mountain and vineyard views aren’t too shabby either.
We had grand plans to stay in and do some home cooking whilst staying at the Map Room, but with Franschhooek being famed for its eating establishments, we ended up dining out most evenings. And ate the kindly provided shortbread for breakfast. We were on holiday after all.
Downstairs the main bedroom continued the explorer theme, with safari camp chairs and milk churns acting as bedside tables. We learnt several new fish species and ogled the huge sultan bath in the corner, although being impatient people and not wanting to wait whilst it filled up, we didn’t actually get round to having a soak.
The en-suite was a wet room, which was great apart from the floor remaining damp for some time after showers, resulting in wet feet if we wanted to use the toilet. But that wasn’t a problem as there was in fact another bathroom! In here the sepia photograph of a semi naked lady went some way to appeasing hubbie’s feelings about the cowboy upstairs. I wasn’t so sure about it but at least it cut me a bit of slack.
The second bedroom was tastefully decorated and looked comfortable (and also came with the signature milk churn bedside tables), but I think if there were 2 couples visiting there would be a fight about who got the amazing main bedroom!
It was wonderful to finally stay in one place for a few days and just relax after a week of rushing around Mauritius and Johannesburg, and with some cheeses and meats from one of the local delis we just stayed put the first afternoon. Sometimes it’s good to do nothing!
However there’s a lot on offer around Franschhoek so there was only so long we could stay put. Jo was full of insider information about the local area, and with several maps, town plans and information leaflets in the hallway it was like having our own mini tourist office on site.
We’d actually come to Franschhoek to visit family (and drink wine), but in the name of research we still managed to check out some of the area’s top assets. Mainly in the form of good food and good wine. It’s a hard life investigating all these experiences to tell you about!
Just around the corner from the Map Room, Le Quartier Francais is reputed to be the place to go for breakfast. So we did. And it would have been a great experience had I not mistakenly and liberally sprinkled salt all over my strawberries! Not one of my finest moments.
Despite both of us still suffering from a rather impressive fever we’d picked up on the flight to Mauritius, we were determined to experience the famous Franschhoek Wine Tram, and not just because we’d pre-paid for our tickets. Pumped full of pills from the pharmacy we embarked on a day of wine drinking, a combination that for a while at least seemed to do the trick. Read about our Wine Tram experience for some tips on how to make the most of your ticket.
We’d come to Franschhoek to visit hubbie’s aunt and were delighted when she suggested treating us to dinner (hubbie never says no to a good feed) at the Italian restaurant Allora. Nestled in a small plaza in the centre of town, Allora is popular with locals and serves pretty decent grub. It was pleasant sitting outside, sampling yet more wine but this time with some rather tasty pizzas, enjoying the last of the evening sun and catching up with family. Sometimes it’s nice not to feel like a tourist.
Another insider tip is the delightfully quaint little spot just outside town called Aptyt. Run by a family and their friends, it serves as both a cafe and ice-cream shop, as well as a small petting farm complete with a parrot and other assorted animals to keep the children entertained.
I loved the cafe interior, it’s walls adorned with a motley collection of old pots and pans, and long wooden benches for that rural and rustic feeling. The fayre was simple and delicious, and our sharing ploughman’s platter was probably one of the best we’ve ever had. To top off the lunch-time experience, an Irish magician friend of the owners turned up and we were treated to some impromptu tricks to give us something to puzzle over whilst we chomped on our cheeses. Dinner and a show!
Feeling rather full after all this we visited the imposing Dutch Reformed Church in the centre of town, where thankfully eating wasn’t part of the experience. Built in 1847 it feels decidedly modern inside, with the polished wooden pews and stained glass windows really making the most of the light.
Hubbie’s aunt had been suggesting all week that we visit the Nelson Mandela statue outside the Victor Verster Prison (or Groot Drakenstein Correctional Facility as it is now called), about 10 minutes out of town. We hadn’t really appreciated the significance of the location and had instead been concentrating on the more edible experiences of the area. Yet when she finally dragged us there herself we finally realised just why thousands of visitors each year come to have their photograph taken with this iconic statue. For this is where Mandela did his famous walk to freedom in 1990 after 27 years in prison. When he was eventually transferred from Robben Island it was here that he was taken to serve his final months before finally being released so famously. So feeling a little ignorant that we hadn’t realised one of the world’s most iconic moments in history happened right here, we duly posed for a photograph. Perhaps we should’ve done the ‘V’ sign.
To show our appreciation at being educated, we took hubbie’s aunt and her hubbie for afternoon tea at La Motte Wine Estate. Being a bit of an afternoon tea connoisseur I’d been looking forward to see how they do it in South Africa.
To be honest, it wasn’t a lot different, although the presence of biltong gave it a distinct African flavour. The teas came presented in a box, and naturally I chose the Moroccan mint. Same continent at least. The delicacies were all presented on a single plate rather than the tiered platters we have in England, but all the other elements were there, and I particularly enjoyed the carrot cake, not to mention the macaroon. The onset of an enormous storm put paid to plans to wander around the grounds, so next time we’re definitely coming back, perhaps for a bit of wine tasting!
Cost: R145 per person (or an extra R25 if you’d like some bubbles to go with it).
You could easily spend a week in Franschhoek, slowly making your way around the dozens of wine estates and restaurants, but sometimes there is too much of a good thing and we felt 4 days was just the right amount of time to experience the area without having to extend our belts by too many notches.
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