Travel: What to eat in Warsaw

Today I’m continuing my exploration of Poland by tasting the food of Warsaw. But first some history.

The area covered by modern Warsaw has been inhabited for at least 1,400 years. The city has had rather a tumultuous history from the Great Northern War of 1702 to occupation and uprising during World War II and a long period of communist rule.

After the Second World War, when the Nazis slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Warsaw Jews, they literally demolished the city. In 1945 most of Warsaw lay in ruins. The Soviets proclaimed the Polish People’s Republic and the city was rebuilt in a modern style.

All this means that Warsaw has an amazingly diverse architecture. From the charm and colour of the old town to the squareness and rather grand greyness of the Communist era – those communists certainly built things big!

Widespread anger and unrest hit Poland in the early 1980s with protests over food shortages and the prices of goods and the trade union Solidarity was established. By early 1989 an agreement was made to hold elections and an anti-communist government was established.

Poland entered the European Union in 2004 and is now in a period of prosperity. You can see this in Warsaw’s wide streets, bustling restaurant life and new, shiny financial district. It’s a great city to roam – with lots of green spaces, good shopping and a mind-boggling array of eateries in what is a relatively small area.

To help with the decision making, I decided to start my Polish culinary quest by joining Eat Polska for a food tour. A fabulous way to explore the city as well as tasting plenty of traditional dishes and learning their history. We visited four establishments and tasted a real variety of dishes. There was a good walk between most of the stops which was great as I really did discover more about the city while also walking off some of those calories.

Kaman Lwowska

Our first stop was a cosy, traditional Polish place – the sort of place I could see myself settling down for a lovely long lunch.

I’d seen this dish on several menus already in my short time in Warsaw but hadn’t had the courage to order it. It’s delicious! Bread served with lard and fermented gherkin and a chilled shot of local vodka which we were told to “scull”. This is a match made in heaven – nothing complicated but somehow sublimely tasty with a lovely mix of textures. My mouth’s actually watering remembering it.

Warsaw: lard

Lard and fermented gherkin

Warsaw: vodka

Perfectly chilled local vodka

Warsaw: lard

Spread and ready to eat

There’s a lot of soup enjoyed in Polish cuisine. We tasted the red borscht which is a clear, beautifully sweet beetroot soup served with uszko dumping. It’s traditionally served on Christmas Eve, its vibrant pinkness perfect for a celebration.

We also tasted the cucumber soup – made with grated sour pickled cucumbers and potato and served hot which was unexpected and also delicious.Warsaw: cucumber soup

Cucumber soup…and it’s served warm

Solec 44

Solec 44 is a trendy gastro-pub sort of place in an up-and-coming area of the city. I loved the modern, minimalist interior and the shelves containing huge bottles of pickled everything and a wide selection of board games.

We were there to sample a meat selection. Sausages are huge in Poland – actually, they’re normal size but there’s a massive range of them to try. And very good they all are too. Quality cheeses are more of a recent development and today we tucked into a great charcuterie board. We tried three types of sausage, smoked fatback and four types of cheese. All very tasty, especially the pieprzowka (black pepper sausage).

Warsaw: charcuterie

Gotta love a charcuterie board

Bibenda

Time for a meander back towards the centre of the city and Bibenda which serves a mix of traditional and modern polish dishes. Pork is very popular and served in many, many ways. Today’s tenderloin was cooked with a cinnamon mustard glaze, lemon fennel puree, carrot, coriander, orange zest, cinnamon popcorn and mint powder. The meat was so packed with flavour and all the elements perfectly complemented each other.

Warsaw: pork tenderloin

Exotically inventive pork tenderloin

And then there was this vegetarian dish made of broad beans, zucchini, tomato, onion, garlic, spicy mole sauce, avocado, Korycinski cheese and grilled spring onions. Sort of like an exotic kind of ratatouille topped with loads of creamy avo.

The place also has a fabulous cocktail list and serves a wide range of beers. You could certainly  linger.

Warsaw: vegetarian

An amazing vegetarian selection

Wedel

Wedel is a family business dating back to the 1890s and it sells chocolate in many shapes and forms. There’s literally chocolate in the air. And today we were sampling their legendary bittersweet drinking chocolate. Somewhere between milk chocolate and dark chocolate on the tasting scale, the luscious conception was thick, rich and sweet – one of the most indulgent drinks I’ve ever had. And what a beautiful shop – seriously, I challenge anyone to walk out without buying something.

Warsaw: hot chocolate

Lusciously rich hot chocolate

The Eat Polska Food Tour was a wonderful way to learn more about Polish food – something I had limited knowledge of – and find my bearings in the country’s capital. Our guide Eliza was so knowledgeable – not only about the food but also the complicated history of her country. A really fun and educational way to spend an afternoon. Oh, and tasty, too.

Where else to eat

I loved Warsaw’s Old Town with its colourful ancient buildings, cobbled streets and opportunities for al fresco drinking and dining. The beautiful main square has a couple of restaurants so on our first lunch we went in to Krolewski. I’m guessing this is one of the places all the tourists eat – something of an obvious choice. But we didn’t regret it, the food was lovely and the service great. And I did love sitting in the mains square.

The menu offers all those traditional Polish dishes that you’ve read about including a range of classic soups, duck, pork and beef dishes and those little Polish bundles – pierogi (dumplings). You can even get all of the meats on one plate called a Royal Platter – literally a tower of chops, steaks and sausages. The Poles are certainly somewhat carnivorous.

My first taste of pierogi were these Russian-style dumplings stuffed with cheese, potato and fried onion. Amazingly tasty little bundles. I’m going to have to find somewhere in London to get my pierogi fix.

Warsaw: pierogi

Satisfying pierogi stuffed with potato, onion and cheese

Duck is also a staple and we tucked into the Polish-style roasted duck with apples served in cherry sauce with potatoes and beetroot. I love beetroot but even if you don’t, a trip to Poland will convert you – they know how to do beetroot here. The duck was flavoursome and moist, and the cherry sauce surprisingly zesty, served with perfectly cooked potatoes. A hearty dish for sure. Like a lot of Polish cuisine – you’re not going to go hungry that’s for sure.

Warsaw: duck

Flavoursome duck with cherry sauce and beetroot

Warsaw: steak tartare

Design your own steak tartare

Just across the road from our hotel was a lovely little spot called Bohemia. The perfect choice for a late dinner after our evening tour of the city. Steak tartare crops up on many a Polish menu and as it’s one of my favourite dishes I had to go for it. Love the presentation and the addition of a fresh garlic clove and enjoyed mixing it up to create the right flavour just for me.

There’s plenty of beer to savour and Poland has a flourishing craft beer scene – there are around a hundred breweries in Poland. The three most popular local beers are Zywiec, Okoum and Tyskie. I became partial to a chilled Zywiec. There are plenty of options for beer tasting in the beautiful streets of the Old Town.

Warsaw: beer

Cheers from the Old Town

There are lemonade carts dotted around the city and fresh lemonade is sold all over. They look cute but the lemonade we tried from the cart was a little insipid with the juice of half a lemon, water and a spoonful of sugar. Shop-bought lemonade seemed to have more flavour with extra juice and fresh herbs added. All very refreshing either way.

Lemonade in the park

We also enjoyed coffee and a light breakfast at to Lubie cafe, again in the Old Town. My Local Breakfast included smoked cold meat, cheese, a tasty bowl of ham and egg spread and tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers served with bread rolls. They also had an extensive tea menu and lovely coffee.

A fresh and tasty breakfast with all my favourites

Where to stay

We stayed at the Westin Warsaw. It was situated about a 20-minute walk from the main sights but I do like a bit of a meander, so that suited me. The rooms were spacious and comfortable with good mini bar and tea and coffee facilities. And the service was fantastic with plenty of help organising tours and recommending the best options.

You can find out more about food tours in Warsaw at www.eatpolskacom

Copernicus in Krakow for Polish royal cuisine

Today I’m taking you to Poland. To Krakow to be specific. Krakow is the second largest and one of the oldest cities in Poland, dating back to the 7th century. It sits on the Vistula River and  has a well-preserved Jewish Quarter and a stunning Old Town centred around the grand Rynek Glowny (market square).

After the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II Krakow became the capital of Germany’s General Government. In 1941 the Jewish population were forced into a walled area which became known as the Krakow Ghetto and from there they were mainly sent to German extermination camps like nearby Auschwitz (more of which later, yes, I went there and it will always stay with me – an experience I think everyone should have).

There were around 60,000 Jews in Krakow at the start of the war and only 2,000 survived it. Now there are around 1,000 Jewish inhabitants of the city, with about 200 identifying themselves as members of the Jewish community. The Jewish Quarter is charming and there are still seven synagogues there that you can visit.

Across the river is Oskar Schindler’s enamelware plant where he selected employees from the ghetto to work – saving them from the camps. Steven Spielberg told this amazing story in his film Schindler’s List. Roman Polanski is a survivor of the Krakow ghetto, which he luckily escaped from as a small boy.

There’s so much history to absorb as you roam the streets of Krakow. A lot of tragedy, a lot of terrible tales and I could feel it. It’s a sombre experience hearing about mans inhumanity to man.

Having said that it’s a great city to walk around with myriad bars and restaurants to eat at and the locals are some of the most welcoming people I’ve met. So once we’d absorbed as  much history as we could and taken in the sights it was time for dinner.

We headed for the fabulous Copernicus restaurant which is in the Copernicus Hotel – close to the beautiful Wawel Castle. The food is based on Polish royal cuisine, with traditional recipes being taken a creative step into the 21st century.

The restaurant is cosy and intimate and the whole evening was an absolutely wonderful experience. We picked the five-course chef’s tasting menu which we were guided through by our delightful waiter – who even helped me choose some lovely Polish wine. We could have gone seven or even 12 courses – for 12 he advised allowing at least four hours and we weren’t sure we were prepared for that much of a banquet.

Two of the dishes were standard and we had to choose the other three which made it all very manageable. To start this delightful beetroot tartar served with pumpkin and blackberries. They know what to do with their beetroot in Poland – even my brother Frank who admitted to hating the beets before his visit there soon became a fan. A beautifully colourful plate that was bursting with flavour.

Copernicus: beetroot

Beetroot tartar with pumpkin and blackberries

For the second course there was a choice of four. First up this salad of grilled tuna served with avocado, zucchini and pomegranates. A real tasty work of art.

Copernicus: salad

The luscious and colourful tuna salad

The roasted bacon – which was kind of like a belly of pork – came with pear and spring onion mustard. What a wonderful combination – and who’d have thought of using pears to make mustard. Genius.

Copernicus: bacon

Bacon paired with pear mustard

Pierogi (dumplings) can be found everywhere on Polish menus – and very nice they are too. But these were in a league of their own stuffed with tomatoes onion and cider marmalade and served with dry-cured neck.

Copernicus: dumplings

Truly superior Polish dumplings

Copernicus: Sorrel soup

Exotic sorrel soup with caviar

The next communal course was the deliciously exotic sorrel cream soup. Served with a new potato in pride of place in the centre, topped with sturgeon caviar. Can’t say I’ve ever eaten sorrel cream soup, but I definitely plan to again.

The main course also offered four choices. The duck was served with a foie gras terrine, quince jam and kohlrabi. Duck is big in Polish cuisine and I ate it several times on this trip – with great satisfaction.

Copernicus: duck

Duck and foie gras terrine

Copernicus: trout

Brown trout on the creamiest of risotto

The brown trout was served atop a creamy lemon-spiced risotto. Perfectly cooked fish and a melt-in-the-mouth risotto.

I chose the veal dish which was a real masterpiece. Served with sweetbreads, green peas and marinated nasturtiums, this is one of the most luscious dishes I’ve eaten in some time. The perfect balance of flavours and textures and richness. Yum!

Copernicus: veal

Perfectly cooked veal with the richness of sweetbreads

Okay, so when you’ve committed to five courses you simply have to do it. It wasn’t a struggle to be honest – the restaurant got the portion size just right – even though some little added extras were included along the way. There’s was still a little room for something sweet. Apricots were served with cardamom chocolate and lemon meringue. Delicate and tangy.

Copernicus: apricot pudding

The flavours of apricots and cardamoms

Or there was cottage cheese served with mirabelle plums and sea buckthorn sorbet. It tasted as good as it looks!

Copernicus: plum dessert

Plum flavours and sea buckthorn sorbet

I went for the cheese plate and it’s one of the best I’ve had for some time (again!) – the selection from hard, goats and properly stinky (in a very good way!) were served with the most amazing onion and pear mustard.

Copernicus: Cheese

A truly fabulous cheese plate

After such a fabulous dinner we felt we simply had to finish the evening with a vodka! Well, when in Poland… Our waiter recommended which one (it’s a complicated thing choosing vodka here) and served it up chilled in these beautifully dainty little glasses. We were so happy!

Copernicus: vodka

When in Poland…drink vodka

Today’s price point

Our five-course chef’s tasting menu cost 180PLN (approximately £38.50) – drinks not included.

The Winnica Turnau Solaris ’15 (white wine) cost 139PLN (approx £29).

The Winnica Turnau Cabernet ’15 (red wine) cost 149PLN (approx £31).

Copernicus is on Kanonicza Street – Krakow’s oldest street – which winds up to the Castle.

 

Travel: The delights of Alicante

The area around Alicante is said to have been inhabited for over 7000 years. In more recent times it’s become a major tourist destination with serious development in the 1950s and 1960s resulting in large buildings and complexes springing up throughout the city.

This means Alicante is the perfect example of a concrete jungle. High rises dominate the skyline (and not in a particularly attractive way) and on first sight it doesn’t seem like the prettiest of holiday destinations. It would be easy to dismiss the city as place not to visit in Spain. But you’d be wrong. Well, they do say you should never judge a book by its cover and as soon as you start looking a little deeper into the soul of Alicante you’ll be surprised to find many beauties.

While those buildings can’t be unbuilt, a lot of effort has been made to add beauty with the myriad flowers and trees. Jacarandas, bougainvilleas and hibiscus abound (gotta love those exotic names) and there are palm trees everywhere. Of course, as you’re in Spain, the sky is always blue – different colours of blue for different times of day – the sea is warm and clear, the food is wonderful and there’s a warm Spanish welcome. Because this is a truly Spanish city where simple food is perfectly prepared using the best of local ingredients, prices are great value and you’ll need a bit of Spanish to get by.

Alicante’s Playa San Juan

We stayed in the San Juan Beach area. And my first realisation that Alicante wasn’t what it initially seemed was the sight of the stunning beach. I mean really stunning. Huge, with white sand and mountains in the background. And that fabulous Spanish tradition alongside it – the promenade. Lined with restaurants and bars, the beautifully paved area in the shade of palm trees was busy all times of day with families and friends enjoying their daily amble.

Alicante: San Juan Beach

The white sandy beach with blue sea and sky

There are so many restaurants along this stretch of sandy sunniness that it’s hard to choose where to eat. As luck would have it we picked the perfect breakfast spot on our first morning. One of my favourite breakfast treats ever is pan con tomato, lightly toasted bread served with what is basically mashed up tomato and olive oil. It’s amazing how good it tastes. Today’s offering also came with a generous portion of jamon – so that’s even better. And here’s the best thing of all – this delicious breakfast, including a glass of fresh orange juice and a coffee set us back the sum of €1.80 each. No that is not a typo. €3.60 for two filling and deliciously Spanish breakfasts at 100 Montaditos right on the beach. Seriously, does life get better than that? Breakfast certainly doesn’t.

Alicante: desayuno

The best-value breakfast ever, yes ever

Alicante: San Juan promenade

They do know how to do a promenade in Spain

Lunch along the promenade also offered a range of traditional Spanish tapas dishes. Like this Russian salad (ensalada Russa) which crops up on menus everywhere I go in Spain. You can read more about this dish and try out my recipe for it by clicking here. I’ve sampled some different versions recently so think I will be redoing my own recipe soon.

Alicante: Russian salad

The ever-present Russian Salad

Playa San Juan is also the perfect place for sundowners. Especially if you’re a fan of giant gin and tonics like these.

Alicante: gin & tonics

Huge g&ts beachside while pondering our dinner destination

We meandered the streets absorbing the evening sun and the pleasant babble of Spanish voices, checking out menus while we decided where to go for dinner. One of my favourite ways of spending time! Our choice was Los Charros, a charming-looking establishment on a side street up from the beach. And what a good choice it turned out to be. We started off by sharing this delicious concoction of eggs, prawns and mushrooms with a touch of garlic.

Alicante: egg, prawn and mushroom starter

Scrambled eggs with earthy mushrooms and sweet prawns

For mains we decided on lamb and goat chops respectively – simply served grilled with some lovely wild garlic and more accompaniments than we expected, including a salad, crispy fired potatoes and padron peppers and a large dish of tempura-style vegetables. All served with a smile.

Alicante: goat chops

Tasty little chops with a fresh salad

Alicante: crispy potatoes

Love the sweetness of Spanish potatoes and these were beautifully crisp

We sat outside on the lovely terrace – something we always do when we can. I think it comes from living in the Northern hemisphere. Dining alfresco is always a treat. The tapas bar inside was bustling with locals and filled with laughter.

On our second night in Alicante we were highly tempted to go back to Los Charros. But as we were only there for two nights it seemed boring so instead we chose El Mayoral for dinner, which is on the San Juan promenade. The menu was extensive and we were having decision-making hiccups. Until we saw what the couple on the next table were tucking into, a delicious seafood soup. So we ordered the same – langoustines, prawns, mussels, the softest of calamari and fresh hake in a lovely saffron-flavoured broth.

Alicante: seafood soup

Seafood soup to share – the perfect start to dinner

A Spanish classic for mains – roast suckling pig served with perfect chips and slivers of crispy fried onions.

 

Alicante: suckling pig

Love the suckling pig in Spain, they know their pork!

We finished our wine after dinner alongside the beach watching the sky develop through stages of blue until it reached this stunning indigo colour with the last light of the day.

Alicante: indigo sky

Post-dinner drinks under an indigo sky

Touring on Alicante’s tram

As hard as it was to drag ourselves away from the comfort and joy of San Juan Beach we decided we had to do some exploring. So we got on the tram heading for the Old Town and the harbour. Such a lovely way to travel and to see more of the city and all for €1.45 for what was about a 35-minute journey. We passed a lot of concrete along the way and emerged into a buzzing metropolis. The main road down from the station, Ramble de Mendoza Lunez, leads down to the beach. If you’re looking for shopping opportunities take a slow walk down as there’s plenty on offer here.

Alicante: the tram

Travelling by tram is such a pleasure

Strolling around Alicante harbour

As you start getting close to the water there’s another palm-lined promenade to stroll along.

Alicante: promenade in town

More promenading opportunities in the shade of palm trees

There’s a sparkling harbour filled with stylish boats – and even a pirate ship.

Alicante: harbour

More shades of blue in Alicante harbour

Lunch in Alicante’s Old Town

After some waterside strolling we headed into the Old Town for lunch. With the feel of ancient Spain and beautiful old buildings to view, there were also plenty of restaurant choices to explore.

Alicante: Old Town

Alfresco restaurants abound in Alicante’s Old Town

Greetings of hola, buenos días lead us to a table at La Taberna San Pascual where we tucked into delightful albondigas (meatballs) and croquettes, accompanied by some delicious Spanish rose.

Alicante: lunch in Old Town

Lunch in shades of pinks and reds

Alicante: La Taberna San Pascual

The charmingly rustic La Taberna San Pascual

We finished off lunch with a charming mini-mug of the local liquor – all complimentary of course. How I love complimentary local liquor.

Alicante: local liquor

Chilled mini drinks to complete a perfect lunch

So that was Alicante, a place can see myself visiting again and again and one I’d definitely recommend for a Spanish fix. Just make sure you see past the concrete.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn San Juan which was a short walk from the promenade and the beach. Though basic, the hotel was comfortable and welcoming and has a lovely pool area for lazy afternoons.

 

 

Great foodie shopping at Cape Town’s Oranjezicht Market

Today we’re heading to beautiful Granger Bay close to Cape Town’s Waterfront. How I love a food market and the Oranjezicht farmers market is absolutely fabulous. It’s a community farmers-style market for independent local farmers and artisanal food producers that’s set overlooking the sparkling sea.

There’s plenty of seating where you can relax and munch on the many dishes available and a wide range of stalls to delight. The tempting displays definitely make me buy more, but as I love everything I’ve bought there that’s really not a problem.

Oranjezicht farmers market

The market looks out over the azure sea

As you walk in you’re greeted by a fabulous floral display, include vibrant bunches of perfect proteas – South Africa’s national flower.

Oranjezicht farmers market

Beautiful bunches of proteas to take home

Fresh produce

This has got to be the best place in Cape Town to stock up on all the fresh stuff you’re going to need for your week. The fruit and vegetable displays are stunning and everything is of the highest quality. Boxes of fresh figs, massively juicy watermelons, plump grapes, carrots in myriad shades, tomatoes, chillis, herbs, leaves, garlic…well, pretty much whatever that’s seasonal and delicious. Make sure you take a bag – you’re not going to be able to carry it all if you don’t! I think I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Oranjezicht farmers market

Chillis in different shapes, sizes and colours

Oranjezicht farmers market

How’s this for a vegetable display…almost makes me want to become vegetarian

More chillis to add spice to your life

A fresh herb selection and beans that are purple and yellow

Oranjezicht farmers market

Heirloom tomatoes – juicily bursting with flavour

A table full of squash is a work of art

Oranjezicht farmers market

Love the pink oyster mushrooms…and you can even grow your own

Some of the wonderful fruit on offer

There’s also plenty of great-quality meat, cheese, bread, fish and sauces available.

Snacking opportunities and takeaways

As well as all the fresh produce there’s so much to tuck into at once to keep your shopping strength up – or to take home for later feasting. Baked goods, fresh bread, samosas, sushi, pies, wraps, Vietnamese rolls, eggs Benedict, steak rolls in many forms, bacon and egg croissants, bagels..it’s astounding. Here’s a small selection of what’s on offer.

Oranjezicht farmers market

You’ll find plenty of sweet treats to indulge in

Perfect little pies made in a muffin pan

Oranjezicht farmers market

The sweetest and most custardy of Portuguese custard tarts

Oranjezicht farmers market

The chefs are busy with bacon and potato rosti

Oranjezicht farmers market

The colourful sushi selection is described with passion

The prettiest of plants are also on display

Oranjezicht market

There’s a lot of eating on the go happening here

This is some market – seriously, I could go every week and take a batch of pictures like this showcasing different products – there’s so much on offer here. My advice is to go and see for yourself – and go soon, cos you’re going to want to go back again and again.

You’ll find the Oranjezicht City Farm Market at Granger Bay Boulevard, V&A Waterfront, Cape town.

It is open every Saturday from 9am to 2pm.

Read more about the Oranjezicht City farm by clicking here.

 

Classically perfect pasta at Morgenster

I’m taking my job very seriously this month and trying to bring you news and lovely pictures from a range of Cape Winelands eateries. So today we’ve popped in for a casual mid-week lunch at 95 at Morgenster.

Morgenster is a thriving wine and olive farm which dates back to 1711. They are known for their Bourdeaux-style blends and their Italian Collection wines. All of which are fabulous. Plus they offer a  top range of olive oils.

The restaurant 95 at Morgenster is the baby of Italian chef Giorgio Nava, whose lovely original restaurant, 95 Keerom, is in  central Cape Town. The menu is inspired by the food of Milan and there’s a good selection of salads, antipasti, pasta and meat dishes.

Our taste buds got awakened by the sound of all the pasta dishes. My homemade ravioli of slow baked Karoo lamb shoulder was served with sage butter and parmesan. One of those pasta dishes that makes you want to sigh with delight with every mouthful. The richness and softness of the lamb, the flavoursome pasta pillows and that amazingly silken butter sauce. Truly a pasta dish to dream about.

Luscious ravioli in sage butter

You can’t beat a classic Italian dish perfectly done. The handmade tagliatelle came with a slow cooked beef ragu and fresh herbs. You can tell just by looking at this picture that it was a lovingly prepared ragu with great richness and depth.

Rich and tasty ragu with flavoursome fresh pasta

We actually got to Morgenster a bit early for lunch so settled on the restaurant’s lovely verandah overlooking the dam and mountains and enjoyed a pre-lunch coffee. Love the attention to detail here, with footprints in the foam.

Who left their footprints in the coffee?

You eat in dappled sunlight under a slatted roof (as you can see from the pictures of our lovely pasta dishes). And this is the expansive view of water, mountains and azure sky.

Food always tastes better with a view

Morgenster is at Vergelegen Avenue, off Lourensford Road on the outskirts of Somerset West.

Today’s price point

We paid R320 (about £19 at today’s exchange rate) for two delicious pasta dishes and a bottle of Merlot.

Exploring and indulging on the Franschhoek Wine Tram

As promised, today we’re hopping on board the Franschhoek Wine Tram. There are so many vineyards in Franschhoek in  South Africa’s Cape Winelands it’s quite a daunting task to pick which ones to visit. So someone clever thought about starting up the Wine Tram to make it easier. There are five routes to choose from and seven or eight vineyards that you can hop off at for each one.

We chose the Red Line, which has eight stops – and you have time to get off at a maximum of five. Clearly there is still some decision making to be done. Anyway, select your route and head for the centre of beautiful Franschhoek to start your adventure. It’s worth getting there a little early for a fabulous coffee at Sacred Ground (how’s that for a great name for a coffee shop). Then wait for the bell to ring to announce the start of your tour and for your guide with the red (or whatever the colour of your tour) flag to appear.

It turns out that the Wine Tram tours are mainly on a bus – well the actual tram only visits two stops which happened to be at the end of our tour. But you won’t be disappointed as it’s a particularly cute bus, resplendent in green and gold. The open sides make for easy picture taking and the informative commentary fills you in about the wine life in Franschhoek.

All aboard the wine bus wine tram

We headed out of central Franschhoek towards our first stop Maison. It’s a beautifully quaint little building with a welcoming verandah and tasting area in front. The restaurant – Kitchen at Maison – which is currently rated the eighth best in the country, overlooks vines and mountains.

The quaintest of cottages greets you

There’s a strict timetable to follow which actually makes life easier. Each segment is organised in periods of an hour – so when you’re dropped off watches are synchronised and the bus is back in exactly an hour. You can of course stay two hours (or three, or however long you want). We found that the hour worked really well. The farms are all used to the system and served us quickly and efficiently. So we were ready to head off to the next stop when the bus arrived.

In the garden at Maison – a bit of natural art?

We decided to skip the next two stops – Eikehof and Leopard’s Leap, though I did get the opportunity to capture this stunning sculpture from the bus. No prizes for guessing which vineyard this was at. As well as all its other great qualities, Franschhoek is like a massive outdoor art gallery!

Look out for the leopard prowling on high

Next stop Chamonix which dates back to 1688. The newly opened restaurant which overlooks the forest at the back. We tucked into the cheese and charcuterie boards because you’ve gotta eat if you’re tasting all that wine. They were beautifully presented and tasty, just what we needed.

A tasty cheese selection to keep us going

A delicious charcuterie platter with local meat and cheeses

A short hop and we were off the bus again at spectacular Dieu Donne. It’s a modern construction, set high up on the slopes of Franschhoek with this spectacular view across the valley.

Dieu Donne’s view is one of the most amazing

The bus meanders through the streets of this historic little town – and it really makes you feel like you want to live there (or perhaps that’s due to the wine?). Beautiful views, quaint cottages and a sense of peace – I could picture myself moving into this house!

Picture perfect cottages line the streets

By now the afternoon was starting to run away from us, time really does fly when you’re having fun. Finally it was time for the best bit – the actual tram. We waited excitedly alongside the track as it trundled up. All aboard and we headed for our final stop – Grande Provence.

It’s on the tram for the last two stops

On arrival at the station there’s a tractor and trailers awaiting you which trundle through the vines and trees to a beautiful destination. Grande Provence oozes class and style and there’s a very warm welcome, too.

Love the Franschhoek modes of transport

It’s over 300 years old and has the most spectacular gardens. Beautiful trees, water features and art everywhere for your pleasure. And the wine is great too. We settled in the shady garden with a chilled bottle of Rose. The perfect last stop to complete our day.

The stylish inside tasting area at Grande Provence

The beautiful trees offer shade for the sculptures

More fabulous Franschhoek art to admire

I loved our afternoon on the Wine Tram. We made new friends and sang with them along the way (wine tasting definitely helps with that!), tasted new wines and enjoyed the beauty of the Franschhoek Valley in style. The Bus/Tram works like clockwork and is certainly a novel way to travel.

Homeward bound after a fabulous Winelands afternoon

The vineyards we visited in conclusion

They were all very different, a mix of historical and modern, varying views, food and wine. My opinion in short.

Maison

Quaint and quirky.

Expensive wine tasting.

Highly regarded restaurant, though we didn’t eat in it this time.

Chamonix

Lovely cheese and charcuterie platters.

Delicious Sauvignon Blanc with lots of citrus notes.

Not much of a view.

Dieu Donne

Spectacular views.

More delicious Sauvignon Blanc.

Grande Provence

The classiest of the lot.

Beautiful gardens, water features and sculptures.

Delicious Rose.

Find out more about the fabulous Wine Tram at winetram.co.za