This past Saturday, I had the enormous pleasure of experiencing the Blue Line of the Franschhoek Wine Tram. Like their other lines (of which there are several), it allows passengers the chance to select a maximum of five to six (out of eight) Franschhoek wine farms to hop-on, hop-off at.
It had been over three years since I last travelled to that beautiful part of the country (undoubtedly one of my ultimate favourites, aside from Cape Town and the False Bay coastline) and the chance to see several wine farms in the course of one fun-filled day left me almost bursting with excitement (especially as it was intended as something of a pre-birthday trip for me) and anxiety.
The anxiety was largely down to the Heavens opening the day before and finally, providing some desperately sought-after rain, which I was very relieved and happy about, though it left me worrying about the possibility of the trip occurring.
However, for the weekend, the weather provided both some decent rainfall, as well as a perfect, summery Saturday, which was neither too hot, nor too cold. Considering the Wine Tram and other modes of transport on its lines, are open-air in many aspects and will not necessarily run in very bad weather, I was pleased for this ideal forecast. (Note: If the tram trip is cancelled due to weather or mechanical difficulties, you will be refunded in full.)
Although Franschhoek Wine Tram offers a few lines – with different wine farms to choose from – like the Blue, Green, Red, Yellow and Purple, as well as group tours, I opted for the Blue Line.
It includes a choice between the following wine estates: Mont Rochelle, La Lude, La Bri, La Bourgogne, Holden Manz, La Couronne, Rickety Bridge (tram), and Grande Provence (tram), at a cost of R220 per person, with great discounts on wine tastings and pairings at many of these estates.
From the estates, you can also pre-book lunch or a picnic to enjoy and purchase take-home wine, which will be kept safe for you on the tram bus or at the Ticket Office until the end of your journey, upon which you may retrieve it. (We would settle on the picnic and wine tasting experiences for the day.)
My friend and I left bright and early from the Mother City, ensuring we had ample time to reach the Franschhoek Wine Tram ticket office, which is situated in a courtyard area, known as Franschhoek Square, at 32 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek.
The ticket office is also where you board and will be dropped off, at the beginning and end of your journey respectively.
To collect or purchase your tickets (booking in advance is advised and can be done online), you must be there at least fifteen minutes before your departure time.
We were there about an hour before – and had time to explore the quaint, beautiful town a bit – with the ticket office opening on the dot at 09:30 am, by which time there were already considerable queuing crowds, as eager to hop on their specific line (or tour) as we were.
When you collect your tickets, the extremely friendly and helpful staff will explain the whole process to you and if necessary, help you plan your day and advise on how long you can spend at each estate. This depends on how many hop-on, hop-off stops you wish to make, as well as how long you want to spend at each given wine farm.
If you leave with the first departure time (which is generally between 10-10:45 am for all lines, with the earliest being the Blue and Purple at 10 am sharp), you can enjoy a maximum of six estate stops, if you plan your day carefully and spend no more than an hour at each estate.
We had decided on five stops in advance, knowing we had to skip a few in between, as we were desirous to spend at least two hours on one farm (we decided on one of the estates offering picnics, as this gives ample time to tuck in, enjoy a tasting or cellar tour and to stroll about the estate).
We chose Mont Rochelle, followed by La Bri, Holden Manz, Rickety Bridge and finally, Grande Provence.
Also, if you leave a bit later in the day, you will only be able to make three to four stops so plan your journey a bit in advance, rather than on the day, to ensure the fullest possible experience.
The last pick-ups for the day will generally be between 5:14 and 5:44 pm so set aside most of the day, if you truly wish to have a full-on, wine-farm-hopping day.
At 9:55 am, the bell was rung and our line’s group gathered around the Blue Line staff member, bearing a blue flag (this will vary in colour depending on your set line), who then guided us to our Wine Tram bus.
These elegant, olive green-and-gold buses are adorable to look at, and are suitably comfortable too, with black leather seating.
These are enclosed but there are ample windows – and at a guess, I think each bus can seat between 25-30 passengers, as well as your tour conductor (who you will generally have for the day) and your driver.
There are also wine storage compartments to keep any purchased wine safe until your journey is at its end and a wooden box for tips.
Please note: no smoking, food or open, alcoholic beverages are permitted on the bus. You are, however, allowed to take water along in your bag and it is also advisable to pack in sun protection cream, a hat and perhaps a jersey or jacket too, to kit you out for all weather; also, wear comfortable shoes for walking.
All the fun and enjoyment of Franschhoek Wine Tram’s Blue Line Tour
Our tour began with our conductor warmly welcoming us over a mic, as we left the village itself and headed towards our first destination.
The conductor is there to answer any queries you may have and can help you possibly decide on which stops to make. However, because our conductor explained everything so efficiently, none of us had anything to ask before we reached Mont Rochelle, our first possible stop for the Blue Line.
We passed through the quiet back streets and out into the open farming region, listening to the audio guide, which provided interesting and informing historical facts about both the Franschhoek wine valley and each specific estate too, and at times, occasional music too.
The views from our clean, clear windows were perfect, allowing for a few hurried, yet handy snaps along the way.
As we drove, our eyes feasted upon the visual splendours of lush, green vineyards – in many instances, drooping slightly from the weight of ripe grape bunches, as harvest time was approaching at the time of our visit – and spectacular surrounding views of the farms, majestic mountains and pristine, noble Cape Dutch-style manor houses and estate outbuildings.
The first stop, Mont Rochelle, is found quite high up on the slopes of the stunningly breath-taking Franschhoek Mountains, and is part of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Limited Edition collection.
Offering a South African Hotel & Vineyard, the estate also has a restaurant in The Country Kitchen, a cellar and wonderful grounds to stroll about.
There, you can enjoy a pre-booked cellar tour and picnic, as well as a meal, canapes and lawn games.
This was our personal first stop and many of our fellow group members hopped off here for a relaxed breakfast and early wine tasting.
We, however, decided rather to explore the grounds a bit and enjoyed passing briefly through the delightful buildings, snapping perfect photos of the valley below and the immaculate, yet relaxed estate itself, as we explored the rose garden and lawn areas or watched other visitors playing lawn games, like boule.
After a well-spent and highly enjoyable hour, we hopped back onto our bus at the exact moment they’d promised to return for us for.
Each estate allows for a minimum hour’s exploration – but if you miss a bus or wish to stay longer, you can just wait another hour to get back on.
The buses, trams and other connecting modes of transport, which you will experience on the tour, are extremely punctual – and throughout the day, they all arrived at to the minute of when they had assured us of their return.
As such, it is best to make sure you are equally punctual so maybe set aside three to five minutes’ waiting time (before collection) so you don’t end up rushing.
After Mont Rochelle, we passed back through Franschhoek village and on to Le Lude, which offers Method Cap Classique sparkling wine – SA’s answer to champagne.
Although we ourselves did not get off there, I can tell you that Le Lude is a pretty, family-owned boutique winery, located on the edges of the Franschhoek, with the estate specialising in bottle-fermented, MCC sparkling wines.
At Le Lude, guests can enjoy duo tasting, canapes, high tea and an excellent Cap Classique and champagne journey.
If, like us, you skip a stop, please be aware that the tour operates in one direction so you only get the chance to disembark at each stop once.
Our next stop was La Bri. La Bri was one of the first of nine farms granted to the Huguenots – who had fled France due to religious persecution of their Protestant faith – in 1688.
It is a vibrant boutique winery, which offers wonderful, pre-booked picnics, chocolate, biltong or Turkish Delight and wine pairings, as well as cheese platters.
There is also a small shop area where you can purchase some gifts/goodies. (You will find such gift shops and merchandise at many wine estates.)
After La Bri, it was onto La Bourgogne. Although we didn’t hop off there, this lovely estate offers a farm house, characterised by its prevailing warmth and charm. It is also shaded by 150-year-old oak trees.
At La Bourgogne, one can enjoy olive oil or olive tastings, cheese platters, a farm shop, light lunches with meat, salads, olives, preserves and cheese, as well as a jungle gym for kids.
Children are welcome on the tram tours – but please do keep an eye on and ahold of them at all times to ensure a safe and happy trip for all.
From La Bourgogne, it was onto Holden Manz. Holden Manz – an estate which lies in a beautiful corner of Franschhoek – offers award-winning wines, al fresco dining and the Franschhoek Kitchen, pre-booked, Festive picnics by the river and vineyards, and of course, wine tasting.
We thoroughly enjoyed exploring this estate as our third stop and took a leisurely stroll through the vineyards, to the dam by the entrance.
We also left Holden Manz with some wonderful Rose wine, which our conductor safely stowed away in the bus for us, when we hopped back on after a two-hour stopover there.
From Holden Manz, the next stop is La Couronne. This estate is nestled between towering mountains and has wonderful views of the surrounding Franschhoek mountains and vineyards.
Chocolate or pizza pairings, pre-booked picnics, cheese platters and a light lunch (pizza) can all be enjoyed at the wine farm.
From La Couronne, it was time for our first tram ride to Rickety Bridge platform. Rickety Bridge and Grande Provence are the two stops on the wine tram tour (for each line), which make use of the cute, really fun trams.
You are dropped by your bus (this is where you part ways with them) at a collection point where you will instead hop on a tractor ride – with comfortable, partially enclosed seating – which will take you onto the Rickety Bridge platform.
From here, your tram will collect you and though it stops every now and then to ensure the tracks are clear, you travel at a fun pace alongside the vineyards and main road past the Franschhoek Cellar, as you admire the sights, smells and sounds of this bustling and ultra-beautiful valley.
Along the way, as we snapped pics and gently, yet quite briskly at times, made our way along the tram tracks, loving this unique, old-fashioned experience (there are also brief audio guides on the trams), we waved to children alongside the roads and enjoyably made our way to the platform.
There, we disembarked and hopped on yet another tractor ride, which took us to our next stop: Rickety Bridge.
At Rickety Bridge – a celebrated, 18th century winery popular as a destination and for its long wine-making history, award-winning wines and sophisticated tasting centre – my friend and I got off for our first wine tasting of the day and our fourth and second last stop.
Usually you can enjoy a wine tasting of five wines for R40, but as Wine Tram tour members (you receive a sticker – in our case blue – which must be clearly visible on the front of your clothing so that tour operators and estate staff members know you’re with the tour; if you lose your sticker, be sure to get a new one from your conductor), we could try a wine tasting of four wines for just R25.
We thoroughly enjoyed this, seated on the shaded deck at Rickety Bridge, which offers boules, a jungle gym for kids and cheese and meat platters, wine ice-cream and more.
There are also apparently horse outrides, though you will need to contact the estate for more info. on these and other available facilities and activities.
At Rickety Bridge, we tried some red and white wines, as well as the classically South African Pinotage red wine.
My favourite was the Rickety Bridge Pinotage and Sauvignon Blanc, though we also enjoyed the Foundation Stone white (I am a sucker for white wines). This range of wines are named after the foundation stone, which was used to mend and secure the bridge in the late 90s, when it became – yes, you guessed it – rickety!
The estate has gone by several different names throughout its history, including several named for the estate’s famous Paulina; even today, the restaurant is known as Paulina’s too.
Please be careful when you embark/disembark from the bus, tractor and tram. They either have steps or a slight gap for you to hop up/down but on the tractors especially, this can be quite high off the ground in places. Also, please be sure to hold on because the tractor ride is slightly bumpy at times.
Also, if you purchase wines at any of the estates, place your numbered sticker (which will match the one placed on the wine package(s) by your bus conductor) on your tram ticket and keep this in a safe place so you can retrieve your wine after the trip.
From Rickety Bridge, we made our way along the tram tracks to the Grande Provence platform. This was our last possible stop on our Blue Line and again, we were retrieved by a tractor, which chugged us up the tarred drive to Grande Provence.
This 300-year-old heritage wine estate offers a 5-star experience, which bears testament to period grandeur and contemporary luxury, too.
At Grande Provence, you will find an interesting art gallery (you can, of course, visit this for free with the tram trip – though I am not sure if it is usually paying; please contact the estate for more info. on this and their other on-site offerings), a gift/art shop, jungle gym for kids, pre-booked wine blending, platters and a pre-booked picnic too.
We toured the art gallery and shop before sitting in the peaceful courtyard area enjoying the winding down of a long and wonderful day’s wine adventures and fun tram experiences, beneath dappled sunshine and sprawling oak branches.
At 5.05pm, our group hopped back onto the tractor and we made our way back to Grande Provence tram platform, where the tram took us back to Rickety Bridge platform, where a bus collected us and safely deposited us opposite the ticket office.
After we had thanked our drivers one last time for the day, we retrieved our wine from the ticket office before happily and contentedly, we made our way back home to Cape Town, after a fun and truly beautiful day. (The tram tours now offer transfers from Cape Town and surrounds at an additional cost of R550 per person.)
My experience in retrospect
This entire Franschhoek Wine Tram experience ranks as one of my finest travel experiences, incurred over the past three years, in and around Cape Town.
As such, I am thrilled to sincerely award the Franschhoek Wine Tram, participating wine farms and all staff members we encountered on the day, a firm and well-deserved 10/10 rating, for the following: clean, safe and facilities and relatively comfortable, varied modes of transport; wonderfully timeous collections and drop-offs at every stop and estate; informative audio guides and conductors; friendly, helpful staff across the board (starting with the ticket office and representatives I corresponded with prior to my trip); excellent brochures and website, with all necessary info, imagery – and finally, for what the tours offer, a very reasonably priced and memorable travel experience, for both tourists and local travellers to enjoy. (The trams are also eco-friendly so for that, too, a hat’s off to the Franschhoek Wine Tram team.)
I can highly recommend the Blue Line Franschhoek Wine Tram tour – and will hopefully be back in the future to try other lines in the future too!
A heartfelt thanks to Franschhoek Wine tram organisers and staff, especially manager Cathrine Westraadt, who made my enjoyable, pre-birthday celebratory trip possible – as well as to the participating Blue Line wine estates, who further ensured a pleasurable, smooth and utterly enjoyable first experience, particularly those we stopped at: Mont Rochelle, La Bri, Holden Manz, Rickety Bridge and Grande Provence.
I would also like to thank my friend and travel companion, Alicia Chamaille, who happily joined me on this trip and added to its level of fun and enjoyment. Thank you, Alicia, too, or the use of some of your lovely photos in this blog post, which I have added in along with my own photos.
For more information on the Franschhoek Wine Tram tours, please visit their website, contact them direct on (021) 300 0338 or email them at email@example.com.
You can also visit their Facebook page or find them at Franschhoek Square, 32 Huguenot Road, Franschhoek, Western Cape, South Africa.