33km (20 miles) E of Stellenbosch; 79km (49 miles) E of Cape Town via Stellenbosch; 85km (53 miles) SE of Cape Town via Paarl (33km/20 miles)
If you plan to spend the night in the Winelands, the prettiest valley by far is Franschhoek (literally, "French Corner"), the land Simon van der Stel gave the French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution in 1688. Surrounded by soaring mountains, Franschhoek is so lush a local once compared it to "living in a lettuce." The genuine sense of being ensconced in a valley here, with snow on the surrounding mountains in winter, has always made it feel worlds apart from anywhere else in the country. Besides its scenic advantages, it boasts the highest concentration of fine-dining restaurants in Africa and some truly excellent accommodations options. It's very faux French, however, and some complain that it's become too touristy -- at times you can set your watch by the lunchtime arrival of tour buses, and the rivalry between establishments is palpable. While it's much busier and more developed than Tulbagh, relative to Stellenbosch, it's very easy to navigate and offers a comparatively rural atmosphere, with dirt tracks a few blocks from the main road, and glorious views wherever you look. Incidentally, the prison just outside Franschhoek on the road to Paarl and Wellington is the one from which Nelson Mandela was released and made his first appearance on television as he finally walked to freedom in 1990.